Collaboration: Not Easy for Place Based Bills Either

When I got back from holiday shopping and reflecting on how national forests could use a little “good will toward folks”, I found that a reader sent me the below link from a press release about environmental groups and Wyden’s Eastern Oregon bill.

It was interesting to me that while we were engaged in all this hypothetical discussion of groups and meetings and Meridian Institute, on the Flathead, these folks are “doin’ it” without costing 400-600K or so a year (planning teams). Sure, they have all the same problems of “collaborating” but it focuses on the difficult issues and will ultimately provide a deal that sticks. Now I acknowledge that “the public” is left out, but so are they (as I’ve pointed out) at settlement meetings. I’d rather have local elected officials deciding than unelected judges and representatives of groups, and agency personnel with a more tenuous link to national elected officials. I would hypothesize that the conflict is not really about the details of collaborative efforts but fundamentally about the outcomes.

Here’s the link and which has a link to the letter.

Conservation groups who have long worked closely with Senator Ron Wyden in the development of his Oregon Eastside Forest Restoration, Old Growth Protection and Jobs Act (S.1301), first introduced in 2009, have announced they cannot support last-minute changes that have been made to the bill. The changes were released on the eve of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup scheduled for Thursday.

In a letter to the Senator today, Oregon Wild, Geos Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and The Larch Company expressed disappointment in the weakened version of the bill that he plans to offer in the Committee’s markup meeting tomorrow. The groups say that while they could live with some of the changes, Wyden’s decision to abandon key environmental safeguards outweigh these few improvements.

“As amended, the legislation will cause unacceptable and irreparable damage to forests in eastern Oregon, will degrade water quality, harm endangered species, and undermine environmental laws. We cannot support a bill that would allow logging of 200 year old trees,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director at Oregon Wild, who was involved in developing the original bill starting in 2008.

Andy Kerr, longtime conservation activist, commented: “We have worked diligently for years, under Senator Wyden’s leadership, to reach agreement with the timber industry on eastside forest legislation. Even after the American Forest Resource Council abandoned the legislation, the conservation community continued to support it and to work with his staff to perfect it. Unfortunately, in the rush to markup this bill, proposed changes have transformed legislation that served Oregon’s eastside forests and watersheds to something that does not.”

“We are disappointed that after years of working together on a true compromise plan, Senator Wyden has chosen to gut the legislation without our input. We still support the original, compromise plan Senator Wyden announced jointly with us back in 2009, but we can’t support these reckless changes that would harm wildlife, streams, and old-growth,” commented Pedery.

The groups’ major objections, aside from the sudden changes without consultation with collaborators, include:

The loss of permanent protection for streams and old-growth trees. Instead, the legislation would now expire 15 years after enactment.
A newly added provision promoting the logging of old-growth trees up to 200 years old, instead of focusing on restoration.
Removing the goal of restoring eastside ecosystems across the landscape.
The loss of language that ensures roads are decommissioned as part of watershed restoration.
Significantly weakened language for stream and riparian area protections.

The groups recommend that the markup for the eastside forest legislation be delayed until it can be fully vetted with groups that have long worked with the Senator on the bill.

13 Comments

  1. Maybe someone could post the specific changes, directly from the bill, instead of vague, out-of-context accusations, designed to rile up middle-of-the-road people. What is wrong with cutting a 200 year old 14″ diameter tree, growing under a better and bigger tree? What is wrong with carefully cutting and removing small trees from oversized stream buffers? Just what are the specs of a “restored eastside ecosystem”? Why should we mandate road decommission, when we might later need those roads?

    Certainly, there is a LOT of middle ground that is worthy of site-specific discussion. Plans need to written in such a way that they can be implemented without vague and arbitrary specifications. If you set an age number, how can such a specification be followed, in real-world practice? Currently, trees above 21″ are considered old growth, regardless of actual age. (I’m still not a fan of diameter limits. There ARE other characteristics to consider.)

  2. “Now I acknowledge that “the public” is left out [of “collaboration”], but so are they (as I’ve pointed out) at settlement meetings. ”

    Sharon,
    That statement is pure fiction and you of all people, are obliged to be more honest with yourself and all others. A “settlement” to which you refer is part and parcel of a legal system of which any member of the public has access to participate directly or to be legally represented. Your antipathy for our system of checks and balances which includes the courts is well understood as a structural (and personal) problem with democracy. Good luck with reformatting that to suit your special needs for your notion of justice.

    Your antipathy is also well understood in regards to the many court decisions which demonstrate your former employer (USFS) to be at odds with the law, and yet always being handsomely salaried with zero personal or professional accountability for ignoring the law. (Sweet employment terms, eh Sharon?) Here’s a tiny reference to that taxpayer paid malfeasance in another letter on the legal issues of Wyden’s legislative sausage making :

    “As you may know, a federal court in Washington State found the Forest Service substantively violated the Wilderness Act by reconstructing (replacing) this unnecessary structure in Wilderness and by conducting dozens of helicopter incursions into the Wilderness to complete the project.4 The court also found the Forest Service “egregiously” violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to conduct any environmental review or public notification and comment process before embarking on the project.”
    http://www.eenews.net/assets/2013/12/19/document_daily_03.pdf

    Sharon, you stated, “I’d rather have local elected officials deciding than unelected judges and representatives of groups, and agency personnel with a more tenuous link to national elected officials.”

    This preference of yours, of course, flies in the face of the notion that all present Americans own the National Forest System and have a responsibility to all future generations. To pretend “local elected officials” can be entrusted to deciding the best interests of the rest of the American public constitutes the central fairy tale to collaboration and calls into question whether proponents of collaboration actually understand the scale of the plague of corruption noted routinely in the daily news.

    History demonstrates the collaborative devolution you prefer over our current broken system of governance allowing the short term interests of local “elected officials,” put in office by the fantastically monied and powerful few, cannot have a “happily ever after” outcome.

    Not for present, nor for future generations of Americans.

      • Ed: I think local people have always managed local resources until recent historical times, when centralized governments took control. Mostly, I think the results have been bad, whether China, the US, or Russia has seized control. Plus, you misspelled “shudder”, unless I’m misinterpreting you.

        • In these days of auto-correct spellcheck typing where a quick and simple note with an inadvertent keystroke can render an unintended word, there are those whom, lacking persuasive argumentation, can feel it necessary to resort to feigning confusion over that word. Which in this case fits Doctor Zybach’s contribution, “To a ‘t’.” (on second thought, ‘To a “tt”‘)
          fun word for the day:
          Pettifog
          “… a quibbler of details.” (Wiki)

          • Thanks for clearly illustrating your own point, David, about pettifoggery. Your inference is also mistaken this time, too. I was teasing Ed, whether you found it humorous or not. And no, I didn’t “find it necessary to do so,” I just felt like it on a whim, and not because I “lacked a persuasive argument.” You’re going to have to do (much) better if you are still trying to belittttle me or my academic credits, Dave. Happy Holidays!

            • I take strong exception to david’s needlessly nasty barb at Bob above, but too typical for him these days while others have matured into civility, or they feign it quite well. Good enough as we sit around this table and try to maintain a discourse.

              I think it is time to kick david Beebe off this blog, but he only seems a problem at present since he is the sole nasty voice I still see here. So perhaps not justified and he deserves a chance to make amends as others have.

              I said something about this a few days ago but it seems lost in the shuffle.

              I am more than willing to forgive and forget but if it keeps up, I will put it up for a vote.

    • David, I take strong exception to the tone here and some of what you say about Sharon, i agree on some points but such rants have NO place on this blog and I suggest you take it elsewhere. Your attacks on FS employees salary etc is unnecessary and detracts from valid points you have,.

      So clean it up please or please leave|

      |I have also sent strong crit to people on the other side and I expect much better from people I consider to be on “my side”

      Would you like me to start talking about the trash I know in some enviro basements, don’t get me started.

  3. Reminds me of my days working in Humboldt County redwood forests……tree sitters protesting old growth harvest perched in 40 year old trees, was pretty comical. That said the utter lack of common sense obstructionist types constantly display is pretty astonishing. It’s all about ideology
    for these folks.

  4. ” I would hypothesize that the conflict is not really about the details of collaborative efforts but fundamentally about the outcomes.” I agree with you Sharon. As I said in a different posting, we never seem to hear complaints from people who agree with the outcomes of the collaboration, even if they aren’t involved with the collaboration directly. Maybe this is because the “outcomes” from collaborations inherently involves some degree of compromise, and those least interested in compromising will therefore never agree with any outcome from collaboration. I just wish the arguments from such individuals and organizations stayed focused on the outcomes with which they disagree, and didn’t get caught up in arguing about whether the collaborative was “inclusive” enough in terms of who was at the table.

    In a different post I said it wasn’t “intellectually honest” to argue about the principle of “inclusion” in decision-making when it is the outcome that is really most of concern, and I still hold to this perspective. It may seem ironic, but I maintain this perspective because I believe the values of the “purist environmental folks” are an important part of the dialogue concerning public lands, and I believe their arguments about collaboration not being “inclusive” enough are a distraction from this important message.

    • Mike: “I just wish the arguments from such individuals and organizations stayed focused on the outcomes with which they disagree, and didn’t get caught up in arguing about whether the collaborative was “inclusive” enough in terms of who was at the table.” …”In a different post I said it wasn’t “intellectually honest” to argue about the principle of “inclusion” in decision-making when it is the outcome that is really most of concern…”

      Mike, I can’t agree with this “end justifies the means” argument. I think that collaboration (ideally anyway), much like NEPA, or voting, or even democracy in general, is all about the process: if the spirit of a fair (and inclusive) process isn’t honored, then the results are less valid regardless of whether those results are popular. I think that’s why we have NEPA decisions by the courts, why disenfranchising voters is wrong, and why we don’t (shouldn’t anyway) support so-called “benevolent dictatorships.” Maybe not allowing a few old black people in Texas to vote won’t change the outcome of an election, very possibly it will have no effect, but that doesn’t make it right (e.g., http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/11/01/2875901/texas-voter-abbott-affidavit/#) Perhaps that viewpoint is idealistic, but I don’t think it’s intellectually dishonest. -Guy

  5. Guy,

    This a long comment and I apologize for its length, but I wanted to describe a fully as possible why I agree and disagree with your perspective, and why I think you have misunderstood my intent in my last comment. I agree with you that the NEPA process and others forms of “voting based” democracy are “all about process”. But I differ with you in your characterization of collaboration and I believe this raises an important topic for discussion. It also creates an opportunity for an honest assessment of the democratic and/or undemocratic aspects of the collaborative process.

    To begin, I believe every effort should be made to be as inclusive as possible when initiating a collaborative process and it is in this initial phase that collaboration may hold the greatest similarity (ideally) to other forms of democracy. Everyone ought to be invited and welcomed to the table and a genuine effort ought to be made to keep a diversity of participants engaged in the process over time.
    However, while a genuinely open and inclusive process is essential, it is not by itself sufficient for successful collaboration. Collaboration also requires each participant to maintain a “collaborative mindset” throughout the process, and here is where collaboration differs from the “voting based” democracy of free elections etc. In my view, a collaborative mindset requires:

    1. A genuine interest in understanding the values of others “at the table” as legitimate interests affecting National Forest management;
    2. A genuine interest in seeking the broadest possible commonality amongst these interests;
    3. A willingness to compromise in order to achieve #2;
    4. An inclusive view of the “community of interests” involved with managing National Forests. (maybe this should be #1);
    5. (Ironically) A willingness to leave the collaboration if the outcome asks one to compromise more than one’s values allow.

    In contrast to “voting based” democracy (which is essentially what NEPA boils down to), collaboration requires actual participation in the crafting of a decision, which necessarily requires compromise on behalf of a larger “community of interests”. By definition, therefore, this type of process will eventually exclude those not willing to compromise, or not willing to compromise enough, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is just the nature of collaboration.

    The larger question for this blog and I think for National Forest management is whether the decision-making process for NF management will evolve toward one that requires active participation (and therefore some degree of compromise) in decisions affecting NF management; Or whether we will remain within the “voting based” paradigm of the NEPA process (which does not require anyone to compromise).

    Certainly, our legal structure is designed for the latter option. It’s a “win-lose” mentality, which fits well within our larger social paradigm here in the US. Here, I think it’s important to state up front that the “win-lose” mentality (and the legal structure that flows from this model) can lead to the most “exclusive” of outcomes. Negotiated settlements are a step toward collaboration, but really never move past seeing each other’s interests as independent and separate from the “others”.

    Having said this, the win-lose perspective (like most perspectives) is neither right nor wrong. It’s both, depending on one’s personalize mix of values, and the only questions are when, where, and why it is appropriate. For instance, many folks who choose not to collaborate over NF management believe the “community of interests” least represented in within these collaborative processes are the interests of the natural environment itself.

    To be sure, in a separate post we’ve been talking about the lack of a comprehensive monitoring program that would allow the FS to truly understand the impacts (particularly cumulative impacts) of management decisions. This is a systemic issue that collaboration (at least to date) has not addressed. We could debate the efficacy of litigation (as the sole alternative to collaboration) in generating systemic change with the Forest Service, but the point here is that there are legitimate reasons for not participating in collaboration, depending on one’s values. This links back to my earlier post in which I stated that the current critique of collaborative processes as not “inclusive” enough was a distraction from what could be legitimate reasons for not participating in collaborative processes.

    Another example of the “win-lose” mentality played itself out last October with the gov’t shutdown. Those not willing to compromise were willing to shut down the gov’t (through a “voting-based” process), just as those not willing to compromise on NF management issues are willing to “shut down” some management actions through litigation. Whether one sees these actions as “right or wrong” largely depends on the context, and clearly it can cut across the entire political spectrum, but the common thread of all “win-lose” actions is the willingness to exclude others in order to serve your own interests.

    Coming full circle, therefore, I agree with you Guy that collaborative processes must be as inclusive as possible (recognizing that there are inherently exclusive elements within this process for the reasons noted above). I would add, however, that the when it comes to NF management, we might also consider whether the outcomes that flow from whatever process is used ought to be as inclusive as possible as well.

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