New Congress, New Ideas (This Time I Really Mean It!)

In yesterday’s post I asked:

New Congress, new ideas.. we could take this project and ask the question, how could we do better with justice for all and still follow the existing laws? Ideas? When I retired, the solution to this was “collaboration”- folks have been doing this, and spending a great deal of time and energy… but the same result seems to be occurring (in some cases). It is certainly not the solution that some believed.

Now we have some very experienced and smart people on this blog, plus many of the people who like to talk about these kinds of things over a beer or two. Now I realize that there are folks out there like Guy who think things are fine the way they are and “if the FS would only follow the law, there wouldn’t need to be litigation.” I know others may not agree with that framing. So those of you who think the current situation is sub-optimal, please put on your thinking caps and propose some ideas for solutions.. and I’d like to go with ones that keep the land in federal ownership, because the end result would be something we could try to sell to Congress. NePA nerds of all stripes are requested to chime in..

Thanks to all!

11 Comments

  1. I hate to say this because I firmly believe that efficient management is not possible under the F.S. no matter how you tweak it. That said, here’s an idea that could work. Timber Sale self-financing is working well on DOD land. This extract from United States Code may serve as a template for the development of Legislation designed to
    test the use of self-financing of the Timber Resource Management Programs on selected National Forests.

    TITLE 10>Subtitle A>PART IV>CHAPTER 159>§2665
    (d) Appropriations of the Department of Defense may be reimbursed for all costs of productionof forest products pursuant to this section from amounts received as proceeds from the sale of any such property

  2. Sharon, sometimes I don’t express my thoughts well, but you express my thoughts even more poorly. Unfortunately, you often attach quotes to something you may believe somebody meant to say (or which you simply did not understand), or make a conclusion about what they think, and it becomes false attribution. I for one would prefer not to be quoted as having said something that I never said, and the idea that you would be a spokesperson for my thoughts is, frankly, somewhat alarming. Thanks.

  3. In Sharon’s defense, her fake “quote” represents the general impression you project rather closely, Guy.
    As for collaboration, I think it is a joke. The paid people show up, the average person doesn’t have a snowflake’s chance in heck. I think the average citizen figures that out after a while and they disengage because they really don’t have the time and money to waste trying to outmaneuver either the hired guns or the time-wasting freaks.

  4. Yes, I agree, I shouldn’t have used quote marks..
    I derived the concept from your quoted statements as follows:

    “is largely a non sequitur: For the agencies to start by “following the existing laws” is always a necessary first step towards achieving “justice for all.” It’s really not that complicated, but getting the agency to do it is like trying to catch a rainbow trout with your bare hands.”

    If I read this correctly, you are stating that getting the agency to follow existing laws is like trying to catch a rainbow trout with your bare hands.

    Now if that is, in fact, difficult, you are saying it is difficult to get agencies to follow existing laws… but you are NOT saying what I said in my quote:

    if the FS would only follow the law, there wouldn’t need to be litigation.”

    So therefore you must be saying that 1) it is difficult to get the FS to follow the law
    2) one tool to do so is litigation

    Do you agree with both those claims?

    If so, then you must disagree with the claim 3) “no litigation would be needed if the FS followed the law.”

    I am very interested in hearing how you think about this.

  5. Everyone is searching for short cuts! Let remove or reduce laws and regulations! The problem is much deeper than that. I agree there is way to much paper work, but most of that has been created by the bureaucracy not the Congress. Scientists are chained to the desk instead of visiting the forest communities they are responsible for. The major problem is the fact that the science of forestry is focused on the resources we can take from the forests, not the health and diversity of the unique forest communities. Law suits will diminish when we search out the potentially effected interests and dialog with them on the establishment of management goals for the individual communities. Experience has shown we can achieve some degree of agreement in determining the rational for treatment, and leave the selection of tools to be used until later. Timber sales are nothing more than tools! Determining how to accomplish, the agreed upon goal or goals, must be the second step. The products produced by the treatment then become the by-produces of good management. It is also important that we do not limit the tools available to the scientist by laws and regulations. IF WE HOPE TO SUCCEED WE MUST START THE DISCUSSION BY ESTABLISHING THE GOALS REQUIRED FOR HEALTHY AND DIVERSE FOREST COMMUNITIES! THE RECOGNITION OF INDIVIDUAL COMMUNITIES WELL ASSIST IN IMPROVING DIVERSITY! I must add, I have little faith that ANY change in the Congress will provide any improvement over the current situation.

    • Success is measured differently. One side measures it in “acres treated” and the other side measures it in “acres preserved”. We need to continue to educate the public about site-specific issues, so they can make truly informed decisions and compromises. When that happens, changes will stick. What we don’t need now is a pendulum swing towards bypassing the cornerstone environmental laws. Those darn three “C-words” need time to work their magic.

    • Brian,
      I think that this has been tried,

      Law suits will diminish when we search out the potentially effected interests and dialog with them on the establishment of management goals for the individual communities. Experience has shown we can achieve some degree of agreement in determining the rational for treatment, and leave the selection of tools to be used until later. Timber sales are nothing more than tools! Determining how to accomplish, the agreed upon goal or goals, must be the second step. The products produced by the treatment then become the by-produces of good management. It is also important that we do not limit the tools available to the scientist by laws and regulations.

      And I would use the example of the GMR (forgot number) for the Sierra.. have the lawsuits in fact diminished or are lawsuits a function of Chad Hanson’s preferences regardless of GMR?

  6. I am sure all of us break some rule almost daily. There are just to many rules.
    Just about any nonprofit environmental corporation can sue the FS or BLM if they don’t like a project just by saying they didn’t study something enough.
    Seems like the rules that apply to forestry are mainly used to stopped timber harvest. Not necessary the cutting of trees but the harvesting of trees for manufacturing. (Why they are so against manufacturing I am not sure).
    For us to have healthy communities we need jobs. These jobs need to come from the harvest and processing of a diverse resource base that we have on our public forests. The current forestry rules have stopped most logging on our public lands. (with the exception of large thinning projects of small diameter wood that supply large modern automated mills).
    The NEPA process is too complicated and costly. It excludes almost all small projects that would include any timber harvesting.
    I think one of the goals should be for there to be a steady and diverse supply of resources from our public lands. And lots of small timber sales and projects to promote jobs within the communities that are surrounded by these forests.
    I think the Forest Service needs to hire more permanent employees that live in the district where they work. (Including the District Rangers.)

  7. Sharon is asking, “. . . how could we do better with justice for all and still follow the existing laws?”

    Well, we could set the expectation that the Forest Service comply fully with the statutes that govern its actions. For instance, starting with the mandates of the Organic Act as codified in 16 USC, chapter 2, § 475. we find that one of the core purposes for which that national forests are to be administered is “. . . for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows.”

    Outside the areas where the Service has done research into managing the forest for favorable conditions of water flows, but do we know of anyplace where this core management tool is being substantially used by the Service?

    Using pre-commercial and commercial thinning, researchers have found that you can increase stream flows by something on the order of 15%. Refining the tools used in the research, we could expect even better results as techniques improve.

    A key side effect is that the increased spacing between trees at various life stages results in the forest health improvements mandated by more recent statutes. That includes, but is not limited to. lower fuel loads, better resistance to insect infestation, and improved habitat for wildlife.

    I live in Washington State. The Department of Ecology has a robust instream flow rule-making program. Restrictions on water use are a key feature of that program, which establishes an instream flow as a water right that takes its adoption date as its water right seniority date, and makes all other future water rights in the watershed junior and interruptible. The justifications for the instream flow quantities would make it legally reasonable for the Department to require the Forest Service to manage its holdings in a watershed for water flows as mandated in compliance with 16 USC chapter 2 § 475. So far, the Department has failed to demand this of the Forest Service.

    Other states are engaged in developing and/or managing instream flow programs to varying degree. There is a body called the Instream Flow Council, which is comprised of representatives from the relevant agencies of its member states and provinces.

    The forms of collaboration that the Forest Service has engaged in have not gone quite far enough to become optimally meaningful. The Bureau of Land Management understands its formal mandate to coordinate with state and local government. The Forest Service is also required to do this, but tends to try to move to any other form of collaboration rather than sitting down to coordinate with local or state government.

    Coordination is not “county supremacy”. It’s simply a form of collaboration where all the agencies at the table are there as equals, with non being subordinate to any other.

    This leads to the thought that you can use a coordinated process to move in a direction where portions of a national forest could be co-managed by the Forest Service and its direct state counterpart, or between the Forest Service and a county government. If the co-management is developed through a fully coordinated negotiation, then you can have a mutually and fully beneficial program that satisfies the requirements of the full range of federal, state, and local statutory and administrative law while meeting the needs of both the natural environment and the human environment in compliance with NEPA and related SEPA mandates.

    The lands remain in federal ownership, but management of those lands is shared among the relevant federal, state, and local agencies to the mutual benefit of the people and nature. There are some areas around the nation where local governments are prepared to be the pilot projects for this type of collaboration. Why not give it a shot to see how it works? It could easily turn out to be one of the solutions to a problem we’ve talked and talked about . . . but not really taken up the reins to ride.

  8. [img src=”http://www.wvmcconnell.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/N.F.-gross-growth-net-growth-mortality-Cut.png”][img src=” ” width=400]
    This graphic shows the 4 key elements of timber management as they have responded to National Forest management, or lack thereof, over the past 35 years. Virtual non-management by the U.S. Forest Service of this public resource over the past 20 -25 years has resulted in increasing mortality and decreasing growth. It has produced the present condition where, following an 85% drop in the annual timber cut, the managing agency harvests only 7% of the annual growth, while 6 times that volume (nearly half of the total growth) dies.

    What the graphic does not show are the massive adverse social and economic impacts of this management failure: the effects of non-management on forest-dependent workers, families, communities, schools and local governments and the subsequent alienation of the populace. Nor does it show the strangulation of local forest industries, or the decline in wildlife populations caused by the reduction of early successional habitat. At the same time, inside the agency, ill defined, shifting goals and inability to “do the job” have resulted in employee frustration and rock-bottom morale.

    Management means anticipating and preventing mortality caused by insects, fire, and disease, by thinning over-dense stands, removing unhealthy and aging trees, and maintaining a healthy, productive, and fire resistant forest ecosystem. The agency’s failure to manage is manifest. Lacking a drastic change in overall management structure, the situation will worsen as timber stands age and mortality increases.
    Many factors have been advanced as the cause of this condition:
    • A labyrinth of laws (more than 93 now govern Forest Service resource management), regulations, directives, executive orders, and judicial mandates (many conflicting).
    • The legal staff of special interests with narrow agendas aggressively and profitably mining this rich vein of litigation opportunity as the basis for protests, appeals, and lawsuits to delay or prevent management.
    • Excessive agency planning and analysis to insure compliance with the laws and to “appeal-proof” proposed projects.
    • Congressional failure to provide clear objectives and to fund management activities.
    • Agency failure to aggressively inform the Administration, the Congress, and the public of the changing conditions and their consequences.
    • Diversion of resource funds to fire control.
    • Shifting priorities by the public, the Administration, and the Congress.

    Some observers feel that the problems are so complex and system-embedded that they are not solvable under the existing management structure. These change-agents believe that adding another layer of legislation will only compound the problems. They feel that the only solution is to remove selected lands – unreserved lands best suited to timber production – from federal control and the regulatory maze that is causing system failure.

    One alternative under consideration is to return ownership to the states. Another, perhaps less controversial, suggestion is to transfer the surface estate of selected lands to an independent Public Timber Trust with the goal of maximizing revenues consistent with sound land management techniques and with revenues supporting local schools and governments. This management mode already is working well on many millions of acres of Trust managed land, primarily in the western U.S.

    Still another option, timber program self-financing, is now being successfully used on Department of Defense lands. A modified more flexible version of USC, TITLE 10 PART IV>CHAPTER 159>§2665, with returns to the counties based not on the 25% rule but on a much larger percentage should be acceptable to a broad egment of the concerned public. Under any percentage return system, returns to the counties should not exceed the tax loss (including any severance tax) incurred by the lands being in public, rather than private, ownership,

    The need for major change is inarguable. As the debate continues one fact is clear; doing nothing is not an acceptable option.

    ___________________________________________________
    The author is a retired (1943-’73) Forest Service Officer with advanced degrees in urban and regional planning and sociology and is a past chair of the National Forests in Florida Resource Advisory Committee. He has participated in and observed the management of the National Forests for 72 years.

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