Jack Ward Thomas on Tester’s Bill

The Pioneers. Photo by Jacob Cowgill.
Here’s a piece by Jack Ward Thomas, former Chief of the Forest Service about Tester’s bill.

A couple of his criticisms are interesting to me..

The “deal” assumes status quo conditions – political, economic, ecological and legal. But, dramatic change is but one insect and/or disease outbreak, one fire season, one mill closure, one appeal, one successful legal challenge, one budget, one new research result or one shift in market conditions away.

But so are forest plans and (in particular) forest plan EIS’s. That was a criticism of the utility of the forest plan EIS that led to the 2005 to use CE’s instead. If you don’t meet your timber target from the plan, if you need to change your standards based on new scientific information, we have a tendency to just not change and just live with a growing deviation between the plan and reality. I don’t think the solution is to do another EIS. I think (perhaps agreeing with Iverson) that standards for wildlife don’t belong in individual forest plans- they belong somewhere they can be updated on a broader scale. JWT has put his finger right on the forest plan conundrum- we need to lay out some kind of future (or do we?) yet conditions change before we actually implement what we have planned. Too many moving parts.

The “deal” hinges upon trade-offs between interest groups.

The interest groups have negotiated their own “deal” as I understand it, rather than the agency responsible official weighing all their views and making a decision. But are the interests of “interest groups” seemingly longer lived than the opinions of one federal official? I don’t know. This reminds me of this piece in the Denver Post over the weekend on Secretary Salazar.

“I only half-heartedly joke with those in industry that, during the prior administration, their names were chiseled above the chairs outside the office of the Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals,” wrote Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, to Salazar this month, criticizing recent changes to oil and gas leasing policy.

“I fear that we are merely swapping the names above those same chairs to environmental interests, giving them a stranglehold on an already cumbersome process,” Freudenthal wrote.

I am being a bit of a devil’s advocate here, but is a deal between interests who have honestly met and hashed things out “worse” than pendulum swings between administrations?

Finally, JWT says..

Clearly, the governance of national forests is dysfunctional due to numerous, overlapping, contradictory laws continuously and variously interpreted by the courts. That is the problem. These bills are “sick canaries in the mine shaft” – indications that something is dangerously amiss.

Would it not be better to recognize and comprehensibly address that dysfunction?

One path would be a law review, as suggested by many.

Question: Could a planning rule help with this “dysfunction”? And if so, how, in advance of such a comprehensive review of laws?


see the whole article:
Tester’s forest bill not a feasible, long-term solution

5 thoughts on “Jack Ward Thomas on Tester’s Bill”

  1. Sharon,

    I’ve got to get off the dime and write a longer post on this issue (of unspecified length and quality at an undetermined date). But for now I’ll say this: I’d highly recommend that the USFS and its planning team familiarize themselves with a number of “place-based” forest laws being proposed, like the 3 initiatives included in Tester’s bill, and the Wyden bill, among others. For all their problems, they have a lot to teach us too.

    Like the Chief, I have questions about this piecemeal legislative approach (see e.g., http://www.headwatersnews.org/p.ForestJobsAct092809.html)

    But having studied several of these proposals over the last year or so, I’d say that there are some common themes and approaches that deserve further consideration by the USFS and Congress (i.e., putting roadless lands and old growth off the table once and for all, the search for alternative funding, the goal of greater certainty and predictability, landscape-level (and funded) approaches to restoration, the use of citizen advisory committees, NEPA questions, etc.).

    Ideally, a Congressionally-sanctioned Commission would study these proposals (legislative-based and otherwise) and consider nation-wide changes. That ain’t gonna happen in the next year, so its reasonable to ask the agency’s planning outfit to give some thought to these initiatives. Some of this stuff is obviously beyond the purview of new planning regulations, but at some point these common themes/questions/issues need to be addressed by the agency.


  2. Question: Could a planning rule help with this “dysfunction”? And if so, how, in advance of such a comprehensive review of laws?

    We have a student here at Montana who is looking at the administrative rules, ‘overlapping, contradictory laws’, and various national level policy initiatives concerning wildland fire planning. His work clearly lays out how difficult it has been for USFS managers to follow the National Fire Plan given the contradictory demands of NEPA and Categorical Exclusion mandates. I worry that this pattern (of continuing to develop planning rules without untangling the legislative mandates) only continues to tie the knots tighter. Tester and Wyden’s approach seem quite like that, and I suspect the agency is going to feel very squeezed in implementing their bills.

    But, do we honestly think that a comprehensive review of laws can happen if it is perceived to be undoing the advances that NEPA, ESA, and NFMA etc. represent? Is there the political will and ability to advance such an initiative? The story of the General Mining Act might suggest it unlikely.

    • THe planning rule might help with some issues, but not with hardrock mining. I made extensive comments on the latest rule, and the FS ignored them. This is a serious matter because the mining destroys trees and landscape forever and leaves a pit that turns into a toxic lake because of leaching heavy metals–which is of course a hazard to wildlife, especially birds. Mining is not a multiple use at all… I did an FOIA of the current mining projects being processed. At first they (Weldon) wrote that they don’t keep these records!! Then I received this “inventory”–after months:
      No one has been able to make heads or tails of them.
      With the help of a friend we did get an inventory of current projects by going to the individual Forest website–but again there is no accounting of acreage or number of trees/plants/wildlife impacted:

  3. Sorry I’ve been away from this for a few days. It’s good to be back. I’m afraid that Jack Ward Thomas’ critique of the Tester bill is an overly facile slam. Of course there are problems with system function when piecemeal legislation is proposed, and Martin’s tireles advocacy for a comprehensive review remains the right prescription. A planning rule alone can’t treat the “dysfunction,” but to borrow one of Jack’s favorite phrases, to “bayonet the wounded” within the Forest Service by railing about its dysfunction isn’t fair. It’s full of problems for some evident reasons (poor funding, mindless antagonism over the Clinton roadless rule), many of them exascerbated by Congress. Tester at least has the attention of Congress focused on an experiment with a new style of planning, and I credit him for that. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act simply needs to add the requirements to conduct the needed comprehensive assessment that can supplement the planning rule to make some visible progress.

  4. I am attempting to get something done about the destruction of National Forests by hardrock mining. The FS is relying on the 1872 mining law–although it does not apply at all to the present mines. For example, in Arizona (near me) the FS is ardently permitting a project that will destroy 33,000 mature trees…. and only 1/5 of it is patented land–but they are proceeding anyway… causing tons of frustration and money from concerned residents like myself–for six years, meetings and hearing ad nauseam. (I got started in mining activism because a copper mine was polluting our public water supply–and they did fix the problem.) And another project is in Congress (for 5 years) on a land swap. I have generated tons on information over the past 10 years… so i will just give one plea: write Obama to protect Oak Flat campground (NF).

    [PS I found this website because I am reading Jack Ward Thomas’ “Journals.” Isn’t he great!! I was looking for his “Course in the Future,” in case you have it.]



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