They Seem Like Nice Ladies..But: The Logic of Producing Essential Things Elsewhere (For the Environment?)

TEHRAN – Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh has issued an order, paving the way for women with high capabilities to boost presence in the oil industry

..this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience….To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault. The ideal of the run-of-the-mill conservationist is to impose restraints upon production without limiting consumption or burdening the consciences of consumers.
— Wendell Berry

This is a great gig.  You can use mega-amounts of fossil fuels in your products (like, say the Outdoor Recreation industry) and pretend you have the moral high ground if you are against production in our country.  You can make zillions of bucks of people offshoring manufacturing of your products- and then critique “greedy” producers of the material you use.  I still don’t get “domestic oil and gas hate”.. who’s behind it, and what it’s really about.  There seems to be a steady stream of “they are bad” articles coming out, especially from sources allied with a certain political party.  So yes, there seems to be some kind of organized campaign against these folks.  But just the domestic ones (seems equally true in Britain).  So a person has to wonder what the end game of this is really about.

I don’t want to be accused of listening to Fox News (the horror!) but I had read somewhere about the idea that Russia had been funding some ENGOs in Europe with the idea of making them more reliant on Russian sources of energy.  And Fox News had a story so here it is.

So I said to myself “how could I ever figure out the truth here? Did they or didn’t they?”  And then I had a revelation… it doesn’t matter who funds groups if their goals are the same. Keep it in the ground (here) is fundamentally the same as extract it (there).  Who wins? other countries of Questionable Human Rights and Environmental Records. Who loses? Our workers and communities.   Or is it just that if the environmental and human rights impacts occur elsewhere, we can ignore them more readily? I hope that is not the case.

On thing we learned from Covid is that some things are more essential than others. So let’s take a look at where the fundamentals of our economy (fossil fuels) are currently coming from.

In the every-handy EIA information, we can find a list of countries we import oil from. This Politico story from March talked about outreach to Venezuela, the Saudis and Iran (see the nice ladies in the photo above), due to the desire to stop Russian imports. As the story says,

“The U.S. has long had complicated and tense relationships with all three countries, which in recent years have been accused of everything from election fraud to human rights atrocities.”

Given all that, and the fact that imported oil has arguably a larger environmental impact, why wouldn’t we want to produce as much domestically as possible and import the rest from the most agreeable and socially and environmentally responsible countries? It seems logical to me.  We don’t seem to try to offshore other industries due to their impacts on the environment.. in fact, there is a Buy America push by the Biden Administration. So what did the oil and gas workers do to get left out?

For a long time, some groups have been pushing the Biden Admin to stop oil and gas leasing on federal lands.  In fact, he felt the need to commit to that during the campaign, despite the fact that many argue that it is illegal.  As part of that campaign, this  USGS study, often mischaracterized (even by an E&E News headline in Scientific American; I expect better from them) as “Fossil Fuel Extraction on Public Lands Produces One Quarter of U.S. Emissions” played a large role, so much so that it is frequently used in news stories as if it were a fact that everyone understands.

Whereas the study actually studies emissions not just from extraction but from use, see page 3 under introduction.

Emissions are produced through two processes: (1) the combustion of fuel for electricity generation, mechanical work, heating, or use as a feedstock and (2) the fugitive emission of gases during the processes of extracting and moving fuel.

Which we can imagine would have more or less the same effect (or possibly greater?) to the atmosphere from other countries, depending on the various attributes of the resource,  extraction technologies and regulations, and transportation to the US.  Because if it’s about carbon emissions, the atmosphere there is the same one as here.

One of the first symbolic actions in the new Administration was to stop the Keystone Pipeline from Canada (from whom we import oil and uranium).  It’s almost as if part of that symbolism was pledge of fealty to party investors by dissing a partner vital to our own energy security.

And what technologies exist to reduce climate change? Those requiring uranium (also imported) and other rare earths, often found on federal land in the US.  For example

Uranium originating in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan accounted for 47% of total uranium purchased by U.S. COOs in 2020. Canadian-origin uranium and Australian-originan uranium together accounted for 34% (Table 3).

Many of these minerals occur on western federal lands, potentially running into obstacles in the efforts to “conserve” them.   That means that it’s OK to encourage thousands of tourists to come to a new “protected” area, but not OK to mine, or have drill rigs. Personally, drill rigs don’t bother me when I recreate. Crowds are much worse in my opinion.  Unleashed dogs chasing wildlife and all that- seem to bother say, deer or antelope, more than drill rigs (which tend to stay in the same place over time), from what I’ve observed.

It seems to me that there are certain projects like the Keystone Pipeline, Bears Ears, and the idea of stopping oil and gas leasing on federal lands (I think mostly onshore, but who knows?)  that from my environmental perspective, have mostly symbolic value.  So.. who determined that these specific issues were so important?  And what does that portend for domestic production of necessary post-fossil fuel material? Is “protecting our landscapes” more important than national security, and whose interests does that calculation serve? Because I don’t remember being asked.

Next Post: Are (Domestic) Oil and Gas Folks Really That Bad?

International Women’s Day: Women’s Work – Collaboration and Peace-Seeking?

From Boise State Public Radio’s new series

When I was working for the Forest Service as the Region 2 Planning Director, one of my favorite parts of the job was reviewing the Regional Forester’s Honor Awards. Awardees, both internal and external, came from all over the Region; the entertainment was superb (Dave Steinke videos) and a good time was had by all. It reminded me of Mr. Fezziwig’s ball from The Christmas Carol.

If we read many media reports, they focus on the problems and not the successes. Each one of the awardees deserved their own news coverage, and maybe some of the local papers did cover them. The larger media… not so much. Anyway, I remember a particular time awardees with The Nature Conservancy, something to do with the BFF and/or prairie dogs and ranchers I think in South Dakota, came to our morning meeting. It struck me what one of the folks (a woman) said, “we’re not enemies, we all want to do the right thing.”

I wondered at the time whether there was something about our biology, family experiences, or the broader culture (or the interaction of those factors), that makes women more likely to engage in peace-seeking and relationship-building, and being able to see potential middle ground.  Possibly struggling within your own group/discipline for recognition might make you feel less more inclined to question and less inclined to toe the group/discipline line. Or if we’re not likely to ever make it to the decision-making level, we have less to lose by being outliers.  I think of free thinkers like Tisha Schuller and Patty Limerick here in Colorado, and Susan Jane Brown in Oregon.  Or Judith Curry, or Bari Weiss in the broader world.  But perhaps those are older women’s experiences of non-inclusion and those have changed drastically in the past 20 years.  Sadly, it does not appear so in the science biz. Example, this 2019 issue of Lancet.

That is certainly not to say that all women are one way and all men are another, like anything else, there’s a broad range within each group. Still, there is a broad range of literature in a variety of fields from the biological to the anthropological to foreign policy studies, that does describe differences. For example, from the Council on Foreign Relations:

A growing body of research suggests that standard peace and security processes routinely overlook a critical strategy that could reduce conflict and advance stability: the inclusion of women. Evidence indicates that women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution advances security interests. One study found that substantial inclusion of women and civil society groups in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement 64 percent less likely to fail and, according to another study, 35 percent more likely to last at least fifteen years. Several analyses suggest also that higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict, both between and within states. Despite growing international recognition of women’s role in security, their representation in peace and security processes has lagged.

My observation is that women in our neck of the environmental conflict woods are well represented in the partnership and collaboration world. Perhaps as the stakes get higher, less so, although that would be interesting for researchers to examine further.  Does anyone know of researchers looking into this?  This Harvard study is also interesting and possibly worthy of discussion- it’s about males potentially having more post-conflict affiliation. How or does that play out in our world?

And of course we’ve previously posted on gender as related to litigation:
Litigation and Mediation: Exploring the Gendering of Touchy-Feely Options

In 2013, Laura van Riper published this article in Rangelands. There’s a pdf available that I think you can access here. If not, let me know.

On the Ground
• In recent years women have become more visible as leaders of collaborative range management in the western United States. Drawing on the experiences of four such women, gender aspects of leadership and community activism are explored.

• The four women leaders consider their efforts as “nothing special” and “business as usual”; gender considerations are not prominent in how they view their success.

• Personality traits are important determinants of exceptional leadership. Although such traits are found in both men and women, there may be cases where the more feminine attributes that emphasize peacemaking, community welfare, networking, and consensus building facilitate the management of complex problems.

• Collaborative leadership is vital for rangeland management. Recruiting and training such leaders should focus on identifying those with appropriate personality traits and aptitudes—regardless of gender—and providing them with the tools, skills, and support networks for success. The four successful women ranchers described here give us tangible models to replicate.

Thoughts? Experiences?

Conservation groups call for more thinning, biomass removal and prescribed burning in national forests

This photo shows well-spaced, large pines with smaller, younger trees six years ago in the Stanislaus National Forest near Smoothwire Creek, north of the Middle Fork Stanislaus River.
Courtesy photo / CSERC

From the Union Democrat of Mother Lode (Sonora) country in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

The Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte and 14 other conservation groups are urging Randy Moore, the former Pacific Southwest regional forester who is now chief of the U.S. Forest Service, to increase prescribed burning, thinning of surface and ladder fuels, and biomass removal in the face of unnaturally severe megablazes and climate change.

“Dear Randy,” the Aug. 2 letter begins, “As many of us have already communicated to you on behalf of our conservation organizations, we applaud your selection as the new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Over the 14 years that you served as Regional Forester in Region 5, our groups worked closely with you on a broad range of issues.

“With this letter, we urge you — as the new Chief — to apply your leadership so that the Forest Service ramps up the pace and scale of needed actions to effectively address the pressing challenges of high-severity wildfires, climate change, and loss of biodiversity.”

“We look forward to working with the Forest Service, national and state policymakers, tribes, and diverse stakeholder interests to ensure that taxpayer-funded investments are applied so that agency actions are carefully prioritized and science-based and provide beneficial social and ecological outcomes,” the open letter states. “By focusing on ecological restoration and science-based actions, the Forest Service can continue building trust so that individual national forests can ramp up the scale of forest treatments while minimizing controversy.”

Asked Tuesday to quantify how much conservationists want to see prescribed burning to increase, Jamie Ervin with Sierra Forest Legacy said, “The Forest Service and the state have set a goal of ramping up pace and scale forest restoration including prescribed burning to a million acres a year. That would be a good start. The actual fire regime — calls for more than that.”

Fire regime refers to the kind of fire and how much fire a particular ecosystem experiences historically, before European settlers arrived, Ervin said.

“Our best estimate is California would have had about 4.5 million acres burning annually,” Ervin said. “From lightning strikes and indigenous people burning intentionally for forest clearing and hunting.”

Prescribed burning right now is about 100,000 acres a year statewide, Ervin said, speaking from Nevada City, about 125 miles north of Sonora. It varies every year. An estimate of prescribed-burn acreage statewide so far this year was not available. Eighteen months ago, the California Air Resources Board reported there were 125,000 acres of prescribed burns statewide in 2019.

Fire is natural in California, and we need fire in the forests, Ervin emphasized. The issue right now is we’re experiencing unnaturally severe fires due to the fact we have suppressed fires for over a hundred years. Conservationists want more forest management, especially significant investment in federal and state prescribed fire programs.

With their letter to Moore, the conservation groups share their collective agreement that it’s essential to significantly ramp up all three kinds of forest treatments — science-based thinning logging in appropriate areas; carefully planned prescribed burning during mild weather times of year; and the removal where economically possible of excess biomass fuels, Buckley said.

“This letter is a relatively unique sharing by a variety of conservation groups,” he said. “While our local organizations have been broadly supportive of those treatments, this is a strong sharing of agreement by groups that normally don’t emphasize endorsement of logging or biomass removal.”

Other groups that signed the letter with CSERC and Sierra Forest Legacy were the California Wilderness Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, the Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the Inyo, the Training and Watershed Center, California Native Plant Society, Sierra Nevada Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, South Yuba River Citizens League, Sierra Business Council, the Tuolumne River Trust, American Rivers, and the Fire Restoration Group.

(my bold)

Finding Agreement: Some California Environmental Groups’ Agreement on Forest Management

Thanks to Susan Britting of Sierra Forest Legacy for sharing this Novermber 2020  Forest Management Statement signed by a broad coalition that included the following groups:

California Native Plant Society ▪ California Wilderness Coalition ▪ Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center ▪ Defenders of Wildlife ▪ The Fire Restoration Group ▪ The Nature Conservancy, CA Chapter ▪ Sierra Business ▪ Council Sierra Forest Legacy ▪ The Watershed Center

Statement on Forest Management
California forest conditions
• Well managed forests provide many critical benefits for nature and people including clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, recreation and more.
• Current conditions in many fire-prone forests of the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere in California are degraded and not healthy due to past logging practices, fire suppression, drought, and climate change. From the perspective of forest health and resilience, there are too few large trees, too many small trees, and an excess of “surface and ladder fuels” that significantly increase the risk of high-severity wildfire.
• California is experiencing high-severity wildfire in larger landscapes and at larger scales than is desirable from an ecological perspective.
• Threats to forest communities from high-severity wildfire are increasing and need to be addressed.
• There is an urgent need to restore more natural forest structure and reintroduce beneficial fire so that forests continue to provide important ecosystem services and pose less of a threat to
life and property.

An integrated solution: communities and landscapes
• We support an integrated strategy to reduce the risk of high-severity wildfire near communities and across the forest landscape, including public and private lands.
• The strategy needs to utilize all tools in the toolbox: ecologically based forest thinning, prescribed fire, managed fire, cultural burning, working forest conservation easements, defensible space, home hardening, and emergency response.
• Different actions and priorities are appropriate across the landscape: 1) near communities, the primary goal should be protecting lives and property through steps like defensible space, structure hardening, emergency response, improved ingress/egress, and reducing unplanned human ignitions; 2) in the mixed forest landscape, we should work to increase forest resilience and mature forest structure using actions like ecological forest thinning and prescribed and managed fire while reducing unplanned human ignitions and hardening infrastructure; 3) in roadless and wilderness areas, the primary management tools should be cultural burning as well as prescribed and managed fire.
• There is a need for an all-lands approach, including public-private and tribal partnerships, to achieve these goals.
• We support the commercial use of woody material removed from forests (e.g., saw logs, mass timber manufacturing, woody biomass for heat and electrical generation, and added value wood products development) where the goal is increasing forest health and resilience and as long as species and ecosystems needs are met.

The letter even has a very nice glossary.

I find nothing to disagree with here (I could get picky about specific words but..).   I’ve found that for some E-NGOs, woody biomass is a non-starter (it seems to invoke Europe and southeastern US pellet exports), and and some seem to be against commercial use of woody material from National Forests. I think it’s important to note that these groups (who have to live with the “burn in piles or do something else” challenge staring them in the face) support useswith constraints (“when the goal is”.. and “as long as”). Certainly the devil is in the details, but some groups seem to assume that those details can’t be handled appropriately through existing mechanisms or those to be developed in the future.

Does anyone have a similar statement from groups in other western states?

Learning From the Past?: Getting Visitors to Do the Right Things

Les Joslin as a fire guard in the 1960’s.

If only…as much research went into “changing public behavior with different education/enforcement strategies on federal lands” as went into modeling the impacts of future climate change on random plants and animals; or projections to 2200 of burned acres and severity. Oh well… This also reminds me of our discussion of historic conditions and how they should inform future management. In this case, “it worked then, will it work today and tomorrow, or will something work better?

The topic came up as part of an Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition 2020 Recreation Season After Action Review .

The Forest Service should invest in increased staff or volunteer capacity at recreation sites. Having dedicated hosts at recreational sites, whether through agency staffing or partnerships with local NGOs (e.g Wallowa Resources’ Community Solutions, Inc. manages USFS campgrounds in Eastern Oregon) has been critical to ensuring that visitors are educated on responsible recreation practices and that COVID-19 protocols and policies are enforced.

It came up in the Flathead Forest Plan litigation discussion due to  the impacts on grizzly bears of illegal entry on roads. It comes up in Bears Ears discussions, as if Monument designation would stop people from pot-hunting, defacing pictographs and other bad things. It’s a common problem across the Forest Service and BLM, where acres are large and numbers of employees are small.

Les Joslin wrote a piece about the value of what “fire prevention guards” used to do:

Climate change has increased wildfire hazard by making fuels dryer for longer periods of time. The key to effective wildfire prevention is reaching the primary risk factor—visitors to and other users of the national forest and adjacent wildland-urban interface lands—with an effective fire prevention message. This is best done through person-to-person communication of a wildfire prevention message by a friendly fire prevention officer. Bend and other Central Oregon fire departments and districts should team up with the Deschutes National Forest to field and fund such fire prevention messengers—modern descendants of the fire prevention guard I once was.

“I don’t know that any fire prevention guard ever prevented a fire just by riding around in his truck,” I wrote in that memoir. “I know I didn’t, because I didn’t. The key to these fire prevention patrols was public contact, and the key to public contact was to get out of the patrol truck and talk with people. So, instead of just driving through campgrounds and raising dust, I routinely parked and walked the campgrounds. That made me available to visitors, either to initiate conversations or to respond to their questions. Outside developed campgrounds, I parked a respectful distance from and walked into camps to greet the campers, answer whatever questions they had, and work my fire prevention message…into the conversation. I did the same along heavily-fished streams.”

“Availability’s partner…is visibility, and I made it a point to look the part, to be easily recognized as a Forest Service representative. A good haircut and a clean shave, a freshly pressed uniform shirt with badge in place, clean green jeans and solid work boots, coupled with a pleasant disposition, projected a positive image. There is no place in public service, I agreed with the district ranger and the fire control officer, for slovenly appearance and bad manners. … I’m convinced this friendly, helpful, face-to-face approach contributed to my success on the job” and to prevention of destructive wildfires. Central Oregon fire prevention officers—on the ground in Forest Service green or fire department or district blue—could replicate such success.

“Fire prevention is a funny business,” I wrote. “You never really know how good you are at it because you never really know if you’ve actually prevented a wildfire. There’s no objective measure of success. Failure is much easier to prove.” But, as the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Strengthening the region’s Project Wildfire efforts toward wildfire preparedness and mitigation measures that address the hazards by beefing up the wildfire prevention effort that addresses the risks—vastly increased with explosive population and visitation growth—would be well worth the minimal additional cost.

At the time, it was considered worth the money to have “boots on the ground”; even though federal employees are expensive, and yet, as Les points out, just the fire prevention aspect could have economic benefits. But presence in those days was different; today we have all kinds of virtual presence. Are human beings a necessity or a luxury (in terms of being out there)? Partners can certainly help get the message out, but how does that work exactly when volunteers faced with a grumpy and potentially volatile rule-breaker? In what ways can some combination of law enforcement folks, volunteers and technology help educate and enforce rules?

I think “having rules that mean something” and “preventing human ignitions” are both Things We Can Agree On.

Landscape-level Fire Management in California: Getting to Yes

Thanks to Jon for posting this piece all for participating in the discussion on fishers and fuel treatments, and especially for Rene Voss being here to discuss his point of view. I’d like to further explore options for common ground.

“the agencies ignored a deep body of scientific evidence concluding that commercial thinning, post-fire logging, and other logging activities conducted under the rubric of ‘fuel reduction’ more often tend to increase, not decrease, fire severity (citing several sources, emphasis in original).

Having been on the other side (writing statements on “how the Forest Service considered those studies”, I tend to think that five or ten pages of explanation of how these studies were considered, is probably not what plaintiffs are ultimately after.

The view that “fuel treatments more often tend to increase fire severity” is not widely held by scientists, nor fire and fuels practitioners.

So we can only wonder what the plaintiffs are really after. Perhaps the problem is “commercial”? So in areas in which thinning is not “commercial” it can be helpful? But “commercial” is not a biological parameter. So, I guess my question is whether it’s possible for folks like Rene to articulate the parameters of what kinds of treatments would be OK with them. It seems to me that would save time and effort for everyone concerned.

Taking a look at California, we notice that in their State Forest Action Plan:

The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and other state entities will expand its fuels management crews, grant programs, and partnerships to scale up fuel treatments to 500,000 acres annually by 2025;
» California state agencies will lead by example by expanding forest management on state-owned lands to improve resilience against wildfires and other impacts of climate change; and
» The USFS will double its current forest treatment levels from 250,000 acres to 500,000 acres annually by 2025.

Governor Newsome asked for this funding in his budget.

In addition to electric vehicles, Newsom’s team actively highlighted the $1 billion investment it was making in wildfire management. That money would go to support firefighting, including 30 new fire crews and additional aircraft, as well as proactive fire management, ranging from tribal engagement on fire issues to creating markets for wood products sourced from forest thinning.

Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said this budget signified a “paradigm shift” in how the state approaches fire management.

The administration realized, he said, that it needs to be more proactive in landscape-level fire management, an effort that would come from moving toward melding modern fire science with traditional Native American practices of prescribed burns.

It seems to me that the State feels that fuel treatments are effective and worthy of megabuck investment. I wonder whether that scientific discussion has occurred with the State. What’s most interesting to me are the processes by which scientific arguments and discussions take place (or don’t) and why, peculiarly, they have a role in the courts that is different from everyday policy development. The courts, as we’ve found out, are not the place for scientific discussions, and also not conducive to finding common ground and where agreements might occur…except in individual settlements, which don’t really help public understanding.

If Governor Newsome wants to “be more proactive in landscape-level fire management”, when 58% of California’s forests are federally managed, and lawsuits can delay these federal projects, we have to ask “how could we get (currently litigating) environmental groups to not only support efforts, but actually to help row the landscape-level fire management boat?” I’m using the analogy of Michael Webber, in this interview on decarbonization).

What policy changes, or changes in project design, might work?

Timber Wars Peace Breaking Out in John Day, Oregon: New York Times Op-ed

Thanks to Bob Sproul for finding this New York Times story about Susan Jane Brown and efforts to reach consensus around logging on the Malheur National Forest by Nichols Kristof. Since it’s so relevant, I’m posting the entire piece. I do like the idea that our humble forest work could “offer lessons for a divided country.” It’s also interesting that this is posted as an opinion, while other pieces, which seem similar to me (interviews with people supplemented by statistics), are counted as news stories. The comments are also interesting; I see some from three hours ago, but it says they are now closed. Susan Jane Brown, member of our own TSW community, plays a prominent (and dare I say heroic) role in the story.

April 10, 2021
JOHN DAY, Ore. — One of the most venomous battles in our polarized nation is the one that has unfolded between loggers and environmentalists in timber towns like this one in the snow-capped Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon.

Yet, astonishingly, peace has broken out here. Loggers and tree-huggers who once loathed and feared each other have learned to hold their noses and cooperate — and this may have saved the town. It may also offer lessons for a divided country.

The timber industry, by far the biggest employer in John Day, survives here only because environmentalists led by Susan Jane Brown, a Portland lawyer, fought to save these workers’ jobs by keeping chain saws active. John Shelk, who owns the town’s sawmill, and might be expected to eat environmental lawyers for breakfast, says simply, “Susan Jane is my hero.”

This collaboration between environmentalists and loggers is often grumpy, incomplete and precarious, but it’s also inspiring. It offers America a model of a process to sit down with antagonists, seek common ground, register progress (punctuated with eye rolls and moans) and knit this country back together.

The timber peace process began in 2003 at a bitter meeting over forest policy. Loggers were furious at Brown for having halted logging in local national forests by suing to protect species like woodpeckers and redband trout and by tying the U.S. Forest Service in procedural knots — but they were also desperate to save their livelihoods. A delegation of burly woodsmen approached Brown, who is 5-foot-2, and invited her to go out into the forest with them.

“My life flashed before my eyes,” Brown told me. But she took a deep breath, overcame her fears and eventually spent three days with the loggers (she brought a very large friend as a bodyguard), visiting forests and arguing about whether trees should be cut.

“It was very tense,” she remembered. But while the two sides didn’t agree, each was surprised to find the other not entirely diabolical.

“We thought, ‘Well, we haven’t killed each other, so maybe we should keep talking and let’s see what happens,’” she said. In 2006 they formalized the dialogue by naming it Blue Mountains Forest Partners.

The word “partners,” though, was mostly aspirational. The timber industry was collapsing, with a 90 percent plunge in the harvest from national forests in Oregon between the 1980s and the 2000s. Workers were losing well-paying jobs and in some places the human toll was catastrophic. I wrote recently about an Oregon friend of mine, Mike Stepp, whose life disintegrated into homelessness and early death when he couldn’t follow his dad into a good sawmill or factory job. Brown says that back when she started to talk with the loggers she didn’t really think of the human cost.

“My attitude was, ‘You deserved it,’” she said. “‘You cut down all the old growth.’”

John Day reciprocated the hostility. The area was already deeply conservative — it had voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the United Nations — and the closure of two of its three sawmills left people fearful and furious.

Then, with almost no new logs coming in, Shelk announced that he would have to close the last sawmill, just as he had already closed his two other sawmills in Eastern Oregon. The entire town was teetering.

Yet this was also a crisis for environmentalists. In their meetings with the foresters, Brown and her colleagues had gradually been persuaded that some logging was necessary to make the forests healthy again.

That’s because nearby forests were dangerously overgrown. For thousands of years, fires had burned the forests every decade or so, clearing out the underbrush but not harming large trees. Decades of fire suppression had ended that natural balance, leaving the forests full of tinder just when climate change was also making them drier and hotter.

“This is not natural,” Pam Hardy, who works with Brown at the Western Environmental Law Center, told me as we walked through a national forest full of saplings and brush west of John Day. If a fire broke out in a place like this, she explained, there was so much fuel that the fire would burn hot and incinerate everything — destroying forests, rather than keeping them healthy.

The best hope to revive the forests, Hardy and Brown concluded, was to hire loggers to clear out small trees — and that meant there had to be a sawmill to take the logs. “I need the mill,” Brown explained.

So the environmentalists and loggers joined forces. With the help of Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, they won a 10-year stewardship contract to subsidize forest thinning and restoration of the traditional landscape, and this saved the mill and kept the town alive.

“Without her, we wouldn’t be,” said Mark Webb, a county commissioner. “It’s as simple as that.”

Yet this kind of cooperation is brutally difficult. Small logs are less profitable for the sawmill than large ones, and many people on all sides see those participating in the dialogue as sellouts.

Webb, who has a Ph.D in philosophy but was drawn to rural spaces, joined the forestry collaborative, as the process is called, but instead of being rewarded for saving the mill, he was defeated in his re-election bid. Hardy was nudged out of another environmental organization for her openness to logging to reduce fire danger. And Shelk, the owner of the mill and an active member of the collaborative, says, “I’m kind of an outcast in the timber industry.”

There are other forest collaboratives around Oregon that are also trying to sustain dialogue between loggers and environmentalists, with varying degrees of success and frustration. In John Day, the group is tussling over how much salvage logging to allow after forest fires, and how many roads should be allowed in the national forests. But members are making progress, and Brown has built a weekend home in John Day.

What advice do they offer for bridging hostilities and creating a peace process? A starting point is finding people from each side who are equipped with humility and empathy. Then when disputes arise, both sides need to agree to defer to science — and if the science doesn’t exist, then to conduct experiments to gather evidence. They say it doesn’t hurt if after meetings everyone relaxes over dinner together.

“It helps to have alcohol, and it helps to have food,” Brown said.

I normally cover people who are exchanging insults, occasionally gunfire. So there’s something exhilarating about being in Brown’s home in John Day, with loggers and environmental lawyers arguing amiably around a dinner table, antagonists who have also become friends.

They roll their eyes in fond exasperation at things the others say, and across town, because of them, the sawmill is still spitting out boards and keeping John Day humming. Maybe there’s something the rest of the country can learn from this handful of sellouts who saved a town.

Tisha Schuller on “Taking the First Step” with the Biden Administration

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I always like following oil and gas debates, as they remind me of a current version of the “timber wars.” There are corporations (which are bad, needless to say) and their workers (especially working-class rural folks) who provide products that we all use. But oil and gas and forest products are both scape-industries, in the sense that the folks running the (good corporate) brewpub or the marijuana shop running off natural gas, and built with wood, are not contaminated by the sin of producing these materials. There must be a ritual absolution process somewhere along the supply chain.

Tisha Schuller gave an excellent talk on a recent webinar, and made some points that I thought could equally apply to folks from the forest products industry, federal lands ranchers, and perhaps even OHV groups. Here’s a link to her post today and the most salient points to us excerpted below. I think her ideas are worth trying for any group that is traditionally less-favored-group during D Administrations.

How Gamechangers Are Responding

The disruptors have demonstrated that the focus on climate is directional. Remember, this isn’t political. Your investors are in the first car on the climate train. There is not a political pendulum that will swing back when it comes to the role of oil and gas in the energy future. The only choice remaining: We must lead.

Here’s what your responses sound like — if you’re a gamechanger:

· Share the aspiration. “We share the Biden administration’s sense of urgency on addressing climate change and accelerating decarbonization.”

· Take the first step. “We plan to work closely with the Biden administration on advancing clean energy innovation and execution. Addressing climate change happens better, faster, and cheaper with the oil and gas industry at the table. We bring millions of scientists and engineers, billions of dollars, world-class R&D, and millions of miles of existing infrastructure to the challenge at hand.”

· Show promise. “The first thing we want to collaborate with the administration on is ensuring that oil and gas development on federal lands is the most environmentally sustainable in the world, with the smallest footprint and the fastest path to decarbonization. This will allow the U.S. to be a global climate leader while managing the realities of economies, fuel and energy demand, available alternatives, and geopolitics.

· Embrace the leadership vacuum. “Our industry is unique in that it can bring the resources, existing infrastructure, talent, R&D capabilities, and 150 years of entrepreneurial excellence to partner with the Biden administration to achieve our shared vision for a decarbonizing energy future.”

It’s long past time to throw out the old-school industry political playbook. Let’s do what we are good at and lead into the energy future.

I bolded the Show Promise because you could substitute wood production (including from fuels reduction projects) “on federal lands is the most environmentally sustainable in the world, with the smallest footprint and the fastest path to decarbonization.” This reminds me a bit of the certification on federal lands debate, but we can think beyond FSC.

If you read the Daines-Feinstein bill, you can recognize that pieces of industry ideas are spliced in with others’ ideas. Maybe a more direct and meaningful route to good policy is to sit down and have a discussion with the new Administration. Ideally people can have thoughtful interactions and discuss choices without becoming a random mess of quid pro quo. What do you think?

APHIS Public Comment Period Open for Deregulating Transgenic American Chestnut

A birds-eye view of the American chestnut forest restoration site. (from Cornell Alliance For Science site).


And now for something completely different…

For the last 30 or so years, the Chestnut People (people who want to restore American Chestnut) have been engaged in such a horse race. There were backcrosses to Chinese chestnut, which is resistant to Chestnut Blight.  There were folks trying to breed apparently resistant American Chestnuts to each other.  Finally, there were folks trying genetic engineering. At some point, they all got together to form what The American Chestnut Foundation calls 3BUR  :Breeding, Biotechnology and Biocontrol United for Restoration.

So here we are.. there is a specific tree called Darling 58  which is in a public comment period to be deregulated by APHIS, so that it can be planted like any other tree.  The idea is then to cross the GE trees with local chestnuts to develop regionally adapted and diverse populations.  Meanwhile another horse has entered the field called CRISPR , who might ultimately beat them all. If the last 30 years have taught us anything, it is that intervention is required to restore the Chestnut and the transgenic horse is the only one likely to finish (not just win) the race.

There’s a lengthy and interesting NY Times Magazine article by Gabriel Potkin on the history and development here:.  I thought it might be interesting to look at the arguments against deregulation.

But Brenda Jo McManama, an organizer with a group called the Indigenous Environmental Network, points to a 2010 agreement in which Monsanto licensed two gene-modifying patents to the New York chapter of the chestnut foundation and its collaborating institutions. (Powell says that industry contributions, including from Monsanto, have amounted to less than 4 percent of his work’s total funding.) McManama suspects Monsanto (acquired by Bayer in 2018) surreptitiously seeks to patent future iterations of the tree by supporting what appears to be an altruistic project. “Monsanto is evil,” she says flatly.

Powell says the patents in the 2010 agreement have since expired, and by publishing the details of his tree in the scientific literature, he has ensured it can’t be patented. But he realizes that will not allay all concerns. “I know some people are going to say, You’re just a Monsanto shill,” he says. “What can you do? You can’t help that.”

About five years ago, leaders at the American Chestnut Foundation concluded that they couldn’t achieve their goals through crossbreeding alone and embraced Powell’s genetic-engineering program. That decision has caused some rifts. In March 2019, Lois Breault-Melican, the president of the Massachusetts-Rhode Island chapter of the foundation, resigned, citing arguments made by the Global Justice Ecology Project, an anti-genetic-engineering organization based in Buffalo; her husband, Denis Melican, also left the board. The couple is particularly concerned that Powell’s chestnut could prove to be a “Trojan horse” that clears the way for other commercially grown trees supercharged by genetic engineering, Denis told me.

Susan Offutt, an agricultural economist who served as chair of a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine committee that produced a 2018 study of biotechnology in forests, noted that the government’s regulatory process focuses on narrow questions of biological risk and almost never accounts for broader societal concerns like those raised by anti-G.M.O. activists. “What about the intrinsic value of the forest?” she asks, as an example of a question the process does not address. “Do forests have their own merit? Do we have a moral obligation to take that into account when we make decisions about intervening?”

Most scientists I spoke with see little reason to fear Powell’s tree, given the profound disruptions forests have already endured: logging, mining, development and a relentless influx of tree-destroying insects and diseases, among which chestnut blight has proved to be a kind of opening act. “We’re introducing new whole organisms all the time,” says Gary Lovett, a forest ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. The transgenic chestnut “would have less of an impact than that.”

Donald Waller, a forest ecologist recently retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, goes further. “I sketched out a little balance with risks on one side and rewards on the other, and I just kept scratching my head over the risks” that this transgenic tree could pose to the forest, he told me. By contrast, “the side of the page under the rewards is just spilling over with ink.” A blight-resistant chestnut would finally notch a victory for the embattled forest, he says. “People need hope. People need symbols.”

So there are two forest ecologists who are OK with it.

An ag economist who was the Chair of an NAS panel (on Forest Health and Biotechnology? Well, OK)  raises questions about the APHIS regulatory system which fall into the realm of  moral philosophy.

Folks who think the  (possibly bad) “commercial forest industry” is using this as a Trojan Horse.  For the last twenty years, I’ve been saying transgenic  trees just aren’t practical for forest industry and perhaps I’m right -as none have shown up.

and “Monsanto is evil”? It’s hard to think of TACF-chestnut restoration enthusiasts- or professors at SUNY ESF for that matter, as evil.

It’s really hard for me to see any bad guys here.  If you don’t want them, fine. But there seems to be some needless enemizing going on.

I’m with the forest ecologists here, and will be submitting my comments. Here’s a link to further information on how to comment via TACF.


Working Together for Decarbonization: Interview with Michael Webber

Decarbonization can be framed as fundamentally an engineering problem. If you frame the problem that way, the solution clearly lies with .. engineers. This is an interview that Tisha Shuller (an Environment Without Enemies heroine) conducted with Dr. Michael Webber of University of Texas, who is currently on assignment working for ENGIE in Paris, France. It’s part of the Energy Thinks podcast series.

If you’re a techy at heart you’ll enjoy his review of current technologies, and what they can do, can’t do, and may be able in the future to do. He also dives into the international scene from the small-scale (there’s not enough organic material in Saudi Arabia to do biogas) to health impacts (4 million people die due to indoor air pollution from solid fuels in Africa) to really big changes in carbon that would result from substituting natural gas for coal in India and China.

As in Webber’s essay in Mechanical Engineering, he talks about how this is an “all hands on deck” moment for climate, and we are “better rowing together in the same boat in the same direction.” We need everybody, but it’s hard to take leadership towards a future vision that does not include you.

This might remind you of the timber or grazing workers/industry (“Oil consumption is as much about demand as supply”), or the “vision that does not include you” might resonate with OHV or MB folks. Anyway, I recommend the entire podcast, but if you don’t have much time (or aren’t interested in technology) try his essay in Mechanical Engineering linked above. The excerpt below is from that essay.

Humans are hard-wired for fairness. We feel satisfied when everyone gets their just reward and are outraged when we discover cheating. But that innate desire for justice can get in the way of solving our biggest challenges.

Take climate change: When scientists and environmental activists take stock of the mess we are in, the oil and gas sector is a handy villain. For people tapping into their instinct for retribution, the petroleum industry ought to be punished for the damage it has caused and cut out from any opportunity to participate in the upcoming transition to a clean energy economy. To activists who have made climate change a top priority, anything less feels like inviting an arsonist to help put out the fire.

As with everything, however, the truth is more nuanced.

If tackling climate change is something we want to do quickly and with as little social disruption as possible, then the oil and gas industry is, in fact, a critical partner. Petroleum companies have some of the deepest pockets and most technically capable workforces around.

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.

Sound familiar?