The Royal Forests- Congressman McClintock on the Forest Service

John of England signs Magna Carta. Illustration from Cassell's History of England (1902)

Disagreement, up to and including violence, around land ownership and use is part of our Homo sapiens heritage. In one sense that is encouraging- it’s not likely that if we were better at our work of land management, all the conflict would go away. And it’s definitely cheery that we have moved away from violence.

Yesterday when I read this comment from David Beebe here

The clearer path begins by understanding the corporatization of Congress and the agencies it funds, corporatization of the media, and corporatization of civil society in general puts the best interests of the commons and the commoners at a distinct disadvantage.

It reminded me of something I had recently read- Congressman McClintock’s views of the commoners, particularly, these comments on the Royal Forests in this letter from Congressman Mclintock to Chief Tidwell.

You can find out more about Congressman McClintock’s views here.

Combined, these actions evince an ideologically driven hostility to the public’s enjoyment of the public’s land – and a clear intention to deny the public the responsible and sustainable use of that land.

Most recently, the Forest Service has placed severe restrictions on vehicle access to the Plumas National Forest, despite volumes of public protests. Supervisor Bill Connelly, Chairman of the Butte County Board of Supervisors writes that “The restriction applies to such activities as: collecting firewood, retrieving game, loading or unloading horses or other livestock, and camping.” He writes, “The National Forests are part of the local fabric. The roads within the National Forests are used by thousands of residents and visitors for transportation and recreation. These activities generate revenue for our rural communities, which are critical for their survival.”

This is not a small matter. The Forest Service now controls 193 million acres within our nation – a land area equivalent to the size of Texas.

During the despotic eras of Norman and Plantagenet England, the Crown declared one third of the land area of Southern England to be the royal forest, the exclusive preserve of the monarch, his forestry officials and his favored aristocrats. The people of Britain were forbidden access to and enjoyment of these forests under harsh penalties. This exclusionary system became so despised by the people that in 1215, five clauses of the Magna Carta were devoted to redress of grievances that are hauntingly similar to those that are now flooding my office.

Mr. Speaker, the attitude that now permeates the U.S. Forest Service from top to bottom is becoming far more reminiscent of the management of the royal forests during the autocracy of King John than of an agency that is supposed to encourage, welcome, facilitate and maximize the public’s use of the public’s land in a nation of free men and women.

After all, that was the vision for the Forest Service set forth by its legendary founder, Gifford Pinchot in 1905: “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.”

6 thoughts on “The Royal Forests- Congressman McClintock on the Forest Service”

  1. McClintok neatly refutes his own logic with the inclusion of the last four words in his letter “. . .in the long run.” At the Forest Service Centennial gathering of line officers, Dan Fenn, of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government asked me how Forest Service decision-makers were able to make such difficult choices when faced with such a array of competing values and so many apparent bosses (including congressmen and county supervisors.) I gave him a copy of an old poster that used to hang in most district offices. It has more of the quote from a letter from the Secretary of Agriculture to Pinchot (a letter drafted by Pinchot himself, naturally. )I told him that for me the bottom line always was whether or not it would lead to the greatest good “in the long run.”

    The biggest challenge of course is getting enough agreement on what actions will lead to the “greatest good”. This can be particularly challenging when there are those involved who really don’t give a damn about “the long run.” If a forest plan does not reflect a shared vision developed through a collaborative process this is probably impossible. If most stakeholders feel they have had a fair chance to help craft that vision, it becomes merely extremely difficult.

  2. Jim- As our colleague Tom Mills used to say, “reasonable people could disagree”..
    I think people can have varying views of what is the “greatest good” and also what is best for the “long run.” Some people’s vision would be the best use of national forest is for wilderness; others may feel recreation of various kinds; others think grazing and energy are legitimate uses (Congress seems to feel this way). We may have to acknowledge that everyone may not share a vision, in the short or long term, and devise the means to move forward in spite of these disagreements.

    Note that this is not unique to federal lands issues. Not everyone shares a vision of health care, education, etc. either.

  3. I never said that determining what the greatest good means is easy. However, if we don’t at least provide for the “heath of the land” (meaning soil productivity, hydrologic process, functioning ecosystems, biological diversity, etc.)in the long run then we won’t have to worry anbout these debates because we won’t have a planet we can live on.

    It probably means that some of Mr. McClintok’s constituents can’t continue to use the national forests as they have been and still have a healthy forest in the long run.

    Yes people can and will disagree. The job for planners and line officers is to facilitate a process whereby folks can focus on what they agree upon enough to move forward. A shared vision evolving a majority of stakeholders is possible but it doesn’t mean everybody feels the same way about all issues. Yes I know that some parties will still resort to litigation so legal process, good data and analysis are still important.

    It would be nice if a few other folks were interested in this fascinating dialog. Maybe I need to post comments like: “As we all know from listening to our elected officials and Fox News, you bureaucrats are way over-paid. The least you can do is figure out a planning process that works!” to get the flame wars started.

  4. Don’t worry, Jim, I’ll post a few items next week (including the Jack Ward Thomas quotes) that should get some vibrant discussion going!

    Your points reminded me of this piece in the Denver Post op-eds this morning.. on our new governor in Colorado, John Hickenlooper, and the shared vision concept.

    As mayor, one of Hickenlooper’s strengths has been his ability to build consensus on otherwise intractable problems.

    But consensus-building works only when the participants have a shared vision, such as in a prosecutor’s office, or at the city of Denver, where like-minded people share the same goals.

    At the statehouse, the interests are as far and wide as the state itself. Differences between parties, or between even rural and urban factions, are often irreconcilable.

    You can’t always bring all sides together under the gold dome. Sometimes there just have to be winners and losers, and it takes leadership to make that call.

    That may end up being one of the more difficult aspects of this new job for the former LoDo restaurateur who always wanted to leave his customers smiling.

    • Being a human being, I love to win. I don’t believe that we as a humans have much of a future, however, if we don’t figure out how to focus on “win-win” solutions. Certainly “win-lose” forest planning doesn’t work very well.

  5. Update: Redding editorial on Herger bill here.

    Since McClintock’s comments concern travel management decisions, this may be related to his concerns..

    Herger’s bill would specify the commonsense point that, when it comes to off-roading, rough dirt roads through the backwoods (maintenance-level 3 roads, in Forest Service parlance) are not “highways.”

    It would also require further review of the use of existing “unauthorized routes” — many of which are long-popular trails, though not officially part of the Forest Service road system, rendered illegal by the Travel Management Rule — before the travel maps would take effect.

    This legislation would tweak, not scrap, the Travel Management Rule, and it would do so in a way that would heed the people who live nearest and use the forests. Not coincidentally, it would remove the largest beef that is driving many Northern California counties toward expensive litigation with the Forest Service.


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