Forest Supervisor speaks out on behalf of public lands

Kudos to the Forest Supervisor on the Cleveland National Forest for engaging in the local planning process and pointing out the threats to the national forest of increased housing density on its borders.  This is one way the Forest Service can attempt to both protect its resources and manage its costs, but it’s not something I’ve seen very often.  (In fact, I once saw a forest supervisor retract similar comments for political reasons.)

The Forest Conservation Initiative was a voter-approved initiative which required that private lands within the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County have a minimum lot size of 40 acres. The FCI was originally approved in 1993 and expired in 2010.  An unusual history maybe, but it’s not unusual for local governments to allow increased development density (by either re-zoning or lack of zoning).  The responsibility of the Forest Service to speak up for our national resources exists regardless.

18 Comments

  1. I’m going to have to call BS on minimum lot sizes. More land in Colorado has been wrecked by 35 acre ranchettes/weed havens than putting that same number of houses on smaller plots, or better, into joint tenancies, say 20 houses on the corner of a shared section? But noooooooooo.
    I’m sure it’s the same deal for forested tracts. 40 acre patches of doghair. And I guess a single willing seller on 40 acres is easier to create through browbeatery than ten on the same track, never mind it’s cheaper.

  2. Something else that strikes me, as I wanted to go back to that article and couldn’t yesterday:
    There are large swathes of private property here supposedly “within” the boundaries. So Pinchot and Roosevelt were drawing lines and basically stopped homesteading, is that it? Or Timber and Stone claims? Whatever the case, this is a really fractured ownership and to say these lands are really on a National Forest as inholdings is pretty stretchy.
    The return point I want to make is the CNF supe “arguing” as here:
    William Metz, forest supervisor with the Cleveland National Forest, was worried about potential changes around Alpine, where the community could double in size.

    “The Cleveland National Forest lands in this area are heavy with fuel loadings that make them particularly hazardous from a fire suppression standpoint, “ Metz said. “The congressionally mandated Pine Creek wilderness lies directly to the east of this area. Increased development would potentially have an impact on this wilderness character. Additionally, groundwater withdrawal could also affect water resources for the National Forest.”

    I would presume East because of Santa Ana winds — what blows my mind is up in Montana on the Front, LCNF, we have five consecutive retired supervisors (including fabulous Gloria Flora) support a bill that parks wilderness (misnamed Conservation Management Are) right against private property, upwind of private property, and nobody even sneezes. Oh, but Metz is okay with the fires, he just wants nothing in the way at the inevitable escapement — so I guess there is some consistency after all in what is an amazingly slimy excuse not to manage. And no mention of public safety, not really.

  3. If it were up to me, the Supe would be cleaning culverts on the Olympic by now. The US Govt has NO say so about issues of land use on non-Federal land. He was totally out of line. This BS about buffering the Federal unmanaged landscape with a no use band of private land also not able to be used or managed is beyond stupid. Beyond Facist. If I were the Regional Forester the SO would be hearing from me and his presence would be insisted upon at the RO.

    Separation of Federal and State governance. Just as important as church and state. There is nothing in the Commerce Clause that would legally allow the USFS to make any demand on the County or the State about a land use issue. I would have the State AG send a letter to RO and ask what they hell they think they are doing. The USFS can’t regulate their charge to non use and then cross the property boundary and ask the same of the private and state ownerships. BS. That is NO different than Putin annexing Crimea. Some hoity toity SO de facto annexing private land by land use decision lobbied for by the USDA-USFS? Where is another Sarah Vogel (Coleman vs. Block) when the need is there?

  4. @JT. I (the Forest Service) am a landowner. I can’t tell my neighbors what to do, but I can sure tell them what I think. A forest supervisor should lose his job if he doesn’t try to protect the resources of the national forest. Participation in local planning is encouraged in the planning regulations – see 36 CFR 219.4(a)(1)(iv) – and they require coordination of planning if needed for species of conservation concern. But really it’s just common sense.

    @DS. I agree that concentrated developments are better, if that also means concentrated open-space. I think some creative planning could get the right things in the right places, but just relaxing lot size requirements won’t.

    Elsewhere I have seen the argument that more people on the boundary creates more risks of human-caused forest fires, but he did seem more concerned about fire suppression.

    Your inverted argument that you shouldn’t put ‘wilderness’ next to the boundary is interesting. The FS would have to accept that may limit how it wants to manage the area (similar to how new subdivisions on the boundary would).

    • JonH

      Re: “A forest supervisor should lose his job if he doesn’t try to protect the resources of the national forest”
      –> Agree with you and JTjr – he must protect the resources of the national forests but he must not do more than suggest that the adjoining landowner participate in creating the necessary buffers which admittedly are costly to the USFS but may be ruinous for a small landowner to under take.
      –> Unlike a private landowner with extremely limited resources and as a public servant, he and all of his supervisors all the way up to the top should loose their job when they take no action to control small beetle spots as is specified by the wilderness act and deemed practical by the chief entomologist in a wilderness area and end up destroying what is expected to be the majority of spruce trees in the whole state of Colorado.

    • Not inverted, John. On the L and C, the Baucus wilderness bill is putting wilderness directly upwind on long-term inholdings that predate the 1908 date of reservation, and an extremely restrictive “Conservation Management Area” on all the rest — every acre. That means no buffer, no secondary lines of defense for fires originating in the Bob Marshall (and there have been some doozies), likely no active management (no money, no mill, no market, no mitigation on cost).
      So it amazes me this supervisor is saying how dangerous it is to build next to wilderness while in Montana there’s legislation to move it in right next door.

  5. Here is what the FS actually said,

    “The Cleveland National Forest lands in this area are heavy with fuel loadings that make them particularly hazardous from a fire suppression standpoint, “ Metz said. “The congressionally mandated Pine Creek wilderness lies directly to the east of this area. Increased development would potentially have an impact on this wilderness character. Additionally, groundwater withdrawal could also affect water resources for the National Forest.”

    Given this statement, I respectfully disagree with John Thomas and agree with Jon Haber. In this day and age, Forest Sups an others in positions of authority really ought to be taking a proactive role on behalf of the broader public interests at stake in any of these situations. One of the problems the agency has consistently faced internally is that sense that federal employees can’t “advocate”, which is often interpreted as not having an opinion. I think the Forest Sup here did a good job of expressing his opinion and represented the public’s interest well. I only wish he would have gone farther to provided some estimates of the fire-fighting costs that WILL happen WHEN the fire comes, if the additional development is allowed to go through…

    • I’m interested in the groundwater comment. Because wouldn’t it be possible for development anywhere in the watershed to affect groundwater? And what is the mechanism for more water wells (I guess that that’s the assumption) to affect FS land?

      It seems like that is a slippery slope. If a new manufacturing plant comes to Wherever,Oregon, then more cars and trucks will be driving around, thereby increasing pollution for trees on FS land…

    • Mike, I think federal employees are allowed to “advocate”; but they are supposed to advocate for policies that are authored by the Administration. That’s how we get the federal bureaucracy to work instead of a cacophony of beliefs by different federal employees about what is in the “public interest”.

      Bless their hearts, Presidents are the ones who have gone through the painful and laborious process of getting elected. And they get to pick underlings, so however annoying they are, that’s where marching orders are supposed to come from.

      • Hi Sharon,

        I know that has been the standard by which Fed employees have lived for a long time. I just don’t think it’s feasible for the administration to author all policy implementation in detail anymore (not tat it ever was really). Seems to me that arguing for sustainability (which this Forest Sup was doing) is probably within the general purview of fed employees. If the higher levels of the agency want to override the Forest Sup on this or at any other time, then let them do so, but let’s be open and transparent about it and not hide behind the idea that if the admin has not spoken to something specifically the agency just has to sit on its hands.

        This is about personal accountability, which I think the Forest Sup is showing here…Bias is always present and affects all kinds of policy interpretations within the agency. This guy is just being forthright about it, which is respectable.

        • Mike, I understand that, but if someone is setting policy that has not been directly made, who should it be? I can imagine a Supe saying this, but the Forest’s Deputy not agreeing, or some subset of the leadership team or, more problematically, perhaps the DRF or RF. And if this Forest Supe thinks it’s a good idea, does that mean all Forest Supes agree? When I worked in the RO, I think I spent most of my time mediating disputes or answering questions from the public on why neighboring forests (or districts) have different policies. In my experience, the cult of the line officer makes it difficult for the Forest Service to self-organize around a topic in a coherent way. Other than Fire, which uses the “it’s already been decided by Fire with Dept of Interior, so Supes and RF’s can’t change it” rationale for having (more or less) coherent (dare I say, cohesive 😉 policies.

          To restate, if the Dept. isn’t making the policies, then to externals (and to internals) it may appear that random people are picking random positions randomly.

          • In this case, the policy of coordinating planning exists at several levels in the federal government. You could start with the America’s Great Outdoors presidential initiative, but certainly include Secretary Vilsack’s “all lands” policy (which was incorporated into the planning regulations as I mentioned). Then there were Chief Bosworth’s “Four Threats” – one of which being “loss of open space,” which led to the Forest Service Open Space Conservation Strategy which promotes cooperating across boundaries, including “participating in community growth planning” (http://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/national_strategy.html). There is also the forest plan, which should identify the resources that were found to be important to the public, and for which the local forest supervisor should be an advocate.

          • Sharon, I have no doubts regarding your experience in the RO. What I wonder about is why the FS finds it so unworkable to resolve differing opinions between Forest Sups. Isn’t this exactly why there is a hierarchy? An analogy might be found in the federal court system where differing District Court opinions are often resolved through Appeal to Circuit Courts. The challenges you describe from when you worked in the RO just sound like the RO “doing its job” to create realignment wher eit is needed, but staying out of the way when it isn’t. Moreover, isn’t the FS supposed to be unique amongst federal agencies in that it celebrates its decentralized roots? Wasn’t the uniqueness of the FS the very reason why there was such rebellion over the Department’s effort to take away the FS shield?

            Two additional thoughts: First, I think Jon lays out the broad policies under which the Forest Sup in this case had the authority to express his opinion quite well. Second, with regard to your last statement, Sharon, sometimes I wonder if the agency uses the potential for “public confusion” as justification for inaction, when it is really a means of avoiding accountability at lower levels of the organization. (Hope that makes sense).

            To reiterate, I agree that kudos are due to the Forest Sup on the Cleveland. He very tactfully expressed his viewpoint, staying well within the broad policies of the administration, and in the process he became a real life participant, rather than a bureaucrat.

    • MikeW

      Re: “Increased development would potentially have an impact on this wilderness character”
      –> My thought is that that is too bad but private landowners have every right to develop any where that isn’t forbidden by law.
      –> My belief is that wilderness and other restricted use areas should be surrounded by other public lands to protect them. So in my book the only right thing for the USFS to do is to remove a buffer area from the wilderness and use it to create a buffer between the federal former wilderness area and the adjoining landowners. Then the USFS is free to add equivalent acreage to the wilderness area on some internal boundary between USFS wilderness area and USFS non-wilderness area. I imagine that that wouldn’t be allowed but that is the only fair thing to do to avoid degrading the value of the developer’s asset which in effect creates an eminent domain issue requiring compensation for lost market value.

      • Zoning and eminent domain are not the same thing. Wikipedia explains it well enough: “There are numerous instances where the US Supreme Court has found that state courts have reasonably concluded that “the health, safety, morals, or general welfare” would be promoted by prohibiting particular contemplated uses of land. And in this context the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld land-use regulations that adversely affected recognized real property interests.

        Zoning laws are, of course, the classic example, see Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394 (1915) (prohibition of brickyard operations within certain neighborhoods); Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926) (prohibition of industrial use); Gorieb v. Fox, 274 U.S. 603, 608 (1927) (requirement that portions of parcels be left unbuilt); Welch v. Swasey, 214 U.S. 91 (1909) (height restriction), which have been viewed as permissible governmental action even when prohibiting the most beneficial use of the property.”

        And while maybe “private landowners have every right to develop anywhere that isn’t forbidden by law”, that’s exactly what zoning laws do (provide a legal prohibition). But the buffer zone idea isn’t a bad one, there may well be circumstances where that could work and make sense.

        • The difference between zoning and eminent domain is that the rights taken under ED must be compensated, while under zoning, the rights lost are never made whole. It is majoritarian uncompensated takings — just not a complete extinguishment of value and therefore not compensable under the Constitution.
          I find that wrong. If I own someone’s “viewshed” that they never paid for although they overpaid the seller of their lot, and they go to government and turn my retirement fund into “open space,” is that fair? Heck no, it isn’t.

  6. Where do you split the hair on what a Forest Supe says in a zoning hearing? What part is official USGovt policy and what part is personal opinion or belief. There is a very defined boundary on individually owned property and the “commons” or the Public Lands. I don’t think the Federal Government has any say so on use of private land in this country if only because it is a States’ Rights issue. There is no Constitutionally given Federal power to regulate on any piece of private land in any state. No state boundaries are crossed. It isn’t interstate commerce. As far as I can see the issue, the Supe voiced a personal opinion because there is absolutely no mechanism in the law for the Feds to move off their reservation to govern private land in a county or state. The old hook tender told me I could wish into one hand and crap in the other and we both knew which hand would fill up first. The Cleveland SO can wish all it wants, but if he takes any action it is illegal and out of line. Only the courts may punish, not the USFS.

    As far as buffering a land use from another, use the Federal land to buffer individual land use decisions inside the Federal Estate. Or get Congress to condemn and buy at fair market price the private land. And lest we forget, that is exactly how the Redwoods NP was created. And then they were in court at least two more times or was it three? To lose each time in the dollar compensation amount, in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars each time. And lest we forget, also, that the USFS and BLM have created Wilderness inside roads that are used as perimeter boundaries. Some Wilderness has inholdings and others have roads that cleave them, as long as there is the requisite 5000 acres inside the road and the Wilderness boundaries on either side. The whole concept of Wilderness is now about gerrymandering a boundary. As for the “hand of man” being there, there are old apple orchards and remains of old homesteads inside unroaded wilderness in some forests, lands bought back by the USFS in the Depression Era “Rural Relocation Act” land purchases. The Siuslaw has former homestead lands inside its Wilderness, land that was purchased in the 1930s.

    The buffer issue is that if that were allowed, then there would be a hue and cry for a buffer of the buffers. You know, for fire reasons. As for the fuel loading, live with it. The USFS created their fuel loading problem, on their lands, by their management decisions or non decisions. Live with it. If the fires escape, and most do, then I guess the person with the most fuels will get burned out. I have fought fire in that kind of area, and the people who are pretty savvy about fire and keep fuels minimized, seem to escape damage most of the time. The people who live the messy lifestyle are doomed. I watched as a grass and brush fire came to a green lawn and a house with sprinklers on the roof tack like a sail boat to the west and totally consume the neighboring homestead. All the outbuildings, kochia, junk cars, boats and a couple of old travel trailers and then the garage and house, all the while just bypassing the directly downwind house, shop and corrals. The fire jogged west and ran over the neighbor and went another five miles by dark. I guess the lesson for the USFS is that they will get what they get if only because it is their fuel loads that are the problem, not the issue of private land being too close to inept, poor, lackadaisical, what have you, modern litigation driven forest management decisions on public lands. Collectively we know better. However, some people can’t see the forest for the trees. That will change due to fire in time.

    Saving homes has been the issue for most of my life. I have watched all the suppression effort go into saving a double wide tarp roofed trailer house and some clutter built out buildings while private timber by the hundreds of acres went up in smoke. A $50,000 effort to save maybe $10,000 worth of junk while allowing millions of board feet burn. I can see the Supe’s point, but that issue is that his problem is of his doing, his outfit’s doing, and lobbying for the USFS lands to be protected by the private estate is not turnabout, and not fair play. After all, the USFS takes zero financial responsibility for fire they allow to trespass or for backfires their employees set on private land. But if YOU, Mr. Citizen, allow your fire to trespass on the USFS, they come at you with tooth and claw, the full wally Justice Dept law teams, in the interest of collecting Civil Damages for the fire that came from private lands. And if the Federal fire burns you out, there is zero Federal responsibility, financially, in Civil litigation. Torts limits, you know.

    In conclusion, since there is this vast discrepancy in the value of whose ox has been gored, yours being priceless (AG Holder, et al, were after $750,000,000 in the Moonlight fire litigation where the public employee lookout was stoned on weed and wasn’t looking for fire in the dooby smoke of the lookout, allowing the fire to grow undetected for hours, and when the USFS fire crosses on to private land, the $250,000 max damages tort limitation comes into play to protect the Govt from civilian tort damages due to their negligence. So no, there is no parity, no fairness, no equality in the whole deal. If the USFS Cleveland NF Supervisor was arguing that it was HIS fires that were the danger, and you are not safe anywhere near the USFS boundary on your own land, what a sad commentary that is.

    • JTjr

      Re: “There is no Constitutionally given Federal power to regulate on any piece of private land in any state.”
      –> But, then, if you read the constitution and then come back to the 10th amendment – There is no case to be made for National Parks or Forests. That is up to the states. But you can’t really blame the Feds any more than the states which ceded their support of the 10th for sugar plums handed out by the Feds. The states having forgotten that the sugar plums come from the state citizens and that the states could have had that money straight out if they hadn’t ceded control of it to the Feds.
      –> So it’s kind of like a few Dem’s I heard being interviewed in the Capital building who said: ‘There aren’t any laws, we make them up as we go along’. Evidence of that is replete in the self contradicting laws and in laws that conflict with other laws in the natural resources arena because they had no idea about what they were talking about. And since they had no idea about what they were talking about, they sure couldn’t provide any kind of a decision tree to resolve the conflicts and outright contradictions. So resolution is left to: a) judges swayed by procedural mistakes and or supposition by scientists contravening long established and well validated science and by b) politicians swayed by the voting block swayed by the uninformed mantras of those supposed “environmental” groups opposed to sound forest management.

      The voter block pendulum will swing back when we are overwhelmed by National Ashtrays and the NSO dies out because the old growth died or was killed prematurely and insufficient young forests were created so as to be there to replace old growth and mature stands when the last of the present old growth and the mature forests are gone from where the homebody NSO resides. Thank the Lord, no matter how many barred owls are shot to preserve the NSO, there will still be plenty of barred owls to repopulate the young growth that comes up in the national ashtrays and among the dead old growth. Forest ecosystems in totality are resilient although not all species in the forest ecosystems are resilient. So let’s not abuse the forest ecosystems to save the non-resilient species and unnecessarily create ashtrays in the process. Let’s make sure that the forest ecosystems are kept healthy in order to increase their resilience and reserve that resilience for those times when unforeseen circumstances prevail.

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