Point/Counter-Point: Nez Perce-Clearwater NF Forest Planning Process

Looking into the Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Photo by Brett Haverstick.
Looking into the Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. Photo by Brett Haverstick.

Recently, the discussion of collaboration and forest planning – at least on this blog – has focused on the processes at play with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest forest plan revision. See here, here and here.  The discussion and debate continues, as we can clearly see in these point/counter-point guest columns, which recently ran in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.  The first one is from Lee Rozen, who wrote his piece on behalf of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News editorial board. The second piece is from Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for Friends of the Clearwater.

We have this Friend, see, who’s stumped us
By Lee Rozen, for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News editorial board

Sometimes, you have to wonder whether the Friends of the Clearwater can see the national forest for the trees. Generally speaking, we agree with much of what the Friends, and groups like them, stand for. We are skeptical whenever industry or local government tells us to just trust them because they are acting in our best interest.

But when government in the form of the U.S. Forest Service comes forward and seeks the informed advice of a wide variety of groups – both industry and Friends included – we don’t see sinister conspiracies lurking behind the next stump. Challenges, perhaps, but not conspiracies.

The Forest Service is trying a “collaborative” process to develop a management plan for the newly combined administration of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. That’s instead of proposing a plan and offering it up for industry, governments, recreationists and environmentalists to take potshots at, and eventually go to court over.

It seems that’s what Friends of the Clearwater want them to do. The Friends seem to be afraid their principles will be co-opted if they sit down across the table from industry, government, hunters, motorcyclists and ski-mobilers and negotiate the best way to reach an acceptable compromise on the use of this forest. More practically, they argue that industry and government can pay to have their representatives at the discussions but groups of volunteers with day jobs can neither afford the time off nor the travel expenses. As a result, the Forest Service has offered to help the collaboration occur online.

A plan for running a national forest poses a complex problem because it is so unclear what national forests are and what they should be. It’s pretty clear what’s intended for national parks, wilderness areas and national recreational areas. But national forests are different. They are supposed to support a mix of goals, many of which can be contradictory – logging and recreation, for instance. The Friends of the Clearwater, and other interest groups, should be working to make the “collaborative process” work for all, rather trying to shoot it down in hopes of “total victory” in the courts.

US Forest Service must follow the law
By Gary Macfarlane

Lee Rozen’s criticism of Friends of the Clearwater (Our View, written for the editorial board, March 13) is off base, misinformed and reflects a lack of understanding concerning our public land laws and the public involvement process. Had he contacted us, he would have learned why we believe the Forest Service is not following the law. It appears the agency has stumbled into a quagmire, under the guise of collaboration, with its new forest planning process.

The process the Forest Service is currently following on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests plan revision circumvents existing law, creates a contradictory and confusing public involvement process and lacks accountability. For 40 years, the National Environmental Policy Act has governed public input and analysis of agency proposals. NEPA mandates that the first step of the public involvement process is to identify pertinent issues. However, this collaborative process is seeking to resolve issues before the genuine public involvement process even begins. How can the Forest Service resolve issues before they are properly identified?

Under NEPA, all citizens can participate equally. However, the new collaborative forest plan revision process – which has no statutory authority – creates two unequal classes of citizens. The E-collaborative invention funnels citizen comments from the second class through the first class citizen collaborative group. Why should a special working group have more input and be allowed to determine whether or how other citizen comments are used?

Furthermore, NEPA requires an objective analysis of alternatives before decisions are made. Thus, the integrity of NEPA is compromised when the agency reaches a deal or understanding with the collaborative forest planning group before the NEPA process even begins. NEPA must be more than a pro forma exercise. Can you imagine having a collaborative group decide the outcome of an election before the election begins in order to avoid the contentiousness of elections?

Another stated reason behind the new forest planning process is to save time and money. How is having two competing public involvement processes for national forest planning more efficient? Indeed, the Forest Service recently admitted the collaborative process would take longer than anticipated. We feel that such redundancy wastes time and money and also creates conflict and confusion. In fact, a member of the forest planning collaborative for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests – Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League – recently termed the process as collective collaborative confusion at a presentation given in Eugene, Ore. Even proponents of collaboration find the new process fatally flawed.

Retired Forest Service fishery biologist and Moscow resident Al Espinosa stated in a comment letter on the new process, “The intent here is to avoid accountability by eliminating the appeal process and providing a phony pathway around the regulations and laws.”

He also noted the new planning process would circumvent the national interest. Removing accountability and de-legitimizing NEPA’s public involvement and decision-making process is not in the public interest. The Forest Service could have prevented scrutiny, confusion and distrust had the agency followed citizen suggestions made in an October meeting in how to lawfully proceed with the forest plan revision process.

If national forest management is to be determined by local collaborative groups, then existing laws like NEPA need to be repealed first. If the goal is to remove the ability of citizens to have judicial redress and to challenge agency decisions in court, then the Constitution must be amended. The new process for national forest planning clashes with the law. Friends of the Clearwater simply believes the Forest Service should be accountable to U.S. citizens and the law. We think the majority of Americans would agree with us.

18 thoughts on “Point/Counter-Point: Nez Perce-Clearwater NF Forest Planning Process”

  1. I’m currently listening to the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on SRS:


    Funny how some of the very issues above are being discussed tangentially:

    Dr. Jay O’Laughlin: I want to talk about changing the rules, not changing ownership. Unless the rules are changed, ownership change would not make much difference. Federal managers must follow many rules, and some could be improved, especially the National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act.13 – 13 According to one estimate, “it is taking about 70% of the Forest Service’s land management budget to comply with planning and environmental review for projects, leaving only 30% for implementation and work on the ground.” Partin, Tom, “Subcommittee to review NEPA cost.” American Forest Resource Council newsletter, Portland, Oregon, January 23, 2013. http://www.amforest.org/newsletters/browse/afrc_news_-_january_23

  2. Hmm I don’t understand how RACs will help…did I miss something? Risch was pretty articulate about the Idaho Roadless Rule.

  3. I wrote a piece on why Macfarlane is not accurate about NEPA here but couldn’t enter it as a comment because I’m not a subscriber. Maybe a subscriber would be willing to post the link as a comment?

  4. I have just finished listening to the Resources Committee hearing and was struck by the substance and tone of the meeting and by the comments on the need for fresh ideas, ownership changes, and the expanded use of RACs. As the Chair of the National Forests in Florida RAC, and a retired Forest Service officer who has been advocating substantive changes in N.F. management for the past 30 years, I’d like to comment on these issues.

    Key point: “One size does not fit all”. A compelling argument for local (RAC) involvement (partnership, not advisory) in which knowledgeable people, representing the spectrum of public interests, make informed decisions on a diversity of inter-related contentious issues. This is not (repeat NOT) the case under current federal management in which “the public” raises questions and offers opinions, informed and otherwise, and the Agency makes the decisions – all under a rigid framework of laws, regulations, directives, manuals, and handbooks. Is it any wonder the Forest Service harvests <6% of the gross annual growth on non-reserved timberlands while 36% dies?

    On Trust Ownership v. Federal ownership. Trust ownership (local control) works.

    Another option, timber program self-financing, could be the answer in some situations. Once again; "One size does not fit all". The very least we could do is to try these, and other ideas, on selected forests.

    My website, http://www.wvmcconnell.net, has been examining these proposals for the past 2 years and contains a wealth of background data, detailed suggestions, and arguments, pro and con, for these and a variety of other public land management issues.

  5. I think that now is a good time to remind people that even the mere appearance of corruption is a firing offense for Federal employees. If you think that a collaborative project is corrupt, you can ask his/her supervisor for some kind of punitive correction of your choice.

  6. Sharon, to your question about my earlier comment – It was basically pointed at the obvious momentum shift towards the need for more management (harvest) of public lands. To the Forest Plan revision detractors (Note: I have no stake in forest plan revision, whatsoever. Just an observation):

    Given the fact that lack of FS management has garnered significant Congressional attention, I think it’s exceptionally poor form to criticize Agency efforts to update/revise Forest Plans despite being invited to participate. Once again, I would wonder what the view is like on your morally superior high horse. A whole lot of “normal folk” are spending (their own) time to help make a better end product, which would be challenged as “violating the law”.

    You were invited to play, you didn’t like the game or the rules, so you took your ball and instead of just going home, chose to stand on the sidelines, criticize the game, the rules, the players. Again…way poor form. And I think it shows. You’ve already alleged violations of the law to which you’ve painted yourself into a corner to defend. Apparently, litigation is your preferred route at this point, even before the NEPA process begins. Which does nothing but reaffirm a whole lot of discussions/theories about the environmental community on this blog. Well played. How many comments have you submitted citing the inadequacy of existing plans?? And yet you’ll do nothing but criticize any attemp to update them. Wow.

    The prevalent theory about the enviro’s discomfort with all of this “collaboration” is because they (enviro’s) are becoming marginalized by the other 80% who choose to “collaborate” and have their cake too. In short – collaboration is working. Of course none of those 80% make a living off challenging/sueing the Agency…Preserve the controversy and existing rules/regs at all costs! Heaven forbid the priviledged “collaborators” have any say!

    I’d offer that the best thing these (enviro) folks could do is to quit rattling their sabres, sit down with the FS folks and have a (non-collaborative) discussion about their interests….YES, before the NEPA process starts.

    As pointed out here before, it’s very important that the early adopters be successful – meaning good input (if not support) from all parties, regardless of all the potential process flaws.

    I fear that an early adopter failure/legal challenge might bring about the same sort of Congressional reaction that happened with the wolf delisting. Not a 1:1 correlation, but I’m sure you get my point.

    • JZ: I respect that you so freely share your opinions here, but I would also suggest that perhaps you get off your “morally superior high horse,” as much of what you have written here about enviros, or certainly the way you have chosen to characterize it, isn’t true or accurate, in my opinion and based on my experience.

      For example, you think so little of a group like Friends of the Clearwater and other enviro groups like them that you honestly believe none of these groups have ever sat down with the Forest Service folks and had a non-collaborative discussion about their interests before the NEPA process starts? I mean, really? My experience was always that the Forest Service supervisors and district rangers knew exactly what our interests were and what our issues were. In fact, they would often just state that point as a matter of fact.

      And where does this notion that 80% of people want to “collaborate” even come from or refer to? Is this 80% of all Americans? 80% of people who are paid to sit around a table? I mean, as we’ve seen on this blog “collaboration” means a lot of different things to different people. And the way “collaboration” is being implemented in various parts of the country differs greatly from place to place.

      For example, in Montana if you want to be a part of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative (a group that’s a result of the CFLRP), you first must sign your name onto a duty of loyalty oath that’s required for participation. It reads, “Each member of the collaborative has a duty of loyalty to the collaborative.” You going to sign your name onto that Orwellian document, JZ?

      Furthermore, right now the Southwestern Crown collaborative claims to have 24 voting members (again, JZ, that would be 80% of what exactly?), but 8 of those 24 voting members are actual Forest Service employees (Supervisors, district rangers, specialists). Honestly, how can the Forest Service control 33% of the voting block of a “collaboration?” Oh, and in addition to signing your name onto a duty of loyalty pledge, you will also have to get yourself to meetings that take place all day mid-week, so clearly you can’t have any other job and realistically the only way you can participate is if you are paid to be around the table.

      When I spoke on a panel about collaboration in Eugene earlier in the month (the same panel Macfarland references in his oped) the other panelists agreed that some of the “collaboration” examples we are seeing in Montana are horrendous, bizarre and really shouldn’t even be called “collaboration”

      It’s interesting to me JZ that you really don’t attempt to debate, discuss or even refute anything specifically that Macfarland has presented as being problems with the process on the Nez Perce-Clearwater NF. The “high horse” you apparently put Macfarland and others on is actually called the National Environmental Policy Act, as it seems as if that is the open, transparent, inclusive public process and environmental analysis that Macfarland and others want the Forest Service to follow.

      Given that fact, one might actually paint the way some of these “collaboratives” go about their business (see Southwestern Crown, for example) as being the one’s on their “morally superior high horses.” I mean, those are the people will all the money, resources and time to sit in these meetings with the Forest Service leadership and industry and local political leaders in a process that sort of sits outside the NEPA process, but also hovers over it and around it in a very inconsistent manner around the country.

      Again, Macfarland brings up some pretty solid concerns about the process on the Nez Perce-Clearwater creating a contradictory and confusing public process that lacks accountability. About how the process creates two unequal classes of citizens. About how having two competing public processes for planning costs more money and creates more confusion.

      And I have to like how you apparently ignore the fact that some retired Forest Service employees believe Macfarland is also on the right track. How about this statement from Retired Forest Service fishery biologist and Moscow resident Al Espinosa: “The intent here is to avoid accountability by eliminating the appeal process and providing a phony pathway around the regulations and laws.”

      I suppose it’s easy to just ignore and not comment on any of the substance brought up in Macfarland’s guest column, and just place Macfarland (a simple man who doesn’t make much money and bikes a dozen miles to work) on some mythical, non-existent “morally superior high horse.”

      • Matt,

        We can go tit-for-tat, point counter-point forever on this to no end, so I’ll address your points, speak my peace then let you have the last word.

        You said: “For example, you think so little of a group like Friends of the Clearwater and other enviro groups like them that you honestly believe none of these groups have ever sat down with the Forest Service folks and had a non-collaborative discussion about their interests before the NEPA process starts? I mean, really?”

        First, I didn’t write that I thought “so little” of said group, you did. Don’t put words in my mouth, thanks. I’m sure they’ve sat down with FS folks to discuss projects. In fact I know they have. I don’t think “so little” of them at all. I do, however completely disagree with their position and tactics for all the reasons I discussed above. I’ll be sure to explain that to them in person next time we meet also.

        Second, really, I mean, really…isn’t having a discussion ahead of NEPA a form of “collaboration”? (look it up in the dictionary) or is “collaboration” just a structured, pageantry thing these days? And couldn’t those types of (illegal) discussions be exactly what Mr. Macfarland is referring to here: “Furthermore, NEPA requires an objective analysis of alternatives before decisions are made. Thus, the integrity of NEPA is compromised when the agency reaches a deal or understanding with the (environmental group) before the NEPA process even begins. NEPA must be more than a pro forma exercise.” (I replaced “collaborative” with environmental group. What’s the difference?) As you said, many FS folks know what your issues are and you’ve admitted to sitting down with them and perhaps trying to influence a project before NEPA….hmmm…..

        As far as the NEPA “high horse”, I’m not aware that the early adopters under the new planning rule are forgiven the requirement to analyze their revised plans under the NEPA, which includes a public involvement process. And I’m pretty sure that the FS, no matter how much pageantry type collaboration they undertake in will “resolve” issues prior to engaging NEPA as Mr. Macfarland claims. I would debate, discuss or refute the Friends take on how NEPA should/does work though. You need to have SOMETHING to scope….you can’t just start a NEPA analysis by sending out a scoping letter saying we’re going to revise the Forest Plan, please send us your comments or thoughts. Seeking public input PRIOR to NEPA through discussions, collaboration, séance or whatever is just helping to frame the issues for a plan that would go through a NEPA analysis. I’m sure plenty more issues will be brought up after scoping. These aren’t new discussions limited to Forest Plan Revision either.
        These happen on virtually every project.

        80% sounded like a good round number. A complete guess at the percent of the population that would agree that a group of people could “collaborate” and come up with a good product, maybe it’s higher, maybe lower. Sorry I don’t have any scientific references. I can see it bothers you though, so in the future I’ll try out leave out any unsupportable quantitative suppositions. You might take issue too, with Mr. Espinosa’s statement about thinking the “majority” of Americans would agree with them.

        Speaking of Mr. Espinosa, he is on the Board of Directors for Friends of the Clearwater, so it is not surprising that he has similar comments to Mr. Macfarland. I’m sure they collaborated on their sound bites. I’m not sure what “phony” pathway he speaks of though.
        ’m sorry that your experiences with “collaboration” have left you so embittered. Having been involved in a good deal of collaboration, I empathize with you. The potential for things to “go bad” is certainly there if collaboration goes amuck. And no, I would not sign some “loyalty” document….That’s just….well…..strange. My own experiences have been much better, luckily. Very rewarding (if not challenging) to get constructive criticism from outside before diving into the analysis on projects. I think there is a better product going into NEPA if a proposal has been thoroughly vetted. Not sure what it’ll buy us if/when we get to litigation though. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out how to tap into these alleged collaboration corporate kickbacks that I keep reading about too. Maybe that’s just a Montana thing?

        Finally, I’m a little appalled that you would call your friend “simple” (regardless of what form of transportation he chooses). I’m sure he knows what you mean, but that could come off as an insult too, if taken out of context. I would have gone with “complex”, “devoted”, “passionate” or something along those lines.

    • It might be worth noting that industry is challenging the new planning regulations. Anyone know if they were put in place with a “collaborative” approach or if enviros have filed suit?

  7. When I took natural resource conflict resolution courses at the University of Montana (several years ago) the instructors talked about your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). If your BATNA outweighed what you’d be getting in the collaborative, it was time to think long and hard about going with the BATNA.

    What do folks think about a situation in which a group starts in a collaborative process but then determines that their interests/needs won’t be met through a collaborative process? In other words, if you go into it looking to collaborate but determine your needs won’t be met are you then allowed to go to court?

    • I would think that if an eco-group’s preferences were accepted for discussion, carefully considered, then rejected, then their case might be weaker. Since many eco-groups are unwilling to compromise, they feel that going straight to court is a strong stance against the collaborative group. I think it is best when a collaborative group is open, diverse, and based on existing laws.

      Our local collaborative group would like more harvesting of big trees but, the rules, laws and policies prevent that. There is more than just jobs, logs, owls and fishers. The Forest Service needs to build more trust, and that means reaching out and educating. Walking the talk.

  8. What is more important is that a collaborative group must allow all viewpoints to be presented and considered fairly. I say this with full sincerity, as the collaborative process must be fair to all, including non-locals. Again, if you can prove that the process is corrupt, you can ask to have a Forest Service employee removed from office. I think it is best to have the full transparency, which can save your butt, down the road.

    • Larry, the allegations about the Southwestern Crown of the Continent collaborative have been made numerous times, and even appeared in WildWest’s amici brief on the Colt Summit timber sale. I do know that the allegations were taken seriously enough that the SWCC had to go through some FACA trainings, that the Forest Service Supervisor of the Lolo NF was removed from being a “co-chair” of the entire collaborative and that the Forest Service brought in one of their communication “fixers” to be a part of the SWCC.

      I should post the outline of my talk about collaboration from the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, as it contains much more specific information about some of these Montana “collaborative” groups. A video of the presentation might also be available, so that you could see the other two panelists (who are very much deeply involved in Collaboration, in fact, one facilitates many collaborative groups) express outrage, bewilderment and frustration with the situation in Montana, which they said shouldn’t even be called “collaboration.”

      I agree with you, Larry, that it’s important that a collaborative group must allow all viewpoints to be presented and considered fairly. And I guess that’s one of the main things we see lacking in some of these Montana examples, in addition to the other issues I already brought up (ie Loyalty pledge, FS controlling 33% of voting block, etc).

      The situations in Montana are more “cooperations” of like-minded people who share similar goals than they are “collaborations” of a very diverse set of people. Heck I already pointed out that 8 of the 24 voting members of the SWCC are Forest Service employees and of the 7 members of the SWCC that could be labeled as an “enviro” or “conservationists” none of the 7 have ever filed a timber sale appeal or a timber sale lawsuit that I’m aware of.


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