Another Side of the Colville Revision Story: Comment from Russ Vaagen

Many thanks to Russ Vaagen for giving another perspective. It helps us understand the frustrations of the different parties, and also (as is often the case) how the FS is between a rock and a hard place. Here I’d like to especially highlight one point:

I just hope we don’t have to go through this process of Forest Planning again. It has no place in this modern era of collaboration and public involvement. If those efforts result in a need to alter the Forest Plan, the USFS should recognize it and alter the plan a step at a time rather than the whole thing.

This reminds me of the idea of some planners that plans should be more like a loose-leaf notebook of decisions. It also reminds me of the R-2 forests who didn’t want to get on the list for plan revisions because “it’s like opening up all the disagreements that we had settled, to what end?” Anyway here’s his whole comment, originally posted here.

As the President of NEWFC I would like to say that not everyone feels the same way that Tim does. I completely understand where he’s coming from and support his ability to speak for himself and his organization.

Tim and Kettle Range Conservation Group have been great members of our collaborative. The fact is, these forest planning processes are divisive. He’s right, we did collaborate for a long time to reach a consensus on the Forest Plan. However, due to the broad nature of the community involvement it attracted members of the public that weren’t as adept at the collaborative process and never got to the point where they dropped the positions and started talking about interests.

I don’t have the same opinion of Colville National Forest Supervisor Rodney Smolden. Because of this planning process he was put in a very difficult position. If he were to agree to press forward with Wilderness levels supported by NEWFC members, all 9 county commissioners in the three counties affected and a number of groups would have all been adamantly opposed. The fact is, most were opposed to any additional Wilderness. I’m not making a judgment call, I’m just saying when you hear somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 acres from a local collaborative and then zero from other community leaders including elected officials, 60,000 was an attempt at a compromise. Unfortunately that’s not popular, and it doesn’t work for anyone.

If we are to be giving collaboration its due, we need to adjust this Forest Planning Process. It goes against collaboration and the collaborative process. It’s a disaster.

I know we can agree to more Wilderness on the Colville, but more importantly we can agree to other designations that achieve the interests of conservation and other interested parties. The forest industry participants have already sent a signed letter to the Colville National Forest urging the agency NOT to pursue any projects that would involve logging in Inventoried Roadless Areas. This is a big win for Conservation. Since the letter, no projects have taken place in an IRA on the CNF. When the previous Forest Supervisor suggested some management of an IRA, it was immediately met with opposition from the Forest Industry participants.

I’d also like to address the clear cutting. Tim is right, no one in NEWFC has been asking for Clear Cutting. It’s my opinion that the Forest Service has taken some liberties with some openings by making them too large and subsequently unsightly. I think it was a mistake on their part and these issues have been addressed. I’m hopeful that any future openings will be smaller and mimic natural disturbances. The VAST MAJORITY of the treatments on the CNF are restorative. That means that it’s dominated by thinning.

The Forest Service leadership on the Colville NF and others need to continually revisit expectations of the members of the collaborative groups to ensure that they don’t take things too far. The social license to manage these forests can easily be revoked if the projects don’t consistently match the expectations of the collaborative groups.

I’d also like to address the 25,000 acres of annual treatment. These acres are restorative in design. Over 20 years, that’s 500,000 acres of the 1.1 million acre Colville NF. That almost directly matches up with our collaborative plan to restore and manage about 491,000 acres (if memory serves) that have roads and have been managed in the past. There’s another layer of land between the front country or actively managed lands and potential Wilderness that may or may not need treatment. Therefore, the acreage of treatment isn’t surprising, so long as it’s completed in a way that meets public acceptance.

Tim is a member in good standing with NEWFC and his disappointment is palpable. We’ve all done incredible work on the CNF. The fact that there’s a new Forest Plan now, signed by the Regional Forester, won’t change the fact that we will continue to collaborate. Collaboration has shaped the way we manage the forest and will continue to. That same collaboration will lead to solutions which I believe will include a completed Wilderness Bill and further solutions that will enhance conservation, recreation, and the economics of the forest. I just hope we don’t have to go through this process of Forest Planning again. It has no place in this modern era of collaboration and public involvement. If those efforts result in a need to alter the Forest Plan, the USFS should recognize it and alter the plan a step at a time rather than the whole thing.

17 thoughts on “Another Side of the Colville Revision Story: Comment from Russ Vaagen”

  1. One cannot credibly argue for the virtues of “collaboration” pretending somehow that multibillionaire “philanthropists” openly stating their tax-sheltered war chests for neoliberal social engineering are preferred to be regarded rather as, “investments.”
    Pity their feckless proxies so easily baited into elevating their appetites for self-interest over ALL else. On whose behalf do the unelected, the unaccountable belly-up to “roundtables” as steak holders arguing how the carcass of the commonwealth shall be butchered preying to the Almighty, “to whom shall be rewarded the choicest cuts?”

    Their sense of time only exists within the mealtime framing of election cycles. Their sense of ethics reduced to the first come first served mindsets of social Darwinists.

    Pity the young who shall inherit the unnatural disasters of these might-makes-right mentalities of ethics-free, government-free, futureless suicide pacts.

    Welcome to the reality of Hunger Games-R-US, where the bottomless stomachs of the .01 percentile of society and their jackal sycophants’ appetite shall never be sated.

    Pity this inexorable outcome of the parasitic-turned-predatory capitalism infesting the brainstem of the body politic.

    We the so easily entrained are so quick to toss aside the structure and function of constitutional republics — as disposable as last year’s pirate party gifts.

    Collaborationists not coincidentally, prey from the same hymnal of market fundamentalism as those, “What brung them to the table” (as Molly Ivens often quipped.) Their promises of conservation are condiments as necessary as the fermented brews of Sagebrush with hints of Malheur mentality to wash their tainted feast down.

    But first things first: Let us let us Prey.

  2. Of course not every board member of in the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition feels the same about a lot of things and even commodification of public lands, social governance, etc. I do believe there are other NEWFC members that share my frustration.

    It’s ironic that Russ takes issue with my opinion piece / press release which was about my perspective – not NEWFC’s — of being betrayed by Supervisor Rodney Smolden considering he pledged to support my interests.

    Certainly, as Russ says some “members of the public…weren’t as adept at collaborative process…” And while somewhat true the reality was it was more about some groups and county commissioners fighting against collaboration. The big difference is the Forest Service honored anti-collaboration dis-agreement instead of the collaborative agreement. This fact is really quite telling: this is yet another process the Forest Service discounted, cherry picked or completely ignored. From my conservation/preservation perspective, collaboration is a weak, under-achiever.

    NEWFC’s foundation was its promise of “balance.” Duane Vaagen first proposed what was later called “The Thirds” – equal parts wilderness, restoration forestry and active management. It was The Thirds that was the basis of NEWFC’s consensus agreement “The Blueprint.” It is represented though not completely in Alternative B in the Forest Plan.
    But the Forest Plan doesn’t come close to achieving a balance. A recent assessment by NEWFC of its five-year accomplishments revealed, most notably, its accomplishments have been solely about acres “treated” (timber sales) and timber volume. The overarching goal of the Blueprint was “balance” but the outcomes failed miserably. NEWFC can also claim it got 61,000 acres of pseudo wilderness management?

    I’m unsurprised that Russ appreciates Mr. Smolden – the timber industry is sitting in the catbird’s seat of high timber volumes. And wouldn’t it be nice if conservationists could share in that glow?
    Smolden had a job to do and that he buckled under pressure is a dodge. He was well-versed in NEWFC accomplishments, he was deputy forest sup under former forest supervisor’s Rick Brazell and district ranger under Laura Jo West, both which had done the heavy lifting and published in the 2011 Proposed Action and 2016 draft Forest Plan – both proposed 101,000 acres wilderness management. Smoden also knew Abercrombie-Hooknose and Salmo-Priest Additions wilderness management had few detractors – even county commissioners quietly said they supported these. I believe Smolden made a conscious decision that he could shaft the very conservation groups who had supported him being supervisor and which had helped make the Colville Forest and himself, famous.

    So ask yourself, why would Smolden do such a thing? In negotiations it is a cardinal rule that unless it’s a one-time negotiation, like buying a car, one should never leave the other side feeling like they got burned if there is any expectation of a future relationship.

    Russ’ statement elucidates the fundamental class-conflict embedded in government including National Forest management, and politically, that divides people and communities in northeast Washington. This is a National Forest, not three county’s forests, and Smolden knows or should know that. Commissioners know nothing of the de facto wildernesses they oppose – they never go there – they just don’t like the word, wilderness. What kind of justification is that?! But Rodney Smolden elevated semantics over substance.

    Land managers work for the public not the other way around. The Forest Service wastes the public’s time and ignores its concerns to serve narrow commercial interests is corrupt. Balancing the interests of people and ecology, addressing climate change and the threat of mass extinctions of wildlife, one would think a well-informed science-based Forest Service leadership would strive to protect and reconnect the last refuge for sensitive species.
    I’m sure if the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, say the annual Forest timber cut was 20 million board feet per year range and an additional 200,000 acres of wilderness management, mill owners would be outraged.

    So try to understand what it feels like to have given 17 years of your life for status quo (no change) wilderness management for 61,000 acres — WINO. Seeing is how before and after management would be virtually the same – mountain bikes and chainsaws allowed – why cheap us on WINO, Rodney?

    I appreciate timber industry reaching out to the Forest Service demanding it NOT log in IRAs and I see that gesture as in-keeping with NEWFC’s long-standing agreement – thank you. I also see the Regional Forester included a provision in the ROD re the Roadless Rule to provide “flexibility going forward.”

    I will continue to participate in NEWFC’s process and be attentive to protecting forest ecological `systems – that’s my interest. I am hopeful NEWFC can support rewilding efforts to connect wildland complexes now separated by a single road. This support could help heal wounds and rebuild trust.

    • Tim,
      You asked: “why would Smolden do such a thing?”

      So I asked myself. Why would the Supervisor of the Colville NF betray “collaboration” after all those years of earnest effort rewarding certain steak holders with choice cuts while the public continually gets served industry leavings of bone and gristle?

      For the same reason the Supervisor of the Tongass betrays feckless collaborationists on the Tongass National Forest’s fairy tales of “Transition” to “young growth” — that’s how line officers are promoted through the food chain and win their just desserts of 5 figure bonuses! (Surely you know this by now — don’t you?)

      My Question to you:
      Why would you, “continue to participate in NEWFC’s process” after having been betrayed and “burned”? You’ve stated: “I will continue to participate in NEWFC’s process …”

      All the evidence suggests you’re a co-dependent in an abusive relationship with Smolden and his captured agency, while you’re claiming to operate in the public’s best interest.

      “A codependent is someone who cannot function on their own and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, process, or substance.” (Wiki)

    • I’m going to copy and paste my question posed a few days ago, in two different forms, that i have yet to hear an answer on.

      As someone clearly directly involved and knowledgeable, and to save me the time of searching, and to address the claim above by WesternLarch [see original post], can you directly link us to where clearcutting is proposed on the Colville in their Forest Plan? Thus justifying the statement:
      “…The plan signals a significant increase in logging – including a large areas of clearcutting…”

      Thank you.

      Since a core part of the news release and complaint is the claim that there will be tens of thousands of acres of clearcutting, I’d appreciate it explicitly pointed out where this is in the Forest Plan, in “clearcutting” language or “regeneration harvest” language, in order to then understand if it is happening, and where it is being prescribed.
      I ask because it seems western US National Forests don’t do clear cuts anymore, due to the issues they raise and the science that shows they are not good for the forest when used excessively as a treatment.

      • As we can see there is no response to the question and no information to support Mr Coleman’s claim. This seems to happen frequently with various groups – issue a press release with numerous unsupported claims and then go silent. Move onto the next blog post and forget what was previously claimed. I’ll ask again, where in the revised plan is there any proposal for “large areas of clearcutting”?

            • Thanks, Steve, those are good additions.

              Well, I can’t find my silviculture textbook (and one of my pet peeves is that the silviculture profession’s definitions aren’t easy for regular people to understand) but I believe “even-aged” includes two aged, as per seed tree and shelterwoods. Now to me, those aren’t the same as clearcuts but… that’s the problem, popular language, EIS language and precise silvicultural terminology might not all line up. Sigh. Western, maybe you could call the Colville, ask them, and report back?

              • I asked this question in two separate places posts on the CNF. No response. I opted to allow those intimately involved, such as Mr Coleman, to answer, since they should be able to readily quote the language and point out where it exists, in whatever form, that clear cutting will occur on 25000 acres, per the press release.

                Yes, I could search for it – but why do that, when others already should know where it is and can point it out and provide context?

                A few of these latest blog posts have had mud slung back and forth and hurt feelings and strong language about press releases and statements have lies/misconceptions/errors/misrepresentations. I still feel this is an easy question, in theory to answer, by those who take the most issue with it.

                I just want to know where there is language in the ROD and Forest Plan about clear cutting or its equivalent, and then being able to see where and why that treatment is being prescribed, in order to see if it makes any sense in that forests mix of eco settings to cut ‘25,000’ acres in an even age style.

                If the Forest is to show transparent and full accountability for their decisions, I feel that others who take issue with those decisions need to offer transparent and full accountability for their stance – via numbers, facts, and science.
                Once that is done, then it seems each side can continue to debate something real, and in turn eventually move on to strong language and stances with a concrete footing. Right now, without my question being answered by the professionals claiming there is to be such widespread even aged management, I’m not sold.

                • I searched for “regeneration” in the FEIS for the Colville forest plan and found this entry under Timber Production and Vegetation Management:

                  Depending on vegetation type, different types of silvicultural treatments area applied to achieve desired conditions across the management areas where timber harvest is suitable. In the Douglas-fir dry vegetation type, partial harvest is the primary vegetation management tool. Thinning, regeneration harvest, and mechanical fuels treatments are used in the northern Rocky Mountain mixed conifer vegetation type. Regeneration harvest would be the primary tool in the subalpine fir/lodgepole pine vegetation type, with some mechanical fuels treatments. Prescribed fire would be used in Douglas-fir dry, northern Rocky Mountain conifer, and subalpine fir/lodgepole pine vegetation types.

                • Forest plans do not decide what silvicultural practices to use. Projected timber yields (and presumably environmental effects) are based on assumed treatments. Appendix G of the Colville EIS explains those assumptions. As I read it, in the selected alternative, there is only a “restoration zone,” and in it there is no clearcutting assumed (depending on forest type, it is either “variable density thinning” or “shelterwood harvest.” I don’t see any disclosure of the acres subject to each. The plan does not prohibit clearcutting. It is subject only to the NFMA restrictions (included in FW-STD-VEG-07). What I think this issue boils down to is if it is misleading to use the term “clearcutting” as a label for any kind of even-aged management.

                • Kettle Range Conservation Group’s press release does not say 25,000 acres per year will be clearcut: “…a major increase in logging – including clearcuts – up to 25,000 acres per year across the 1.1 million acre Colville Forest and above prior recommendations.” Perhaps this is difficult to interpret and I could have been clearer. I’ll post a report to so doubting Thomas’ can quiet their nerves. The facts is clearcutting is happening now and this year 5-60 acre clearcuts have gouged out of the Sherman Pass area up to 5,500′ elevation – and in full view of the Pacific NW National Scenic Trail and adjacent a Forest Service Scenic Byway.

                  The 25,000 acres/yr is in the Final LRMP, Record of Decision.

  3. Tim, Thanks for sharing your views and I am very sympathetic to your frustration with collaboration. I’ve got a couple of questions and a comment.

    1. I think perhaps you’re using a shorthand that people understand in your area, but I don’t. When you say Wilderness, do you mean Recommended for Wilderness in the Forest Plan? Different forests do or do not allow mountain bikes in Recommended Wilderness. So is your concern that there are going to be mountain bikes and chainsaws still allowed, or not enough land was put into Recommended status (the same amount that the collaborative agreed to), or both?

    2. I don’t think RF’s decide what can be done under the Roadless Rule. Most forests find that pretty confining on its own, as most folks can’t get trees to mills without new roads, which are not allowed by the RR. Unless there were already roads in the Colville roadless areas, that might invoke the RR clauses about “substantially altered?” Do you have examples of projects proposed in Roadless Areas so we can understand better why this is an issue?

    3. Your statement about the acres cut per year compared to Wilderness (recommended) makes me reflect on what Russ says about the decisions in plan revisions potentially leading to more problems collaborating. Intended acres per year are subject to (1) budget (2) litigation so it’s more wishful thinking (maybe the Colville is different).

    Recommending Wilderness (and rules for management) are one and done, and permanent (perhaps could be litigated, but not sure I’ve seen it). I’ve seen situations in which the restrictions went in fine, but the activities allowed in the deal did not take place. I think what you are thinking is ideological by the County Commissioners might also be based on the same kind of calculus, with a big helping of agency mistrust. Many peoples’ history is that those goals have not been achieved over time, so that they are effectively, well, not real.

    My point being-maybe those two things should never have been placed on the same bargaining table at the same time. They are due to the structure of the plan revision process. I wonder how things would have gone if the process were instead “what amendments do we need for our current plan and why?”

  4. “it’s like opening up all the disagreements that we had settled, to what end?”

    NFMA recognized that 15-year-old “agreements” were settled by different people in a different era. (That’s even truer for 30+year-old agreements.)

    “what amendments do we need for our current plan and why?”

    Here’s §219.7(c)(2)(i) from the 2012 Planning Rule:
    “Review relevant information from
    the assessment and monitoring to
    identify a preliminary need to change
    the existing plan and to inform the
    development of plan components and
    other plan content.”

    This is really the same question as what “amendments” are needed. The scope of forest plan revision is supposed to be limited by this step in the process. (However, the Colville revision was completed under the old planning regulations that did not emphasize this.)

    “using collaborative processes where feasible” (§219.4(a)(1)).

    But I have reservations about feasibility when the decision is one that attracts non-local interests in the outcome (such as wilderness and endangered species). Collaboration should work a lot better for projects than plans because they are less likely to attract non-local interests, in part because they have been limited by a forest plan that has addressed broader policy issues.

    • Jon, I partially agree with that, but that relegates local folks to working within “broader policy issues” has a bit of an “absentee owner” perspective. If “non-local” interests are attracted to an area, then they should dominate? I would argue the other way because non-local tend to be driven by ideology and abstractions (in my experience) while locals tend to be driven by experience of physical reality in a particular area.

      There is literature that shows that people who would disagree about abstractions can tend to agree about specific case studies. This would make collaboration easier at the local level, but perhaps disempower national interest groups. What’s not to like?


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