We had a number of good ideas for research topics discussed earlier this week. I’m going to post some research that’s been done, and some of my own ideas and experiences. TSW readers are encouraged to submit posts either with your own ideas or research you consider relevant. These may serve to generate more ideas and/or to hone the ones you already have.
Unusually enough, we actually had a question by a journalist Ryan Sabelow, reporter for the Sacramento Bee on Twitter. I removed some language.
As to Ryan’s point, there have been some studies along the lines he suggests, including budget and staffing, and I’ll talk about one in the next post on this.
Still, Ryan’s friend was expressing something… litigation has an impact, that is commonly believed among many Forest Service folks, but has not been shown in the relevant literature. So there’s a gap between academia (and others) and practitioners. It’s not the academics’ fault.. it’s our own fault, in my view, for not explaining our point of view better. Of course, it’s awkward or impossible to do that in public without being retired (except if you’re anonymous), so there’s that.
The tweet from Ryan’s friend reminded me of a conversation I had about 10-15 years ago with Denise Keele, who had co-authored a NEPA litigation paper, which also concluded … everything is fine. I was joking when I said “let’s develop an index of annoyance..talk to practitioners about what factors about litigation they find irritating, and develop a score for each project. Perhaps people could get extra pay for working on projects with a high projected annoyance score?” Now I think perhaps even describing annoyance factors will help to bridge the gap. I have some that I have written about, and more that I will add, and others are welcome to add theirs via post or comment.
I’ll give an important caveat here. Of course, litigation has an important place in the public policy ecosystem. Agencies need to follow the law. Sometimes Agencies screw up and their shortcomings need to be brought to light. Litigation can be a way to achieve these goals outside the political process. But with the need (not agreed to by everyone) to build renewable energy projects in certain places, and to help protect communities from fire (not agreed to by everyone) in other places, it seems like it’s a good time to talk about how this way of achieving goals is working to all parties involved.
Even talking about the landscape of litigation, from the FS practitioner’s point of view, can be uncomfortable outside the office (thank you, Ryan’s friend, and Ryan, for sharing this). FS folks generally don’t want to be offensive, and realize that litigation is part of the government system that we pledged to uphold. Plus whining or complaining is not always a preferred cultural norm. At the same time, I think it’s important to hear the FS employees and stakeholders’ side of the story (as well as the perspective of litigants, of course!).
So my idea is to help others understand how different kinds and approaches to litigation may impact FS people, the NEPA process, and stakeholders involved in projects. There may be some value in simply airing frustrations; but certainly it will help folks like Forrest and Ryan understand some of the complexities. Both things are true: (1) generally NEPA works well and (2) in some cases it’s frustrating.
The end result might be- besides mutual understanding- a paper that academics can cite, e.g., (TSW et al. 2023) “litigation of projects can have perceived negative impacts on employees and stakeholders. These include both short-term impacts during the litigation process, and long-term adaptive impacts as litigation and agency decision-making co-evolve.”