Missoula Forest Collaboration Roundtable

Montana Public Radio collected some interesting perspectives.

What collaboration looks like to what some would consider a “far-right politician:”

“We were thrilled to have the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation with us today, that is exclusively focused on habitat restoration for elk and sportsmen. We want to continue to have all voices at the table,” Gianforte said…  I think all voices needed to be at the table in these collaboratives, but you have to participate in good faith,” he said. “There have been instances here in Montana where a collaborative worked literally for years to put a project together, and yet people who were at the table still sued. We have to prevent that sort of bad behavior.”

Is it “collaboration” when your participation means you can’t sue over the outcome?

What this idea of collaboration looks like to what some would consider an “extreme environmental group” (Alliance for the Wild Rockies):

“He wants to have all voices that agree with him at the table,” Michael Garrity says.  Garrity says he had no advance notice about Thursday’s roundtable. The Alliance is frequently at odds with — and in court fighting against — timber interests over forest policy.  Garrity said Friday that not only did he not receive an invitation, no one from what he called the environmental community got one either. And without that perspective, he says this week’s roundtable was simply an echo chamber. “It’s not going to be a good dialog unless they invite groups that oppose some logging by the Forest Service.”

My emphasis, especially on the “some,” not all logging.  (The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation does not oppose logging, though some elk hunters and groups do.)

What collaboration and litigation look like to the Forest Service:

“Different people see it in different ways; including different courts,” (USDA Undersecretary) Hubbard said. “The idea is for us to come together and agree on what kind of treatments make some sense, what satisfies most of the interest out there in one way or another, and then be able to implement that and have the courts support that with some consistent rulings.”

(My emphasis.)  The implication is that courts are just another form of public opinion.  And that it’s ok to exclude some of the interest out there, like “groups that oppose some logging.”  (And my usual gripe – the scope of project collaboration should include not just the “kind of treatments,” but which areas should be treated.)

(And there’s some discussion of categorical exclusions and the Good Neighbor Authority, too.)

16 thoughts on “Missoula Forest Collaboration Roundtable”

  1. I learned the following tenets of collaboration during my career:

    Everyone is invited
    Those who show up get a voice in the discussion
    Positions are acknowledged and respected
    Disagreements are expected, perhaps even encouraged
    Individual actions (such as initiating litigation) are always available (but, in doing so, what does that say about the group’s dynamic given the previous tenets?)

    At the end, collaborating does not equal consensus (ie, 100% agreement by all participating parties), nor should it. Land management issues clearly create distinct viewpoints, some which are not reconcilable. However, the opportunity to find “substantial agreement” (my term) is always available. And why should consensus be the enemy of substantial agreement?

    Too many of these collaborative discussions are focused on who is right rather than the participants doing right.

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  2. BlueRibbon Coalition used to push their “Collaboration Checkboxes.” This was after the big USFS collaboration confab in sunny San Diego. Not nearly right on as Anthony E.’s thoughts.

    The checkboxes were specific to these quasi-formal collaborative processes the agency thought could facilitate the implementation of the Travel Management Rule. I dug it up after reading the article. I wonder…. would the Gianforte collaborative pass the BRC Checkbox?

    They way I remember it, collaboration training and the funds to pay for facilitators ramped up soon after the TMR confab. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, there weren’t very many of these quasi-formal collaboratives for travel planning.

    Anyway, I credit the USFS for their efforts here. Especially for being flexible. I mean, there was a lot of talk about the FACA and the agency could have gone all bureaucratic on us.

    The USFS has been pretty darned successful using collaboratives both formal and informal. Not to say no mistakes were made. But a lot more acres are now moving to a more natural condition because of the collaboratives and that’s a good thing. We should do more of that.

    ####

    BRC’s Collaborative Checkboxes
    1. All stakeholders at the table (in proper representation).
    Every stakeholder group who has an interest in the planning process should be participating.
    2. Professional facilitator
    A formal process should hire the services of a professional facilitator, who is selected from the roster of the National Environmental Conflict Resolution Advisory Committee, not “forced” upon the participants.
    3. The “product” of the process should be clearly identified at the beginning
    Whatever it is the group or process is going to produce should be clearly identified at the very beginning of the process (eg an alternative to be considered by the land management agency during their public NEPA analysis).
    4. The “decision process” must be identified at the beginning
    Whatever process used for formal decision-making, i.e. majority vote, consensus, majority/minority report, etc should be agreed to at the very beginning of the process and adhered to throughout.
    5. Agency must clearly state how it will utilize the “product”
    The federal land management agency must clearly state how it intends to use the “product” of any formal Collaborative Planning Process at the very beginning.

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  3. Was this the same set of meetings as in this Missoula Current story?
    https://www.missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2019/11/montana-forest-collaboration/

    There are several things I can’t quite piece together…
    About the NPR piece:

    If groups weren’t invited to the meeting, why are they quoted in the piece? Is the story about the meeting or not? Is AWR a part of any collaborative groups? How did Thursday’s meeting related to the rest of the week?

    And this is a quote or not..? “Conservationists point out they wouldn’t have to sue in the first place if those agencies just followed the law. ”

    That hasn’t been my experience. Groups don’t like certain kinds of projects and look for things in a document that they might use to win in court. Some, thank goodness, are honest about that, especially CBD. I hear that stated over and over “we’re just making them follow the law”, but the evidence does not support it.

    Jon, how do you interpret that Hubbard is saying it’s OK to “exclude some groups”? From collaborative efforts? I didn’t pick that up.

    I wonder whether Garrity might go on record as specifying the types of logging and projects that he does not oppose?

    Another odd thing about the coverage, between the NPR piece and the Missoula Current story.. the Missoula Current story talks about Montana leading in using various stewardship authorities
    while the NPR story quotes:

    “Lincoln County Forester Jennifer Nelson told Rep. Gianforte and Undersecretary Hubbard Thursday that she appreciates having CE and Good Neighbor Authority programs in the forestry management toolbox.

    However, she cautions, “We still have to learn how to use them. I think that we need some help with that. There’s just a general feeling across the agencies that we don’t really know how to proceed with some of these, especially Good Neighbor Authority.”

    But Idaho, their neighbor, has been way ahead of them with Good Neighbor Authority so how does that all add up?

    Are there other stories about this week of conferences that might explain more?

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    • There is a well-established recent history in Montana of politicians holding invite-only “public” meetings to mainly talk about increasing public lands logging and complain about lawsuits during political, made-for-media events that don’t include any group(s) invited that actually take a stand against misguided public lands logging projects or file lawsuits.

      So to answer Sharon’s question: “If groups weren’t invited to the meeting, why are they quoted in the piece? Is the story about the meeting or not?”

      The fact that AWR, or a host of other forest protection groups in Montana, were not (and are never) invited is a legit part of the story.

      Also, another interesting piece of information that likely helped convince Montana Public Radio to reach out to a group like AWR for their November 8th story was the fact that on November 6 Montana Public Radio ran a largely one-sided story about “Good Neighbor” timber sales in Montana that included zero perspective from Montana-based forest protection groups, but did include a big lie/myth/false information provided by logging lobbyist Julia ALtemus of the Montana Wood Productions Association….and MTPR was forced to run a correction after hearing from numerous forest protection groups who demanded the information be removed and/or corrected.

      Also, no. There’s no correction at all between the invite-only political meeting hosting by convicted body-slamming assailant Rep Greg Gianforte and the two day meeting of the Montana Forest Collaboration Network.

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  4. To your specific question to me – if you believe that you won’t “satisfy” some groups and it isn’t necessary to do so, that could justify excluding them.

    The big difference I see between the stories is that the Current doesn’t mention Gianforte, so I assume he wasn’t there for this day, and that could easily produce a different “tone” for the two days. (Note that he is running against Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney for governor, so they might have been there on different days.)

    I think the stories are consistent on Montana being a leader on shared stewardship, but not specifically the Good Neighbor Authority.

    I like the quote from Montana DNRC about litigation: “I am not worried about a project being stopped – I am worried about the process being stopped,” Tubbs said. “When it comes down to the court, I want to be able to get the check ‘they did it right’ as opposed to ‘they don’t get to take you to court.’ I’m not afraid to go to court if we’ve done it right.”

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    • But you can’t satisfy everyone, that’s just part for the course. I didn’t get a quote from him that says “it’s OK to exclude people from collaboration”, though.
      My impression would be that the folks at MPR probably aren’t Gianforte fans..which may have colored their coverage. After all, how many news stories have you seen about meetings where the majority of quotes are from one person who wasn’t there?

      Here’s the whole quote:

      Tubbs said litigation is a fact of life, and that right should remain open to all. But the way to deal with it is to ensure all the proper policies and procedures are followed when developing a project, Tubbs said.

      Groups who sue to stop logging projects win when the Forest Service didn’t follow the law.

      “I am not worried about a project being stopped – I am worried about the process being stopped,” Tubbs said. “When it comes down to the court, I want to be able to get the check ‘they did it right’ as opposed to ‘they don’t get to take you to court.’ I’m not afraid to go to court if we’ve done it right.”

      The idea that doing a perfect document is possible and will always win does not hold up in reality. I think it’s also a bit of throwing R-1 folks under the bus (those folks who have more than their share of litigation to start). Not only do they have to do all the work, but it’s their fault if a judge rules against them. They didn’t “do it right.” It was a former R-1 person working in litigation who said “going to court is a crapshoot.”

      Here’s what I would have said: ” The State of Montana works with collaborative groups and the Forest Service to do the best we can at prioritizing, designing, and doing public outreach and involvement and environmental review and when necessary, going to court. We put our own attorneys on the line with reviews of the documents before they’re released, and we will be intervenors in each case. Basically we will stand behind every project that follows our view of “doing it right.” Sometimes that extra work involved in litigation and years of waiting for courts to rule is frustrating for all of us, but that’s the way the system works, and we’re going into this as a team and coming out as a team. When we say shared stewardship, it doesn’t stop at the NEPA or the courtroom boundary.”

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  5. Let’s keep in mind that using the phrase “doing it right” has less to do with whether the project’s procedural steps, analytical work, or public involvement is legally correct and more about whether the project is the “right” one to pursue. Whether the project is “right” is a different beast entirely and more suited to a collaborative discussion, where values, positions, and interests can be openly debated. But, the legal proceedings can only be discussed on the legality of a federal agency’s actions to comply with existing laws, so we continually get an uncomfortable mixture of legal sufficiency and social values for a judge to ponder.

    Round and round we go…

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  6. Please also keep in mind quotes in the media, even in quotes, are not necessarily accurate or in context. Remember…. It is always good to talk to the media. And its fun to learn what you said the next day!

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  7. Because an “R-1 person” said something doesn’t make it right either. (And if they believe “going to court is a crapshoot,” they should think about another line of work.) Also remember, it’s not the ones who “do all the work” who make the decision to shortcut the process or make a decision that ignores the analysis that was done, or ignores the legal advice to do something different. And throwing the media under the bus is a cheap out. (And Gianforte WAS there for at least part of it.)

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    • Yep, there is a lot to be said about the motives of line officers who choose to shortcut the process, ignore analysis from their staff, and ignore legal advice. Sometimes I wonder if such tactics are truly in the interest of creating a more desirable landscape of public lands.

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        • The motives of EADM are partly rooted in the line officer behavior I characterized – because the NEPA decision making process is supposedly onerous, and because this line officer behavior was becoming more prevalent, FS leadership came up with the motives to initiate the EADM endeavor. The proposals were designed to offer more efficient ways to make decisions so shortcuts would not be needed.

          As for oversight opportunities? Any objection review has the potential (likelihood?) to discover some “efficient” approach to reaching a draft decision. My observation has been the choices made during the project to make it more efficient were usually questionable as to their effectiveness and more associated with limiting public access to the project. I considered that an abrogation of our decision making responsibilities.

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          • I like Tony’s answer, but would ask why a line officer would behave this way. Maybe because of an agency reward system that is biased towards quantity rather than quality, and towards reducing costs (maybe not so much personal bias as when they were all foresters). And maybe it doesn’t factor in losing a lawsuit, because of the time lag if nothing else. (“Oversight”, including the reviewing officer for objections, would have the same incentives to not stop or redo anything.) Process training wouldn’t fix this.

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