Long time readers are familiar with this post from 2011 which links to an interview with Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. I have appreciated his directness and honesty about what the Center’s lawsuits are really about. The interview was by Ray Ring of the High Country News, and Gina is a friend of his who is a marriage counselor.
“(Lawsuits) are one tool in a larger campaign, but we use lawsuits to help shift the balance of power from industry and government agencies, toward protecting endangered species,” Suckling told HCN in 2009. “By obtaining an injunction to shut down logging or prevent the filling of a dam … we are in the position of being able to powerfully negotiate the terms. …”
Suckling’s group often wins in court. But instead of helping various parties come to an agreement, as Gina does, Suckling wants to steamroll opponents: “New species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale. When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners … feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed — and they are. So they become much more willing to play by our rules. … Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.”
Of course, “psychological warfare” is too strong a term, but Mr. Suckling’s natural public language seems to be Hyperbolic. In my language, it would be.. “unnecessarily unpleasant experiences” and perhaps sometimes a “hostile work environment.” But let’s check in with the BBER study..
Other ripple effects mentioned by the FS and FWS personnel involved with the SBR case included reduced morale and feelings of frustration among personnel involved from repeatedly having the quality, completeness, and/or validity of their work called into question by litigants, by the press when these cases make it into the news, and by their professional peers and community neighbors.”
What I remember being frustrating about this was the feeling of bringing knitting to a knife fight. We were carefully trained to be collaborative and respectful of other opinions, and yet working in an area in which other people were disrespectful and snarky. One of my employees quit because a certain group she was dealing with were so nasty to her. For me, it wasn’t so much the part between us and the appellants/plaintiffs (although that does wear on you, others can be snarky and inaccurate but we have to be respectful and accurate), but the part about what gets to the neighbors and in the press. Note that in this case, it’s not just the FS but the FWS folks involved. It can feel like being beaten over and over again, but being unable to fight back. It’s not a good feeling.
The reasons I’ve heard to not reply to inaccurate statements included: 1. if we tell our story/ attempt to correct what is stated, it will sound defensive. 2. It’s in litigation, we can’t tell our story, the cone of silence has descended. I’d be interested in other reasons that folks have heard. The feeling I got is something along the lines of “it’s a contentious world but we can’t get involved, it will only make it worse.” Solution-wise, we could imagine an “Adopt-a-Project” Program in which we get folks (perhaps retirees?), train them to “fight back” and give them the appropriate tools. This could be scary for the Agency, because of losing control, but it seems to me that you need to balance someone “assuming the best” with folks who are “assuming and promulgating” the worst if the public is to get an accurate view of what is happening on their National Forests. Other ideas to help those on the front lines?