2012 Appropriations Language- Objections and Other Topics of Interest

Here’s a link to the Appropriations Bill.

I think NCFP readers might be particularly interested in this section (428):

FOREST SERVICE PRE-DECISIONAL OBJECTION PROCESS
SEC. 428. Hereafter, upon issuance of final regulations, the
Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the Forest
Service, shall apply section 105(a) of the Healthy Forests Restoration
Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6515(a)), providing for a pre-decisional
objection process, to proposed actions of the Forest Service concerning
projects and activities implementing land and resource
management plans developed under the Forest and Rangeland
Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et
seq.), and documented with a Record of Decision or Decision Notice,
in lieu of subsections (c), (d), and (e) of section 322 of Public
Law 102–381 (16 U.S.C. 1612 note), providing for an administrative
appeal process: Provided, That if the Chief of the Forest Service
determines an emergency situation exists for which immediate
implementation of a proposed action is necessary, the proposed
action shall not be subject to the pre-decisional objection process,
and implementation shall begin immediately after the Forest
Service gives notice of the final decision for the proposed action:
Provided further, That this section shall not apply to an authorized
hazardous fuel reduction project under title I of the Healthy Forests
Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6501 et seq.).

I thought we had discussed appeals vs. objections here before, but perhaps under the planning rule discussions, and projects are different from plans, so, perhaps we have never had a robust discussion on that topic here. Since the FS will be doing a regulation based on Congressional intent, this seems like a good time to start a discussion of people’s experiences and ideas about objections on projects.

For example, our friends at CBD did not seem enthusiastic about objections compared to appeals as in their press release:

Budget Deal Slashes Public’s Oversight of National Forests

WASHINGTON— In a major blow to public oversight of the national forest system, the 2012 Omnibus Appropriations Act — which now awaits President Obama’s signature — includes a rider that eliminates the public’s ability to administratively appeal Forest Service management decisions. The change, which applies to all management actions across the 193-million-acre national forest system, will diminish opportunities for the public to weigh in on timber sales, oil and gas leasing and other activities affecting forests, recreation, wildlife and pristine landscapes. Instead, it leaves litigation as the public’s only recourse against illegal Forest Service decisions.

“This year’s appropriations bill is a bad deal for the American public and our national forests,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “National forests are publicly owned lands that deserve public oversight. Curtailing the public’s participation will mean more bad timber sales, drilling and other development proposals.”

The bill replaces administrative appeals with a Bush-era “pre-decisional” objection process that only allows the public to “object” to management proposals before they’ve been finalized. The bill also reduces the amount of time that the public has to respond to specific proposals — from 45 to 30 days. In addition, it includes a sweeping, vague clause allowing the Forest Service to bypass even the pre-decisional objection processes whenever it determines that emergency circumstances exist.

The rollbacks in public participation come just as the Forest Service is re-writing and substantively weakening National Forest Management Act regulations that provide the framework for national forest management nationwide. After being struck down numerous times by the courts, the Forest Service is again seeking to replace longstanding enforceable standards for wildlife and watersheds with largely unenforceable discretionary provisions. A final rule is expected early in the new year.

“For decades, national forest policy trended toward stronger environmental safeguards and more public involvement and oversight,” said McKinnon. “This week’s elimination of administrative appeals, along with the attempted weakening of safeguards in the planning rule, mark a drastic step backwards for our national forest system — all on the Obama administration’s watch.”

But why would pre-decisional objections be inherently worse than post-decisional appeals? Both give folks a chance to express their feelings about a project. After both, if you don’t agree with the outcome, you can litigate?? (I also don’t know what they mean about the planning rule potentially (as it hasn’t been released yet) replacing “longstanding enforceable standards for wildlife and watersheds”. I understand that wildlife means the viability provision of the 1982 rule; however, I’m not clear what they are referring to with regard to watersheds.

If there are other topics in the Appropriations bill that others would like to discuss, let me know (terraveritas@gmail.com) and we can start separate posts on those.

45 thoughts on “2012 Appropriations Language- Objections and Other Topics of Interest”

  1. Well, where to begin?

    How about the fact that this is part of a corrosive and contentious “budget deal” rider unbecoming of, and inappropriate to, an agency policy matter in the management of public lands?

    or,

    How about the fact that this reverses a trend of environmental protection while advancing an opposite trend by which the corporatized agency culture chips away at public process one Congress at a time?

    or,

    How about the fact that the public comment period will be cut back from 45 days to 30 days? This sounds like the identical underhanded moves a credit card company or health insurance company pulls– unilaterally changing the terms of the contract whenever they damned well please. (The problem of course being, we are permanently stuck to a condition of agency capture and there will be no recourse. It’s not like we get to request a refund, and change companies here.)

    in other words, there are many objections to raise in this new century of forest planning derived from a corporatized Congress and agency capture so pervasive, and so insidious, as to being reduced to referring to it as a “culture”.

    CBD’s points ring solid and true.

    Reply
  2. I believe that the “serial litigators” will whine and complain when some of their lawsuit tools are removed from this gridlock. HFRA projects already have guidelines that allow the fast tracking of projects that do little harm. Will those 15 days make a difference on a project that has already been scaled back, to fit the HFRA guidelines? I really doubt it.

    I contend that the Let-Burn program does infinitely more damage, while not allowing public input or appeals, at all, while incinerating public forests. When was the last time a timber sale was up to 100,000 acres, without NEPA analysis?? I contend that a barely-controlled wildfire of 100,000 acres causes many times more damage than 100,000 acres of HFRA.

    AND, hey, it was the Democrats who re-crafted and voted for HFRA, to my infinite delight.

    Reply
  3. I don’t understand how you can say that objections are cutting people out compared to appeals. I do understand the difference between 45 and 30 days. However, I should point out that most appeals I see are by professional appellants (for whom it’s part of their day job), so is 30 days too short for them? I don’t know.

    The press release says “Instead, it leaves litigation as the public’s only recourse against illegal Forest Service decisions.” I have some experience with objections (including plan objections for an ill-fated plan) so I don’t see how CBD can say that an objection is not “public recourse.” To me, they seem to fill more or less the same purpose, but objections (in my limited experience) seem to have the theme “I don’t like these parts of your project- I would like them to be changed” while appeals have the theme “I think your NEPA is abysmal plus you have violated NFMA and ESA.” But the public has equivalent opportunities to say what they don’t like.

    In fact the nature of appeals gives the agency a preview of some litigation points, which might be better for people who plan to litigate.

    Can anyone explain this to me? I must be missing something.

    Reply
  4. My concern is more practical. Until the Forest Service says it is doing “x” I don’t know if I support or oppose “x.” I’ve seen proposed actions that appeared fine, not warranting an objection, only to turn into garbage upon a final decision. I’ve also seen proposals that I haven’t a clue what is actually going on; they are so amorphous, lacking in the detail where devils reside.

    The pre-decisional objection process forces risk-averse folks to object to everything, on the grounds that by the time it becomes something, they don’t want to have failed to exhaust their “administrative remedies.” What a waste of time.

    By the way, I don’t know of any other federal agency whose only administrative remedy precedes a final agency decision. Is the FS now unique?

    Reply
    • Andy, As always, thanks so much for your comments here, which always add important context that is often missing in these discussions. You’ve made a very solid case for why a pre-decision objection process is actually much different than a post-decision appeal process and I agree with your rationale entirely. Thanks again.

      Reply
  5. This is helpful, Andy. I am thinking you have scoping, you develop a proposal, you have public comment and you have a proposed action associated with the published final EA or EIS.

    Here is the HFRA field guide here. I italicized the key sentence.

    Administrative Review

    The DOI BLM administrative review process was not modified by the HFRA.

    Section 105(a) of the HFRA replaces the USDA Forest Service’s administrative appeals process with an objection process that occurs before the decision approving authorized fuel-reduction projects under the act. The Secretary of Agriculture has established interim final regulations for a predecisional administrative review process for authorized hazardous-fuel reduction projects on NFS lands. The interim final rules were published January 9, 2004 (69 FR 1529, http://www.regulations.gov/fredpdfs/04-00473.pdf).

    Only authorized hazardous-fuel reduction projects, as defined by the HFRA (Section 101(2)), on NFS lands that have been analyzed in an EA or EIS are subject to these special procedures.

    Participation in the predecisional review process is available to individuals and organizations who have submitted specific written comments related to the proposed authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction project during opportunities for public comment provided when an EA or EIS is being prepared for the project (Section 105(a)(3), 36 CFR 218.6).

    Written objections, including any attachments, must be filed with the reviewing officer within 30 days after the publication date of the legal notice of the EA or final EIS in the newspaper of record (Section 218.4(b)). It is the responsibility of objectors to ensure that their objection is received in a timely manner.

    Before the issuance of the reviewing officer’s written response, either the reviewing officer or the objector may request to meet to discuss issues raised in the objection and their potential resolution. The reviewing officer has the discretion to determine whether or not adequate time remains in the review period to make a meeting with the objector practical. All meetings are open to the public.

    The reviewing officer will issue a written response, but is not required to provide a point-by-point review, and may include instructions to the responsible official, if necessary. In cases involving more than one objection to a proposed authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction project, the reviewing officer may consolidate objections and issue one or more responses.

    The responsible official may not issue a record of decision or decision notice concerning an authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction project until the reviewing officer has responded to all pending objections.

    I know BLM has appeals to the IBLA, but also has objections.. I found this but don’t know if it’s true or not (from the Intermountain Forestry Association here).

    A FOREST SERVICE ANOMALY. A hazardous fuels reduction project implemented on at risk National Forest lands face a significantly higher administrative appeals bar than the exact same project would encounter if implemented in Yellowstone National Park (Park Service), the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge (Fish and Wildlife Service), or the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (BLM). That’s because the Forest Service is the only federal land management agency with an administrative appeals process memorialized in statute – a 1993 Appropriation Rider called the Appeals Reform Act. The Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service have no formal appeals in any form, meaning that organizations or individuals opposing wildfire mitigation activities on these lands must take objections straight to Court. The BLM does not have an administrative appeals process codified in federal statute, but it does have a pre-decisional objections process in regulation that gives interested parties a venue in which to seek administrative redress. The BLM process is widely viewed as being more collaborative, and less confrontational, than the quasi-judicial Appeals Reform Act that governs the Forest Service. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act would direct the Forest Service to create an objections process akin to that of the BLM.

    I’m not sure that all these items are in the Bill, but I did find this rationale on Congressman Mike Simpson’s (Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee) website here.

    In addition to reducing spending, the bill makes important reforms to address growing costs to taxpayers due to frivolous lawsuits. Such lawsuits are one of the biggest unbudgeted costs for land management agencies. As litigation costs siphon funding away from critical priority programs, agencies are forced to divert taxpayer dollars intended for carrying out legitimate land management responsibilities.

    “I’ve been appalled to learn that some state and field offices of agencies like the BLM and Forest Service have reported spending more than half of their current budgets responding to litigation,” said Simpson. “These unaccounted for costs undermine any effort to implement a responsible budget, and we can’t expect to reduce government spending unless we address some of the underlying issues.”

    To bring these costs under control, ensure greater accountability of taxpayer dollars, and increase transparency, Simpson included provisions in the conference report to:
    • Extend for two years authorities to renew grazing permits while prioritizing work on the most sensitive environments;
    • Require that environmental groups exhaust BLM’s administrative review process before litigating on grazing issues, saving the BLM significant taxpayer money currently wasted on litigation that could be resolved through the administrative process;
    • Allow the Forest Service to use an administrative “objection” process rather than post-decisional appeals, saving the agency time and money and reducing litigation;
    • Direct the Department of the Interior, the EPA, and the Forest Service to make publicly available detailed access to Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) fee information.

    Reply
    • Thanks for providing an opportunity for us to examine your defense of the “rationale” of Congressman Mike Simpson, the Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. The question being, “Is his concern really about speaking on behalf of the taxpayer’s best interests and saving taxpayer money?”

      Given his record, I don’t think so.

      According to Congressman Mike Simpson, his applied “reform” rationale is about “reducing spending”, and implementing “important reforms to address growing costs to taxpayers due to frivolous lawsuits”.

      As demonstrated below, his voting record is solidly grounded in deregulation at GREAT cost to taxpayers and the environment by eliminating federal regulations protecting taxpayers.
      (selected quotes below from http: //thatsmycongress.com/house/repSimpsonID2112.html )

      Congressman Mike Simpson cosponsored H.R. 97 which “forbids the government from doing anything to solve the problems of greenhouse gases or climate change. The members of Congress who support H.R. 97 are intransigent in the face of an acknowledged environmental problem.”

      Congressman Mike Simpson also voted for HR 2273 that would block federal regulations for the disposal of coal ash (Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act).

      (“Just 17 days after the House voted to pass H.R. 2273, a mudslide at WE Energies’ Oak Creek Power Plant released a large amount of toxic coal ash containing poisonous heavy metals into Lake Michigan.” )

      Congressman Mike Simpson also voted for H.R. 2021, the JEPA Act, “an effort to speed up offshore drilling at the expense of clean air. If passed into law, H.R. 2021 will exempt icebreaking ships in the Arctic from current regulation under the Clean Air Act, allowing their pollution to expand without restraint.”

      Congressman Mike Simpson also voted for, “H.R. 2112 would cut funding for a number of FDA and USDA programs. Food aid programs to children, pregnant women, and senior citizens would be slashed. Tried-and-true programs to assure food safety would be gutted. Newly programs to improve meat, dairy and egg safety inspections would be scrapped. More people would go hungry and get sick in America as a result”.

      “On June 18 2010 the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement of the Department of the Interior issued new regulations for mountaintop removal and strip mining. These setting out standards for how strip mines dump the rubble leftover from taking off the tops of mountains and extracting ore. The Interior Department regulation requires that this rubble, laden with deadly poisons and heavy metals, be kept away from streams that sustain wildlife and supply people with drinking water.”

      Congressman Mike Simpson also voted for House Amendment 131 which “forbids the federal government from spending any money at all to enforce this requirement. It allows strip mining and mountaintop removal operations to continue to poison the environment and poison people by dumping toxic slag into mountain streams.”

      Congressman Mike Simpson also voted for, “House Amendment 88, tacked on to House spending bill H.R. 1, prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from spending any money to enforce its standards regarding the reduction of mercury emissions from cement plants in the United States. After a considerable number of scientific studies and dozens of public hearings and comment periods, the EPA determined that American cement plants release enough mercury dust into the atmosphere to kill between 1,000 and 2,500 people every year. The cement industry in America can afford to make the fixes EPA proposes in order to prevent those 1,000-2,500 deaths each year: the industry is profitable and resisting imports, which are now as low as they have been for 19 years. Those who voted for H.Amdt. 88 voted to prevent the fixes to cement plants that would protect the environment and save American lives.”

      (There’s lots more examples to demonstrate this devotion to deregulation at incalculable costs to taxpayers and the environment which sustains them, but my main point being, this is what to expect from a corporatized Congress.)

      Reply
      • I wasn’t actually defending his rationale, I was just saying that I found out what it was.

        For the purposes of voting, I would judge Mr, Simpson on the sum of his voting compared to other candidates for the same position.

        But I am not voting, I was just trying to trace how the objections language got in the bill and what the thought process might have been.

        For the purposes of this blog, I may agree with someone like Mr. Simpson or with you (say, in the case of cap and trade), or with Andy on any particular issue. What we are trying to elucidate is the rationale for a particular issue, not for his whole voting record.

        Reply
        • Sorry, I thought cause/effect relationships and trends in voting had relevancy and provided insights in understanding his applied rationales.

          Reply
  6. The final details are yet to be worked out in the rule-making process but it’s likely to be much worse than people realize.

    Some of the significant problems that appear likely to flow from this rider …

    1) There is currently a comment period on EAs and EISs, followed by an appeal period. This rider compresses these two processes into one much shorter process. Iterative analysis and adaptive management will be frustrated by this radical change.

    2) Appeals are focused on a decision adopting a single alternative. The objection process will be muddled by the fact that there is no decision yet. Objectors will be forced to argue against every aspect of every alternative described in the NEPA document that they disagree with.

    3) Many among the general public, who would be comfortable providing public comment to the decision-maker, will be too intimidated or conflict-averse to “object.” The FS will be denied the benefit of input from all but the most impassioned and opinionated members of the public.

    4) Scoping (if it’s still allowed) will be the only opportunity to influence the decision before the objection process. Those who wish to offer scoping comments will be motivated to provide “kitchen sink” letters that cover all possible scenarios and issues. The agency will find it difficult to separate the meaningful comments from the chaff.

    5) This radical new policy has no sunset clause.

    In the coming months we will see if the FS writes the rules to mitigate the damage done by Congress, and continue to provide for both NEPA comments and objections, or whether will they use this undemocratic rider as an excuse for a power play that excludes the public and causes the ultimate policy train-wreck that they seem to always wish for?

    Reply
  7. Tree-1) it doesn’t condense them into one period of comment. You have all regular comments then you have objections instead of appeals. They just replace one part of the process (appeals) with objections.

    2) the final EA or EIS shows the preferred alternative so you know which one to object to.

    3) THE OBJECTION PROCESS DOESN’T SUBSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC COMMENT. In my experience if you have a HFRA project usually the same people who appeal non-HFRA projects object to HFRA projects. Objecting may be actually more user-friendly because all meetings with objectors (at least for HFRA) are open to the public- no closed door meetings with appellants. Therefore at the last minute when the last tweaks to the project are being made, everyone can be there!

    4) Again, this implies you wouldn’t have scoping or the usual public comment process, which you would be able to have.

    Tree, unlikely as it may seem, the FS does not have power over Congress. If the FS did, the budget would look very different ;). Congress people have their own concerns, that they hear from their constituents, coupled with some political and partisan theater, whether you agree with them or not, as Mr. Simpson above. I don’t believe that they wanted to reduce comment periods, just that they wanted to substitute objections for appeals.

    Reply
    • Sharon: We’ll see if the rules implementing the 428 rider reflect your optimism. The HFRA rules DO NOT. The objection is the first real chance to comment on most projects. That’s a fact.

      The FS retains a lot of discretion. Many different versions of the new rules will all be consistent with Congress’ brief and ambiguous rider. The FS could makes things make things relatively better or worse in terms of public process.

      Reply
  8. Tree, here’s the first HFRA project I could find, and it did have a chance to comment
    http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=31598 . It even has response to comments section on page 6 of the EA. So, you say that it’s a fact that MOST HFRA projects do not have a chance for the public to comment. I would say I don’t know what MOST projects have, just the ones I run into or look up. It might be interesting for blog readers to pick an HFRA project near their home and see what the public involvement opportunities were. Not hard. just go to a fuels treatment project with an EA and check on the website if it says something about an objection… look for documentation of public comment opportunities.

    Reply
  9. I share a sense of optimism about this change from a post-decision appeal process to a pre-decision objection process. First, the change should encourage both the Forest Service and “constructive critics” of the agency to be more collaborative and less litigious. Second, even if my optimism is unfounded, all the current backstops remain. The agency would have to fulfill established formal public participation requirements prior to any new decision and the option of a court challenge remains available after that decision. The court option remains crucial if procedural violations are believed to have occurred.

    What the new objection process appears to create is an opportunity to improve a decision before it becomes final. It also expedites the option of court for those who simply object to any decision and want to focus more on procedural requirements than land stewardship. And it makes the Forest Service process consistent with other federal land management agencies, like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. These seem to be three worthy improvements.

    Ideally, here’s what should happen if the Forest Service plans to make a decision about a project or a land management (Forest) plan. First, a planning process should occur that includes some combination of collaborative meetings (informal process), as well as formal public meetings and public comments (formal process). Then, the Forest Service releases a proposed alternative or proposed decision to which critics can object. At that point, everyone involved in the process should see at least three things. First, they should see how the proposal was developed and, second, that it responds to the shared learning that came out of the collaborative discussions, publics meetings, and comments. Third, everyone should see what new ideas the objection(s) bring to those discussions, if anything.

    Here’s where it gets interesting. If an objection includes ideas that improve the decision, the agency can include those. If an objection doesn’t improve the decision, the agency would have the discretion to say, “Look, we’ve already conducted a collaborative process giving everyone ample opportunity to participate, we’ve met our formal procedural requirements, and we believe the alternative/decision should stand.” Instead of two avenues to challenge, one through an administrative process and a subsequent one through the courts, critics who continue to object would be able to take the matter directly to court where they can argue any claims of procedural violations.

    Whether a legal challenge occurs or not, there’s no reason the final decision is suspect merely because an objection process occurred prior to that decision, as several other comments would suggest. In fact, the decision should be better for it.

    Yes, for all this to work out well, the Forest Service is going to have to earn trust from those who may have little good reason to trust. In addition, participants may need to earn the trust of each other and of the Forest Service. But what’s the downside? If the agency fails to earn trust and can’t demonstrate good faith, presumably because of procedural failures, legal challenges remain available and may well succeed. On the other hand, if the agency earns trust and the “constructive critics” do not, then efforts to pursue a legal challenge should fall short. Taken together, we can hope for nothing less.

    Reply
    • ” the agency would have the discretion to say, “Look, we’ve already conducted a collaborative process giving everyone ample opportunity to participate, …”

      Really? Do you actually believe “everyone (gets an) ample opportunity to participate…” in a devolved process of local “stakeholders”? There exist legions of citizens who sniffed the collaboration Koolaide and refused to drink it for a good reason. The devolved collaboration model does not pass the sniff test of basic democratic principles, especially given its propensity for deregulation, corporate outsourcing of agency functions, and privatization of public lands.

      First, do we have a demonstrated pattern of widespread mismanagement occurring on our national forest system? Of course we do. Even the Forest Service admits this.

      Second, history demonstrates the only meaningful regulatory oversight measures being taken is not by the agency and the anti-regulatory culture it cultivates — but by citizen oversight of the agency through the use of the court system. The courts often agree with citizen challenges that point out the agency often fails to follow environmental laws in the course of its rampant mismanagement.

      Much of the agency failures to follow laws is the result of the machinations of a corporatized Congress which has resulted in regulatory and agency capture. Appropriations riders are one of many examples of machination and a particularly offensive means to manipulate and undermine the ability of citizens to challenge agency mismanagement.

      Third, any optimism expressed around these means of curtailing the ability of citizens to prepare legal challenges in a corporatized congressional environment would suggest where the optimist’s allegiances reside, and it definitely isn’t on the side of the environment, or the public’s national forest system.

      Reply
      • Yep, the new cry of the preservationists…

        “You’re either with us, or against us!”

        Thanks for, yet again, clarifying that so brilliantly, David.

        Reply
          • I don’t believe you can back up this assertion, David.

            “a demonstrated pattern of widespread mismanagement occurring on our national forest system”.

            Please list examples from every Region from the last 2 years, in order to prove that statement true. If not, go back 5 years and try.

            Thank you.

            Also, would an industry-controlled Congress and Forest Service impose voluntary rules against clearcutting and old growth harvesting?!?! Would they voluntarily scale back logging to one thirteenth of the former harvest levels?? Would they allow 25 million acres of public forests die, without significantly salvaging much of it??

            Both sides use riders for both good and bad bills, that might not pass on their own. Congress loves and hates them, nut they cannot and will not vote to eliminate them.

            Reply
            • Larry,
              The good news is I’ll back up my assertion. The bad news is, your arbitrary limits of just 2-5 years precludes the whole point of “a demonstrated PATTERN of widespread mismanagement”. It often takes 2-5 years just for the USFS to provide or make available information as well as the researcher to produce a credible analysis of this well known condition of serial mismanagement.

              This we do know, short of a massive overhaul of the way this captured agency is being run, we can assume most of the past causes of problems in the agency endure as fundamentally unchanged in the present, as was pointed out in a recent oped by a former federal prosecutor noting the failure of the USFS to deal with timber theft. There are of course some laudable exceptions of actual reform, but overall, it remains a captured agency.

              Let the first witness take the stand– Former USFS Chief, Dale Bosworth:

              “Decades of fire suppression have often produced overcrowded vegetation in our forest, weakening trees and rendering them more susceptible to pests, diseases, and displacement by invasive species. Too often, the result is soil erosion and habitat degradation especially in sensitive areas such as stream, lakes, and wetlands.” 
Dale Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service, September 2001

              This was backed up by PERC in their study of the issue:

              “Forest Policy Up in Smoke: Fire Suppression in the United States” Alison Berry∗
              http://www.law.northwestern.edu/searlecenter/papers/Berry_forest_policy.pdf
              Research Fellow, PERC—Property and Environment Research Center
              Abstract
              U.S. fire policy favors suppression of all fires on federal lands, despite negative impacts on forest ecosystems. Due to Forest Service fire suppression, forests which previously burned periodically have strayed from their historical range of variation. The result is a proliferation of increasingly stressed trees and dangerous accumulations of fuels.

              The next piece of evidence was acquired from 49,700 results using search terms “deferred road maintenance USFS” (in 0.20 seconds) and hardly coming from a hotbed of preservationist ideologues, instead, Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS):

              http://www.ourforests.org/fact/tcs040104.pdf
              “Taxpayers for Common Sense spent the past year collecting information from government publications, communicating directly with former and current agency staff, and analyzing Forest Service data obtained through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests.
              This investigation has uncovered the following:
              • The maintenance and capital improvement backlog on the national forest road system has surpassed $10 billion.1
              • California, Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Washington and Utah account for over $7 billion2 of the $10 billon backlog.
              • Between fiscal years 1998 and 2002, the timber industry received more than $140 million in subsidies for timber road construction3 and most of the roads the Forest Service maintained were for use only by timber vehicles for timber extraction.4
              . Congress manipulates federal funds for political gain, which ultimately interferes with agency performance. According to former Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas: 
The Forest Service has consistently put in the budget for maintenance of roads – and at high standard. The Administration or the Congress or both had consistently not honored those requests and gave the Forest Service money for new roads that they did not ask for and refused money to maintain roads that were asked for. The Forest Service must spend the dollars it is allocated exactly as allocated in the budget. This [road backlog] doesn’t have a thing to do with “capability” – it has to do with political priorities of those that control the purse strings.5
              . The Forest Service spends tens of millions of dollars each year subsidizing timber companies for the cost of new timber road construction. These subsidies cost taxpayers almost $140 million for fiscal years 1998 through 2002 (see Table 5).24 By absorbing these costs, the federal government shields the timber industry from the true cost of doing business.”

              Then there was this in the paper of record:
              “Taxpayers Losing Money to Loggers on U.S. Land, Forest Service Admits”
              November 22, 1997|From Times Wire Services
              WASHINGTON — “The Forest Service is acknowledging for the first time that taxpayers are losing money logging national forests, with a memorandum saying that the timber sales last year cost about $15 million.
              The admission of loss is likely to intensify the debate over logging on public lands, providing fresh ammunition for budget hawks and environmentalists who oppose commercial logging in the nation’s 155 national forests.”

              Then there’s this report from the GAO:

              http://www.gao.gov/assets/240/233076.pdf
              (excerpted)
              . “Over 10,000 culverts exist on fish-bearing streams in Oregon and Washington according to Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service estimates, but neither agency knows the total number that impede fish passage. Ongoing agency inventory and assessment efforts havealready identified nearly 2,600 barrier culverts, but agency officials estimate that more than twice that number may exist.
              . (snip) Under the authority of the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service currently lists four species of salmon—including Coho, Chinook, Chum, and Sockeye—as well as steelhead and sea-run trout as either threatened or endangered anadromous fish in the northwest region. According to agency officials, BLM and Forest Service lands in Oregon and Washington include watersheds that represent some of the best remaining habitat for salmon and other aquatic life, often serving as refuge areas for the recovery of listed species. As such, unobstructed passage into and within these watersheds is critical.
              . (snip)The actual extent of improved fish passage is largely unknown, however, because neither agency requires systematic post-project monitoring of completed projects.”

              The ramifications of the failure of maintenance of NFS roads has no doubt played out in the extinctions and failures of several salmon runs and their recovery, to say nothing of the countless watershed deaths by a thousand clearcuts.

              Then there was the mismanagement resulting in the implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan, largely the result of unsustainable levels of clear cutting affecting old growth dependent species like the spotted owl…

              And lots more to draw from this dark legacy.

              Reply
      • David, I, too, do not agree with the statement regarding a “demonstrated pattern of mismanagement”. Even your examples merely point out to me a lack of resources (i.e. money) on the part of the agency, rather than a purposeful decision to not attend to these issues. In addition, we cannot judge past decisions based upon current knowledge ( hindsight is 20-20).

        I also take issue with your argument that citizen oversight is the only force keeping the agency in check. The success of “citizens” challenging the agency merely points to weaknesses in the law that do not define when enough analysis is enough. It seems to me a group interested in paralyzing the agency can always resort to arguing that the agency did not do enough analysis. When is enough, enough? That is the real question.

        I have to agree with Optimist that the ability for the public to comment on a plan prior to the decision will allow for much more useful information on the part of the agency. I would think that the ability to comment on multiple alternatives would allow the agency to develop a new alternative, if needed, that would reflect the interests of the public even better. This will require, as Andy points out, an effort on the part of the agency to put enough detail into these documents that substantive comments can be generated.

        Reply
        • Thanks for the dialogue. What we seem to agree upon is: “the ability of the public to comment on a plan prior to the decision”, is definitely a good thing. (I would add, public process, being a foundational element of NEPA.) From there we diverge. Reducing a public comment period by over two weeks is a significant impact upon the public’s ability to meaningfully respond. You apparently think otherwise.

          It seems our different perspectives hinge upon whether you agree there’s a “demonstrated pattern of mismanagement”. I considered including Randal Otoole’s observations in his book, “Reforming the Forest Service”, which found, “perverse incentives built into the Forest Service budget :

          Rewarded managers for clearcutting when other cutting methods were just as silviculturally sound and more acceptable to the public;
          Rewarded managers for losing money on timber sales;
          Penalized managers for earning a profit; and
          Rewarded managers for suppressing fires even when they knew that fire suppression would simply lead to more catastrophic fires later”

          These, I also know to be true. The reason I didn’t include them is that Otoole fails at identifying causation, and his remedies only serve as a tool for his benefactors. However, the perverse incentives perpetuating a pattern of mismanagement would still exist.

          My whole point of including the TCS research was to demonstrate the mechanism underlying a long history of a “pattern of mismanagement”. Taxpayers for Common Sense, relying upon USFS data, has provided insights into the CAUSATION of mismanagement. It’s striking those examples of causation and the resulting mismanagement, get reduced in your argument to merely a “lack of money.” Despite the mismanagement a former Chief of the Forest Service has admitted to Congress, it still gets denied by you?

          Your admonition that, “we cannot judge past decisions based upon current knowledge ( hindsight is 20-20)” is off the mark because this is not about judging. It’s about problem solving. And problem solving depends heavily upon being able to differentiate effect from causation. Treating effects, but not causes of problems, will assure continuation of the problem of mismanagement.

          Besides, there is much to be understood and applied through hindsight, but it’s utterly useless if we’re unwilling to recognize the mechanism of causation. The perennial debates on these matters routinely get railroaded into attacking effects of mismanagement which are highlighted as an issue of citizen suits.

          This is precisely why the issue is perennial — the well established pattern of mismanagement is due to agency capture — not citizen lawsuits defending foundational environmental laws.

          So — the laws being used by citizen activists are the favored target, when in fact, causation is not being correctly addressed. Regulatory capture and agency capture is not unique to the Dept. of Agriculture. Deregulation in the name of free market (sic) ideology is precisely what has crippled virtually every realm of American government and society. The Health, financial, insurance, Big Pharma, FCC, FAA, and many more institutions are shadows of their former incarnations– because of deregulation.

          Taxpayers for Common Sense, is not a “group interested in paralyzing the agency .” Rather, they too, seek the causation of mismanagement because it is a huge drain on the economy and the US Taxpayer.

          As their research shows, this is not about lack of money as you claim, but WHO determines HOW money gets spent. The TCS report demonstrated the abysmal failure of the agency to maintain its massive road system is the result of a corporatized Congress dictating agency budgets resulting in a captured agency.

          Reigning political forces of several decades have been imposing neoliberal objectives of resource extraction at all costs. This is funded by taxpayers and enhancing corporate bottom-lines. Anything that interferes with those corporate objectives gets attacked using the commonplace neoliberal tools of devolution, deregulation, corporate outsourcing of agency functions, and privatization of public lands.

          There’s much to be gleaned from Dale Bosworth’s admissions to Congress of agency mismanagement. In that document the Chief pointed his finger — not at the corporatized Congress which undermined the Chief’s ability to address mismanagement by predetermining the budget for him — instead, the Chief’s finger was pointed at the citizens who would hold the agency to the letter of environmental law.

          Actually, your claim mirrors Bosworth’s. You state, ‘The success of “citizens” challenging the agency merely points to weaknesses in the law that do not define when enough analysis is enough’.

          I respectfully disagree. The failing of the law is not so much about sufficient analysis, but that there is no accountability for failure to follow the law. Laws with no mechanism for enforcement, no personal nor professional accountability, means there’s no deterrence from breaking those laws. They are laws assured to be broken at will.

          We can revise the laws and curtail the citizenry, but we’ll still be left with a captured agency collaborating with its corporate captors and adopting the same tools of deregulation, devolution, corporate outsourcing and privatization. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Protection Act provides a glimpse of that reality and the coming agency “Transition.”

          Bosworth, even after exiting as Chief, was still serving those same ends lobbying for Tester’s failed collaboration product. The failure of FJRA as a product of years of meetings with financially conflicted “stakeholders” using manufactured consensus under the guise of “collaboration” certainly cannot be construed as the public process intended in NEPA.

          FJRA for all its collaboration hype simply failed miserably on its own demerits.

          Reply
          • Let’s get back to the actual topic of HFRA. What, specifically, are the issues that people will appeal in an average HFRA project? Will the proposed changes actually impact many HFRA projects? How many HFRA projects have actually went to court? How many were appealed? Some people seem to “object” to ANY limitations to litigation reform.

            I see this continuing schism as necessary in cobbling new ways to manage our forests back to their former splendor. I have to think my view of what our forests should be isn’t much different than the average Sierra Clubber. The distrust isn’t something that will be going away soon, and we must recognize that reality. However, the Forest Service needs to be given a chance to earn some trust back.

            We must not use the past to block the future. What we do, or do not do, right now, will mean so much to future generations. Will history blame politics for losing our old growth? That’s what I see happening, right now.

            Reply
  10. Bee-Bee, Pettiness doesn’t make it so. Your response seems to reinforce my previous point that removing an obstacle to going to court directly is probably better for everyone. My argument is simple, “Let’s get it over with.” If someone, perhaps even you, is only interested in obstinacy, let’s skip the preliminaries. If the agency has messed up, show it. But if that person or organization is nothing but noise, let’s expose them as a blowhard.

    If you can, given the situation, go ahead and step up. If you can, disprove a contention that appropriate opportunities for participation have been made available. If that’s the situation, disprove the contention that you refused to engage in a democratic process. I absolutely agree, if that’s the case, the agency should be taken to task. But, if you’re not interested in better decision, that same process should allow for you to be taken to task. Hyperbolic garbage, like your response, does nothing more than distort the possibility of discussion. No one is suggesting curtailing opportunities for legal challenge, despite your “protesteth too much” type statements. Quite the contrary. Those legal opportunities remain. The rider creates an opportunity. Are you going to dismiss it out of hand? Really?

    Reply
    • “Pettiness?” “Hyperbolic garbage”? Petty name calling doesn’t make “it”(whatever you’re referring to) so either. (btw, the last time I saw that juvenile tactic of making fun of someone’s name was way back in elementary school. It still doesn’t substitute for a failed argument though.)

      Sorry to have to tell you but, we’re talking about public lands here and the well-recognized, abysmal failures of management of them. You don’t get to disqualify what I, or any other citizen of the US has to say on this issue.

      This is not about “removing an obstacle to going to court directly”. This is about maintaining the opportunity to affect a bad ROD (by knowing WHAT it is) without having to go to court in the first place, and in the second place, to have enough time to assemble the sordid details in the planning record and submit FOIA requests in time to assemble a legal argument if no other option exists. Cutting out two weeks will have the desired effect you champion, to undermine the public’s ability to effectively respond to an FEIS.

      Now that your allegiances are out in the open I can see why you post anonymously.

      Good idea.

      Reply
  11. Hello anonymous-posting “Optimist”: Let’s see you directly answer Andy’s comment, which really gets to the heart of the issues for many of us.

    Andy Stahl :
    My concern is more practical. Until the Forest Service says it is doing “x” I don’t know if I support or oppose “x.” I’ve seen proposed actions that appeared fine, not warranting an objection, only to turn into garbage upon a final decision. I’ve also seen proposals that I haven’t a clue what is actually going on; they are so amorphous, lacking in the detail where devils reside.
    The pre-decisional objection process forces risk-averse folks to object to everything, on the grounds that by the time it becomes something, they don’t want to have failed to exhaust their “administrative remedies.” What a waste of time.
    By the way, I don’t know of any other federal agency whose only administrative remedy precedes a final agency decision. Is the FS now unique?

    Reply
    • Matthew/Andy–Thanks for the good, challenging question. Here’s why I remain optimistic (I actually had done so in the scenario I laid out previously, but Beebe’s response seemed to divert things).

      Much like Sharon suggests in a subsequent reply, under the new objection process, a FS proposal at the proposed action stage is/should be the functional equivalent of a near-final decision. The objection process appears to be an opportunity to raise objections to the substance of the decision, an opportunity to improve the decision itself.

      If an objection to that proposed action/decision leads to a possible change that would improve the decision and is within the basic bounds of what has come up though the collaborative discussions, the FS can make the change and go final, probably with some appropriate outreach to other partners and stakeholders who had participated in the process.

      If an objector believes the FS has played procedural games along the lines of what you and others are concerned about, that would seem like something worth challenging in court. That also seems like exactly the citizen oversight that Beebe argues has been so invaluable and for whatever reason fears is now lost. I don’t see it that way. The citizen oversight remains and, in fact, could be reinforced by this arrangement. Again, that’s what my original comment tried to point out.

      I guess what I’m suggesting is that the objection process should address both of Andy’s concerns, assuming I understand those right. First, there’s the concern about decisions turning into garbage between the proposed action and the ROD. That’s a problem for sure. Seems like the objection process, because the next step is court, would encourage fewer games from the agency. Second, there’s the concern about proposals being too vague to be understandable. Another problem, but, again, the objection process itself seems an opportunity to call the agency out on that by objecting to the vagueness. If problems remain despite the objection, going straight to court would seem to cut to the chase and assert citizen oversight.

      I hope the scenario is somewhat more clear. Notice that nothing in it leads to curtailing opportunities for citizens to prepare legal challenges, which Beebe seems to infer would be a problem (comment #12). Can’t concerned citizens still file a legal challenge, including filing motions to address any time constraints that are of concern. As an optimist, the objection process would seem to reinforce opportunities for meaningful, good legal challenges while simultaneously introducing an opportunity–prior to entering the legal realm–to work out improvements to a decision that can be done so without court and without lawyers. Public lands, public trust, and public treasure would seem to deserve nothing less, something about which I’m sure we all agree.

      Reply
  12. But Matthew, as I said to Tree earlier in this thread:

    Tree, here’s the first HFRA project I could find, and it did have a chance to comment
    http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=31598 . It even has response to comments section on page 6 of the EA. So, you say that it’s a fact that MOST HFRA projects do not have a chance for the public to comment. I would say I don’t know what MOST projects have, just the ones I run into or look up. It might be interesting for blog readers to pick an HFRA project near their home and see what the public involvement opportunities were. Not hard. just go to a fuels treatment project with an EA and check on the website if it says something about an objection… look for documentation of public comment opportunities.

    With HFRA, you have the final EA to object to. It is complete with a preferred alternative. I don’t know why that wouldn’t be enough info to object to… could we understand more about this?

    If a proposed action turns into something you don’t like by the decision, you get to object to the decision. There must be something to Andy’s comment I’m missing.

    Reply
  13. Sharon: I’m quite familiar with HFRA projects, at least how they are conducted here in Montana. I have never said “most HFRA projects do not have a chance for the public to comment.” That might have been Tree’s perspective, but not mine.

    Perhaps re-read Andy’s comment. With the HFRA’s pre-decision objection process one doesn’t get to object to the final decision. The objection comes before any decision has been actually been made, hence the problem some of us have experienced with HFRA’s pre-decision process. How in the world can anyone object to, or not object to, a decision that has not yet been made? As Andy rightly put it, “I don’t know of any other federal agency whose only administrative remedy precedes a final agency decision.” Thanks.

    Reply
    • The Forest Service can’t have it both ways. Either the agency is open to making substantive changes in its preferred alternative as a result of public involvement, or it is not. If the agency is open to substantive change, then the pre-decision objection process necessarily is not targeting the final decision. If the agency is not open to making change, then the public involvement/collaboration process is a sham.

      Reply
      • What if the preferred alternative includes pre-decision collaboration, as well as considering, but not using some of that collaboration? If I were a decision-maker, I would sure be including as much public participation as possible in m decision. I would make sure to document that in my ROD, as well. I don’t like the idea of “bait and switch”, and am automatically suspicious when such things happen. If the issues are too muddled to nail down a solid, unchanging Decision, then it simply isn’t ready yet.

        I say, welcome the extremists on both sides and parade them around for what they are, and where they stand. THEN, ignore their unworkable ideas, based less on science and more on partisan politics. Of course, all the while, authorities will be documenting and making sure that the extremists had their say, just like every other American.

        Reply
      • So Andy, I have drawn this high-tech diagram of the process as I understand it. “Opp” is “opportunity for public involvement”.

        What I hear you saying is that the negotiations at the objection stage (public involvement period “c” on this diagram) need to be open to all so that all may comment on any changes. I think that meetings with objectors are required to be open to the public.

        I also know when we were working on a plan objection we wanted to make sure that if a decision were changed in the direction of a group in one direction, that people that preferred the other direction would also be involved in the discussion. This doesn’t necessarily happen when appeals are settled, so that seems like a more open, public process..

        So I still don’t really understand your concern- perhaps it is the mechanics of changes during the objection process and making sure that everyone has an opportunity to get involved in the resolution of each others’ objections? (By mechanics, I am not implying that it is a simple problem, I am just trying to find out if this is the difficulty you see).

        Reply
        • Thank you, Sharon. I was just about to suggest a simple list/diagram of the timeline. Currently, the appeal process would be after the ROD, correct? If so, then is the issue (one of) like Andy suggests earlier that the preferred alternative could still change significantly between the final EA and the ROD? And if so, then there would be no administrative process remaining?

          Reply
          • I think what he is saying is that because he doesn’t know how far the final decision might drift from the preferred alternative,
            1. he has to do an objection to have a chance to litigate, even if there is nothing wrong with the project
            2. he doesn’t get to appeal the final decision.

            So let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose as a result of objections, the FS changed some facet of the project in the final decision. Andy doesn’t agree (thinks it is unlawful). before he would have had a chance to file an appeal and have a different level in the agency review the decision. Now he must go directly to litigation, which costs a lot more on each “side.”

            Is that what you are thinking, Andy?

            Reply
        • Sharon, I wonder if it might help to distinguish formal events (e.g., required public meetings and opportunities for formal public comments) from informal activities (e.g., collaborative activities of various types). The objection process would seem to fall into the category of formal, even if all the formal and informal occur as part of an integrated process. Today, it seems that the informal, collaborative activities should set the stage for and supplement the formal, thereby changing some of the traditional dynamics of those formal activities. If so, the overall tone of a contemporary planning effort should be different than in the past. Maybe not in every case, but in many, perhaps most. Not sure this helps, but it came to mind as I read some of Andy’s and Matthew’s comments elsewhere.

          Reply
      • Are we talking about changes in response to public involvement or changes in response to the objection process? Those seem different. What if we choose to understand the objection process as a formal opportunity to double-check that the proposed action is a good reflection of what came out of all the informal collaborative efforts–and the formal commenting process–that led up to it? Would that change anything for you, Andy?

        Reply
        • Optimist- This reminds me of speaking with a Wise and Strategic NEPA Leader last week (WASNL). He talked about our NEPA regulations being so 20th century, based on papers that had to be mailed at points in the process.
          He was basically saying what if we posted a few collaboratively developed alternatives and took comments in real time- comments to other comments- etc. which would form its own public administrative record. It kind of whacked me upside the head and my neurons are still dancing.
          I think of our conversations on this blog, which are back and forth and much more useful because of that – not just group A says this x in a public comment, we do y thinking it serves the same purpose, don’t find out until the next comment period.

          The FS response could be something along the lines of “although we have listened to the comments on using 2 instead of 3 (comment 2012 on rolling NEPA document) as a parameter in the elk model, we chose to use 3 based on studies that show 2 reflects conditions in this habitat (Fox, 2012)”
          Until I had this conversation with WASNL I wasn’t thinking of this at all, but it is something to consider.

          Reply
          • Recent comments to Op-Eds and wildfires had commenters publicly calling for Texas to burn. I’ve also seen foreign commenters trying very hard to affect American public opinion on Forest Service issues. You would have to tie official public comments to voter registration numbers and names, which might not be a bad thing, after all. *smirks*

            Also coming to mind, should we let “corporate” eco-groups have “human rights” and “personhood” to make official “freedom of speech” comments? Hey, all or nothing, eh? *SMIRKS*

            Really, we need to take every opportunity to educate the public about why we need to do these projects, which clearly, are not cutting giant trees and are not making huge profits for lumber mills.

            Reply
  14. To some, merely slowing down and gumming up the system constitutes a victory. This is especially common in salvage sale process. I recognize and understand Andy’s reasons but, Sharon’s comment ensures that people will get their chance to stop projects they don’t like. As far as public comment goes, the preferred alternative is really not there for discussion in the ROD. It is more of a notification of what the government intends to do. The process then continues.

    Remember, though, that these are HFRA projects, which already have limitations and guidelines to follow, which separate them from “business as usual, commercial logging”, as some like to label it. I am with the Optimist, streamlining the HFRA process, just as the bipartisan Congress intended, in 2003. Just as the Democrats (re)-wrote it!! Remember, HFRA was an emergency response to forests in poor health and communities threatened by catastrophic wildfires. The “giveaway to the timber industry” simply never arrived, along with the other warnings from eco-groups. In fact, more mills closed down since the HFRA was enacted.

    Reply
  15. No I don’t, certainly not every time. Again, that’s the issue. How does one object, or not object, to a decision if the decision hasn’t been made.

    Again, quoting Andy: “The pre-decisional objection process forces risk-averse folks to object to everything, on the grounds that by the time it becomes something, they don’t want to have failed to exhaust their “administrative remedies.” What a waste of time.”

    Reply
  16. Matthew, I still don’t understand what you are saying ….Maybe if we went step by step I would understand you better. Is there a problem with specific projects where the EA is not specific enough about the preferred alternative?

    So I went to theis handy R1 website

    http://www.fs.fed.us/objections/objections_list.php?d=2&r=110100 and looked for 2011.

    the site has the Fern Hardy Resource Area Project on the IP

    Here’s the EA
    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/62239_FSPLT2_048646.pdf

    and the Little Beaver HFRA project on the Kootenai
    http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/62239_FSPLT2_048646.pdf
    (these documents include a response to comments)

    Could you talk more about what you would like to see in these EA’s that aren’t there in terms of understanding what is the preferred alternative so that you would be informed enough to object?

    Or do you have examples of EAs you found too vague?
    Or am I missing your point?

    Reply
  17. Thank you for a really interesting discussion that I think speaks volumes to the systemic nature of the problems. Here’s my over-simplified take on the social dynamics that are at play, and I think Andy’s comment illustrates these dynamics really well (I also think he is spot on with his concern, once you assume the operating paradigm described below.)

    System Dynamics:
    1. Advocacy groups see themselves as watchdogs, identifying themselves as separate and apart from the FS. They assume distrust in the agency and its actions, and therefore perceive their own role as inherently virtuous.
    2. FS reacts to this perception and makes “self-protection” its number one priority, which simply serves to reinforce the perception from the advocacy groups.
    3. Rules and regulations have been and continue to be adopted that reflect and reinforce this dynamic.
    4. Both sides participate in the “public participation” process that assumes and reinforces a distinct separation of interests between the agency and “the public”.
    5. With these foundational assumptions in place, there is rarely any meaningful satisfaction from the process and everyone is cynical about “the other side”.

    The Result:
    We have a debate about whether pre-decision or post-decision participation makes a difference, but this debate jumps right past the possibility that there could be a better way of doing business altogether. Who really benefits from everyone playing out the watchdog game, in the long run? I wonder whether the land benefits more from either opportunity for “the public” to participate? The good thing about “systems” is that there are always leaks, places where people not only see the system at play, but are able to move beyond these dynamics in a way that fundamental re-shapes the “interests” involved. My sense is that there are numerous places where the “two sides” have far more in common than apart from one another, but when we stay and play inside the system, we don’t see these opportunities.

    I encourage everyone to recognize the game that’s being played out every time we run down these rabbit holes about “process”. Take a moment to consider whether, if you were king or queen for a day, you would invent this system of your own volition. If so, fine. But I suspect very few people would re-create these dynamics, so if you would create a different kind of system, what would it look like? How would you persuade a broad coalition of others to embrace your vision? I’d be really curious to learn more about truly different kinds of systems that we could create.

    “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” W.A. ward

    Reply
  18. “The good news is I’ll back up my assertion. The bad news is, your arbitrary limits of just 2-5 years precludes the whole point of “a demonstrated PATTERN of widespread mismanagement””

    Soooo maybe, just maybe, if you can’t find ANYTHING in the last several years, maybe there isn’t any to be found?!?!?!?!? Also, “widespread” probably means “happening on EVERY National Forest”. Could it be that this mismanagement issue has just been made up to use as rhetoric?!? I have my own view of “mismanagement” that David would surely label as “corporate” terrorism and greed. However, I am VERY glad that David gets to show the public his brand of radical preservationism. Americans can make a clear choice, comparing science-based projects with David’s form of “doing nothing” and embracing “whatever happens” to our forests.

    Reply
    • Larry, you don’t have to resort to personal attacks just because you don’t like what someone has to say. Or maybe you have to, because that’s all you have to make your point with?

      Reply
  19. Ahhhh, yes! The “victim theme” will go VERY well with the “collaboration is a corporate scam” meme. I have my examples of “mismanagement”, and you have yours, David. They are both merely opinions, and it is up to the American public to decide which is more believable. MY mind is open to site-specific, science-based forest management, including “alternative actions”, to best benefit the land, and the animals (including humans) which live on it. My mind welcomes any amount of non-binding, educated oversight of projects that should force the Forest Service to “follow the law”. Following the law on HFRA shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do.
    This distrust will endure, until litigation reform has been accomplished and the Forest Service has gotten many chances to EARN trust. The distrust is necessary, because of what happened in the last millennium. At some point in the future, the sheer acreage of dying, dead and burning forests will trigger another Congressional partial solution to give the Forest Service MUCH more discretion than they have today. 20 million burned acres in an extended fire season is certainly within reach. In fact, there is a Red Flag Watch in force in the Sierra Nevada today. JANUARY! It simply is not safe to “preserve” these fuels buildups, especially so when drought years happen. We plan for 100-year floods. Why not prepare our forests for the 100-year droughts?!?

    Reply

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