Updated: Digging into the Alaska FS-State Roadless Agreement – How Unusual Is It?

Administrative Order No. 299, signed September 6, 2018, established the Alaska Roadless Rule Citizen Advisory Committee. The Committee will consist of up to 13 voting members, representing federally recognized tribes in Alaska and Alaska Native regional corporations; environmental organizations; the timber, mining, tourism, energy, and commercial fishing industries; and state and local governments. The Committee will produce a report with recommendations to Governor Walker and State Forester by November 30,

The update is between the asterisks below.

Matthew posted this E&E news story about the Alaska agreements, and the Inspector General report requested by Congressfolk Grijalva and Stabenow. Now Coloradans may remember that Grijalva’s investigations don’t always turn out so well, as when he went after University of Colorado college professor/scientist, Roger Pielke, Jr. by writing to the university president Here’s a link.

My experience with Colorado Roadless was that it was a full-court press by many national environmental groups (I hadn’t worked on a project targeted by Pew before or since) and coverage in the media tended to be one-sided. I’ve still got some traplines out on some details, so will report back if something changes.

Let’s look at the agreement and let it speak for itself. Fortunately, this story provided a copy here.

The State and the Forest Service cooperatively shall:
Establish a State-Forest Service Executive Steering Committee to coordinate the various aspects of implementation of the rulemaking process and the State and Forest Service involvement in NEPA Interdisciplinary teams;
Establish and maintain clear lines of communication, working through the principal contacts;
Cooperate in the development of specific regulatory language for a proposed state-specific rule to establish management direction for Alaska roadless areas;
Jointly develop a detailed work plan that sets out required action steps, milestones, and time frames associated with all aspects of this rulemaking effort;
Cooperate in the preparation of analyses and documentation, development of the description of the proposed action and any alternatives, and the compilation of any required ecological, social, and economic resource information associated with this state-specific roadless rulemaking; and
Coordinate the development of the proposed state rule with the existing land management planning efforts in progress within the State of Alaska.

Again, I don’t know how Idaho did it, but in Colorado we had a memorandum of understanding but no challenge cost-share. My memory is that our state-led Task Force was funded by the State and the national advisory team (RACNAC) funded by the WO (meetings and travel). The FS paid the way of the State employees to attend RACNAC meetings. RACNAC disbanded after Idaho and Colorado, so the Alaska process has only the State advisory committee.

Let’s see how it’s characterized in the news story:

Alaskan officials have no right to waste taxpayer money weakening a rule that protects the Tongass and the public owners of the land,” Grijalva said in a statement. “Congressionally appropriated funds need to be used as they were intended, not to prop up efforts to open more of our national forests to extraction at public expense.”

So conceivably according to Grijalva, neither Colorado nor Idaho Roadless should have been funded (my memory is that they were planning dollars used).

But did they do anything different with the money than Idaho or Colorado? Let’s look at what they say in the agreement.

$250,000 in personnel services to be utilized by DOF senior management proportionally to their involvement in the project.
$43,775 indirect charge on personnel services@ 17.51%.
$1,706,225 in contractual expenses to convene and facilitate a group with a diverse mix of state-specific interests to inform the State’s input as a cooperating agency in the rule making process.

If the State asked for info from industry, that might have come out of their half of the match (remember this kind of agreement requires a match, so the State put 2 mill in and so did the Feds).
As far as I know, in Colorado, we never paid the salaries of the many State officials, from wildlife biologist (who did a great deal of work) to the Director of Natural Resources (ditto), who spent time on the Rule. In our case, the State funded Meridian to help design the public involvement process and facilitate the FS meetings (one of the best investments possible IMHO).

Federal forestry grants are typically used to help reduce wildfire risks, to fight pests and diseases, and for similar purposes. Using the money to influence federal policymakers on a major forest management regulation is an unusual choice, critics said.

The Alaska Wilderness League’s legislative director, Leah Donahey, said directing funds typically used on wildfire measures to logging lobbyists is a “betrayal of the public trust.”

**********************UPDATE 3/18/202*****************
My latest information suggests that the $ did not come from from planning, but from state and private forestry $. Here’s a link to Coop Forestry, which is the bucket of money that seems to fit it most.

The unnamed critics cited in the article are apparently not familiar with the wide variety of grants and cooperative agreements that the FS supports. Still, I don’t think the $ were used to “lobby” -clearly they didn’t need to be, as it’s pretty clear where the Gov and the Congressfolk stood on this issue (exemption). Sidenote: previous Undersecretary for the Forest Service Jim Lyons was heard to say about Urban and Community Forestry grants  (part of Coop Forestry) that “the authorities were so broad you could drive a truck through them.”

So there may be nothing to see here, really. In Colorado, we didn’t pay anyone to help us figure out what people wanted (coal, ski folks, etc.) , but then on the other hand it might not be as complicated or time-consuming to say “we want to extend the mine below the surface here” or “we wish you’d take out those acres within our ski area permit.” The way I look at it is they actually needed to know for the analysis how much is economic to log and where, because that is the most important reason why in some minds, the 2001 hasn’t worked for them. Reasonable people could disagree whether the Association should have donated the work, or the State should have paid them for it.

The news stories also seem to conflate “spending $ for analysis and meetings” with “determining the outcome.” That is indeed a separate process as we saw in the Governor speaks to the President story.

4 thoughts on “Updated: Digging into the Alaska FS-State Roadless Agreement – How Unusual Is It?”

  1. Sharon, I can’t believe the lengths you will go to as an apologist on this issue! To begin with, the State petition process established under Mark Rey was a Roadless end run. Given that, even I don’t object to states taking advantage of the open door to pursue desired modifications. But they should PAY THEIR WAY process-wise. And that SHOULD include funding NEPA analysis and documentation. FS admin and participation at federal expense in the petition process is legit. But when Alaska petitions USDA (who could have refused, btw) they should fund their own participation. How FS dug up $2 million to give AK is itself troublesome, but when AK turns around and showers money on timber interests (despite assurances of Congressman Don Young (R-AK) who I personally heard say at a hearing where I testified — “This Roadless petition is NOT about timber, I almost gagged), something very shady and probably illegal is going on, with the likely knowledge and approval of FS officials. This STINKS!

  2. Jim, I think we fundamentally differ on how we frame the purpose of a State rule. I think I’ll try to get Mark Rey to share his thoughts.

  3. The problem with being stuck here at home is I have time now to dig deeper… I’m sure Mark Rey could provide interesting perspective on his machinations with the Roadless Rule and push for the state exemption process. It’s been almost 20 years, yet only 2 states (CO and ID) have successfully completed state rules. Among the “accomplishments” were new provisions for coal (CO) and phosphate mining (ID). Man, we really NEEDED those! And now Alaska is proposing serious and misguided mischief. Why the FS is actually abetting this beggars logic.

    The philosophical beef I have with state’s being able to petition for changes is basically this — ceding “authority” for state’s to decide how to manage federal land is a HUGE no-no. Imagine a governor deciding major policy for his state forests, gov is then beaten in election, and successor immediately offers FS the opportunity for feds to rewrite state land policy? I think we know how that would fly. No matter how you slice it, the petition process was regressive in favor of state’s rights and served to delegitimize federal authority. It was clearly intended to appease western states that harbored political ill will against Roadless Rule. I said at the time that “no self-respecting FS Chief should be associated with this” (interview LA Times); the state process was purely political and in the realm of political appointees like Mark Rey. Bosworth signed the draft policy, but the Secy of Ag the final. I think the Chief ultimately agreed.

  4. Jim, like I said I see it differently, and I’m sure I also see it differently from Mark. So I think that will be interesting to be able to trace it from his ideas to how it played out in practice in Colorado. For Colorado, with Mark and me, it will be a policy Upstairs Downstairs in that I worked on the Colorado Roadless Rule. I have an interview set up and then we can start looking at those different perspectives. The only better thing would be to have someone involved in the Idaho Rule, and a Downstairs person from the 2001 Rule. Maybe we can round up some of those folks to participate before then.


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