Lawmakers vent to feds, assert forest fire inaction

The article, “Lawmakers vent to feds, assert forest fire inaction,” might have been titled “Lawmakers vent to feds, assert Congressional inaction.”

“If you are going to be the landowner, the landlord, we look to you to for the responsibility in taking the lead,” said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville.

I understand that view, but the main problem is that the USFS and BLM are hamstrung by protracted environmental planning and collaboration processes, too-frequent lawsuits or the fear of them, and inadequate funding or misplaced funding priorities.

10 Comments

  1. Maybe the USFS and BLM just need to get better at environmental planning. Maybe if they practiced how to do it right it would stop taking so long and stop being ripe for litigation. It’s a possibility.

    • “Better” environmental planning may help but don’t hold your breath. The goal of many organizations is to stop ALL harvesting of trees on federal land and, until they get what they want, litigation will continue. After all, they have nothing to lose since the taxpayer pays their legal expenses!

      • Hello Dick, Can you please offer up proof to back up your notion that “The goal of many organizations is to stop ALL harvesting of trees on federal land.” Since you claim this is the goal of “many organizations” I assume you’ll have no trouble providing a dozen or so names and examples. Also, you are sort of incorrect when you state “they have nothing to lose since the taxpayer pays their legal expenses.” The truth is that if the plaintiffs lawsuit is successful, they may be able to recoup some attorney fees; however, if the suit isn’t successful, the plaintiffs pay entirely out of their own pocket.

  2. Doing environmental planning “right” hasn’t worked well either. The Quincy Library Group is Exhibit A in that regard: “Desperate for a way out of the regulatory and litigious quagmire, an environmental lawyer, county supervisor, and timber industry forester met in secret in 1992 to explore the possibility of a truce. The meetings of these three bitter rivals eventually became public, and by 1993 the Quincy Library Group (named for its meeting place) was born. Using a decision-making approach based on unanimous consensus, the group agreed on a compromise logging plan that same year. The plan allowed more timber to be harvested than the Forest Service was permitting at the time, although less than historical levels (Quincy Library Group 2005)….National environmental groups were vociferous in their opposition. ‘Just because a group of local people can come to an agreement doesn’t mean that it is good public policy,’ said Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society (Sagoff 2004, 221).” – William Varettoni. Success Overdue at The Quincy Library: Pitfalls in Public Participation (2005)

    • Some QLG projects were doomed to fail in court, because they didn’t “follow the best science”. Yes, it is an example of collaboration, consensus and compromise but, that wasn’t enough to stop preservationists from winning in court. Their less “experimental” and more traditional thinning projects are less lucrative but easier to get through the courts. I tend to think that since it was a product of the Clinton Administration, it was given a “free pass” for many years. Ironically, Feinstein co-sponsored it, then dropped it like a hot potato, only to re-embrace it later and put her own name on it.

  3. It’s curious to note that the following quotes from the article weren’t highlighted by Steve.

    “Dave Whittekiend, forest supervisor of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said….in his area, the agency has tripled the amount of timber harvest.”…

    The late summer rains of August and September put a damper on the activity in Utah’s 2014 wildfire season, which left just 21,000 acres burned — or one-ninth of the state’s 10-year average, said Utah State Forester Brian Cottam.

    The article seems to me that it’s basically about a bunch of super conservative (likely anti-federal government) local politicians complaining about the federal government with a bunch of rhetoric, no science and very little in the way of factual information. If that’s the type of stuff that some people thinks makes a good, solid case for doing what these local politicians want, so be it.

  4. ‘Just because a group of local people can come to an agreement doesn’t mean that it is good public policy,’

    I would add to the end “for a national resource.” I think this concisely gets at one of the key points of disagreement expressed this blog. In particular, I’d suggest that federal laws provide the federal perspective (which is preemptive) in local negotiations about national forest management (and that includes individual national forest planning).

  5. Steve, I’m curious about your perspective on the comment that but the main problem is that the USFS and BLM are hamstrung by protracted environmental planning and collaboration processes… (realizing that you did list other “hamstringing” factors as well).

    The language is similar to that you used in your recent (August 2014) Forestry Source editorial, “Lawsuits galore. Is there a solution?” http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/saf/forestrysource_201408/index.php?startid=1#/2 There, you made a similar point that (as I read it) there needs to be less environmental planning and less allowing the Forest Service to be “nitpicked” and “hamstrung” in the courts for alleged violations of environmental laws. But in that editorial, you specifically recommended collaboration with a forest “board of directors” who would determine what activities were “reasonable”, with no legal recourse for those who believed the law was being violated (“The clincher is that no lawsuit could be filed if a board approves a project”).

    It’s true that you did suggest to “leave the appeal process about as it is now” (although actually it’s now gone), but one wonders what kind of impact an appeal (now objection) would have if the reviewing USFS official knows there will be no legal consequences for simply ignoring it. Your suggestion would effectively eliminate whatever meager influence the already-weak appeal/objection process currently has, though I suppose it would serve the goal of further un-hamstringing FS decisionmakers.

    Would it be correct to conclude that you’re advocating that collaboration with a hand-picked quasi-judicial board would be ok, but collaboration that involves public participation is unnecessarily disruptive of the professional forest resource managers? It’s also a little unclear whether your views are reflective of SAF policy, since they’re expressed as an editor of a SAF publication. I’m guessing those are ideas that SAF as a professional society would be timid to embrace, but maybe not…

  6. Guy, all opinions I express in my monthly Editor’s Notebook are mine, not necessarily SAF’s. On page 2 of every edition is this disclaimer: “The opinions expressed in articles, commentaries, and letters do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of SAF.”

    My crazy idea for a forest “board of directors” would of course — and must — involve public participation. Hand-picked? Yes, but something like Washington State’s Board of Natural Resources, which oversees (along with an elected Commissioner of Public Lands and the state Department of Natural Resources) is composed of six members: the Governor or the Governor’s designee, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Commissioner of Public Lands, the Dean of the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington, the Dean of the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University, and a representative of the counties that contain State Forest Board purchase or transfer forest lands. (see https://www.lincolninst.edu)

    I am swamped at the moment and can’t take time to anwser all of your good questions. Later, perhaps….

  7. Here’s my Forest Service story for the day, kind of off topic but gives idea of the ‘fire culture” entrenched in Forest Service.
    Yesterday I was up on the Umpqua Willamette divide to look at some timber that burned this summer in the Staley creek “complex”. ( A fire, in my opinion, they probable spent millions playing with.)
    I was also looking for a grader operator who was working up there hoping they could help us spot blade a couple of area we salvaged this spring.
    So anyways while trying to access the burnt area I went down a road that had been newly brushed and graded by the Forest Service thanks to “fire money”. Only thing was someone put deep waterbars every 50 yards that made the road almost impassible and I am sure after this winter will end up with the destruction of the road. I did make to end of the spur the find a stand of burnt old growth Douglas fir that could be easily harvested. So I started down another road to fine the roadgrader and view some more burnt timber. I could tell this road had been treated the same with deep waterbars every 50 yards or so, which would of destroyed this road also, but the grader operator was actually repairing the damage that was done to the road just a few weeks earlier. Again all this was being done with “fire money”. The road leading to other part of the burn had been block with an earth berm.
    So it seems to me that people within the Forest Service are using “fire money” to promote their own agenda and to make sure that no timber is salvaged. Only this time someone got caught trying to destroy one of the mainlines and someone had the foresight to see that it needed to be repaired immediately before the rains really start. (And can be used to managed these land and maybe fight another fire)
    Good thing they have lots of “fire money” to spend.
    The grader operator was under “fire work contact” and wouldn’t be able to do any other work.

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