Advice for the Tongass young-growth plan amendment

Though some doubted it could be done, the group of industry leaders, scientists, conservationists and government representatives has reached a consensus: the Tongass Advisory Committee has submitted its draft recommendations for managing timber harvests in the national forest that covers much of Southeast Alaska.

There are lots of interesting ideas here; maybe some becoming relevant beyond Alaska as the Forest Service gets out of the old-growth business everywhere.  Here’s one that surprised me:

It asks for changes in leadership, with more power given to regional foresters.  “This runs counter to the current culture in which District Rangers, in order to be safe and not take any risk, simply layer on Interdisciplinary Team suggestions for protection, without paying attention to redundancies,” the draft reads, “lead(ing) to a collision of restrictions that result in low volume and non-economic projects … or extinguishes projects altogether.”

It’s also counter the culture of decentralization.  It seems to be a proposal to take more risks, which I would expect to lead to more litigation.  On the other hand, I got the impression over the years that those at higher levels understood the risks better and were less likely to take them.  But then they are closer to the politicians, too.  (Maybe there’s some other perceptions out there.)

2 Comments

  1. I think that this is an unfair hit at District Rangers many of whom, in my experience, get it “just right”: not too little and not too much risk (like the Three Bears). I spent years of my life talking with Rangers, Supes and OGC about risks and while occasionally there would be a blind spot or an interpersonal brouhaha of some kind (or folks just disagreed), I would say most knew what they wanted to accomplish and had a pretty good idea of the risks and on the most controversial projects, it was clear that the the whole WO/RO/Forest and District, plus OGC needed to be on board.

    Also, I think the NEPA for the 20th Century project has at least one study on how rangers think about litigation risk and how that gets carried forward in NEPA documents.

    On the other hand, my experience has been that sometimes a plan standard is debated and discussed and finally a deal was done for the plan. You think it’s going to help, so people won’t have to discuss and redo it for every project, but sometimes it just becomes a starting point for individual ID team further discussion and debate on each project .

    Problem is that a variety of districts with more or less the same kinds of projects in the same kinds of country, have ID team members and Rangers with different personalities, and when they get together, there can be all kinds of agreements that lead to all kinds of different approaches, all more restrictive than the original plan standard (of course, because you can’t go below it). We would like to think it’s based on more site -specific analysis and less on ID team group dynamics but you’d have to spend time looking around different projects to know for sure.

  2. So it is obvious that the main concern when contemplating any project, that the first questions asked is, “what do we have to do not to get litigated.” I have watched so many projects get delayed, downsized or not happen at all because of fear of litigation. Now some might think that is a good thing, but I see the results as being a waste of our resources, the impoverishment of our federal land managers and our rural economies. It has been especially harmful to any small timber sale projects, no time, no money.
    It will interesting to see if the draft recommendations gets litigated and thrown out. Of course SW Alaska is much different than Oregon, Washington, and California where we have already transitioned away for old growth harvesting and have an infrastructure for manufacturing all types of trees.
    That is not to say that there won’t always be older growth trees that are appropriate for harvesting in the Pacific NW. Currently millions of older growth trees die every year and are just left to rot. I would guess less than 1% are eventually harvested.

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