Is Anyone Minding the Store?

For three years I’ve been wondering whether anyone in USDA pays attention to what the Forest Service does or says. Left to its own devices, the Forest Service is capable of much mischief. Here’s today’s example, from the “National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy“:

Wildland fire management actions are guided by a suite of laws, implemented through regulations and adopted as agency policy after public review and comment. Regulations and
policies, however, are often more limiting than the authorizing legislation itself, and sometimes may impede the accomplishment of management objectives and timelines. While legislation
such as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) has been beneficial to active management of public lands, other legislation has been used to promote agendas and philosophies that are not necessarily in harmony with the legislation’s original intent. This is especially true of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which was meant to provide a means for underprivileged people to bring legal action against the federal government. Similarly, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are sometimes utilized by special interest groups to achieve objectives not considered by Congress when the bills were enacted. In addition to barriers presented by existing regulations and policies, the articulation of new or revised policies and changes in agency terminology and/or goals create challenges related to communication and implementation. It is important to seek out opportunities to streamline and coordinate procedures and to pursue broader use of authorities across jurisdictions to achieve common goals. Legislative barriers that are impeding project implementation must be examined and reformed to create incentives for resolving conflict through collaboration rather than litigation.

So, there we have it. The Forest Service now supports legislatively amending the Equal Access to Justice Act, the Endangered Species, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Is the Forest Service speaking for the Obama Administration? Does USDA know or care that its flagship agency has called upon Congress to amend three bedrock laws?

9 thoughts on “Is Anyone Minding the Store?”

  1. You know, after some thought, I think it should be OK for agencies to have opinions about 1) which legislation (plus case law, if appropriate) poses obstacles to carrying out agency actions,
    2) which legislation is needed to help more effectively or efficiently carry out agency actions.

    Let’s take food safety. If people in a regulatory agency thought a piece of legislation did not help/interfered with them carrying out their mission, I would want to know. There are official channels, and unofficial channels like PEER and FSEEE for our public lands issues. I would want to be running both traplines for info about what employees thought could be improved.

    I think it’s a good idea to foster collaborative approaches. I think it would be good to incentivize that and de-incentivize litigation as a tool for pursuing agendas. I have some trouble imagining exactly how to do that, though.

  2. Maybe it’s the threat of legal consequences that keeps collaboration on track and “balanced.” Litigation is a key form of accountability. Without accountability, the agencies and their old allies in the timber/livestock/mining/fire/OHV industries will run rough-shod over ecosystems.

    Funny how the FS never stands up and asks for legislation protecting old growth forests and roadless areas and watersheds. They always want more discretion, but one could easily argue that the FS would stay out of trouble better by agreeing to operate with less discretion instead of more.

    • Actually, litigation is a way to bypass those “evil collaborators” who don’t subscribe to the eco-minority. Those “C-words” aren’t the favorite things of preservationists. And, Tree, is selective cutting of trees with an average diameter of 14″ dbh considered “running rough-shod over ecosystems”??

      The Forest Service here in California has its own absolute protections of old growth, voluntarily imposed on itself. NO need for legislation HERE! Regarding “discretion”, are we to let “charlatans” dictate costly, inadequate and ineffective actions, instead?!?!

      America is simply not “progressive” enough to accept new-age site-specific forest management policies. More education is needed.

  3. Ah, but Tree, I think there are a lot of ways to show accountability…possibly cheaper and more effective. I think trust is a real problem that could be dealt with in a variety of ways that would empower and educate more people. You will always have litigation at the end of the day, but the way it has been used by groups can and should be carefully reconsidered.

    See the previous post with the quote by Kieran Suckling here, it sounds like he was honest about his motivations and it it not so much about accountability as about agenda and take- no- prisoners tactics:

    “(Lawsuits) are one tool in a larger campaign, but we use lawsuits to help shift the balance of power from industry and government agencies, toward protecting endangered species,” Suckling told HCN in 2009. “By obtaining an injunction to shut down logging or prevent the filling of a dam … we are in the position of being able to powerfully negotiate the terms. …”

    Suckling’s group often wins in court. But instead of helping various parties come to an agreement, as Gina does, Suckling wants to steamroll opponents: “New species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale. When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners … feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed — and they are. So they become much more willing to play by our rules. … Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.”

    Suckling’s warlike strategy doesn’t characterize the environmental movement as a whole, but it’s shared by enough groups to shape the general public misperception that all environmentalists are determined to get their way regardless of the costs to other people’s livelihoods and lifestyles.

    • Dear me Sharon, are you seriously invoking the notion that those going to court to force their government to abide by the laws of the land are “warlike” environmentalists with a “take-no-prisoners” strategy?

      You are going to have to show me evidence of ONE Forest Service line officer “taken prisoner” by the court system for repeatedly flouting the laws of the land in her professional capacity.

      Please Sharon, name just ONE who was punished or was deprived of advancement or lost their job or their cushy pension. There are scores of your fellow line officers in this war who have violated those laws, and more often than not, they are promoted for having done that.

      Then, lets start talking about the real “wars” being waged against Americans in the name of neoliberalism’s goals of devolution and deregulation, corporate outsourcing in the name of “stewardship”, standard silviculture treatments in the name of “restoration” and end runs around environmental laws in the name of “collaboration”.

      The first casualty of war, officer Friedman, is truth. Your capacity for telling it, just took a serious self-inflicted wound.

      • David, Kieran Suckling used the war analogy, and Ray Ring used the term warlike. I used the “take no prisoners” in its sense of “overly aggressive,” see here

        My observation is not that anyone is repeatedly “flouting the laws of the land.” I know that NEPA claims drift like snowflakes around any projects that certain groups don’t like. Only some of these claims are successful in court and the resolution is generally to do more NEPA, not to punish the responsible official for not doing “enough” originally. Since we all know “enough” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.

        I think that if an employee were regularly “flouting” laws, they would be called to task through litigation and/or whistle-blower complaints (or administrative procedures for employee relations related flouting).

        I don’t understand what stewardship and “corporate outsourcing” have in common, nor do I believe that collaborators join a collaborative to do “end runs around environmental laws” any more that I believe that CBD litigates because of EAJA fees.

        I never claimed to tell The Truth (although I do have facts on specific things). I claim only to tell my own perceptions and the reasons for them in an honest way and allow others to tell theirs.

  4. The “Fire Gods” are used to having free reign to “manage” fires in whatever ways they deem best, ignoring so many issues. They don’t like science or law getting in the way of their control of the future of our forests. They simply want more fires of ALL kinds, believing in the “natural and beneficial” mantra of widespread death and destruction. Sadly, many eco-groups also believe in this same “re-wilding” path that leads away from established science and common sense.


Leave a Comment