Who’s at the Table and Who Decides?

Observing the stories in the press on our favorite topics over the past two weeks, I found a common set of questions that I hope can illuminate the controversies. ”Who’s at the Table and Who Decides?” There is another thread, in some of these stories, of the appropriate role of state and local governments.

In this post, we’ll examine the settlement of case against four forest plans (82 Rule) in southern California.

Here’s the link to the below quote. http://lakeconews.com/content/view/17531/931/
Here’s the link to another piece on the settlement on this blog.

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has announced a settlement that requires the U.S. Forest Service to reconsider its plans regarding wilderness lands in four national forests, including the Los Padres, home of the endangered California condor. “With this settlement, the state of California will now play an active role along with the Forest Service in determining which areas of Southern California forests will be preserved as wilderness,” Brown said. The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by Brown and various state agencies and environmental groups against the U.S. Forest Service for its plans to allow roads to be built through hundreds of thousands of acres of wild lands in the Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino national forests.

Who’s at the table? The plaintiffs (listed in the agreement) and the Forest Service and DOJ.
Who decides? The Department of Justice and the Forest Service and the plaintiffs, which in this case includes the State of California.

It appears to me that the State and groups that used the tactic of litigation moved the decisions in forest plans from being an open process, where the FS decides, to a not- open process where it is not so clear who decides. If land management allocations are ultimately to be made in the courts, because plans are so complex that it is difficult to do one perfectly- especially when people are paid to find flaws- perhaps it tells us that more conflict resolution, and not more analysis is what is needed. Again, I think it’s OK to use that as a tactic, but using that as a tactic has potential negative ramifications, from the perspective of openness and transparency, that need to be acknowledged.

It looks like the settlement imposes roadless-rule like requirements or, in other words, establishes a policy for federal lands in part of the State. We have had the discussion before on this blog about whether settlement agreements actually set policy. This seems to be an example of that.

2 thoughts on “Who’s at the Table and Who Decides?”

  1. Some observations.

    I agree that more analysis (or data) is not the answer. However, more conflict avoidance would be more effective than more conflict resolution. A good example, is the way the revised plan for the National Forests in Mississippi was developed by first bringing stakeholders together to craft a shared vision for sustainable ecosystems. The plan would have been out by now and we would know if this approach would have reduced litigation of the plan except that it got caught up (as you know) in national-level litigation. A presentation on some of the tools used to develop the plan can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5143397.pdf. (Also see the Forest’s web page)

    The Southern California plan revision process may have been more open than the settlement agreement process but the history of litigating forest plans began with the first round of forest plans decisions that were anything but open. And clearly, a key stakeholder, the State of California didn’t feel like it was appropriately involved this time. Litigation of forest planning by state attorneys general is pretty uncommon. This is not a first for California, however. For a state that is so often on the forefront of emerging issues, it seems like the Region would have figured out how to work better with the State by now.

    There must be gremlins at work here because I saw an earlier version of this post that cited some of Jack Ward’s musing on the Department of Justice. Should they re-appear, I’ll have some thoughts on that subject as well.

  2. Jim- 1) This reminds me of some previous discussion we’ve had on the blog about advisory boards here and here.
    As one of my colleagues says (he is more articulate than I, but something along these lines) it makes sense for the stakeholders to listen to each others’ positions, jointly collect information and make their own compromises than for the FS to be lobbied by various interests and have to try to put the pieces together by ourselves- which could end up being something no one likes! Also, it makes the discussions more public and transparent, which would fit in with the transparency policy that was the topic of your post here. The counterarguments seem to be cost (cheaper than litigation?) and that national groups could be disempowered. The latter seems to be more of a design challenge than a reason not to have advisory boards

    2) The State-Federal tension thing works both ways. Some have argued that the State Petitions Roadless Rule was a bad idea because it gave too much power to the states. In fact, California litigated that rule, as I recall, with the idea of returning to a national rule. So people apparently feel that feds can be “too close” to states as well as “too far.” Or maybe it’s just “other” states that can’t be trusted ;)?
    Plus, both feds and states may be in or ought of sync with regard to political parties, which could influence their ability to agree.
    3) That was not a gremlin, but I figured that the role of DOJ in settlement agreements is worth a separate post- since I have no idea what went on in this particular example. That post will be based on my own experiences and the quotes from Jack.


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