Looking For Literature on US ENGOs – Their Management, Funding and Influence

I wrote the below as an introduction to a paper on zones of agreement on climate and forests.  This paper was rejected by the funders, so I will post pieces here.  Anyway, I’d appreciate your thoughts and any other research or links on the topic.  My point was that we have many studies on how the FS operates, interviewing staff of all kinds and levels.. and yet relatively little on people and organizations who are calling the policy shots.  Or maybe there is a substantial body of literature out there and somehow I missed it.


Environmental groups of various kinds are powerful political actors in the US at the federal level especially around federal lands issues in the West. Their influence can occur through election funding (e.g. The Wilderness Society PAC spent $465K in one House District in New Mexico[1] in 2020, the Environmental Defense Fund $10 million[2]), through lobbying efforts to Congress and the Administration, through obtaining high-level policy positions in administrations, as well as litigation and the ensuing settlements, organizing media campaigns and grassroots lobbying.  These influences appear to be growing. A review of the activity of environmental super-pacs in the 2020 election can be found in this piece[3] in E&E news. Some examples:

“NRDC President Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator, helped write Biden’s expanded climate and jobs plan — a level of direct, public involvement for green groups that’s virtually unprecedented in presidential campaigns.”

As stated in a letter by board chair John Dayton of Defenders of Wildlife, “Programmatic successes, unprecedented financial stability, significant advances in both development and marketing, victories in the courts, legislative efforts on the Hill and beyond and Defenders’ ever-increasing stature within the environmental community..”

Despite the importance of these organizations, a comprehensive search on Google Scholar led to very few relevant journal articles.  Research is needed to understand better the influence of these organizations, how it is exerted, how their policy preferences are established internally, including, for organizations with members, the role of membership, the role of coalitions within the ENGO sector, the relationships of these organizations and media outlets, and diversity of those involved in funding and decision-making. Additionally, the complete landscape of ENGOs is difficult to describe.  ENGOs are local, regional, national and international; interested in single issues or landscapes or regional, national and international.

Diversity and inclusion in the traditional sense have posed challenges to these groups (e.g. Defenders[4]) as it has to many others. This Yale 360 article[5] summarizes the situation and the work of Dorceta Taylor.  In the Green 2.0[6] report of 2014, 88 percent of staff and 95 percent of boards were white. We can imagine other kinds of diversity as well, academic and work experience backgrounds, physical location (do they live in a fire-prone area?) and so on.  Many of these questions have not been addressed in the academic literature.

Looking one funding level up, it may also be possible that supporting charitable foundations may influence the views of ENGOs.  For example, the Hewlett Foundation gave $38 million in 2020 “to conserve biodiversity and protect the ecological integrity of half of the North American West for wildlife and people.” [7] This included expenses for other groups such as the Western Conservation Foundation ($4.8 million), the National Wildlife Federation ($3.2 million), Western Energy Project ($3.6 million), Pew ($1.6 million) and others.  Another example is the Wilburforce Foundation, whose grantmaking strategies in the Southwest include priorities for “permanent protection for prioritized landscapes”[8] in the Great Basin and the Southwest. It raises the question “who prioritized them?” and “what was the role, if any, of inhabitants, their elected officials, and Tribes?”

In Doug Bevington’s book “The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear”[9], he distinguishes between what he calls “grassroots biodiversity groups” and mainstream environmental groups, with litigation being the tactic of choice for grassroots groups (e.g., p. 36 “litigation was an appealing tactic for the grassroots groups because it did not necessarily require extensive resources.”) His is probably the most detailed explanation of the internal dynamics of one group, the Center for Biological Diversity.  For example, on page 203 he describes the listing petitions prepared by Center attorneys who had “taken a personal interest in species outside of the issues she or he was initially funded to work on.” And states “if the activities of the staff were to be entirely determined by its funders, these listings might not have happened.”

To what extent are such donations influencing the agendas, direction, and tactics of the recipient organizations, compared to members, staff and boards? These questions could be addressed by a series of interviews such as Bevington did for his book.

Another book that examines ENGO’s strategies and tactics is Pralle’s Branching Out Digging In: Environmental Advocacy and Agenda Setting[10]. It compares the expansion and containment of conflict in the Clayoquot Sound conflict in British Columbia and compares it to the Quincy Library Group effort in California.

To summarize, there is not a great deal of academic literature available on these topics of organizational strategies, decision-making and so on among ENGOs in the United States.

There, on the other hand, is a substantial literature on ENGO’s in developing countries (e.g., Ayana et al. 2013[11]) .

As Hoberg (1997)[12] outlined, federal forest policy in the US has been effectively transformed by a strategy of ENGOs in nationalizing and taking issues to court during the spotted owl period.  During this period, “local” was thought to be tied to “extractive industries.” Since then, collaborative governance and community-based participation in forest and biodiversity decisions have gained ground.  There are also today’s concerns with diversity, equity and inclusion as well as openness and transparency that may raise the profile of more local voices.  These developments may open opportunities for environmental peace-making with national ENGOs as local collaboratives and their networks inform the national policy discussion

[1] https://www.opensecrets.org/political-action-committees-pacs//C90018177/independent-expenditures/2020

[2] https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/environmental-defense-fund/summary?id=D000033473

[3] https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063646455

[4] https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063733361

[5] https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-green-groups-became-so-white-and-what-to-do-about-it

[6] https://diversegreen.org/

[7] https://hewlett.org/grants/?sort=date&grant_strategies=73202

[8] http://www.wilburforce.org/programs/#pregions

[9] Bevington, D. 2009. The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear. Island Press, 2009, 285 pp.

[10] Pralle, S. 2007. Branching Out Digging In: Environmental Advocacy and Agenda Setting, Georgetown University Press.279 p.

[11] Ayana, Arts and Wiersum 2018. How environmental NGOs have influenced decision-making in a “semi-authoritarian” state: the case of forest policy in Ethiopia. World Development (109): 313-322.

[12] Hoberg, G. (1997). From localism to legalism: The transformation of federal forest policy. Western public lands and environmental politics, 47-73.

Where Does the Money Go (And Where Does it Come From) in Environmental Grantmaking? New Study at Yale School of the Environment

> This is where the funding comes from..you can click to read more easily.

Here’s the link. First of all, I’d like to acknowledge that this is really difficult stuff to do and I appreciate them exploring these issues.

Some of the communities that are most in need of funding are the ones getting the least funds to do environmental work. We hope that foundations recognize this fact and use our findings to evaluate their grantmaking processes and develop more equitable grantmaking strategies.”

Dorceta Taylor Professor of Environmental Justice

There are many fascinating observations in the Executive Summary. (there is a link in the story above)

Over the past decade, there has been much discussion about disparities in grantmaking. As the arguments go, organizations focusing on environmental justice, racial justice, and other forms of social inequality, and those led by People of Color, were less likely to be funded than other kinds of organizations.
However, was this the case with environmental funders?

This study sought to determine if such disparities existed and what factors contributed to the outcomes. To this end, we examined over 30,000 environmental and public health grants totaling about $4.9 billion awarded over three years by 220 foundations.

Sources of mesic/coastal bias in conservation issue framing? You can also click on this one to read more easily.

The fewest foundations were based in the South Central and Mountain regions. Moreover, the two regions generated the fewest awards and the lowest grant dollars. The fewest grants were also disbursed to grantees in the two regions.

It seems from here as if much of the conservation dollars are actually spent on Mountain issues (aka “conservation of western landscapes”), say Monuments, anti-federal oil and gas drilling, grazing, etc., But perhaps those efforts are managed by organizations located outside the area. After all, there are no Wyoming foundations funding “conservation of Pennsylvania landscapes.” Perhaps someone skilled with 990s could break this down. If the Yale folks could figure out the dollars for each grant, it must be doable.

The study also found that foundations tended to fund organizations in their home state. Since most of the foundations were located in California, most of the grants and grant dollars originated in that state. Most of the grant dollars ended up going to California.

At a micro-scale, there is an urban bias to environmental grantmaking. That is, grantees in large cities and cities with dense clusters of foundations receive the most awards and the heftiest grant dollars. Ergo, the most grants and the highest grant dollars were generated in New York City. San Francisco was second in both categories.

Organizations’ revenues matter in their ability to attract funding. Foundations prefer to direct funding to organizations with significant revenues. Consequently, more than half of the grant dollars go to
organizations with revenues of $20 million or more. Organizations with revenues under $1 million receive less than 4% of the grant dollars.

The organizations studied were split into 59 categories and two tiers. The 14 categories constituting Tier I received 64% of the grants and three-quarters of the grant dollars. Natural resources and conservation protection organizations were the most prolific grant-getters. The 45 categories of Tier II organizations received a mere25% of the grant dollars. In other words, they received fewer grants that were smaller in size.

Foundations preferred to fund organizations working on the following issues – conservation, education, energy, ecosystems, and water resources. Though foundations lavished funding on these core topics, philanthropies also funded other issues such as social inequality, justice, empowerment, Indigenous rights, environmental justice, disaster preparedness and relief, housing and homelessness, food assistance and food insecurity, faith and religion, movement building, voter mobilization, workplace and workforce issues, and institutional diversity.General support grants, highly coveted by grantees, were awarded frequently. However, over 80% of the general support grants went to White-led organizations. Moreover, less than 10% of the general support grants go to organizations focused on People of Color.Male-led organizations obtained about 54% of the grants and more than two-thirds of the grant dollars. White-led organizations obtained more than 80% of the grants and grant dollars. Hence,White-male-led organizations received the most grants and grant dollars. White male-led organizations obtained about 48% of the grants and roughly 61% of the grant dollars awarded.

I have to give this group much credit for tracking down all this information. I would think it would be very hard to define what is an environmental issue, a climate issue or a social justice versus an environmental justice issue. Anyway, there’s lots of interesting info in this report.

More On Perceived Need for “Progressive” NGO’s Workplace Culture Improvement

Many thanks to TSW reader Woody who contributed this link to an Intercept article on the broader topic of management/staff meltdowns in “progressive” NGOs (doesn’t this make you wonder to what extent this is happening in other organizations?).

Again, a rather inflammatory headline and tagline:

Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History

(A critical moment in World History?)

Here are some excerpts:

In fact, it’s hard to find a Washington-based progressive organization that hasn’t been in tumult, or isn’t currently in tumult. It even reached the National Audubon Society, as Politico reported in August 2021:

Following a botched diversity meeting, a highly critical employee survey and the resignations of two top diversity and inclusion officials, the 600,000-member National Audubon Society is confronting allegations that it maintains a culture of retaliation, fear and antagonism toward women and people of color, according to interviews with 13 current and former staff members.

Twitter, as the saying goes, may not be real life, but in a world of remote work, Slack very much is. And Twitter, Slack, Zoom, and the office space, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former executive directors of advocacy organizations, are now mixing in a way that is no longer able to be ignored by a progressive movement that wants organizations to be able to function. The executive directors largely spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of angering staff or donors.

“To be honest with you, this is the biggest problem on the left over the last six years,” one concluded. “This is so big. And it’s like abuse in the family — it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. And you have to be super sensitive about who the messengers are.”

The human resources department and board of directors, in consultation with outside counsel, were brought in to investigate complaints that flowed from the meeting, including accusations that certain staff members had been tokenized, promoted, and then demoted on the basis of race. The resulting report was unsatisfying to many of the staff.

“What we have learned is that there is a group of people with strong opinions about a particular supervisor, the new leadership, and a change in strategic priorities,” said a Guttmacher statement summarizing the findings. “Those staff have a point of view. Complaints were duly investigated and nothing raised to the level of abuse or discrimination. Rather, what we saw was distrust, disagreement, and discontent with management decisions they simply did not like.”

A Prism reporter reached a widely respected Guttmacher board member, Pamela Merritt, a Black woman and a leading reproductive justice activist, while the Supreme Court oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization were going on last December, a year and a half after the Floyd meeting. She offered the most delicate rebuttal of the staff complaints possible. The human resources department and board of directors, in consultation with outside counsel, were brought in to investigate complaints that flowed from the meeting, including accusations that certain staff members had been tokenized, promoted, and then demoted on the basis of race. The resulting report was unsatisfying to many of the staff.

And having noted the previously noted the prominence of some foundations in grant-making with regard to our issues, I thought this was interesting.

The reliance of so many organizations on foundation funding rather than member donations is central to the upheavals the groups have seen in recent years, one group leader said, because the groups aren’t accountable to the public for failing to accomplish anything, as long as the foundation flows continue. “Unlike labor unions, church groups, membership organizations, or even business lobbies, large foundations and grant-funded nonprofits aren’t accountable to the people whose interests they claim to represent and have no concrete incentive to win elections or secure policy gains,” they said. “The fundamental disconnect of organizations to the communities they purport to serve has led to endless ‘strategic refreshes’ and ‘organizational resets’ that have even further disconnected movements from the actual goals.”

Beyond not producing incentives to function, foundations generally exacerbate the internal turmoil by reflexively siding with staff uprisings and encouraging endless concessions, said multiple executive directors who rely on foundation support. “It happens every time,” said one. “They’re afraid of their own staffs.”

How to work together again is, I’m sure, something these groups will ultimately figure out. I’ve done my time both mediating workplace disputes, and being involved in them. And certainly I’ve disagreed with management decisions, and had mine disagreed with. At our Kennedy School training, I remember one of our teachers saying something along the lines of “most team disagreements are caused by roles being unclear”; I don’t know if that’s the case here or perhaps people disagree with the roles. As a veteran of much smaller scale kinds of workplace conflicts, I have compassion, and wish the best, for everyone involved.

Defenders of Wildlife Workplace Culture Seen by Some Employees to Need Improvement


“I’ve never, ever quit a job that quick,” said one former Defenders of Wildlife employee. Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News (illustration); NordWood Themes/Unsplash (laptop); dit-kieferpix/iStock (woman)

Greenwire had an interesting story about Defenders of Wildlife with the headline:

Environmental group staffers say it’s a ‘nightmare’ to go to work

Some staffers and others in the environmental movement see the internal strife at Defenders as a microcosm of a larger battle that’s playing out at other environmental organizations and in workplaces across the country.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement have prompted calls for a drastic overhaul in how workplaces function. Defenders was part of a wave of environmental groups that unionized last year (Greenwire, Dec. 22, 2021).

“Generations coming up are expecting their progressive values to be reflected in what they consider to be a progressive organization, and I think that’s forcing generational conflicts,” said a second former Defenders staffer. “I think the good organizations, the effective ones, are able to adapt and transform and listen and share power essentially when it comes to unionization,” that person said.

Clark and other leaders at Defenders feel like they’re backed into a corner, that person said, where they feel like they’re losing if they give something up to the union.

“I think there’s this feeling that [Clark] had to be tough and hard-nosed to make it there to break that glass ceiling,” said the second former Defenders staffer. She’s an “old-school female leader who’s now kind of playing a conservative role that maybe doesn’t reflect all of those values that we would associate with that.”

That ex-staffer said Clark and other leaders at the group are facing a test on whether they can adapt to the current moment.

“Something has to change there,” said a third former Defenders staffer. “The true problem is that there’s so much drama at that place that it’s challenging to have the energy to do your work.”

I’m always curious about “old-school” female leaders and what “values we would associate with that.”  Having known pretty much the “oldest school” female leaders in the Forest Service, they were a pretty heterogeneous lot.  Is it OK in this day and age to call out a person’s femaleness and age to blame for management problems?  Cause it seems to me that stereotyping other folks is not a “progressive value.”It’s absolutely OK to want different leadership, because what was a fit is no longer a fit, or perceived by some to not be a fit, for whatever reason.  And I wonder what the Board’s role in all this is?

In an apparent attempt to improve its workplace culture, Defenders has hired three outside consulting groups in recent years to interview staff and analyze the organization, as E&E has previously reported.

The most recent firm hired — meant to address issues like diversity, equity and inclusion — broke off its relationship with Defenders earlier than expected (E&E News, May 24, 2021).

After surveying 144 Defenders staffers, the consulting firm Avarna Group produced a report last year saying that “fear,” “culture of fear” and “afraid” were mentioned over 50 times, primarily by staffers who weren’t in leadership positions. Those staffers said they were afraid of being fired or reprimanded for bringing up issues like “the lack of an inclusive culture,” the report said.

“When asked who staff were afraid of, the primary source of fear was not immediate supervisors, but specific individuals on the Executive Team, including the CEO,” the Avarna report said.

Following Defenders’ split with the Avarna Group last year, supervisors from within the organization sent an anonymous letter to Clark that accused her and other leaders of failing to take responsibility for the “culture of fear” within the organization.

“Neither Defenders’ dedicated staff nor our mission to save life on earth is served by executive leadership that disrespects its employees and stifles the cultural transformation necessary for our success,” the supervisors wrote to Clark.

The group’s annual revenue continued to climb throughout the pandemic. Defenders raised about $33 million in 2019, $34 million in 2020 and nearly $43 million in 2021, according to financial documents posted on the group’s website.

It would be interesting to hear the other side of the story, but they were not forthcoming- for personnel reasons.

Clark declined E&E News’ request for an interview. Defenders did not answer a list of questions about turnover, morale and specific concerns detailed by current and former staff.

Rachel Brittin, the group’s vice president of communications, wrote in an email that, “as a policy, we do not share personal information about individual staff members or HR actions. Many of your questions cannot be answered without divulging personal information about current and former staff.”

Defenders “takes staff concerns seriously and maintains processes and policies to uphold our high standards of workplace fairness while respecting the privacy of our current and former staff,” according to Brittin’s emailed statement.

“We recognize that, like many organizations across the country, there is more work to do in improving and enhancing our workplace,” the statement said. “We will continue to listen to our staff’s concerns, seek to enhance our workplace and advance Defenders’ important conservation mission.”


Conservation groups should be able to lease land to protect it

(I figured this from High Country News originally came from the Property and Environment Research Center, “the home of free market environmentalism,” and I wanted to make that clear.)

In much of the rural West, environmental groups have a reputation for suing to stop natural resource development. But some, like the Wyoming group, are attempting a new strategy: purchasing what they want to protect. The approach, sometimes called conservation leasing, could bolster “30 by 30,” the Biden administration’s ambitious conservation plan to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, without ending the leasing revenue that state governments have long derived from resource extraction.

The only problem: It’s often illegal.

These century-old “use it or lose it” requirements were designed to deter speculation and encourage white settlement. But today, they can bias resource management in favor of extraction.

We may have discussed this before, but not in the context of “American the Beautiful.”  (Note: they seem to assume that not all federal lands would automatically qualify, and that at least those committed to energy or grazing would not.)  Why not change the rules to allow non-consumptive/preservation interests to pay to prevent development (for a contractual time period that would count towards 30 x 30) on publicly owned lands?  I suppose a couple of answers are that 1) they shouldn’t have to pay, and 2) that money could be better used for something else.  But would just removing the legal barriers to allow that option to be considered in lieu of energy or grazing for areas where environmental protection is more valuable be that bad of a thing?

Possible Salvage Strategy for Dixie and Caldor Fires

Since a battle for salvage projects is brewing, I think the Forest Service and the timber industry should consider my idea to get the work done, as soon as possible, under the rules, laws and policies, currently in force. It would be a good thing to ‘preempt’ the expected litigation before it goes to Appeals Court.


The Forest Service should quickly get their plans together, making sure that the project will survive the lower court battles. It is likely that such plans that were upheld by lower courts, in the past, would survive the inevitable lower court battles. Once the lower court allows the project(s), the timber industry should get all the fallers they can find, and get every snag designated for harvest on the ground. Don’t worry too much about skidding until the felling gets done. That way, when the case is appealed, most of Chad Hanson’s issues would now be rendered ‘moot’. It sure seems like the Hanson folks’ entire case is dependent on having standing snags. If this idea is successful, I’m sure that Hanson will try to block the skidding and transport of logs to the mill. The Appeals Court would have to decide if skidding operations and log hauling are harmful to spotted owls and black-backed woodpeckers.


It seems worth a try, to thin out snags over HUGE areas, while minimizing the legal wranglings.

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?

What Do You Think About?: Environmental Defense Fund’s Wildfire Comments

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been reviewing what different environmental groups wrote in their USDA Climate Smart Forestry and Agriculture comments.  One I found particularly worth discussing is from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Our national wildfire strategy should have two priorities: 1) Protect communities in the line of fire; and 2) Reestablish natural fire patterns to protect ecosystem values and sustainably manage fuel loads. Reestablishing natural fire regimes can only be realized when fuel loads, particularly in the West, are greatly reduced using both mechanical treatments and prescribed and managed fire. Implementation will require an updated wildfire triage approach to ensure that we address the most pressing threats to communities and human lives, first. Using fire as a management tool requires as a precondition that communities feel that their lives and property are safe and secure. Where and when this condition is met, managers will have greater flexibility to manage vegetation in wildlands.
A special burden falls on USDA Forest Service due to its management responsibility for National Forests and Grasslands. USDA can act now to revitalize and reorganize the Forest Service in support of a new national fire strategy, an effort that will require an all-hands-on-deck commitment from staff scientists, fire practitioners, land managers and community outreach specialists.

I like their priorities 1 and 2, and their mention of fire practitioners. Many groups did not mention fire suppression or fuels practitioners at all. I’d think they’d be key to developing strategies to deal with wildfires.

Specific recommendations include:

· Establish a Wildfire Commission, co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and bipartisan western governors to develop a new western fire strategy that will increase the pace and scale of ecologically-sound fuel reduction treatments on all lands (federal, state, private and tribal), modernize firefighting response and increase the use of prescribed fire.
· Address significant gaps in our national approach to forest pest and disease — both native and non-native invasive pests and disease — including increasing funding for research, monitoring, detection and treatment on both federal and non-federal lands. USDA should work also with other federal and state agencies to address the significant risk to native vegetation arising from the wide import of products in wood packaging.
· Rebuild and restore staff capacity and morale within the USDA Forest Service by investing in science capacity within the research units, creating more sustainable career paths for staff, and creating a path to leadership positions for a diversity of critical job categories (e.g., not just timber and fire). Development of communication, community engagement, negotiation and partnership-building skills should be prioritized in recruitment and advancement.
· Expand year-round, career-track jobs for a new category of forest restoration practitioners that combine seasonal firefighting and forest restoration work.
· Create training opportunities for youth and members of disadvantaged

I don’t know that we need a new strategy, but I’m wondering what others think. And I do think involving the western governors would decrease the partisan fussing around the topic. I also like that they mention insects and diseases and even wood packaging! It seems like many environmental groups may not be concerned about the impacts of introduced forest insects and diseases, at least based on the letters I’ve read. I do think there is a path to leadership outside of timber and fire- I’ve seen a broad variety of folks. How about your experiences? I like the year-round career-track jobs for forest restoration practitioners, but perhaps that runs counter to other efforts to equalize the pay of wildland firefighters with other entities (as discussed here at Wildfire Today and many other places)?

I was also intrigued by this suggestion:

Build consensus within the science, forest industry and NGO communities to ensure that climate-smart forestry practices are recognized, valued and non-controversial.

and wondered what mechanisms the author might propose to accomplish this. I’m trying to contact the authors, but meanwhile you all may have ideas on whether this is a good idea, and if so, how to do it.

Exploring Environmental NGO’s Views of Renewable Energy Projects


Map by TSW of approved projects on federal lands. Note that they are permitted not operational. The link is below.

One of our many Anonymous friends asked the “how are environmental NGO’s dealing with solar and wind for federal lands?” Do they all agree?”

I’ve been collecting stories on this topic. I’m suspecting that the devil, as always lies in the details.. whether they agree with an individual project or not, not the general concept. Because in this case, at least to some groups, corporations will industrialize the landscape doing good things (providing low carbon energy) instead of bad things (providing higher carbon energy), so that’s conceptually good.  Many groups use legal means to slow down or stop projects as a policy tool. It will be interesting to see if they can or do retool their policy levers to speed up favored projects.

Here’s  some ideas that don’t seem particularly speedy  from TWS with a cool map of existing infrastructure (see above):

Large renewable energy projects can disrupt wildlife habitat and harm wildlands if they’re not built in the right places. Since the early stages of renewable energy planning, we have learned important lessons about energy development that occurs at a large scale.

It’s encouraging to see an increase in renewable energy. The BLM has made great strides in building a responsible renewables program from scratch. Unfortunately, not all of the projects on this map are examples of this ‘smart from the start’ approach to developing energy on public lands. Mapping the BLM-approved projects does not mean that The Wilderness Society supports all of them. We simply hope to give readers a look at how much renewable energy has grown on public lands.

And here is how TWS wants BLM to do it:


  1. Find appropriate locations and ensure public input

    Identify pre-screened, lower-impact zones for development and incentivize projects within them—using a process that prioritizes comprehensive tribal consultation and input from all stakeholders, especially local and traditionally underrepresented communities and Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

  2. Protect irreplaceable wildlands

    Avoid development in areas with important wildlife habitat, wildlands and cultural resources, and protect those areas.

  3. Offset impacts

    Offset impacts that can’t be avoided with investments in habitat restoration and protection.


We might ask “but how will BLM know what’s an “important” wildland versus a “run of the mill” wildland?  What if it’s important to Juan, Bill and Letitia, but not to Shaundra, Eben and Porfirio?  Will neighbors’ concerns matter more than those of others, or those of local elected officials? Is this another case where “the land is owned by everyone in the country so each person’s view should count equally?”

Here’s a Bobby McGill piece on ESA and the lesser prairie chicken (this is a private land issue but there is still some tension between environmental concerns and development; and the ESA provides a legal nexus for the feds to regulate private land).

A Biden administration proposal to list the lesser prairie-chicken as endangered in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico could stymie oil and gas development in the largest U.S. petroleum basin, environmental attorneys say.

And one warns it could devastate another energy source—wind power.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the proposal to grant Endangered Species Act protection for the imperiled lesser prairie-chicken by listing it as endangered in the Permian Basin and threatened in a region centered on southwestern Kansas.

The May proposal is “at cross purposes with the Biden administration’s climate goals” to develop more renewable sources, said Brooke Marcus Wahlberg, a partner at Nossaman LLP in Austin.

An ESA listing for the lesser prairie-chicken could be devastating for the wind industry because the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a possible mile-wide zone around each wind turbine within which the agency would assume the bird could no longer live, Wahlberg said.

Within that zone, wind developers would be held liable for “take,” a legal term for killing or harassing an imperiled species, Wahlberg said.

Escalating Costs

Developers can take steps to avoid take, or obtain a Fish and Wildlife Service permit to take an endangered species, as long as they employ mitigation measures that protect the animals.

If the service finds that wind developers are eroding the prairie-chicken’s habitat, they could participate in “existing conservation programs,” or meet with agency officials to discuss other options, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Clay Nichols said, speaking through an agency spokesperson.

The Texas Panhandle on the edge of the Permian Basin is one of the country’s most productive regions for wind energy. Though the basin itself isn’t a hub for wind development, wind development is occurring close to the New Mexico-Texas border.

But avoiding or mitigating take comes at a high cost for developers.

“You end up having significant acreage that is now unusable,” Wahlberg said. “You’re in this place where the service is saying your take is reaching out to these lengths, or you’re getting a permit where your impacts estimates are so high your mitigation costs are just outrageous.”


But private conservation efforts have done little to halt the prairie-chicken’s decline, and ESA protections will help to save it while allowing oil drilling to continue, said Jason Rylander, senor ESA counsel for Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.

“There is no question in my mind it needs full protection of the Endangered Species Act,” Rylander said. “I think the important thing to remember is the ESA is a flexible tool that protects species and habitat but rarely stops development.”

For an example of authorized take (in this case of golden eagles) for wind turbines check out this USFWS site:

Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee: Fifty Year Later

The Sierra Club seem to really not like Colorado Senator Gardner-e.g. billboards, TV ads, newspaper ads and so on.. link here Perhaps ironically, Gardner was responsible for shepherding the Great American Outdoors Act, including fully and permanently funding LWCF, through Congress.

I’m taking a break from posting Forest Service Folktales, as I am trying to locate authors who sent only paper copies. I’ve been thinking that It might be good to look back at the last 50 years or so and see how things have or have not changed. What did the federal lands landscape look like prior to OHV’s? prior to climate change (as an issue)? Perhaps the past will lead us to new insights about today.

Let’s begin with John McPhee’s book, “Encounters with the Archdruid” . It was originally run in The New Yorker in March of 1971. Remember, the original Earth Day was 1970. There was no CAA, no CWA, no ESA, no NFMA. NEPA had been signed into law on January 1, 1970. In this book, McPhee organizes hikes/camping trips with David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club, and Charles Park, a mining engineer, Charles Fraser, a resource developer, and Floyd Dominy, a builder of dams. According to reviewer Steward Udall, “McPhee reveals more nuances of the values revolution that dominates the new age of ecology than most writers could pack into a volume twice as long. I marvel at his capacity to listen intently and extract the essence of a man and his philosophy in the fewest possible works.” Why this is a fun read for me is that people discuss their philosophies about specific things- dams, mines, housing, and the trade-offs between peoples’ needs and leaving Nature alone.

What was interesting to me is that the worldview of Brower is still around today, as in “don’t mess with the earth- at least not “special places”” but the rationale for this view has become more complex. Biodiversity, climate change, tourist and recreation economies are all reasons supporting this philosophy today. Look in any press release about a Wilderness bill. So it made me wonder if the “let things alone” is an underlying value, with only the expressions and arguments of today carefully included or excluded. For example, Brower was not fond of dams. Yet now hydroelectric power is seen to be good for climate change, so we don’t notice that so much. Climate change is obviously unnatural- so leaving land alone doesn’t make the vegetation conditions or wildlife “natural,” due to climate change, but the idea is still that leaving it alone is best.

I didn’t expect that 50 years ago McPhee would have noticed some of the things we observe today.

When Brower was the executive director of the Sierra Club, the organization became famous for bold full-page newspaper ads designed to arouse the populace and written in a style that might be called Early Paul Revere. One such ad called attention to the Kennecot Copper Corporation’s ambitions in the Glacier Peak Wilderness under the headline “AN OPEN PIT, BIG ENOUGH TO BE SEEN FROM THE MOON.” The fact that this was not true did not slow up Brower or the Sierra Club. In the war strategy of the conservation movement, exaggeration is a standard weapon and is used consciously on broad fronts.” (p. 37)

What’s interesting is thinking about how the conflict was deemed to be a “war” and so “anything’s fair” would naturally follow. The ends justify the means.
At around the same time, the Civil Rights movement had just lost Dr. Martin Luther King, who saw that struggle as anything but warlike. This was more than likely based on his beliefs and role as a Christian minister. What was it about the Sierra Club that led to the “warfare” thinking? Was it a cultural accident- the impact of certain leaders early on?

Fifty years later, there are still remnants of the “warfare” orientation in some people in some environmental groups. We still see the Early Paul Revere style of communication and the casualness with regard to the accuracy of statements. If I had to guess, I think it’s become a habit. But to many, it’s kind of an annoying habit. Maybe after 50 years, it’s time to change?

If you’d like to read Encounters with the Archdruid” please feel free to come back and tell us your own observations. What has changed over the last 50 years? What hasn’t? What surprised you?