Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Oversight Field Hearing on “Failed Federal Forest Policies: Endangering Jobs, Forests and Species”

Thanks to Mike for sending this.

Upcoming hearing should be worth tuning into. Should generate some discussion.

Can be accessed here:

http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=295110

This hearing will examine how federal administering of the Northwest Forest Plan and Endangered Species Act has affected local economies, forest health and the Northern Spotted Owl. In 1990, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act and as a result, the Northwest federal forest management regime was established. Still in effect, the Northwest Forest Plan has proven to be been a failure. The management plan has been driven by lawsuits as opposed to sound science, caused active forest management to plummet, failed in its mission of protecting the Northern Spotted Owl, and contributed to the deterioration of forest health. The Obama administration recently released a new critical habitat proposal for the Northern Spotted Owl that would replace the current management plan. It would place huge portions Washington, Oregon and California off limits to economic development and could indirectly impact over 19,000 Northwest jobs tied to private lands. The proposed plan also fails to adequately address the most serious threat to the Spotted Owl – the Barred Owl.

11 thoughts on “Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Oversight Field Hearing on “Failed Federal Forest Policies: Endangering Jobs, Forests and Species””

  1. A proper introduction to the hearing would note that the US House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands (lead by Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah) called the Field Hearing AND introduced it as noted above in Sharon’s post. If you go to the minority site you will see the hearing announcement without all the Bishopean fanfare, here: http://democrats.naturalresources.house.gov/hearing/field-hearing

    If the minority had “framed the hearing,” which they did not, and done so to contrast their frame to the frame used by the majority, they might have said something like:

    This hearing will examine how federal administration of the Northwest Forest Plan and Endangered Species Act has affected forest health, the viability of the Northern Spotted Owl, and local economies. In 1990, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed under the Endangered Species Act and as a result, the Northwest federal forest management regime was established. The majority will use this hearing as an attempt to “show” that the Northwest Forest Plan has proven to have been a failure. In particular, the majority will parade out witnesses in an attempt to show that the management plan has been driven by lawsuits as opposed to sound science, caused active forest management to plummet, failed in its mission of protecting the Northern Spotted Owl, and contributed to the deterioration of forest health. The Obama administration recently released a new critical habitat proposal for the Northern Spotted Owl that would replace the current management plan. The majority will attempt to show that the Obama critical habitat plan would place huge portions Washington, Oregon and California off limits to economic development and could indirectly impact over 19,000 Northwest jobs tied to private lands. The majority will also attempt to show that the proposed plan also fails to adequately address the most serious threat to the Spotted Owl – the Barred Owl.

    The frame used by the Majority represents “spin”, only spin, and pretty much nothing but spin. Another good show Rob! Note: I recast the Majority framing in supposed minority framing, adding italics to emphasize my embellishment as to what the minority might have done had they been in as nasty a mood as the majority seems to be in most of the time.

    Reply
  2. This is an important hearing. The “parade of witnesses” Dave refers to includes Kent Connaughton, Hal Salwasser, Steve Mealey and others intimately involved with the establishment of the NW Plan. I don’t think they have a common agenda and am unsure how each will respond to this opportunity. I don’t think they’re going to embarrass themselves by trying to “show” the the Plan was a failure; one reason being that if you look at its stated objectives, that is an obvious conclusion. A look at the physical and biological changes in our public forests since then makes that conclusion even more apparent.

    Here’s a more recent update on the hearing, along with Doc Hasting’s perspective:

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/may/18/time-to-improve-the-endangered-species-act/

    HASTINGS: Time to improve the Endangered Species Act – Too much money spent on lawyers rather than on threatened wildlife

    May 18, 2012

    By U.S. Representative Doc Hastings, Chairman, House Natural Resources Committee http://hastings.house.gov and http://hastings.house.gov/News/Email/ Contact: Erin Daly erin.daly@mail.house.gov or 202-225-5816; Fax: 202-225-3251

    When the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law in 1973 by President Nixon, he spoke about the importance of preserving “the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.” I believe that goal is as important today as it was back then. However, after nearly 40 years, it’s time to take a fresh, honest look at the law and consider whether there are ways it could be improved to do a better job of protecting and recovering species.

    The House Natural Resources Committee, which I chair, has begun a series of hearings to review the ESA. The purpose of these efforts is to look for ways to update, improve and strengthen the law — not to turn back the clock to 1973, before the law was passed.

    Congress last renewed the ESA in 1988, which means it has been 24 years since any substantial updates have been made. Clearly, Congress has failed to do its job. Even the most ardent supporters of the ESA should be able to agree that after two decades, there are ways to make the law more efficient and effective.

    By listening to citizens both affected by and interested in the ESA, the committee will conduct a fair and open assessment of both the law’s strengths and its weaknesses.

    There are five objectives that I think a review and update of the ESA should achieve.

    One, focus on species recovery. There are 1,391 domestic animal and plant species listed under the act. Of these, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has declared just 20 species recovered. That represents only a 1 percent recovery rate. The law is failing to achieve its primary purpose of recovering endangered species. We must do better.

    Two, reduce ESA-related litigation. One of the greatest obstacles to the success of the ESA is the way in which it has become a tool for excessive litigation. Instead of focusing on recovering endangered species, there are groups that use the ESA as a way to bring hundreds of lawsuits against the government. In response, agencies have to spend time and resources addressing those lawsuits instead of focusing on species recovery.

    FWS Director Dan Ashe has testified that the agency spent more than 75 percent of its fiscal 2011 resource-management allocation on court orders or settlement agreements resulting from litigation. He stated,”We fully agree with the concern that our resources are better spent on implementing the ESA than on litigation.”

    Three, ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year on endangered-species protection. In the face of trillion-dollar budget deficits, Congress has an obligation to ensure that money is spent appropriately to achieve the law’s intent – the recovery of species. Every dollar that is spent on court settlements and legal fees is a dollar that is not going to directly help endangered species.

    Four, base decisions on independently peer-reviewed science. Any decisions made on whether to list or delist a species should be based on sound science, not politics and not just because of lawsuits. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. For example, FWS has decided not to conduct a stock assessment for the Atlantic sturgeon before moving forward with a listing. How can it determine whether a species is endangered if federal bureaucrats don’t bother to count the size of the current population? Without this information, how will they ever be able to determine if the species is recovered?

    Five, make the law work for both species and people. The implementation of the ESA too often goes beyond the original intent of species recovery and is instead used to block and delay job-creating economic projects and activities. For example, a renewable-energy wind project in Washington state was abandoned because of the ESA’s overly burdensome regulatory process. The Radar Ridge project would have created up to 300 short-term jobs and provided a new source of renewable energy — but the project never went forward because of lengthy, costly and questionable restrictions under the ESA.

    We must be able to protect species — without creating a bureaucracy that is so burdensome that it destroys economic activity and jobs.

    Updating the 24-year-old Endangered Species Act will help ensure that the law works better to recover endangered species. Congress can no longer kick the can down the road while millions of dollars are wasted on frivolous lawsuits, resources are diverted away from true species recovery, and jobs are lost due to regulatory red tape that does little, if anything, to protect species.

    Reply
    • As Bob notes in #2, this may prove to be “an important hearing.” Or it may prove to be yet-another episode in the ongoing circus that often best describes the workings of the US Congress operating in its most-partisan mode. My comment in #1 was simply to note that the “Majority” framed the hearing by prejudging the issues, rather than setting the hearing up as fact-finding w/r/t questions–deplorable behavior on their part.

      If I were able to convince Congress to take a look at law, I’d start with the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 as amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (RPA/NFMA), and I’d suggest that the Congress take a close look at the philosophical foundations of natural resource management as laid down by Aldo Leopold, and as Gifford Pinchot amended his own views in later life. In short, I’d want them to take a close look at what the Forest Service ought to be doing and how it ought to be acting in working toward a viable mission/vision for the 21st Century. Since the RPA/NFMA serves as an umbrella for a variety of laws including the National Environmental Policy Act and The Endangered Species Act, alongside Clean Air and Water Acts, Wilderness Acts, etc. focus on the RPA/NFMA as a possible anachronism might be a useful start.

      And I don’t take exception to oversight hearings on the ESA, although I believe that the “majority” in this Subcommittee (as part of a very short-dsighted, narrow-minded (‘conservative’?) Republican regime) has already made up its mind. I hope I’m wrong.

      As for the witnesses, I was surprised that they were as balanced as they are. I like Kent Connaughton, even consider him my oldest friend in the Forest Service. He and I shared an interesting, if unproductive, meeting-experience at Grey Towers looking at Strategic Planning way back when. [I mentioned that meeting here, along with my distrust for “science-based decision-making”, outdated perspectives on strategic planning, effective use of adaptive management and more: http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/alls-well-on-the-planning-front-or-is-it/ ] And that was just one of many such experiences with Kent. I’ll be interested to see what he has to say. So too with Hal Salwasser and Steve Mealey. I know both of them well, and will be interested in what they have to say. I also will be interested to see what Mitch Friedman and Ernie Niemi have to say. I don’t know the others, but will watch their words too.

      As for Doc Hasting’s “five,” I don’t think that Aldo Leopold would disagree with them, taken as presented in introductory sentences (which I’ve put in bold below). Here is a piece of his material with my comments in italics.

      There are five objectives that I think a review and update of the ESA should achieve.
      One, focus on species recovery. There are 1,391 domestic animal and plant species listed under the act. Of these, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has declared just 20 species recovered. That represents only a 1 percent recovery rate. The law is failing to achieve its primary purpose of recovering endangered species. We must do better. Yes, we must do better, but focus on one law, the ESA, will not do the job. Better to recharter the whole workings of law toward betterment of species as well as betterment of quality of life for humans.
      Two, reduce ESA-related litigation. One of the greatest obstacles to the success of the ESA is the way in which it has become a tool for excessive litigation. Instead of focusing on recovering endangered species, there are groups that use the ESA as a way to bring hundreds of lawsuits against the government. In response, agencies have to spend time and resources addressing those lawsuits instead of focusing on species recovery. Why are these groups suing? Are they simply adding voice for “canaries in the mineshaft’?
      Three, ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year on endangered-species protection. In the face of trillion-dollar budget deficits, Congress has an obligation to ensure that money is spent appropriately to achieve the law’s intent – the recovery of species. Every dollar that is spent on court settlements and legal fees is a dollar that is not going to directly help endangered species. Everything beyond the introductory sentence here smacks of partisan political Bullshit!
      Four, base decisions on independently peer-reviewed science. Any decisions made on whether to list or delist a species should be based on sound science, not politics and not just because of lawsuits. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. …
      Decisions need to be based on science, but made in social/political arenas. You can’t divorce politics from this stuff.
      Five, make the law work for both species and people. Aldo Leopold could not have said it better. The implementation of the ESA too often goes beyond the original intent of species recovery and is instead used to block and delay job-creating economic projects and activities. Again, partisan political “spin.”

      Reply
  3. It sure looks like the ESA isn’t protecting rare habitats from the Crown King Fire, in Arizona. How many more BIG fires will rage through endangered species habitats?!? We need to generously display such failures, and place appropriate blame. It’s unfortunate that people are also politicizing this wildfire, cheering the fire on, solely because it is in Arizona. Just like last year’s political dogma, hounding the Texas wildfires last year. It’s very sad that such people wish such harm on other humans…and endangered species, while they are at it.

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  4. Dave: I’ve also had good interactions with Connaughton, Salwasser, and Mealey through the years, but more with Steve’s dad, Bob, than Steve. I think we may actually be finding a few pieces of common ground here:

    1) Total agreement. Major surgery.

    2) They do it because that’s how they make money. Despite years of “successful” thinning projects on the GP (see Matt’s link), Friedman just got another $million from us taxpayers and now wants to go “national?” Gore help us, every one. These guys are destructive parasites. In my opinion.

    3) I think you’re right. They could probably do a lot more with a lot less if they stopped all the litigation. Then they wouldn’t need all those dollars. (Actually, I’m only being a little facetious here — I don’t necessarily disagree with the budget for the ESA — I’m against all the billions of dollars of damages done to rural families, communities, and their forests and wildlife by operating this mess in the courts rather than the field).

    4) The “science” needs more cultural anthropologists and historical ecologists — people who study the role of people in the environment. Including forested environments. A few political scientists and historians wouldn’t hurt, either. Not so sure about the sociologists.

    5) I don’t think this is “spin” so much as documented history. I think the original intent has been skewered, and I think this law has been obviously used to block thousands of jobs in deference to a few: lawyers and politicians vs. loggers and all of the jobs needed to support them (bankers, truckers, mechanics, accountants, etc.).

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  5. Larry wrote: “It sure looks like the ESA isn’t protecting rare habitats from the Crown King Fire, in Arizona.”

    Could you please explain to us, Larry, just how a human caused structure fire on private property, which then moved onto the Prescott National Forest to burn in chaparral and ponderosa pine, shows that the ESA isn’t protecting rare habitats? Thanks.

    Source: http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2864/

    Reply
    • The fire is clearly burning in poorly-managed, overstocked forests, at high intensity, causing severe mortality in forests that WERE historically resilient to bark beetles and catastrophic wildfires, just like what is burning now. How much more Mexican spotted owl habitat can we afford to convert to longterm brushfields?

      Thanks

      Reply
  6. I watched the whole session and I have a few comments to add. First of all, comparing job numbers and timber volumes from past unsustainable practices doesn’t really hold much water. We need a true comparison of job numbers and timber volumes from sustainable estimates. Any adjustment in the ESA will not include clearcutting and highgrading, although it currently allows cutting trees up to 60″ dbh, at least “on paper”.

    One other notable observation is that ALL panelists don’t think the ESA and NWFP are working as they should. The one thing that was working is the ending of widespread clearcutting and highgrading, and the “yes and no” response reflected that fact. I also noticed that Friedman’s response will anger the radical preservationists….. and that he is considered, by some, as a traitor and a sell-out, by many of his radical peers, some of which comment here. His trust in collaboration and restoration makes him disliked by the serial litigators. Or, could it be that he is playing the game at both ends?

    Even the authors of the NWFP are saying that current policies are flawed. So, how do we fix things, to actually get species de-listed? Since it may take maybe centuries to re-establish nesting habitats, we shouldn’t be saying that “it takes more time”. The birds (including the northern goshawk) simply don’t have the time to wait for habitat to “happen”. I contend we can manage forests into usable habitats, that the birds can use MUCH sooner than the fallacy of “letting nature take its course”. Nature has little to do with it, when human-caused fires do their destruction in unmanaged forests.

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    • I watched the hearing up through Ernie Niemi’s testimony, and just a few minutes beyond. I noted nothing much of interest. Maybe I missed it. Niemi’s testimony I found intriguing since he made the point that we ought not to think we can go back to the good old days and restore jobs via logging. Amenity-based jobs are more the order of these days, and besides with mill modernization and higher-tech logging there just aren’t the jobs per board ft. there once were, and besides a lot of NW volume (maybe not from federal lands, but no matter) goes to the export market anyway.

      Larry notes that “ALL panelists don’t think the ESA and NWFP are working as they should.” I don’t know if I heard that. I remember Salwasser talking about the whole suite of federal laws not working well, but I can’t remember him singling out the ESA and NWFP. But maybe he did. I don’t remember Connaughton saying it, either. Connaughton mostly talked up “restoration” and monies now flowing from the Congress for such. I’m not sure what Mealey said, but that’s not unusual. Boone and Crocket may like Mealey’s schtick, but I usually come away shaking my head and wondering why people keep listening. This time proved no different. As to Friedman, here is how he concluded his testimony re: ESA:

      I understand the concerns of mill owners and workers. But the reasons that loaded trucks
      bypass them on the way to export yards do not include protections for spotted owls or other
      natural resources.

      I want to broaden my scope to endangered species issues nationally. Some criticize the ESA for ostensible under-performance. No doubt the Act, like any law, could be improved. Indeed, protection of biodiversity requires all the legal and policy muster possible to counter habitat loss, climate change, and other threats. Still, the Center for Biological Diversity found that 90% of the 110 listed species they reviewed are, while not recovered, actually on pace with expectations in their respective recovery plans. If your cake is mushy, you can’t blame the recipe until the full baking time has elapsed.
      The spotted owl is a case in point. Continued population declines were anticipated by the recovery plan until such time as enough habitat has recovered to reverse the trend. We have a way to go on that objective, plus the complex challenge of invading barred owls. This work isn’t easy. But I know from my own family experiences with spotted owls, wolves, and other rare species, wildlife makes a big difference in our lives and is worth vigorous effort.

      That doesn’t sound like he thought that the ESA isn’t working to me. Maybe Larry and I heard different messages from the panelists.

      PS.. You can find all the testimonies just behind the names of the panelists, here: http://naturalresources.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=295110

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      • Their “yes” part of their answer meant that the ESA was, indeed, successful at changing the clearcutting and highgrading. I thought that was the “right” answer, acknowledging that it was necessary to change that mindset. The Yes/No question was ‘Is the ESA working in the way Congress intended?’ Of course, the “other” right answer was “No”, in that owls have not recovered and we still have gridlock in the PNW, due to the ESA and NWFP. It is very clear to me that there is substantial middle ground but, preservationists continue to “preserve” the gridlock.

        We will continue to have litigators who won’t compromise on ANYTHING! Yep, one of those nasty “C-Words”!! At least Friedman seems to welcome that possibility. He has long since ditched his Earth First roots, and has taken flak for that stance.

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