Lourenço Marques posted the below as a comment here. I think it’s worth discussing because it was also a topic at the Environmental Analysis and Decisionmaking Roundtables, as I recall. I did not read the notes from all the regional meetings, but I do remember this coming up at some of them based on the notes. Before I retired, it also came up in meetings with partner groups. They’d have a meeting and ask me to speak about the NEPA process from the Forest Service side. One of their concerns was what might be called the problem of collaborative consistency. I’m highlighting this in a post to reassure the mountain biking community that they are not alone, and this has been noticed as a problem with collaborative efforts (probably of all kinds) for some time. If I remember correctly, Susan Jane Brown commented that the Planning Rule FACA Committee had previously pointed out some potential solutions to the problem (checklist before staff changes?).
Here’s what Lourenço commented:
From the perspective of an ordinary taxpayer, this is the kind of thing I see. It’s from the September 6, 2019 issue of the San Diego Reader.
“After nearly three years of planning, paying and preparing to build a trail on Orosco Ridge, the San Diego Mountain Biking Association was stunned to learn their work with the U.S. Forest Service was cast aside via a letter posted on social media announcing the project’s suspension.
“ ‘We started this because they came to us and said this trail would be one of the (Palomar) district’s top three priority projects,’ says Susie Murphy, executive director of the mountain biking group. ‘We raised $70,000 and spent $50,000 of it, and now they’re saying they don’t have the staff time or budget.’
“The letter – followed by a more detailed explanation – came after the forest service’s National Environmental Policy Act evaluation turned up comments that raised questions about how appropriate the plan was, says Olivia Walker, the local Forest Service public affairs officer.
. . . .
“Both Murphy and Walker say that a staffing change in the Palomar District played a big role. The project’s Forest Service champion moved to another district, and most of the institutional knowledge and support went with him. The letter on social media came from his successor.
. . . .
“Once they were invited in the fall of 2016, the mountain biking association really liked the idea and developed a plan for 20 miles of trail. They hoped to eventually build 80 miles of trail – and that alarmed some people who read the NEPA documents.
“Of the 607 comment letters the forest service received, . . . 55 raised issues including questions about environmental issues, the clustering of trails and the condition of the roads, the impact of increased parking and human activity and the propriety of the relationship between the forest service and the association.”
Here’s the link to the newspaper story. I know absolutely nothing about this situation but it raises some possibilities that I’ve seen in other areas.
1. Personalities/philosophical differences about the nature of the project among new and old employees (see retirees Sharon, Jim Furnish, Tony Erba, Jon Haber for a tiny sample of employee philosophical diversity)
2. Intra-district personnel drama of some kind we wouldn’t want to try to imagine
3. Changes in appreciation of the role of partners (in our stuff, changing our own priorities, etc.)
3. Phone call from political who doesn’t want project near her/his or friends’ house
4. General feeling that not proposing something is easier than proposing and taking all the flack (there’s actually a “NEPA for the 21st Century” research paper on this that I will try to find)
5. Interactions among the above
Solutions were proposed at the EADM meetings. I’ll try to dig up some of them. Note that not letting employees move/retire may not be a legal/viable option.
Readers are welcome to weigh in with their own experiences/ideas and suggestions.