Missoulian on Rule Roundtable

Here is the link.  Some interesting observations.

One tension point was how to balance a national rule with local authority. For Montana Mountain Bike Alliance member Greg Beardslee, local forest officials had too much leeway to allow or prohibit activities. That meant bicyclists can find open trails in one national forest but closures on another, with no regard for economic impact or sustainable activity.

At the heart of many conversations in the roundtable talks was the need to absorb all the changes the passing years have brought. From loggers seeking different kinds of trees, to the arrival of snowmobiles and four-wheelers that can penetrate much farther into the backcountry, to new constituencies for river-running and rock-climbing and caving, the national rule has lots of stretching to do before it can reflect the world it tries to constrain.

Northern Region Forest Service staff member Leslie Vaculik added some internal concerns of the agency. For example, the old rule gives little attention to existing private inholdings within public land, or the value of Forest Service maintenance for things like watersheds that neighboring communities depend on for drinking water.

7 thoughts on “Missoulian on Rule Roundtable”

  1. I wonder if anybody — anywhere at these meetings — bothered to mention that the RPA/NFMA law (last amended in 1976) is itself an anachronism, out of touch with the times. It is bad enough that the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act (1960) is not appropriate for our times, but the RPA/NFMA adds insult to injury. Doesn’t Congress ever repeal anything?

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    • I get a different read when I read the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act – It’s all about ensuring the National Forests are administered for a variety of purposes and to prevent the degrodation or impairment of the land. MUSY also was the first Act to give validation to the establishment and maintenance of wilderness stating the management of the lands needs to give consideration to the relative values of the resources in a particular area. It was one of the first Acts that moved the national forests away from strictly consumptive uses to include a broader range of amendities. MUSY also states that condsideration be given to relative value of a variety of resources and not necessarily the combination that will give the greatest dollar return or greatest unit output. I’m certain I don’t want to repeal that.

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      • Yes, David. MUSY did all that. And it did it in an era when the SY part of it was envisioned as a maximization scheme: zone out some lands, e.g. wilderness, then work production lands for all they could produce. Remember Timber RAM, MUSYC, FORPLAN? Remember Norm Johnson’s famous line about FORPLAN producing seemingly efficient but infeasible solutions?

        MUSY was passed in 1960. The annual allowable cut (timber sales volume) was about 8 MM BDFT, then trended up to about 11 MM BDFT by about 1975. It dropped from 1975 to 80, then shot back up to 10 by about 1990. Then fell dramatically as the FS began to toy with “new perspectives” after the environmental community beat them to a pulp in particularly the Ninth Circuit US court system.

        I want to see the better parts of stewardship”, sustainability, “valuing a broader range of amenities” etc. retained. But I don’t want to see us looking back to the “good old days” as if they were other than they really were.

        We must remember too that MUSY really opened the door for formulaic schemes (some mentioned above) to maximize the various “uses”. The RPA/NFMA, as worked up by the FS certainly did seek to maximize the values, often with the dollars front and center in “objective functions” of the models, forcing others to play the “constraint” game. Hopefully, we are beyond all this FORPLAN nonsense, as Charles Wilkinson remarked at the first DC roundtable earlier this year.

        PS.. For any who stumble into this conversation: I was one of those who helped craft the models mentioned above (with the exception of Timber RAM, which I just studied intently in order to help better craft the subsequent models). That makes me a “recovering ‘quant'”.

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  2. Dave- I remember being at an SAF policy hot issues meeting at the convention, in, I think Winston Salem. Many people wanted to open up NFMA, but the fear is that we will get something worse. The other inertial factor is that politicians need votes and their energy is best expended on getting them, not possibly thankless work like repealing and improving an existing statute.

    But I would be curious as to what the political scientists think about this.. why hasn’t anyone taken on the challenge of changing these laws that seem regrettably out of date?

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  3. Sharon – Not a single member of Congress has sought to change NFMA because no one has made a compelling case that it needs changing.

    Congress changes environmental laws often. Congress amended the Endangered Species Act to balance species protection with other national priorities by adding the God Squad process after the Tellico Dam. The 1897 Mining Act is undergoing what one hopes will be a successful congressional up-dating.

    In broad outline, NFMA has yielded precisely the result a majority of Congress and the American people wanted. It ended the era of timber domination on our national forests. Why would Congress undo an Act that worked? Certainly not to accommodate the Forest Service, which works as the public’s servants, not its master.

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  4. Andy,

    I’m not sure that NFMA “ended the era of timber domination on our national forests.” If it did, it do so only because it incorporated by reference and stood on the shoulders of all the environmental laws with real teeth: ESA, Clean Air and Water, NEPA, …. but also, perchance because it was a vehicle to put things like the Church clearcutting guidelines into law.

    The era of timber domination may well have ended without RPA/NFMA. Hell, it might have ended sooner, without the appearance of “planning as a solution.” Or maybe the Forest Service might have taken the “split the baby” approach that was effected in New Zealand — which might have been even worse than the path taken w/r/t the environment and species endangerment. I dunno. There are many roads not taken. Still, I’m not convinced that the NFMA was really the thing that toppled “King Timber”.

    No matter what, it certainly has been a “long, strange trip” these many years wandering around in the wilds of planning. And it doesn’t look like the planning-wilderness journey is anywhere near an end, given what I’ve seen from the so-called roundtable discussions.

    As per “no one has made a compelling case that [NFMA] needs changing”, THAT is interesting! It may indeed be the “elephant in the room”. Why has no one made such a case? It seems such an easy case to make. I’m more inclined to buy into Sharon’s argument that people were afraid that they might get a worse law from Congress. If so, what does that tell us about Congress? Nothing that current Congressional approval ratings don’t already tell us.

    But it is early in the Obama Administration (and the coincident, if fleeting Democratic majorities in Congress). So we’ll have to see what this Administration and Congress are likely to deal with on the environmental/public lands fronts as we get beyond (if we get beyond) the next big f’ing deal: Financial Reform.

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  5. Andy- interestingly, if I remember this SAF hot topic session- most folks outside the FS wanted NFMA changed but the FS folks were wary of opening it up. Does anyone else remember that session?

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