Conservationists Fight Timber Industry’s NFMA Lawsuit Seeking To Limit Role Of Science

The Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Oregon Wild, filed a motion today in federal district Court in Washington D.C. to fight a lawsuit that aims to drastically limit the use of science to help manage our national forests.

Led by the timber industry, a coalition of industry groups filed suit on August 31 to challenge the new planning rule for the national forest system, designed provide for sustainable management of 193 million acres of national forests across the country. The purpose of the industry group’s lawsuit is to prevent the Forest Service from using “best available science” and ecosystem management tools to guide decisions affecting national forests, and to prohibit the agency from maintaining “viable populations” of wildlife, among other legal claims.

Conservation groups are seeking to intervene in this lawsuit in order to ensure the use of sound science in decisions affecting the public’s air and water, and our children’s natural heritage.

“These industry groups have a scary vision for our national forest,” stated Joseph Vaile, Program Director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) an Oregon-based conservation organization. “Never before have we seen extraction industries so clearly state that they oppose the use of science on our National Forests. Through this suit these groups hope the keys to our national forests are handed over to private industry so they can be turned into private tree-farms for their own benefit.”

“It comes as no surprise that the timber industry would like to see our National Forests managed for logging but it becomes truly bizarre when the timber industry must argue against science and in favor of crony capitalism in order to achieve their desired result,” said Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator for Oregon Wild, another organization intervening.

Pete Frost, attorney for the conservation groups, stated, “This lawsuit, if successful, could effectively ban conservation biology as a basis to help craft how we manage our national forests. It is a throw-back to when only logging, grazing, and mining mattered.”

14 thoughts on “Conservationists Fight Timber Industry’s NFMA Lawsuit Seeking To Limit Role Of Science”

  1. Matthew- interesting comment .. against “science” and for “crony capitalism.” I looked up the staff and board of Oregon Wild and didn’t find anyone with the standard kind of “science” background. I’ve found that before, that the organizations with the strongest rhetoric around “science” often have the fewest scientists employed there.

    Maybe that’s because many of us scientists and researchers of the scientific enterprise don’t see “science” as a thing that should determine policy. The enterprise of developing scientific information is a stumbling, human weakness infested, effort to find out how Nature (including people) operate. But maybe to understand that, you have to have experience with it or have looked at the relevant literature…

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  2. “Science” also tells us that a certain segment of society has certain arsonist tendencies. Shall we disregard that science, and maintain vast flammable reserves of tinder-dry forests, ready for incineration at any time preferred by any arsonist? The same could be said for ignorant forest visitors, who are careless with fire. Ignorance of such “science” has been proven to be catastrophic, at times, including loss of lives and irreplaceable habitats.

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    • I just want to follow-up on that last comment. Now, I am not siding with anything like “a lawsuit that aims to drastically limit the use of science to help manage our national forests” but, I’m guessing there are plenty of other motives for filing such a lawsuit. My guess is that current academics are mostly liberal, and can design studies that support their beliefs. Yes, the conservative paid scientists do the same thing. It is the “best” part of “best available science” that is concerning, to me. Who says what is best? New doesn’t necessarily mean “best”. Man’s nearly unavoidable impacts on forests seem rarely included in new “science”.

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  3. When it comes to “science” and the Environmental Litigation Industry, I’m always reassured with Kieran Suckling’s refreshingly candid response to a High Country News (HCN) interviewer a few years ago:

    HCN Were you hindered by not having science degrees?

    SUCKLING No. It was a key to our success. I think the professionalization of the environmental movement has injured it greatly. These kids get degrees in environmental conservation and wildlife management and come looking for jobs in the environmental movement. They’ve bought into resource management values and multiple use by the time they graduate. I’m more interested in hiring philosophers, linguists and poets. The core talent of a successful environmental activist is not science and law. It’s campaigning instinct. That’s not only not taught in the universities, it’s discouraged.

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    • Hmm. here’s what CBD says about the lawsuit in their press release…(my italics)

      “The timber and livestock industries’ opposition to science and sustainability shows they care about only one thing when it comes to our national forests: their own profits,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Even as new rules roll back longstanding protections for wildlife, industry keeps complaining about any limits being set on what they can extract from our national forests.”

      and

      Unlike the Center’s earlier challenges, however, the industry groups directly challenge the substance of the new rule, for including common sense requirements regarding sound science and sustainability.

      I wonder how they would know what makes a requirement about scientific information (the proliferation of which boggles the mind, and which many of us attempt to wallow through in our day-to-day work) “common sense” or not?

      So I made a stab at counting the CBD employees..These may be off a bit. it’s late and I would appreciate someone else checking but I’m sure that the numbers are in the right neighborhood.

      I counted 65 employees, and of those I found 13 who have bachelors or masters in a science field (including the wonderful Rob Mrowka, my former partner in bureaucracy-tickling during New Perspectives). I found one who had a Ph.D. (on oceans and seabirds).

      I found 27 attorney and/or people with law degrees, and 24 I classified as “others.”

      I used to think the legal business was different (less random) before I got involved in it directly, so I completely understand how a person not directly involved in a business can have an unrealistic perspective of how products are developed.

      So I am advancing a hypothesis; the degree of concern about “science” in the planning rule is inversely proportional to the number of scientists in the organization. We can continue to observe this through time to test the hypothesis.

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  4. I will refrain from assuming that all the commenters who opine against the intervenors favor the anti-science, anti-public views set forth in the extraction industries’ complaint, but what a crass discourse this has become … It might be more fruitful to discuss the message instead of attacking the messengers.

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  5. But Tree, I am not anti-science :), I am so pro-science that I spent much of my career in the science biz.

    As to anti-public, I am very pro-public, in fact, I have spent personal time nigh on these three years hoping to help the public understand some of the issues I have been involved with at work.

    What message do you want to discuss? That the plaintiffs are “anti-science”?

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  6. Thanks for a very comical, entertaining set of comments here. The take away message I get from all these comments is that conservation organizations cannot ensure that the federal government follows the best available science unless these conservation groups hire and employee the scientists. Of course, if that was the case, then the argument would be that conservation organization cannot ensure that the federal government follows the best available science since the scientists they use are paid employees of the organization.

    I also have to assume, expanding the logic in these comments, that conservation organization s cannot ensure that the federal government follow the law unless the conservation organization organization has lawyers on staff.

    And so round-n-round where go….

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    • I wasn’t saying that lawyers shouldn’t be on the staff, I do think that lawsuits are part of the toolkit.

      Just pointing out that a staff full of scientists weighing in the law wouldn’t carry the same weight as lawyers. As it should be.

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      • Whatever Sharon….I’m calling BS on your whole train of thought in this comment thread and statements such as this, which you made above:

        “the degree of concern about “science” in the planning rule is inversely proportional to the number of scientists in the organization.”

        Once again Sharon, highly comical and entertaining comments. Clearly enviros care nothing about science.

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        • Matt: It’s reassuring to learn that you are so easily amused. That’s not always a good sign, of course, but probably a lot better than being someone that is easily angered.

          Did you happen to read and consider Suckling’s outrageously hilarious thigh-slapping commentary along the same lines? (Sorry, I couldn’t help responding to sophomoric sarcasm with more of the same.) I truly do appreciate his candor in this regard. Yep. Job fair for lawyers who do their work by cherry-picking like-minded “peer reviewed science” without fear of having to personally being accountable for understanding the process, findings, or individuals involved. And let the taxpayers foot the bill.

          Mac is right. This is a political process in which actual science has little or nothing to do with results — and for the exact reasons Suckling provides. One problem I see with this politicization of the scientific process though, is the continued degradation of scientists and their findings in our schools and public media. Completely laughable, as you point out. Really humorous.

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  7. Conservation biology is a multi-disciplinary practice. I was taught that by artists working to preserve bio-diversity in Patagonia and by the lawyer-biologist who chaired my masters program. There is no sense in being snobby about whether science or law or art will be the most authoritative voice in guiding management decisions. Our job is to respect the complex knot of the intersection of our talents, celebrate a multi-disciplinary approach, and do work that will protect the planet and with that some semblance of a future for the next generations. To do so otherwise is self-destructive.

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    • Gary: How does filing a near-endless series of boilerplate lawsuits somehow “protect the planet?” Or are opportunistic lawyers somehow key to avoiding self destruction, in your view?

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