Collaboration Can’t Fix What Ails Public Forest Management

Thanks to Matthew Koehler for sending this..

Collaboration Can’t Fix What Ails Public Forest Management

By Steve Kelly, Friends of the Wild Swan

For decades, forest activists have performed vital oversight, monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. Caused by the rapid rise of neoliberalism, beginning in earnest during the Reagan administration, Congress and administrative agencies largely avoided policy responsibilities associated with our environmental laws. Politicians and agency bureaucrats have been screaming bloody murder about grassroots environmentalists and “gridlock” ever since. The simple fact remains, the primary cause of “gridlock” is the government’s systematic refusal to follow environmental laws and regulations.

The steady rise of neoliberalism in the Clinton years led to the now commonplace sharp political rhetoric, which directs its attacks toward the legitimacy of local grassroots forest activism. Add to this a proliferation of market-based, professional “problem solvers” touting “win-win” solutions and jobs, and one can see the game is rigged in favor of those with a vested financial interest in subsidized commodity extraction. This approach is typically dismissive of science and the law and grassroots activism.

Stakeholder partnerships prefer to engage in consensus and collaboration processes which favor a narrow, economics-based view of forest ecosystems. When challenged, collaborative stakeholders say one thing, and do the opposite, which usually leads to more old growth logging, and bulldozing new roads to access the remaining pockets of big, old trees.

One recent example of collaboration gone wild is the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which was authorized in 2009 under the Omnibus Land Management Act. The stated purpose of this collaborative program is to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes.

In practice, normal environmental assessment procedures, required by the National Environmental Procedures Act (NEPA), are being undermined by making decisions that may affect thousands of acres of public forest before conducting proper analysis of forseeable environmental impacts, especially cumulative impacts. Full funding has already been allocated by Congress and the Obama administration to a program that lacks a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). NEPA just becomes a speed bump at the end.

Once a project has been selected a work plan and business plan must be developed within 180 days. These plans describe how projects will be implemented, treatment costs, infrastructure needed, projected supply of woody biomass and timber and the local economic benefits.

The work plan is then submitted to the Regional Forester for approval. Project
implementation may begin once the requesting unit has been notified that the work plan
has been approved.

All of this indicates that any NEPA will be front-loaded.

Here is a copy of the Friends of the Wild Swan Newsletter
**************************
I read this piece, but I don’t understand it. I know some things about NEPA but perhaps not as much as I should about CFLRP, so perhaps readers could enlighten me.

What does Mr. Kelly want a programmatic EIS on? A specific project?

NEPA doesn’t say that agencies can’t work with the public in developing proposals to be analyzed, in fact one of the ideas in NEPA is fostering public involvement. Doesn’t it make sense to develop a proposal before you analyze it? How else could it work? Would it be better for agencies to develop proposals without the public? Maybe I’m missing something here…

And I wonder about this quote:

Stakeholder partnerships prefer to engage in consensus and collaboration processes which favor a narrow, economics-based view of forest ecosystems. When challenged, collaborative stakeholders say one thing, and do the opposite, which usually leads to more old growth logging, and bulldozing new roads to access the remaining pockets of big, old trees.

It is a pretty broad brush statement about “stakeholder partnerships.” I think that some of the collaborators around the country might question whether their view is “narrow, and economics-based”. They might see themselves as seeing the big picture of sustaining the land and people, and working respectfully with each other to understand different views and find the best solutions. They might see others as “lawsuit-happy ideologues.” 😉

Sharon

17 thoughts on “Collaboration Can’t Fix What Ails Public Forest Management”

  1. Collaboration should include a Declaration of Dealbreakers, at the earliest possible moment of proceedings. Wouldn’t that save time, song and dance, to put the issues right out there, upfront? If a compromise cannot be crafted and litigation is likely, then there is a last chance for someone to blink. Sadly, that often results missed opportunities to do something effective and economical.

    There seems to be much turmoil about forests, with the (rural) public seemingly becoming more educated about ecology. However, in the comments of some of those high-profile stories about forests, you can still see elevated ignorance in politicizing the ongoing mortality and mismanagement. There ARE impacts and benefits to “No Action” alternatives in NEPA. We need to start spelling out the details of doing nothing, using site-specific data and science.

    Reply
  2. What is so flippin’ hard to understand about the fact that we are a nation of laws and the Forest Service and other gov’t agencies must follow the law and regulations when managing our public lands?

    Reply
  3. The problem is not that the FWS and FS think they shouldn’t follow the law and regulations; apparently (see letter in post above) they think they ARE following laws and regulations. They have what appear to be well-reasoned arguments defending their position with regard to the endangered species potentially impacted by the unit.

    What would be interesting is to have a public, detailed conversation so that others (people with varying kinds and levels of knowledge), can understand why the regulators and the litigators have arrived at different conclusions.

    Reply
    • “Collaboration” has two diametrically opposed definitions. More often than not, we are seeing its negative definition result in these roundtable forums across the nation, which should come as no surprise. Again, this collaboration model was set up and promulgated by former Undersecretary Mark Rey, who was infamous for his contempt of bedrock environmental laws, and who was himself threatened with being charged with contempt of the court while overseeing the USFS.

      Should any objective observer of Rey’s eight year reign of contempt for the law, and his two decades of service as a timber industry lobbyist expect anything but an end run around established law, resulting in a fractious and corrupted process of public lands management?

      The collaboration sales pitch coming from the National Forest Foundation, other corporate foundation funders of participating environmental nonprofits, and the US Forest Service, of course, invoke the positive form of collaboration targeting those who want to believe there are viable (if not personally profitable) alternatives to the noisy, messy, process and lofty principles of democracy.

      This is otherwise known as devolution, and it is precisely the opposite direction we, as a devolved and failing nation state, need to be going in the face of a massively corporatized and corrupted government. To ignore this devolutionary dynamic at the center of obvious problems with the “collaboration” model is to implicitly accept devolution as valid.

      Can devolution solve these problems?

      Let’s honestly ask ourselves whether Rey’s notion of a self-selecting group of financially conflicted local “stakeholders” intent on short-circuiting laws of the land can be expected to represent the best interests of all present and future generations of Americans in matters of public lands management?

      Collaboration with the functionaries of the neoliberal project is precisely what has brought our nation to the precipice, and precisely why tens of thousands of disenfranchised citizens are presently marching in the streets of our nation.

      Thank you Steve Kelly, and Matthew Koehler for raising these issues with the collaboration model, and Sharon Friedman for posting it for discussion.

      Reply
  4. Sharon said, “The problem is not that the FWS and FS think they shouldn’t follow the law and regulations; apparently (see letter in post above) they think they ARE following laws and regulations. They have what appear to be well-reasoned arguments defending their position with regard to the endangered species potentially impacted by the unit.”

    Hence the reason why we have a federal court system, eh, Sharon?

    Sure, if people would like to have a detailed, public conversation or debate about these issues I’m pretty sure folks with Friends of the Wild Swan or Alliance for the Wild Rockies would be part of that public, detailed conversation, if invited. As such, these folks aren’t really ever invited to speak publicly about these issues. And any “public” meeting put together by “collaborators” for topics such as Tester’s mandated logging bill, certainly don’t include a balance of panelists. Nope, those are just carefully hand-picked panels of supporters.

    Heck, look at the recent UM law school public lands conference, which was featured on this blog. The whole point of the conference was all about the future of public forests. The UM students invited lots of “collaborators” to be on panels. I spoke with one of the student organizer’s before the conference and said how disappointing it was that only one side would be presented. He didn’t originally know what I was even talking about.

    Well, you know what happened? During the middle of the conference I got a call from the organizer who said there was nobody there in the audience to counter all the claims and flowery rhetoric from the “collaborators.” Well, duh, they didn’t invite anyone else to sit on the panel.

    A week after the conference I got another call from the organizer. I was told that during the conference de-brief the organizers admitted they screwed up by not included more balanced perspectives on their panels. They said, “next time.”

    Reply
    • Matthew, I can empathize with you. I feel the same way about many climate change conferences.. they seem to be one-sided, with researchers telling practitioners about their research, without equal time for presentations by practitioners and open dialogue about their mutual experiences and findings.
      .
      I don’t see that the federal court system is a good place for this dialogue, for a couple of reasons that I will describe in more detail next week.

      I think if all parties agree on the concept of open dialogue (I like blog dialogue because you can link to other information, and it’s available to people with different locations and schedules) before litigation, we should be able to mutually invent a process that would incorporate that.

      If we had a graduate student, we could have them do a literature review of pre-litigation models of public conflict resolution and see what others have invented.

      Reply
  5. In my view, the letters from Steve Kelly and Michael Garrity posted here, along with the exchange between Mathew and Sharon, are the end result of a system that needs serious reform. For instance, I don’t actually believe that, anyone in the FS is interested in “dismissing” science, as Kelly asserts, Likewise, I don’t believe anyone involved in this issue is a “lawsuit-happy ideologue”, as Sharon implied. Yet, a dysfunctional system will almost always produce rhetoric that belittles others perceived as standing in the way of getting what “I” want. The irony of the whole situation, I suspect, is that if one were able to ask in a hypothetical context what each of those involved here would like to see in our public lands and forests, I seriously doubt the answers would vary tremendously.

    Reflecting on the last exchange between Mathew and Sharon, I think both would agree that we need an open discussion, not to argue about the “facts” of a particular project, but on what the remedies would be to address the systemic issues that lead, time and time again, to divergent perspectives on the “right” course of action at the local level.

    It seems to me, for instance, that resource managers typically do their best to do the “right” thing (including legal compliance). Yet, it also seems to me that there is a disconnect between agency funding levels (as well as constraints the uses of existing funding), and the agency’s capacity to comply fully with all relevant laws all the time. This management reality, coupled with antiquated measures for assessing annual accomplishments (i.e. resource targets) necessitate that every well-meaning agency resource manager make very tough choices in an almost impossible attempt to meet all legal requirements while also meeting targets that directly affect agency funding levels for the following year. Out of this very difficult context, I have seen and heard of many innovative, creative ways the resource managers have developed for achieving agency goals to improve the health of the land while minimizing adverse impacts. Indeed, even an average District Ranger or other resource manager in the Forest Service of today must be consistently creative in virtually every decision, and the better ones excel in this category.

    Nonetheless, the larger systemic problems noted above will inevitably lead to continued conflict with those in the public less willing to compromise on the requirements of our environmental laws, until and unless there is a greater movement toward dealing with these issues at the systemic level. Here I have to be clear that I do not believe systemic change would require dramatic increases in funding levels for the agency. Rather, it requires greater flexibility to be afforded to resource managers in terms of how existing funding is expended, coupled with a significant updating and re-consideration of how the agency is assessed and held accountable from year to year. Greater flexibility, especially in terms of out-year planning, would allow the agency to work more closely and consistently with partners in leveraging funds. IN addition, annual targets ought to be exchange for multi-year targets that are broadly based around forest conditions, rather than resource outputs.

    Finally, the letters from Kelly and Garrity are well-written but also rhetorically inflammatory. While I understand their frustrations, and I am not suggesting that their organization abandon their legal strategies, I believe these organizations ought to focus more of their energies toward generating real systemic change, which I believe both of these individuals do understand well. This would create the space for both groups to leverage their resources and perspective toward achieving long-term results, rather than short-term wins in the court that usually place a band-aid on the broken arm of the system. Its time to move beyond the triage mentality and work on a greater cure. From my experiences, I believe there would be broad-based support for just such a movement, both within and external to the Forest Service, and who better to lead this movement than those most critical of the existing system?

    Reply
    • Mike,
      You said, “For instance, I don’t actually believe that, anyone in the FS is interested in “dismissing” science, as Kelly asserts…”

      Believe, or belief, is derived from “lief”- meaning “to wish”(Old English of the Middle Ages). Belief is a “psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition to be true.”

      I assure you, there are many, many examples and court decisions which leave little doubt there is a long history of the USFS dismissing science. However, this requires revisiting your beliefs. The number of whistleblower biologists within the agency alone, should be enough to call into serious question your proposition the USFS isn’t “dismissing science”. So while you’re dismissing Kelly too, you may want to revisit your proposition.

      A recent Ninth Circuit Court ruling addressing four timber sales (but implicating far more timber sales) on the Tongass National Forest found the Forest Service’s Supervisor signing-off on timber sales using corrupted science derived from biologists charged with estimating carrying capacity and deer populations, arbitrarily changing a deer model modifier to enable getting the cut out.

      The Supervisor was repeated warned in the appeal processes the applied science being used to justify the cuts were depending upon a glaringly obvious error. He and the regional office appeals process ignored these issues repeatedly and overruled their merits. Only then was it taken to court. There is nothing left to conclude other than the Supervisor, backed up by the Appeals deciding officer were repeatedly and deliberately making an attempt at “dismissing science”.

      Keep in mind, IDT biologists were intimately involved. One of them, Glen Ith, an IDT leader and biologist had attempted to correct the record even going so far as to put his career at risk by appealing the very timber sale he was charged with implementing.

      Former Chief of the Forest Service, Abigail Kimbell, was also a former Tongass Forest Supervisor, and just prior to being promoted to Chief was responsible for the largest reprisal action ever undertaken against agency whistleblowers — purging 44 whistleblowers while Supervisor of the Bighorn NF. Please see Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) or Government Accountability Project (GAP) for the gritty details

      This information, hopefully, may be used to revisit your beliefs, and perhaps apologize to Kelly.

      Reply
  6. Mike- thanks for your very thoughtful comment. It is interesting that I was thinking that if we understood why people disagree about specific projects, it would help us move forward, while you think that systematic change would help us move forward. It might be one of those differences in emphasis that derives from approaching issues from concrete vs. abstract thinking.

    Nevertheless, I am all for systematic change as you describe just based on its own value, even if it had no impact on reduced litigation.

    I agree with your ideas about performance and funding. We tried that in the 80’s during what was called the Pilot. I was on the Ochoco National Forest and we had what we called the “Bucket o’ Money.” So it can work; it was some combination of Congressional accountability and the desire of organizational “silos” wanting to retain power that caused the grand experiment to crumble, as I recall. We all know the “silos” are a vestige of the 20th Century, but there is a fair level of bureaucratic inertia (or what a recent retiree used to refer to as “organizational antibodies)” extant at the beginning of the 21st.

    This same recent retirees wondered if we should investigate the concept of being funded by unit, like the Park Service, rather than how we do it today. So X Forest would get Y funds and its performance would be judged by how it met the needs as determined through some accountability process, rather than X forest getting some combination of A, B, and C line item funding which then determines the work it can accomplish.

    Andy, it sounds like something you may have done some thinking about…

    Reply
  7. It’s looking like my prediction is coming true. Collaboration is fine for the serial litigators but, those other “C-words” of consensus and compromise are unacceptable and now leading to another evil “C-word”…… COURTS! (Didn’t the 9th Circuit Court say they were going to give Federal scientists more deference and trust regarding ecosystem sciences?)

    It looks like it’s a matter of conflicting opinions, without any definitive proof that the project will, or will not result in a net harm. The preservationists cling to some sort of “Hippocratic Rule for Forests”, where “no harm” must come from any Federal project, period. I sincerely hope there is some kind of balance sheet where short term and long term benefits and impacts are listed and compared. If it goes to court, then we have to deal with an even less informed “opinion” from non-scientists.

    I totally agree with what Mike is saying, although he is leaving out the issues of temporary employees. The technical expertise required to do some of these tasks properly is quite high, and increasing. Some of those tasks are not currently being done adequately, and to “protocol”. In my own experienced opinion, a protocol that requires call points on a 300 foot grid makes for a LOT of call points over a 24,000 acre study area. (Do you REALLY think they do all those acres “to protocol”?) When stream buffers have multiple sizes for different stream classes, it becomes very important that the unit boundaries don’t slop over into the SMZ’s. The skill sets can be broad and technical, and if the on-the-ground implementation is wrong, the project could see injunction(s). There are so very few people who can do all these tasks who can be hired “off the street”, especially in remote rural areas.

    Yes, Mike, we need to move beyond the distrust but, I insist that the Forest Service earn that trust. The Colt project seems to address everything but, I’d have to see the ground, if it was my decision to make.

    Reply
  8. Mike, Thanks for your thoughts.

    Your statement, “I believe these organizations ought to focus more of their energies toward generating real systemic change” made me think of fact that just this week the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan reached a historic water-clean up settlement agreement with the US EPA and MT Dept of Environmental Quality that has been called “Montana’s most far-reaching environmental victory in a decade.”

    In a wire article, “Richard Opper, head of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, credited the 14-year-old lawsuit brought by environmentalists with making the state ‘get its act together.'”

    Is this the type of “systemic change” you’d like to see these groups focusing their energies? How about the same groups and what they have done for Bull Trout? Or Grizzly Bears? How about Lynx? Is the Forest Service still logging 12 billion board feet of timber a year? Is the Forest Service still logging the be-jesus out of old-growth? Or roadless lands? Could groups like AWR and FWS have a large roll in that?

    If so, how about we give these groups and the people who work for them the real credit they do indeed deserve for, in fact, a successful history of “focusing their energies towards generating real systemic change.” Thanks.

    Reply
    • Matt- I’d like to delve into your comments a bit more.
      First, just because litigation may have been the right tool for yesterday’s problems, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s also the right solution for today’s problems. For example, a species listing compared to a 600 acre thinning project.
      You could also argue that the major battles have been won already by your efforts (this may go back to Jack Ward Thomas’ “bayoneting the wounded”).

      I don’t necessarily agree with your list.. but that will have to wait till I do more background work.

      Reply
  9. Yes, and we also have groups that continue seek to shutdown Federal timber sales, seek to leave dead hazard trees along roads, file lawsuits for “fun and profit”, and “re-wild” as much public lands as possible, at ANY ecological cost. Remember, Matt, we’ve stopped clearcutting and highgrading, here in California, since way back in 1993. Eco-groups still seek to reduce diameter limits down to 20″ dbh in some areas, and to 12″ dbh in other areas (leaving trees 10″-12″ dbh available to be cut). Meanwhile, even state of the art small log mills are shuttered in California, not doing restoration forestry or providing jobs. Normally, fuels reduction projects here cut trees with an average diameter of 14″ dbh, while still making profits.

    Reply
  10. Hello: Folks here might be interested in some of this information concerning the Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group in Montana. Among other things, I encourage people to ask themselves if they would sign their name or organization, business, etc to a pledge that stated, “Each member of the collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the collaborative.” Thanks.

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: “Each member of the collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the collaborative”
    Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2011 08:44:38 -0600
    From: Matthew Koehler
    To: Scott Brennan
    CC: Debbie Austin , “Sandy P. Mack” , Jake Kreilick , Cameron Naficy , Michael Garrity , Steve Kelly , George Ochenski , “Arlene Montgomery (Friends of the Wild Swan)” , Megan Birzell , Sherry Devlin , Tyler Christensen , “Michael Moore (MIS)” , chelsi.moy@lee.net, rob.chaney@missoulian.com, tlove@fs.fed.us, lweldon@fs.fed.us, “John S. Adams” , Eve Byron , Tracy_Stone-Manning@tester.senate.gov, Aaron Flint , Aaron_Murphy@tester.senate.gov, “Wilkins, Paul (Baucus)” , Phil Taylor , “Burchfield, Jim” , martin.nie@umontana.edu, “Gouras, Matt” , “Miller, Scott (Energy)” , Gabriel Furshong , George Wuerthner , George Nickas , Bob Clark , Adam Rissien

    Hello Debbie and Scott:

    I’m writing to you both in your position as Co-Chairs of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Forest Restoration Collaborative.

    I notice in the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Forest Restoration Collaborative CHARTER document (http://www.swcrown.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/SWCC-Charter-Amended-2-8-2011.pdf) it states:

    “The group operates under a principle of transparency, where all its actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public.”

    Since this is apparently the case, as officially stated in the SWCC’s Charter, I will, once again, respectfully request a copy of all the meeting notes from the SWCC’s Communications Committee meetings and discussions. To be honest, Debbie’s statement below that “the communications committee has not yet established a process for taking/approving notes” raised suspicion and red-flags, as it should.

    I’m also requesting information and details concerning the next Communications Committee meeting, as I’m considering attending that next meeting. Given that your charter claims that “all [SWCC] actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public” I assume my request will be fulfilled.

    Thank you for providing a copy of the official Conflict of Interest Policy and Agreement, which members of the Southwestern Crown Collaborative are required to sign prior to becoming an official member of the SWCC. I must say that I was completely shocked by the very first point in the Conflict of Interest Policy and Agreement. It reads:

    1. Each member of the SWCC has a duty of loyalty to the SWCC

    Yesterday I contacted numerous conservationists throughout the country who are also involved in “collaborative” groups in their own region, including a number of groups that also receive funding through the “Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act. To a person they also were completely shocked and dismayed that your SouthWestern Crown Collaborative was requiring participants to sign a pledge that “Each member of the collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the collaborative.”

    In fact, here’s one such response: “Our collaborative on the Malheur National Forest (the Blue Mountains Forest Partners) does not have a conflict of interest policy. As a lawyer, I certainly wouldn’t sanction or sign the one you reference below….Seems to me that having a federal employee as a co-chair of a collaborative group violates FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act). All of our Forest Service participants are non-voting participants for that reason.”

    You should know that this Conflict of Interest form and a similar form (which I called the “I Pledge Allegiance to the Southwestern Crown Collaborative”) are part of the reason why the WildWest Institute chose not to participate in the SWCC, after attending some of the early meetings. If WildWest would have signed an agreement saying we have a duty of loyalty to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative (SWCC) group, our concern was what would happen if/when the efforts of the SWCC would be in conflict with the mission of our own organization?

    For those people, including members of the media, who are getting this information, please ask yourself this honest question:

    “Would I, or my business or organization, actually sign onto a document which stated, “Each member of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative ?”

    Does such a policy statement, required for full participation in the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative, actually encourage or discourage participation by diverse groups and individuals? Does such a policy statement actually encourage openness and transparency when dealing with the public and interested parties who may not be members of your SWCC? Is such a Conflict of Interest Policy and Agreement even legal, in the context of public lands management through open and inclusive processes?

    And what do you have to say about the fact that in the case of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative the Co-Chair of the “collaborative” group is also the Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest? I have nothing against Debbie here, but doesn’t this just seem like one giant “conflict of interest?” What are you thoughts about the statement from the attorney that “Seems to me that having a federal employee as a co-chair of a collaborative group violates FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act)?”

    Finally, I look forward to receiving from you a copy of the actual, original work plan that the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process. I’ve been waiting for a copy of that original work plan for a few weeks now and both of you seem intent on only providing me with a copy of the re-written, purged work plan.

    Thanks so much.

    Sincerely,
    Matthew Koehler
    WildWest Institute

    > Hello Debbie:
    >
    > Thank you for providing me with a copy of the “conflict of interest” form from the SWCC Charter.
    >
    > RE: SWCC WorkPlan: You have just sent me the purged version of the SWCC’s workplan. I have not requested a copy of the purged version of the SWCC’s workplan. As you will note, what I requested was “Copy of the official and actual work plan that the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process.” In other words, I’m requesting a copy of the original work plan submitted back in 2010, not a copy of the purged workplan you folks edited in July and August of 2011.
    >
    > Why is it that the SWCC’s “Communications Committee” has not yet established a process for taking/approving notes? It seems to me that this is the only SWCC Committees that apparently doesn’t take notes and post them on-line. Doesn’t that fact seem rather strange? Could it be, perhaps, that the SWCC actually doesn’t want the discussions and plans of the Communication’s Committee to be made available to the public and the members of the media? If so, one has to wonder just what the SWCC “Communications Committee” actually discusses during their meetings. Could members of the SWCC’s “Communications Committee” actually be manufacturing a lot of the press and letters to the editor surrounding the Colt Summit timber sale lawsuit? If so, how does the SWCC and the US Forest Service differ, especially since you serve as the Co-Chair of the SWCC? Perhaps to get to the bottom of this a Freedom of Information Act request will be needed.
    >
    > I look forward to receiving from you a copy of the actual, original work plan that the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process.
    >
    > Sincerely,
    > Matthew Koehler
    >
    >
    > ——– Original Message ——–
    > Subject: RE: Copy of meeting SW Crown Meeting notes
    > Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2011 17:50:29 +0000
    > From: Austin, Deborah
    > To: Matthew Koehler
    > CC: Scott Brennan (scott_brennan@tws.org) , Megan Birzell (megan_birzell@tws.org) , Austin, Deborah
    >
    >
    >
    > Matthew, here is the information you requested:
    >
    > 1- The communications committee has not yet established a process for taking/approving notes. Some of the participants have taken their own notes. At one point some unofficial personal notes were posted on the SW Crown website and were since taken down as they were not official nor approved. The committee has recognized the need to have notes and will establish a process at their next meeting.
    >
    > 2- The Conflict of Interest statement is attached to this email.
    >
    > 3- Here is the link for our workplan. It is located with our Strategy, Proposal, and Map on the Forest Service CFLRP website. http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/CFLR/documents/2010Workplans/SWCrownWorkPlan.pdf
    >
    > If you need anything else please let me know. –Debbie
    >
    >
    > On 10/13/11 1:08 PM, Matthew Koehler wrote:
    >> Scott or Debbie:
    >>
    >> Could one of, in your official capacity as “Co-Chairs” of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent collaborative group please provide me with:
    >>
    >> 1. Meeting notes for all of the SWCC’s “Communication’s Committee” meetings
    >>
    >> 2. Copy of the “conflict of interest” form from the charter.
    >>
    >> 3. Copy of the official and actual work plan that the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process.
    >>
    >> Thank you for your prompt response and providing this information to an interested member of the public.
    >>
    >> Sincerely,
    >>
    >> Matthew Koehler
    >>
    >>
    >> On 10/12/11 1:38 PM, Matthew Koehler wrote:
    >>> Thank you Scott. Where can I find the meeting notes for the SWCC’s “communication’s committee?”
    >>>
    >>> Also, do you have a copy of the “conflict of interest” form, that’s listed under the charter? It says, it’s attached, but I don’t see it anywhere.
    >>>
    >>> I’m also still waiting for a copy of the official work plan that was the version the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process.
    >>>
    >>> Thanks so much,
    >>>
    >>> Matthew Koehler
    >>>
    >>> On 10/12/11 1:33 PM, Scott Brennan wrote:
    >>>>
    >>>> SWCC notes are online at http://www.swcrown.org/committee/committee-meeting-notes/swcc-meeting-notes/ and I believe the notes you request are for the August 2011 meeting.
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Scott Brennan
    >>>>
    >>>> Deputy Director
    >>>>
    >>>> The Wilderness Society | Northern Rockies Regional Office
    >>>>
    >>>> 406.586.1600 x117| cell: 406.600.7846
    >>>>
    >>>> http://www.wilderness.org
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheWildernessSociety
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> From: Matthew Koehler [mailto:koehler@wildrockies.org]
    >>>> Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 10:02 AM
    >>>> To: Scott Brennan; Debbie Austin; Sandy P. Mack; Jake Kreilick; Cameron Naficy; Michael Garrity; Steve Kelly; George Ochenski; Arlene Montgomery (Friends of the Wild Swan); DuringerRA@mso.umt.edu; Javins, Tom; royce.engstrom@umontana.edu; Megan Birzell
    >>>> Subject: Copy of meeting SW Crown Meeting notes
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Hello Scott and Debbie:
    >>>>
    >>>> I’m writing to you today in your roles as Co-Chairs of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group.
    >>>>
    >>>> I’m writing to request that you provide me with a copy of the official meeting notes from Southwestern Crown of the Continent collaborative group meeting during which members of the SW Crown collaborative discussed, and then purged, any mention of the University of Montana’s wood-burning biomass plant from the official SW Crown collaboration’s Work Plans, which were submitted back in 2010 to the US Forest Service as part of consideration for funding and selection as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program.
    >>>>
    >>>> You folks have often stated publicly that your “collaborations” are open and transparent and that meeting notes are always available, so we shall see if that’s the case, won’t we? One would assume that a discussion about purging any mention of the UM Biomass Plant in the official SW Crown Collaborative work plan would show up prominently in any official meeting notes, right?
    >>>>
    >>>> Thanks for your time and for fulfilling this request, as it clearly relates to the management of our federal public lands and expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
    >>>>
    >>>> Sincerely,
    >>>>
    >>>> Matthew Koehler
    >>>> WildWest Institute
    >>>> 406-396-0321
    >>>>
    >>>> Hello:
    >>>>
    >>>> If you have looked at the University of Montana’s just released Final EA (available at: http://www.umt.edu/biomassplant/) for their proposed wood-burning Biomass Plant you’ll notice plenty of information in the Final EA and the response to comments related to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group and the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP).
    >>>>
    >>>> People should know that on August 1, 2011 the Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group purged the SW Crown’s work plan to remove any mention that the UM Biomass Plant was part of “infrastructure needed to implement [the SouthWest Crown] project.”
    >>>>
    >>>> The reason that this information was removed and purged from the Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group’s Work Plan is because including the UM Biomass Plant as part of the “infrastructure needed to implement [the SouthWest Crown] project” opens up the very real potential that the UM Biomass Plant would need to go through a more comprehensive NEPA process (National Environmental Policy Act).
    >>>>
    >>>> I have attached the original Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group’s Work Plan here (http://wildrockies.org/biomass/SWCrownWorkPlan.pdf), which clearly has plenty of mentions of how the UM Biomass Plant is part of the “infrastructure needed to implement the project,” including mention of the importance of the UM Biomass Plant in a chart.
    >>>>
    >>>> However, the PURGED Southwestern Crown of the Continent “collaborative” group’s Work Plan (http://wildrockies.org/biomass/PURGEDSWCrownWorkPlan.pdf) clearly shows that all mention of the UM Biomass Plant, including the chart, had been purged and re-written as of August 1, 2011.
    >>>>
    >>>> ———————–
    >>>>
    >>>> Thanks for the info Scott. You’ll have to forgive us if we believe that the inclusion of the UM Biomass Plant in the very detailed SW Crown work plan was more than simply an “erroneous mention.”
    >>>>
    >>>> Attached is a copy of the original SW Crown work plan, which seems to include plenty of mentions about the UM Biomass Plant. Do you not remember this version of the work plan? Or all those discussions we had about how UM’s biomass plant fits into SW Crown? Remember the fun emails from Farr, Morgan, Power and others?
    >>>>
    >>>> On the Move,
    >>>> Matthew
    >>>>
    >>>> ——– Original Message ——–
    >>>>
    >>>> Subject:
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Re: Univ of South Carolina’s Biomass Plant Debacle
    >>>>
    >>>> Date:
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Tue, 11 Oct 2011 10:08:28 -0600
    >>>>
    >>>> From:
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Matthew Koehler
    >>>>
    >>>> To:
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Scott Brennan
    >>>>
    >>>> CC:
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Megan Birzell , “Sandy P. Mack” , Debbie Austin , “Arlene Montgomery (Friends of the Wild Swan)” , Michael Garrity , Steve Kelly
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> Matthew,
    >>>>
    >>>> Thanks for sending this around. Your email reminded me that I have been meaning to send you an email clarifying that neither TWS nor the SW Crown Collaborative has a position on the UM biomass plant. An early version of one SW Crown document did erroneously mention the UM biomass plant but the current, correct version of that document, available online at http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/CFLR/documents/2010Workplans/SWCrownWorkPlan.pdf does not. Thanks again for sending this article around.
    >>>>
    >>>> Best,
    >>>>
    >>>> Scott
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> P.S. I am cc’ing SW Crown co-chair Debbie Austin, SW Crown partner coordinator Megan Birzell, and SW Crown FS coordinator Sandy Mack to let them know I have cleared up this misunderstanding.
    >>>>
    >>>>
    >>>> ————————
    >>>>
    >>>
    >>
    >

    Reply
  11. Hello: People on this blog might be interested to see a real-world example of a “collaborative” group at work. Despite a Charter from the Southwestern Crown Collaboration, which reads, “The group operates under a principle of transparency, where all its actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public”….

    Anyone can clearly see just how transparent, open, etc this “collaborative” really is when a member of the public requests information.

    Thanks,
    Matthew
    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: Continuing Request for Southwestern Crown Collaborative Information
    Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2011 09:38:56 -0600
    From: Matthew Koehler
    To: Scott Brennan
    CC: Debbie Austin , “Sandy P. Mack” , Jake Kreilick , Cameron Naficy , Michael Garrity , Steve Kelly , George Ochenski , “Arlene Montgomery (Friends of the Wild Swan)” , Megan Birzell , Sherry Devlin , Tyler Christensen , “Michael Moore (MIS)” , chelsi.moy@lee.net, rob.chaney@missoulian.com, tlove@fs.fed.us, lweldon@fs.fed.us, “John S. Adams” , Eve Byron , Tracy_Stone-Manning@tester.senate.gov, Aaron Flint , Aaron_Murphy@tester.senate.gov, “Wilkins, Paul (Baucus)” , Phil Taylor , “Burchfield, Jim” , martin.nie@umontana.edu, “Gouras, Matt” , “Miller, Scott (Energy)” , Gabriel Furshong , George Wuerthner , George Nickas , Bob Clark , Adam Rissien , HFC Forests List

    Hello Debbie Austin and Scott Brennan:

    Once again I write to you both in your position as Co-Chairs of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Forest Restoration Collaborative.

    Despite the fact that the Charter Document for the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Forest Restoration Collaborative states:

    “The group operates under a principle of transparency, where all its actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public.”

    …both of you have failed to respond to the numerous information requests (documented below) from the WildWest Institute. This failure of transparency and disclosure on your part is even more troubling considering the fact that the WildWest Institute’s Jake Kreilick actually serves as the Chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee’s Westside Working Group (which covers the entire Lolo National Forest, with the exception of the Seeley Lake District).

    Once again, please provide me with the following information the WildWest Institute requested below concerning the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative. Specifically, the WildWest Institute:

    • requests a copy of all the meeting notes from the SWCC’s Communications Committee meetings and discussions. Given that your charter claims that “all [SWCC] actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public” I assume my request will be fulfilled.

    • Requests information and details concerning the next Communications Committee meeting, as I’m considering attending that next meeting. Given that your charter claims that “all [SWCC] actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public” I assume my request will be fulfilled.

    • Requests a copy of the actual, original work plan that the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process.

    Finally, if you fail to provide the WildWest Institute with the basic information regarding the Southwestern Crown Collaborative what does that action on your part actually say about the Southwestern Crown Collaborative’s charter that clearly states, “all [SWCC] actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public”

    Thank you for finally fulfilling the WildWest Institute’s information request.

    Sincerely,

    Matthew Koehler
    WildWest Institute

    On 10/18/11 8:44 AM, Matthew Koehler wrote:
    > Hello Debbie and Scott:
    >
    > I’m writing to you both in your position as Co-Chairs of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Forest Restoration Collaborative.
    >
    > I notice in the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Forest Restoration Collaborative CHARTER document (http://www.swcrown.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/SWCC-Charter-Amended-2-8-2011.pdf) it states:
    >
    > “The group operates under a principle of transparency, where all its actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public.”
    >
    > Since this is apparently the case, as officially stated in the SWCC’s Charter, I will, once again, respectfully request a copy of all the meeting notes from the SWCC’s Communications Committee meetings and discussions. To be honest, Debbie’s statement below that “the communications committee has not yet established a process for taking/approving notes” raised suspicion and red-flags, as it should.
    >
    > I’m also requesting information and details concerning the next Communications Committee meeting, as I’m considering attending that next meeting. Given that your charter claims that “all [SWCC] actions, meetings, and records are open for review and comment by the public” I assume my request will be fulfilled.
    >
    > Thank you for providing a copy of the official Conflict of Interest Policy and Agreement, which members of the Southwestern Crown Collaborative are required to sign prior to becoming an official member of the SWCC. I must say that I was completely shocked by the very first point in the Conflict of Interest Policy and Agreement. It reads:
    >
    > 1. Each member of the SWCC has a duty of loyalty to the SWCC
    >
    > Yesterday I contacted numerous conservationists throughout the country who are also involved in “collaborative” groups in their own region, including a number of groups that also receive funding through the “Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act. To a person they also were completely shocked and dismayed that your SouthWestern Crown Collaborative was requiring participants to sign a pledge that “Each member of the collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the collaborative.”
    >
    > In fact, here’s one such response: “Our collaborative on the Malheur National Forest (the Blue Mountains Forest Partners) does not have a conflict of interest policy. As a lawyer, I certainly wouldn’t sanction or sign the one you reference below….Seems to me that having a federal employee as a co-chair of a collaborative group violates FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act). All of our Forest Service participants are non-voting participants for that reason.”
    >
    >
    > You should know that this Conflict of Interest form and a similar form (which I called the “I Pledge Allegiance to the Southwestern Crown Collaborative”) are part of the reason why the WildWest Institute chose not to participate in the SWCC, after attending some of the early meetings. If WildWest would have signed an agreement saying we have a duty of loyalty to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative (SWCC) group, our concern was what would happen if/when the efforts of the SWCC would be in conflict with the mission of our own organization?
    >
    >
    > For those people, including members of the media, who are getting this information, please ask yourself this honest question:
    >
    > “Would I, or my business or organization, actually sign onto a document which stated, “Each member of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative ?”
    >
    > Does such a policy statement, required for full participation in the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative, actually encourage or discourage participation by diverse groups and individuals? Does such a policy statement actually encourage openness and transparency when dealing with the public and interested parties who may not be members of your SWCC? Is such a Conflict of Interest Policy and Agreement even legal, in the context of public lands management through open and inclusive processes?
    >
    > And what do you have to say about the fact that in the case of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative the Co-Chair of the “collaborative” group is also the Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest? I have nothing against Debbie here, but doesn’t this just seem like one giant “conflict of interest?” What are you thoughts about the statement from the attorney that “Seems to me that having a federal employee as a co-chair of a collaborative group violates FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act)?”
    >
    > Finally, I look forward to receiving from you a copy of the actual, original work plan that the SWCC submitted to the USFS as part of the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program process. I’ve been waiting for a copy of that original work plan for a few weeks now and both of you seem intent on only providing me with a copy of the re-written, purged work plan.
    >
    >
    > Thanks so much.
    >
    > Sincerely,
    > Matthew Koehler
    > WildWest Institute

    Reply

Leave a Comment