The 96 percent versus the 1%

Federal public lands belong equally to all Americans. Will we see democracy in action on the Tongass National Forest regarding the Roadless Rule? I’m positive that we can expect some of the typical USFS and timber industry apologists to chime in here and defend whatever the USFS will end up doing. I do wonder, however, if anyone can share an example of where the USFS got 96% letters and comments in favor of a timber sale, or a coal lease, or an oil and gas lease, but then decided to side with the 1% of commenters who were opposed to the resource extraction? I know, I know…”It’s not a vote.” (Except for all the times the “vote” favors what the USFS was going to do anyway, then they will just be following the “will of the people.”).

According to the Daily Sitka Sentinel:

After months of hearings, analyses, and meetings, the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday released an official summary of public comments in the rulemaking process that would exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule.

All told, 96% of the 267,000 letters and comments received were in favor of keeping the Roadless Rule in place in the Tongass, and one percent supported exempting it from the rule, the summary report said.

Comments were accepted from around the nation. For reference, the population of Southeast Alaska as of the 2010 census was just short of 70,000.

“This is now a litmus test to the state of our democracy,” Sitka Conservation Society Director Andrew Thoms said in an interview today.

“We will see if the government makes decisions guided by the people or if we have descended to the level of corruption that would be a tragedy for what Americans expect from their country and their government,” he said.

The Roadless Rule, in place since 2001, prohibits road building activities in 9.4 million acres of the 16.9 million-acre Tongass National Forest. Project exemptions are possible under the rule.

12 thoughts on “The 96 percent versus the 1%”

  1. “Federal public lands belong equally to all Americans.”

    If you mean by “belong” that all Americans have the same lack of right, title or protected property interest in federal lands, the majority which are domain lands acquired from other sovereigns for federal purposes, then yes, we all have an equal lack of ownership.

    And thank god and the Supreme Court that management of natural resources, including and especially federal lands, is not subject to the lunatic mob mentality of a voting majority comprised of disconnected, stand-up-philosophizing and hypocritical urbanites.

  2. The only “vote” that counted is the one cast by Trump after a quick appeal from the AK Gov. Oh, you say Trump knows nothing about Alaska’s forests, salmon, recreation industry, history and ecology, Native Tribes, and how far along the FS was in the process at that time? No worries. He couldn’t care less. And now Ag Sec’y claims it’s “his preference” that roadless protections be removed. Right….
    BTW I understand Presidential prerogatives. But there is that nasty little thing about “arbitrary and capricious” decisions. They don’t stand up in court. The FS would be well advised to… Go ahead Chief Christiansen, fill in the blank.

    • Jim, as you know, there is a natural push and pull by the three branches of government. I see this as getting shot down in court as well. So we can disagree about what is the FS role- but in my opinion, the FS has to do what their political bosses want (of course, with all the pushbacks that career folks and lower level politicals can do). Still, I think it’s interesting that you think a senior federal executive should be independent in some respect from the Administration? We don’t actually know what kind of pushback she, Hubbard or the Sec of Agriculture have run, do we? So what do you recommend Chief Christiansen do? (knowing pragmatically as she probably does, as you do, that ultimately this is likely to not go anywhere legally?).

  3. Well, gee, Sharon, I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes. But it would restore some confidence if the Chief and RF were FIGHTING LIKE HELL not to pursue such an idiotic approach just because Perdue doesn’t have the guts to tell Trump to “forget it… me and the FS know what we’re doing.” There is the artistic leak of internal memos that make it clear to people who are watching that FS is trying to do the right thing. Any good bureaucrat knows how to slow walk an EIS process; stretch it out so it just doesn’t get finished on time — public meetings delayed, analyzing voluminous public comment took more time than we thought, etc. Has OGC written internal analysis of litigation risks for Chief and Secy? I could go on and on. The real question: does anyone in the FS CARE about this aberration. I do NOT agree that SES’ers “have to do” what their bosses want. They have the full range of options from capitulation to resignation. But the biggest boss they have is NOT Trump. Time to be smart and do their JOB on behalf of the public and the land.

    • Jim, I know you feel strongly about this, but it seems that you didn’t like it when other feds slowed down ideas that you supported when you were working with Jim Lyons.. I think there are two things going on..

      It’s the Executive branch. That means that feds serve each color of Administration. Personally, I don’t want unelected employees determining their own way. Suppose someone in Social Security determined she didn’t want to send checks, to say, people in North Dakota? That way lies chaos.

      At the same time, as you say, Feds have their own way of delaying and obsfuscating. That is indeed a difficult path to decide exactly how far to go. I won’t be second-guessing the people sitting in those chairs..

      Honestly, I see much drama (each State Roadless Rule is the End of the Planet as we know it to Pew and other entities) and little chance that very much will change. Both the Rule and each sale will be litigated. All of us, even the Chief, aren’t holding any cards (other than doing a good job on the EIS which the Admin made very difficult by their choice of alternative).

  4. I acknowledge that the friction about roadless area protection within the FS was much stronger than I could have guessed. And we did push hard to finish on time with a EIS?ROD that withstood numerous lawsuits to prevail. The FS credo is to “serve the public and protect the land” — the distinction I see here is that Roadless had VERY STRONG public support (Pew polling at ~90%, which even I take with a grain of salt) while opposition to Alaska proposal is about 95%. This should inform any bureaucrat’s choices. Consider also roadless area “protection”… as opposed to exploitation. This is not about “unelected employees determining their own way”, rather it regards balancing obedience to the Constitution, law, and public service as opposed to political whims. If you can think WAAAY back, consider FS actions during the abortive Reagan Interchange effort with BLM, which was NOT by any stretch of imagination as crassly political as Tongass Roadless rollback.

    • Jim – we (at the time I was part of the we) did push hard to finish the Roadless Conservation Rule EIS expeditiously. Polling to make a decision on the management of natural resources may result in decisions that run counter to sustainable ecosystems. I agree that the information from polls indicating public support may be helpful to information, but that also depends on the statistical validity of the poll. Shouldn’t the bureaucrat also consider the citizen’s advisory committee’s reports and input?

  5. “I don’t want unelected employees determining their own way.” That sounds very Trump-like (“deep swamp?”). If the law allows them the discretion (not your Social Security example), we should expect them to use it.

    This seems to be another case (think Supreme Court nominations) of, “We don’t care what the people want; we have the power and we’re going to use it for what WE want.” And we’ve seen what happens when anyone bucks Jared or whomever is calling the shots in this administration. For bureaucrats, sometimes there is merit in trying to live to fight another day (in January, hopefully – it will be interesting to see what a Biden Administration will do with FS leadership).

    • It seems to me like they may have had a direct order to do something a certain way (this is something where the Prez seems to have made a decision). I just mad the point that federal officials disobeying direct orders is the way to chaos.

      As to public comments, many of ours in Colorado were forms in response to “do you want to see Colorado forests destroyed?” they hadn’t actually looked at the pros and cons of the alternatives. Should people who check a box in an email have as much of a say as other people who took time to read and understand? I realize Alaska is different but..

    • Uh.. Democrats also sometimes also do the exact same thing. And new admins have a tendency to pick their own Chiefs , but not always. So it would be right for a Biden admin to change leadership, but wrong for a Trump admin?


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