This is pretty interesting because Mr. Wynsma was able to obtain a great deal of information, (should that information be available more generally?) and also his observations as employee and collaborator. I’m starting a page on ideas for solving “the Problem” and will put his ideas, as well as the ideas found (buried?) in comments here, on that page. Here’s the link, and below is an excerpt.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Truth about Collaboration
Even though I don’t believe the current process for collaboration will solve these problems, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things about the collaborative process or that the process can’t be improved upon to help solve the problems.
Here’s what I and other current and retired Forest Service acquaintances I contacted think are good things about the collaborative process:
Involving a diverse group of people (I hate the term “stakeholders”) during the project planning process is a good thing. I believe it helps the Forest Service design projects that better meet the desires of the public, even though it’s impossible to meet everybody’s personal opinions on how to best manage the public forests.
With collaboration comes group ownership in projects and support from start to finish.
Joint solutions and commitment means no backing out.
The collaborative program provides assistance with funding to accomplish needed treatments.
Collaboration can help lay people better understand the complexity of forest management.
Collaboration may build community relationships that encourage continuing positive working relationships between Forest Service people and the community.
Collaborative groups police themselves and force extremists on both sides of the spectrum to consider what they are really saying philosophically vs. practically on any given issue.
On the other hand, there are things about collaboration that are not so good, if not bad. Here’s what I and other current and retired Forest Service acquaintances I contacted think are bad things about the collaborative process:
The collaborative process is time consuming and more costly than the traditional process of public scoping and comment gathering for projects. The more people involved in a project, the harder it is to schedule meeting dates and field trips that will maximize the largest group involvement. The results of my inquiry clearly show that projects aren’t moving through the NEPA and appeals process any faster than normal and possibly even taking longer.
The time consuming nature of collaboration can be a major deterrent to people that are not paid to attend meetings during working hours, people who have limited free time or travel. Forest Service people can become weary of after hour meetings, paid or not paid.
Meetings can go on for months, if not years. This consumption of time makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many people to take part.
Poorly managed meetings generate negative emotions and can ruin the entire process.
For individuals or groups with an agenda to limit or eliminate forest management, collaboration can provide an opportunity to wear others down by dragging meetings on and on, then appeal and/or litigate after an extended collaboration process. Collaboration can also usurp the agency’s authority.
The Forest Service may or may not be aware of hidden agendas or games being played by some members in a collaborative group.
Forest Service specialists may feel like they get “cut-out” of project development.
Also considering project specialists: the more days they have to spend in meetings, the less time they have to conduct field work and write reports, which extend the timeline for implementing projects.
The ugly truth is that collaboration won’t reduce analysis paralysis, appeals and litigation. Collaboration also won’t increase the rate at which the Forest Service can reduce fuels and restore unhealthy forests until the appeals process and our current myriad of conflicting environmental laws are reformed.
So what are some possible ways to improve the collaborative process?
Here’s a few:
After all the time and effort put into project development by collaborative groups and the Forest Service, it simply isn’t fair to the collaborative or to the taxpayers of this country to allow an inexpensive process for individuals and groups, whether they were members of the group or not, to stop or delay project implementation through appeals and litigation.
Congress should pass a new law that will exempt collaborative projects from the appeal or objection process. They should also include bonding requirements for any individual or group that file suits to stall or stop collaborative projects.
Congress should also reform or eliminate the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows litigants to recuperate court costs from the tax paying public.
The Forest Service should develop a new Categorical Exclusion to replace the Healthy Forests Restoration Act version (CE #10) that allowed for fuels reduction timber harvests less than 1,000 acres in size. The CE #10 was rescinded following a lawsuit filed by environmental groups because in my opinion this CE allowed for expedited implementation of fuels reduction projects.
To get a broader spectrum of public involvement, make more use of the internet to gather input from people who want to participate in collaboration but don’t have the time or money to show up for meetings and field trips. The Forest Service could maintain email mailing lists for projects that people want to be engaged in and could be kept up to date on the progression of projects without having to show up for meetings. For example, with the smart phone technology I could imagine a logger sitting in the woods during a lunch break or a hiker up on a mountain top being able to participate in a collaborative project.
Note from Sharon: I was somewhat involved in the development of CE#10, not sure that would help at the end of the day. I really like his last point in terms of the criticism I hear from both sides.