Is it A Time for Peace Yet? Chief Thomas Quotes our Old Friend Kohelet


PERC’s photo

Awhile back I attended a Western Governors conference, and Lesli Allison of Western Landowners Alliance asked the question “what if we think of ranchers as partners, rather than antagonists”? Could we actually make more progress toward conservation?”

I thought of her question when I recently read about PERC ‘s Brucellosis Compensation Fund.

PERC’s collaboration with—and listening to—area ranchers produced an innovative means to help them bear the burden of brucellosis risk. If successful, the fund will help lay the groundwork to address similar challenges throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and beyond.

Yes, I realize that PERC advocates free-market solutions, but if they work, at no cost to the taxpayer, what’s not to like?  They listened and respected the ranchers.  They found a way to resolve a conflict and improve conservation.

I think free-range “enemyism” can keep us from solutions, and needlessly subject groups to a position of “forever enemy-hood.”  And we all know who the bad guys are… the forest products industry, ranchers, miners,  oil and gas folks.. and OHV people.  “Enemyism” is particularly annoying (in my view), when it co-occurs with moralizing.   For forest products, oil and gas, and mining, it seems to me that there is a certain element of hypocrisy- some people use these things, and rich people use a lot of them.  For me, as a person with a Judaeo-Christian background, it’s bit like God saying in Deuteronomy  “it’s OK to eat camels but only if the Canaanites prepare them.”

Awhile back I posted this about an interview with Michael Webber, Prof at UT, who thinks we need an “all hands on deck” approach to decarbonization.

Is there a way to work with them, rather than against them, to promote a low-carbon future?

Unquestionably, many oil and gas companies have been bad actors. At best, the petroleum industry has ignored the problem while making a profit off the products that worsened the situation. At worst, it actively worked to delay action by funding misinformation campaigns or lobbying to delay policy action.

But blaming the industry leaves out our own culpability for our consumptive, impactful lifestyles. Oil consumption is as much about demand as supply.

Rather than finding someone to blame, let’s look for who can help.

Meanwhile, around the National Forests, collaborative groups are working together across different interests. But is there anyone whose job it is to find common ground at the national or regional level?  Bless their hearts, it seems that politicians are generally more interested in rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies than seeking long-term peace and expediting things everyone agrees on.  In fact, it could be in their parochial interests to prolong and intensify divisions.  At least some think that it is in their interests. So yes, that’s a difficulty under our current system.  What would it take to change this dynamic?

I’d like to go back to this 2001 interview of Chief Jack Ward Thomas (128 pages, lots of interesting history, recommended).

HKS: You’ve introduced a subject that I’d like you to talk a little bit about. I hadn’t heard the term “conflict industry”—eco-warriors and other things. You’ve been critical of the environmentalists. You have said that they have won the war and now they’re wandering the battlefield bayoneting the wounded.  They’re not helping anything. They’re only opposing. Do you think it’s because these guys are making three hundred thousand dollars a year, that that’s part of why they are not doing something?

JWT: Let’s not go too far with that. For everybody in the environmental industry that’s making several hundred thousand dollars a year there are probably some number of hundreds working for minimum wage, if that, working for what they think is right. But it matters not what the reason is, people are dedicated to the fight for the environment. There is a time to fight. There is a time for all things under the sun. There is a time to make peace. I think the general environmental war related to the Forest Service is over. In reality, industry needs to abandon sponsoring “ghost dances” to bring back the buffalo—i.e., the good old days. Those days aren’t coming back. It is time for the environmentalists to ease up. They are not going to finish off those who extract natural resources. Now we’ve come to where we stand today. And it is time to ask, “What are some of the things that we could agree upon?” Certainly
an appropriate, well-maintained road system should be one, and there may be others. If one performed an analysis of public opinion related to the management of the national forests considering protection and extraction of resources, you would be looking at a standard U-shaped curve. You might surmise that there was no room for agreement there, but I suspect if you conducted a public opinion poll you would find that the results yield a curve that resembles a bell. This leads me to the conclusion that in a democracy decisions are made by the majority of the minority that cares about the issue. Those that care enough about national forests to participate in planning efforts seem to be split in their opinions. I don’t know how we get them to middle ground, but the general public is much more inclined to accept some middle ground.

HKS: Did you ever discuss this directly, one to one, informally over a cup of coffee with the head of one of these organizations? Why don’t you guys help us?

JWT: Yes I tried that, and most of those from the “industry” believed me to be prone to accept the environmentalists’ view, and most of the environmentalists believed me to favor the industry position. So I guess I did not do so well as a moderator and a broker for the “middle ground.” I think the American people are wearing out with this unrelenting battle, and sooner or later they will insist on some middle ground approach to management. There are management actions by the Forest Service upon which both sides ought to be able to agree. Things such as dealing with issues of forest health. Extreme environmentalists might say, “That’s just another Forest Service excuse to whack down trees.” I’ve even been told that if the trees removed were decked and burned, support for restoration activities might be forthcoming. In other words, there should be no commercial use of trees removed. Well, I think that is a bit goofy.

Here in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana you would think from reading the newspaper reports that the Forest Service is moving ahead with salvage and that dealing with forest health issues in burned areas is overwhelmingly opposed by local people. Yet public opinion polls indicate the vast majority want to move ahead with such activities. They might argue about what “something” is but the vast majority of those polled, at least at this point, are adamant that active management is required. But that is not what you would think after attending public hearings or reading the newspaper.

(my bold)

What do you think? Could we have gotten further down the “national or regional” peace path since 2001?  What opportunities have we had that may have been missed?  Do you think the NWFP revision/amendment has the ability to lead to a lasting peace? What would you recommend to lead to peace?  Do you think real collaboration is only possible at the local level?  Why?

1 thought on “Is it A Time for Peace Yet? Chief Thomas Quotes our Old Friend Kohelet”

  1. Those are interesting and important questions. Here’s my 2¢.

    1¢ – There seems to be a lot agreement about desired vegetation conditions. The Planning Rule puts sideboards on what those can be: ecologically sustainable, which most importantly (from a potential conflict standpoint) means viability of all the native species. For individual forest plans I’ve not heard complaints about this goal, nor are the forests even considering alternative desired conditions when they revise their plans (if I’m wrong, I’d be interested in hearing about examples). Are the “wounded” (commodity producers) still fighting this?

    2¢ – The disagreements seem to be more about how to achieve the desired conditions, and they seems to revolve around how much to trust the Forest Service. I don’t agree with JWT’s comment that it is “goofy” to worry about the commercial aspects of logging. At the bottom of the trust issue is the incentives that exist that tend to promote management approaches that take greater environmental risks, including profits, jobs, revenues and agency budgets. The Forest Service could write forest plans that minimize the influence of these incentives, which would make project planning go a lot more smoothly, but it shows little evidence that it is willing to give up its management discretion.


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