Unifying the Country: What Would That Look Like on Federal Lands?

This map has more than federal lands on it but you can click to size.

We’re heading into election season, so the verbiage weather report is for lots of hype, blame, castigation and name-calling. Assuming the worst of the Other and smoky shading of the truth. Not my favorite time, however…

We have an opportunity to develop ideas and proposals that we think would be uniting.. because, after all, one candidate said that that uniting the country is a goal. We can see plenty of unity around federal lands, even on this site, although media coverage and we tend to focus on the controversial.

I’d like to go back to Dave Freudenthal’s 2010 letter to then Interior Secretary Salazar.

Unfortunately, Washington, D.C. seems to go from pillar to post to placate what is perceived as a key constituency. I only half-heartedly joke with those in industry that, during the prior administration, their names were chiseled above the chairs outside the office of the Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals. With the changes announced yesterday, I fear that we are merely swapping the names above those same chairs to environmental interests, giving them a stranglehold on an already cumbersome process.

Can you think of mechanisms that might avoid the “pillar to post-iness” of swapping out Administrations? They have the difficult task of representing everyone, while favoring their friends.

Ted Zukoski brought up the concept of accountability via legal means earlier this week. We could broaden the discussion to “accountability to whom” and “for what”? What mechanisms have been tried (e.g. multi-party monitoring) and have they been successful?

There’s also building trust. One way that was thought about was to develop third-party certification procedures or some milder and less expensive form of that. Or perhaps how to spend GAOA windfalls, an advisory committee for that?

Fortunately here you can be in the weeds if that’s your preferred habitat. So ideas like the People’s Data- making it more easily available, public access to PALs and so on, would also fit.

For those of you into metrics, it’s interesting to think about how you would measure unifying efforts in a way that could be applied to any Administration. Not that we would think of something, but it might show the different ways we think about it.

So I’m encouraging posts which you can send to me which contain:

1. Proposals, ideas, processes, or structures that you think would be unifying.
2. Examples of something unifying that has worked in practice and you would like to see more of.
3. Possible metrics

There are plenty of folks and organizations here and in other countries who do great work so feel free to steal ideas, proposals or examples from someone else. The only requirement is that you explain why you think it makes sense and why you think it’s unifying. I’m encouraging folks to write guest posts with the links and your thinking, and less preferred would be a comment below.

I’d like to stick to “things to do” and not “things not to do” which tends to descend into a spiral of negativity. I think there’s enough of that out there right now.

13 thoughts on “Unifying the Country: What Would That Look Like on Federal Lands?”

  1. Thanks, Lourenço. I read somewhere (I thought it was a paper by George Hoberg at UBC) that nationalizing environmental issues was a strategy adopted during the Timber Wars by national (what else?) environmental groups who were stymied by Oregon’s elected officials. (I may not be doing justice to his argument, if that was, indeed, where he read it).

    Also, there is a recent interview by No Labels with Tom Davis former Virginia CongressPerson where he suggested some reforms in Congress; will try to locate that.

    As to our tiny microcosm of public lands issues, perhaps some of our issues can fly under the partisan radar and good unifying ideas will be taken up by the powerful. That’s my hope.

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  2. Deep sigh upon reading Cato report — much truth therein, but I’m not sure glib assertion of “federalism” is a reasonable panacea. The chasm between liberal and conservative positions is so vast, exacerbated by Trumpism, that easy and relatively swift improvement seems laughable. Good luck, Joe Biden, who I REALLY hope wins. Otherwise, well…

    Any agency caught in the political crossfire hoping to pull themselves out of these deep ruts is badly weakened without a really strong national constituency. In this context, the Natl Park Service, for example, is much better off than the Forest Service. The sad part is that if the strong political cleavage continues, it will be almost impossible for an agency to rise above, BUT – I will argue that an agency has NO CHANCE unless they excel at casting and striving for a vision with largely apolitical outcomes and are willing to push back hard against overt tampering.

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    • I agree that the Cato report’s analysis of our situation was the better part, and its suggested solutions not particularly persuasive. Thanks for taking time to read it.

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      • FWIW, I’m also more sanguine about states than that article- Colorado used to be much less partisan. Here’s an example of state pols going disagreeing with the national party (at least for their state). I bet it depends on the state and certainly there may be a general tendency to get more partisan through time, as a backwash of national politics. Still if I look at Hick vs. Polis as Governor, I think Hick did a great deal more reaching out (at least in the topics I follow), so.. personalities of politicians may even be important in the dynamics.

        Here’s a case of state independence from national partisan positions https://westernwire.net/dems-divide-as-presidential-ticket-party-at-odds-with-western-members-over-fracking-public-lands/ If it’s true… I haven’t double-checked it.

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  3. Here’s “A citizen’s Call for Ecological Forest Restoration: Forest Restoration Principles and Criteria.”

    https://forestpolicypub.b-cdn.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Restoration-Principles.pdf

    These national Restoration Principles, created in 2003, were the result of a 4-year bridge building effort between conservation groups and restoration practitioners to develop agreement on a common sense, scientifically-based framework for restoring national forests. Perhaps an ecologically-based restoration vision for national forests would be unifying.

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  4. “Citizen’s Call… ” is a very thoughtful, comprehensive policy piece. I believe it describes mgmt seldom seen on any random NF near you. How many FS leaders have studied it intently, or better yet, tried to apply its principles? My wild guess: a small number near zero. If I’m right this indicates that leading environmental voices are not taken seriously. Yet, I bet these same FS leaders expect to be taken seriously and expect env leaders to study their work and plans (which is done, assuredly). Just sayin’ — if you want mutual respect, study other models.

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    • But I’m not sure we all agree with this, that was the point of the this particular post, something that we all can agree on. Of course, I didn’t specify who “all” is.

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  5. My point was about creating a dialog based on mutual respect. THAT is something ALL reasonable people should agree on. No, I’m NOT asking for FS leaders to agree with everything in “Citizen’s Call”, but to be knowledgeable about its principles to further meaningful engagement. I recall an anecdote in PNW when John Lowe welcomed Sylvia Brucchi as new Public Affairs Dir and encouraged her to “start getting FS better press” – to which she replied “I can and will if YOU start making more ‘green’ decisions”. Lowe was unwilling to do that.
    I’m just saying if you don’t want to move in the direction of your critics, if you don’t even want to REALLY discuss what they want, how can you expect their support? Ever?

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    • Some might argue that the FS has moved in the direction of its critics for many years.
      I do like the dialogue based on mutual respect idea.. what would that look like to you?

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  6. Sharon: have you read my book? I expound on this question at some length, and it’s hard to compress such a deep issue. This is a bit of hyperbole, but I don’t think the FS has ever taken the environmental cause SERIOUSLY. I sought to do so in the wake of the spotted owl crisis, when it was obvious that the previous mgmt regime was bankrupt. Embedded in the NW Forest Plan were seeds of change that addressed some (definitely not all ) of the most distressing issues. I indicated my need for fresh ideas and a willingness do what the enviros wanted. This was my gesture of mutual respect. Remarkably, I found key players (including many in industry) willing to explore and help create a mgmt model built on forest restoration principles. largely, but not entirely, built on NW Forest Plan. To be blunt, enviros have had a plum full goozle of being marginalized, ignored, dismissed, and ridiculed for decades. Kinda like BLM just not as severe or noteworthy. NFs are just as much their lands as anybody else’s. Need I say more?

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    • Well, the Forest Service did, voluntarily, ban clearcuts and old growth harvesting in Sierra Nevada National Forests, to favor birds not on the Endangered Species list. It was the right thing to do, leading to a thinning program not litigated by the eco-community.

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