What Went Right with West Bend? Comparing to Colt Summit

colt summit table

A few weeks ago, I posted this on the West Bend Vegetation Project, and asked the question “why was this successful?”

Matthew asked the question “could it be because the Deschutes was willing to negotiate with the objectors during the objection process?”

He compared it to the Colt Summit collaborative project, that we’ve discussed many times on this blog. Here’s exactly what he said:

This compares to some other high-profile CFLRP projects, such as the Colt Summit Timber Sale on the Lolo National Forest, in which the Forest Service was completely unwilling to make any modifications or remain flexible even going so far as the Lolo Supervisor telling conservation groups during the appeal resolution meeting “We’re fully funded for this project and we’re not making any changes.” The result was the first timber sale lawsuit on the Lolo National Forest in over 5 years.

So I went back to the record and asked the question.. had the Colt Summit folks changed the proposal based on public feedback?
I had a vague memory of a table that showed changes.. and sure enough, in this link there it was!

But it looks like it was based on public input and not on the result of an appeal resolution meeting. So here’s what appears to have happened (FS people invited to chime in):

The Forest Service initially proposed 1228 acres of commercial thinning when they first presented the project to the public. The Proposed Action was first presented to the public on February 6, 2010 in an official scoping notice (legal advertisement published in the Missoulian newspaper of record). Later, in response to public comment and field findings, the Forest Service developed the modified proposed action, which reduced the commercially thinned acres down to 597 acres.

So it sounds as if, based on what Matthew said, the appellants on Colt Summit might have been satisfied and not litigated if the acres had been reduced still further. I like this because it is honest.. it’s not really about the FS breaking the law, it’s about having power over the outcome.

But the public can’t know for sure, since Mr. Garrity pointedly refused to say what outcomes he wanted, when I asked in this email exchange.

Here’s what Mr. Garrity said:

We do think is is odd that the Forest Service was non-responsive to our comments and appeal and yet we are supposed to believe that if we debate this on a blog site it will bring changes to the project.

So it didn’t seem important to him to inform the public (whose land it is) about his concerns. The FS worked with the public, though, as required by law and regulation.

Here’s the process for Colt Summit was as follows (steps of official public input in bold):

1. Proposed Action Developed by Forest Service considering collaborative input from previous projects

2. Scoping – Proposed Action provided to public for review and comment

3. Public concerns and issues identified and alternatives developed to respond to public’s scoping comments

4. EA Prepared to analyze effects of the proposed action and the alternatives and to display this analysis for public consideration

5. Public Notice – Legal Notice published on December 10, 2010 to inform public that EA and Draft Finding of No Significance (FONSI) is available for public comment.

6. Comment Period – public provided comments on EA during 30 day comment period

7. Modified proposed action prepared and analyzed to respond to public comment. Acreage of commercial thinning reduced from 1228 to 597 acres.

8. Decision Notice and FONSI signed on March 25, 2011 selected the Modified Proposed action

9. Appeal Period – 45 day appeal period begins day of decision

With Colt Summit, there were three additional comment periods with reaffirmation of the original March 25, 2011 decision. None of these decisions were subject to appeal because the Forest Service did not change the original decision.

So Mr. Garrity’s (secret) opinions should count more than the other members of the public because…if the FS doesn’t do the (secret) thing that his group wants, then the project will be delayed in years of litigation. Kind of quasi-extortional. Just some kind of formal mediation process, prior to litigation, would help this kind of thing, in my view, or at least should be tried. Congress.. this would be a simple pilot to try out and not invoke “rolling back environmental laws.”

5 Comments

  1. Some people like to keep the wheels on their goal posts well-greased. Yes, I do also see a sort of extortion going on here. It’s like “If you don’t change the plans to my satisfaction, we’ll file a lawsuit, regardless of the rest of the public’s opinions and the Forest Service’s science”.

  2. “But the public can’t know for sure, since Mr. Garrity pointedly refused to say what outcomes he wanted, when I asked in this email exchange….So it didn’t seem important to him to inform the public (whose land it is) about his concerns. The FS worked with the public, though, as required by law and regulation.”

    “So… (secret) opinions should count more than the other members of the public because…if the FS doesn’t do the (secret) thing that his group wants, then the project will be delayed in years of litigation. Kind of quasi-extortional.”

    Sharon, as has been pointed out in responses to some of your previous posts, these comments are disingenuous. First, it is absurd to assume that any organization or invidual is somehow obligated to reply to you or the NCFP blog in order to “inform the public”. This sentence is a good example of something you often preach against, which is making assumptions about the motives of others. The public information process operates outside of this blogosphere, whether you approve or not.

    Similarly, the comment about “quasi-extortional” “secret opinions” is patently ridiculous. When a complaint is filed in any of these lawsuits (and it’s always a public document, available with only a minimal amount of effort), it is always based on previously submitted appeals/objections. Again, the issues raised and the agency responses are hardly secret, they are publicly available and posted online, and can be found with just a tiny bit of effort. So to call them “secret opinions” would seem to imply either ignorance of the process, or an unwillingness to expend a little effort to look for the information. You may have a different explanation which would be helpful to hear. By the way, the plaintiffs in Colt Summit were not a single individual as you suggest, but three different environmental organizations. Again, this would be a simple thing to find out before blogging inaccurate information. I think there is a certain baseline level of responsibility for accuracy and truthfulness that should be applied to posting here, and your post , in my opinion, does not meet that basic standard.

  3. Gee, Guy, you said my comments were “disingenuous”. I looked that up and it means:
    “not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.”

    I disagree with you.. they were very candid and very sincere. I will show you below where I think we disagree.
    Then you said
    “First, it is absurd to assume that any organization or individual is somehow obligated to reply to you or the NCFP blog in order to “inform the public”. This sentence is a good example of something you often preach against, which is making assumptions about the motives of others. The public information process operates outside of this blogosphere, whether you approve or not.”

    What if you substituted “I disagree” for “it is absurd to assume”? You probably don’t even notice you’re doing it. It is as if you heighten the language and people will believe it more. Maybe it works with judges (they’re probably so used to it they don’t notice) but I find it offensive. I mean, look, you’re saying 1) you know what I am assuming and 2) it is absurd. I am a real person here and we disagree because we have different perspectives, not because mine is “absurd.”

    I asked what Garrity was looking to change on the project and he wouldn’t tell me. I was not really questioning his motives (why he didn’t tell me) but we can interpret something from the fact that he didn’t share this information, can’t we? Doesn’t the action of “not telling” convey something? Because if there was something I didn’t like about a project, a plan or a regulation, I would tell anyone and everyone who gave me a chance.

    Now, as to the content of what you are saying. I think our difference is that you see two things as the same, whereas I see them as different. Let’s call them 1 and 2.

    Appeal documents and legal documents tend to say (I have read far more of them than any one person should have to)…
    1. What The Plaintiff or Appellant Thinks About The Legalities of the Project
    “The FS isn’t doing a variety of things right, and besides your NEPA sucks and you’re violating NFMA and ESA.” And usually there is a good deal of kitchen-sinkery involved.

    2. What The P laintiff or Appellant Will Settle For In Terms of Changes to the Project
    That is a different question from the above. Very different. It means “I will not litigate, despite the egregious screwups you made in your process that I have described at great length, if you change the project to be “x”. “
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    Now for objections, not appeals, people tend to be more direct about how they want the project changed, e.g., “get rid of that timber sale unit” or in the case of a plan I remember, “bring bison back to the grasslands.”

    But that’s still not necessarily saying “if you do x, we will not litigate.” Otherwise, after all that analysis and all that public comment, it boils down to “Group A wanted Change X and we (the USG broadly) could live with it)”.

    I understand that’s the way litigation works, you can’t show your hand. I guess sometimes I wonder whether all the collaboration and public involvement is really worth it, to the people involved, and to the taxpayer, if the decision is made on the basis of “some group wanted it changed and they litigated.”

    I hope that’s clearer, and less disingenuous ;).

    • Sharon, I think it’s very clear, but I didn’t necessarily disagree with your post to begin with.

      In Guy’s defense I was somewhat surprised at the TONE of the OP. Again, not that I disagree, but at first blush it seemed to be contrary to the “new” NCFP blog ettiquette. Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for delving back into heavy doses of snark to make a point, especially where Garrity (and the other environmental organizations) are concerned. Probably not productive, but it feels good…given our similar career backgrounds.

      I am interested in fleshing out more of Larry’s comment from the Scattered Apples post:

      “Another problem is that some serial litigators will never give up in their quest to eliminate timber sales, no matter what. Also, there is no payday in compromise efforts for eco-lawyers.”

      It’s widely accepted that appeals/objections/litigation is a business model for many “enviro” organizations. “Activists”, “Defense Directors”, etc need to be “active” in order to keep the business afloat. For better or worse.

      It’s also widely acknowledged that some of the individuals in these enviro orgs. have a great deal of integrity and actually believe in what the are doing. For better or worse.

      Integrity means a lot. What’s written, how its portayed, received, relayed, interpreted….sooo many variables. I can’t fault someone for not taking the bait to debate a postion on this blog. There isn’t really a logical end to where to go with the debates, discussion and occasionally dialogue.

      The real question for me is why can’t environmental groups (in oposition) have a better dialogue with the Agency….why are collaborative efforts so castigated? I don’t buy the time/money arguement that Matt has often forwarded….an e-mail or phone call is pretty cheap and has just as much influence as the pageantry settings.

      In my opinion, it seems that the interests of some of these enviro organizations (if they are coming from a place of true intergrity and sincerity) would be better served earlier than the “Democratic process” would allow.

      Thoughts?

  4. Sorry if something about that was snarky.. I was consciously upping the “colorful language” ante a bit to make my point, and using a colorful analogy, like so many do.

    It’s interesting because Andy does some of this (e.g., “jackboots”) and it doesn’t bother me.. either I’m biased toward Andy or some targets are OK and others not, or ???

    Maybe this is arcane, but I am interested in levels of snark and how they are interpreted.

    It really is not a personal thing against any of these people, so let me me clear. They are using the system we have.. I don’t see anything wrong with them in using the part they have. I think the system is set up so that people who litigate have undue influence over decisions, and their influence and ideas are not explained to the public in an open way. I think the system is the culprit, not the people. I also have a problem with the statement that “we are just enforcing the law,” because I don’t think it’s honest. I am actually developing a soft spot for Mr. “Psychological Warfare” Suckling, because of his honesty. He is using the means available to promote the agenda that he deeply believes in, and says so.

    My point about asking about what the desired design features for Colt Summit were was to say that “even given the litigation system, a person or group could work around it to tell people what they want if they wanted to .”

    Because, at the end of the day, if you lose your case (which could ultimately happen), maybe your ideas about how to change it will trigger something in the implementation, or the next design of a project or…

    I do wonder about spending all this money on both sides on 597 acres of commercial thinning..because one group opposes it. I wonder if there are better environmental investments that could be made. But that’s not saying anything bad about Mr. Garrity- just that I disagree with his and his group’s priorities.

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