Rep. Rehberg of Montana on Planning Rule and Recreation

Here’s an article in the Clark Fork Chronicle.

Here’s a quote

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) is demanding the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) protect recreation and access in national forests when drafting National Forest System land management planning rules. The letter is in response to concerns being raised in Montana and elsewhere that current draft planning concepts are ambiguous and leave critical decisions to unelected bureaucrats.

“We’ve seen time and time again that when a regulation is vague, unelected bureaucrats tend to abuse the wiggle room to the detriment of the people of Montana,” said Rehberg, a member of the Congressional Western Caucus and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “It takes more work to get it right the first time, but in the long run, it saves money and leads to better policy.”

The USFS is in the process of developing a new national planning rule, which will be used to guide local officials with developing individual forest management plans. Draft concepts, which will ultimately be used to develop the rule, have been posted on the agency’s website.

Unfortunately, these drafts include vague and ambiguous terms that could lead to reduced recreational opportunities on forest lands and endless litigation. For example, the Draft Recreation Approach (DRA) specifies that recreation must be “environmentally and fiscally sustainable”, but fails to define what that means. Because stakeholders may be unable to agree on definitions, this could hamper individual forest supervisors’ ability to develop land management plans that include robust and diverse access and recreation provisions.

The complete letter from Rehberg to Chief Tidwell is reprinted in the article.

14 thoughts on “Rep. Rehberg of Montana on Planning Rule and Recreation”

  1. Hello, I’d just like to point out that this “article” was written by Jed Link, who is Rep. Rehberg’s spokesperson. It really should be referred to, and seen as, a press release from Rep. Rehberg’s office and not an article written by an independent journalist. This might be a small clarification, but I feel it’s an important distinction to make. Thanks.

  2. I don’t understand the target or reasoning behind this criticism. Which unelected bureaucrats are the problem? The ones writing or implementing the vague rule? And are unelected bureaucrats in DC preferable to ones in Montana? And if such discretion is problematic, why finish by asking for a rule that allows national forest officials “the flexibility to manage these lands based on local needs and input.” If Representative Rehberg is genuinely concerned about “unlected bureaucrats” making such decisions, then what is the legislative option?

    I have read the motorized recreation group NOI letters, participated at the Science Forum, the D.C. Roundtable and breakout sessions, etc., and am still confused about their complaints of the USFS and its approach to recreation in the new planning rule. These groups take issue with vague statements such as providing “environmentally and fiscally sustainable” recreation, but offer as an alternative a demand for “adequate access.” That helps a lot…

    And as Stahl noted months ago, “outdoor recreation” was listed first in MUSYA because of the alphabet, it is not a statement of priority.

  3. I looked up MUSYA in Google and found this interesting synopsis on a University of Colorado site:

    Summary of the 1960 MUSY Act

    Since 1960, land management on national forests has been governed by the Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act (MUSY). MUSY mandates that national forests be “administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.” That sweeping and rather vague mandate was extended to the BLM in 1976 by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (Cawley and Freemuth 1997).

    The Multiple Use Sustained Yield (MUSY) Act of 1960 was a high point of the influence of the USFS. The Act codified what the USFS was doing anyway and named a set of multiple uses: recreation, range, timber watershed, wildlife, and fish. The Act stated that no specific use could predominate and that a high level of annual output should be maintained without impairment of the productivity of the land. This was very broad guidance, and it gave the Agency a considerable amount of freedom. The USFS could operate, more or less, as it wished under MUSY of 1960. This was so simple was because there were substantial areas that were untouched by cutting. The last frontier had not been reached.

    Though not in the Act, but very much in USFS literature, were the Agency objectives. One was community stability—thought to be jobs. Conveniently, this is coincident with no profits. Supply of fiber (i.e., wood) was another important objective. In recreation, big game and fish (both of which are hunted) were predominant. Scenic drives were also mentioned quite often. And hiking had not yet come into its own. These objectives were harmonious: More wood was more jobs and open forest, and more open forest was more game. There was very little conflict.

    Political scientists R. McGregor Cawley and John Freemuth (1997) argue that multiple use has resulted in gridlock as single-interest groups have proliferated regarding the management of public lands. They believe MUSY has created a zero-sum game, where the attitude of “I must restrict or eliminate your use to protect my use” has dominated the debate. They go on to say, “Indeed, the logic of a zerosum game encourages the various participants to concentrate their energies on the task of blocking the moves of their opponents rather than on seeking to establish a common ground upon which compromises could be constructed. Moreover, a predictable outcome of a zero-sum game in which the players are relatively equal is stalemate” (Cawley and Freemuth 1997:35-36).

    I don’t know about the theory, but in reality of people using the Forests, recreation is the predominant use. Some in my office might argue that dollarwise it’s provision of water; provision of wildlife is considered to be recreation, and grazing and timber are fairly minimal these days in terms fo dollars or numbers of people. Like I’ve said before, I think recreation is the number one use and we should at least consider how we would operate differently if we treated it that way. Which is not to say that I am pro or anti motorized access.

  4. This deserves a full post, and I’ll try to do that once the semester lets go of it grip. But for now….is it wise to base management decisions on demand and perceptions of? It’s at least worthy of some serious thinking before we take such claims/arguments at face value.

    First, there is the problem of how recreational demand is to be measured, as we discussed in the Meister decision discussion

    ( for the recent Wisconsin planning decision).

    But there is something more fundamental than this: federal lands should be managed according to the rule of law–the values, purposes, and direction as provided (or not provided) by Congress. That is how we make decisions about such important things. If motorized recreational access is to be prioritized over other uses and values, it should be clearly articulated as such in new law. That would take care of the “unelected bureaucrat” problem so lamented by Representative Rehburg.

    What does it say about the forestry PROFESSION, and the USFS as a public agency, if it were to simply base management decisions on perceptions of citizen or “customer” demand?

    At what point does the profession and agency say that demand shall take a back seat to the resources and values with which we are so entrusted? What if, for example, a growing group of users wished to widen FS trails so to accomodate new affordable recreational tanks or bulldozers? Shall such demand be accomodated simply because it exists?

    Of course demand is important, and this argument cuts in numerous ways. But such demand claims deserve some scrutinizing, as made clear in Meister.

    • Martin raises an interesting point that may or may not be implicit in Rehberg’s release – to what extent would today’s Congress wish to grant professional judgment, as compared to other methods of decision-making?

      On the one hand, we seem emboldened to seek community-engagement in decision-making processes, with professionals sometimes playing facilitating and resourcing roles. On the other hand, we recognize the complexity of many of today’s natural resource management issues that suggests limitations of various political processes such as ballot initiatives.

      Are we seeing the end of American Progressivism, with its emphasis on reducing local, potentially corrupt, political leadership with an independent, professionally trained administration? Bureaucrats were deliberately unelected so that they maintained some distance from entrenched interests.

  5. Martin- don’t see how you get from the fear of litigation and fuzzy words to the concept that we “must meet demand.” We never had that concept in timber or grazing or water. It is always subject to legal constraints. So why would we think that it would suddenly arise for recreation?

    I must be missing something. But I can wait until you have more time.:)

    • Sharon, that leap of mine, from fuzzy language to meeting demand, stems from the statements made in the article, letter, and other places where motorized groups (among other recreationists for that matter) argue that the USFS should provide more access opportunities because there is supposedly more demand for them. All I’m saying is that such an argument is very incomplete and problematic, from how demand is measured to more fundamental concerns.

      • Martin- I suppose I am being literal-minded, I did not see the term “demand” used anywhere in the article or letter, except that Rep. Rehberg demands that the Forest Service does certain things. You could interpret this as the recreationists, including motorized users, are worried about having their opportunities reduced.

      • Sharon,

        The word demand is not used in the letter, but the claim is rampant, be it explictly so or implied. Recall, for example, this discussion a while back:

        Or some of the NOI letters by motorized groups.

        And as I’ve stated before, the demand argument is made by other users as well. A recent graduate student of ours wrote an excellent dissertation on “claims to recreation allocations on public lands,” so I’ll see if he can maybe post something for us.

        Be his work demonstrated how often demand was used as a principle of allocation decisions for national forest trails. And as Andy makes clear, the USFS uses demand extensively as the basis of its decisions. Take, for example, the recent travel planning decision on the Gallatin NF. Rather than focusing mostly on resource impacts, the GNF mostly based its decision to REDUCE motorized allocations based on the local, regional, and national demand for nonmotorized activities.

        So all of this background, and the Meister decision discussion, is relevant here.

        All I’m suggesting Sharon is that we critically think about such claims before we take them at face value. The argument is more philosophical than political. Demand should be given its due consideration of course, but it should not be predominate.

  6. Sharon – Do you really mean to say that the Forest Service never sought to meet the nation’s demand for timber? Here’s what the FS says, in its own words: “National forest timber is sold and harvested for essentially three reasons: To provide timber in response to the Nation’s demand for wood.” This purpose is listed first and not for alphabetical reasons.

    I can’t possibly tell you how many (I fear the number is in the high hundreds, perhaps over 1,000) timber sale decision documents I have read where the primary justification for logging is to “meet demand.”

    Yes, everything the Forest Service does is “subject to legal constraints.” But what does that mean, e.g., when the Forest Service engages in “a remarkable series of violations of the environmental laws”?

  7. Andy- there is a difference between the general concept of doing something because people want it (otherwise why do it?) and more tightly fitting our national forest production to supply whatever the country might demand.

    So let’s use timber as an example. What Cliff was saying, I think, on the website you alluded to is that there are sales that are simply done for timber production. The ideas is that taking logs to the mill is a good thing because people want wood, and we might as well get the jobs associated with it and keep the dollars at home. But that is different from saying that the entire US demand for lumber needs to be supplied by the national forests- or even giving any target at all.

    So if we’re talking about a semantic difference in these EIS’s between “helping to meet demand at some unknown proportion of the total demand” and “meeting demand”, I think the authors are using a shorthand when they mean the former.

    As to the Dwyer quote, I am not familiar with the whole series of spotted owl litigation (so many things to be thankful for!). I can tell you that day in and day out the things that we are currently in litigation -at least here- are where reasonable people could and do disagree about whether they are even, in fact, violations, let alone “remarkable” violations.

  8. Sharon: Between World War II and the late 1980s, the Forest Service did have an affirmative policy of meeting the nation’s demand for timber. The policy drove the Renewable Resources Program. Forest plans had to pass a timber demand litmus test administered by USDA. The Forest Service sponsored the Timber Assessment Market Model, which analyzed the effect of FS timber supply on the nation’s wood products prices.

    The timber era, like the spotted owl litigation (with decisions that continue to profoundly influence national forest policy), may seem like ancient history to you. But those who don’t learn from history end up repeating it.

  9. Andy- In those days I was working on the Fremont, Winema, Deschutes and Ochoco. I remember some pressure to feed the local mills. But I never got the impression that it was our mission to meet the entire country’s wood demand. I do remember individuals in Congress who seemed to apply pressure.

    I did work on the RPA Program starting in 1991, and I don’t remember anything about “meeting demand” in that sense (all demand, as opposed to some demand). So I don’t know exactly the nature of these policy instruments, (sounds like the USDA litmus test may have been inspired by powerful politicals). Again, I’m not saying I didn’t observe various forms of pressure to increase the cut in documents and on the ground; I’m only saying it was not apparent that that was tied with a need to produce 100% of the softwood supply from within the US, with or without the contribution of private land.


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