Incorrect Road Data Presented to Flathead NF Collaborative

Here’s another letter from Swan View Coalition Chair Keith Hammer to the Flathead National Forest and the Meridian Institute.  The letter is shared with Mr. Hammer’s permission, as it is part of the public record. The letter also highlights more problems and frustrations with the “collaborative” process as being carried out by the Forest Service in regards to the Flathead National Forest’s forest plan revision process. Previously this blog has devoted more attention to this specific issue on the Flathead.

Dear Folks and Flathead National Forest and Meridian Institute;

You have presented inaccurate and misleading road data to the Flathead Forest Plan revision collaborative. We ask that you make the following corrections and insure it is brought to the attention of the entire collaborative and other public participants.

We dowloaded the attached document from the Meridian web site and have attached it for your convenience; “Access Information for Desired Condition Discussion.”

1. On page 5, this Access Information states “A total of about 887 miles of road have been decommissioned” since 1995.

This is not true. Some 130 miles of those roads have not yet been decommissioned and the majority of those have languished on the landscape since 1996.

An example is the 72 miles of road never decommissioned though authorized under the 1996 Crane Mountain Salvage timber sale.

This is important because the Access Information continues on page 7 to claim “the amount of decommissioning each year has decreased as the backlog of decommissioning is reduced and the A19 commitments under project level planning have been largely accomplished” – which is also not true.

The above statement does not fairly or accurately explain why the amount of annual road decommissioning has decreased from an average of 43 miles/year from 2006-2010 to just 4 miles in 2013 – when there are some 130 miles of “shovel-ready” road decommissioning NEPA decisions sitting on the shelf collecting dust.

If this is due to a lack of funds, the Access Information should make that clear. Instead, the Access Information essentially states the Flathead is already at the one-yard line, a touchdown is imminent, and all is fine concerning road decommissioning.

The Access Information needs to make clear that the timber sales which authorized the road decommissioning did not raise enough money to pay for the decommissioning, nor has the Flathead secured enough funding elsewhere to accomplish 15% (that’s one out of seven) of the road mileage it has already decided is necessary to adequately protect fish, wildlife and other resources.

2. The remaining section of the Access Information dealing with road maintenance and budgets is equally misleading and remiss:

The Flathead’s 2004 Analysis of the Management Situation clearly indicated the Flathead receives less than one-sixth of the budget needed to maintain its road system to applicable standards for the protection of water quality, fish, wildlife and human safety. See page 4-2 of this 2004 document at:

The attached Access Information at 7, however, presents a table that makes it look like a budget of as little as $1.3 million will adequately maintain 99% of passenger car roads and does not adequately summarize the environmental damage that occurs when roads are not maintained up to standards, including closed roads in Maintenance Level 1.

While the Access Information makes it clear that road management budgets continue to decrease, it does not – but must – contain a succinct summary of what budget the Flathead needs to meet all applicable maintenance standards and what budget it can reasonably expect to receive in coming years (as did the 2004 Analysis).

3. Finally, the Access Information does not provide the summary of road maintenance and road decommissioning costs necessary for the public to determine what mix of roads to retain on the Flathead and which to remove – nor does it provide the summary conclusion that it is cheaper to decommission a road than it is to maintain it with the required Best Management Practices. This is a conclusion announced by the Flathead in a 11/16/98 press release and subsequent 11/20/98 Missoulian news article. This conclusion was most recently confirmed in the Flathead’s 2/14/14 proposed Chilly James Restoration Project.

We ask that you make the above corrections to the Access Information and resubmit it to the collaborative with an announcement of the changes that have been made. And let’s be clear we are not suggesting a more complex presentation of the data. We find you must present it in a more accurate and summary manner in order for the public to grasp the relationship between roads, road funding, resource protection, and fiscal reality. As it stands now, the Access Information is incorrect and misleading.

Please respond and indicate what you intend to do about this.

Thank you,

Keith Hammer – Chair
Swan View Coalition

More Flaws in Flathead NF “Collaborative” Process

For a few years now some of us have been trying to hammer home the point – based on our actual experiences – that not all Forest Service “collaborative” processes are created equal, and in some cases, lead to even greater feelings of mistrust and frustrations.

One such recent example of a questionable “collaborative” process has been on the Flathead National Forest in Montana, concerning the Forest Plan revision process, which has been highlighted on this blog with the following posts:

Swan View Coalition Shares Perspective on Collaboration

Another invite-only “collaborative” leads to unprofessional Forest Service conduct

Flathead NF Skews Forest Plan Revision Process, Deceives Collaborative Group

The following letter from Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition was provided to the Flathead National Forest leadership and the private Meridian Institute, which the USFS has contracted with to help run the “collaborative” process on the Flathead’s forest plan revision process.  The letter is shared with Hammer’s permission, as it is part of the public record.

Dear Folks at Meridian Institute and Flathead National Forest;

While we appreciate being involved in the Jan 20 conference call discussing problems with the Flathead Forest Plan revision collaborative process, we are very disappointed in the outcome. It seems at most every turn this process has turned into more sub-groups, more meetings, and less transparency – making it increasingly difficult for folks to be meaningfully involved and to provide informed input.

At the Sept 25 Process Workshop, Connie Lewis made it clear that folks “Encourage transparency and accessibility throughout the process.”

More meetings and more groups do not provide more accessibility or transparency. Well facilitated meetings faithfully recorded in written form and posted publicly in a timely manner does provide better accessibility and transparency.

We appreciate that Meridian has begun posting written summaries of the meetings on its web site and has begun sending emails with links that go directly to those summaries and other recently posted materials.

The summaries, however, do not provide an accurate record of who said what at the meetings. This makes it impossible for people to determine what differences or common ground exist between who, or whom to turn to if they would like to know more about what they have said. Recording and associating the names of the people with their comments is absolutely essential to providing accountability and the building blocks necessary for any progress to be made in common understanding of the issues.

Having people keep their name placard on the table in front of them at the Jan 22 meeting was a step in the right direction, but we are at a loss why, in the summary, those names were not then recorded in association with comments being made. It should be standard practice that folks state their full name before commenting – for the benefit of the record keeper and all others in the room.

From an accountability standpoint, folks should be required to provide their first and last names when commenting at meetings or in the forums provided on the Meridian web site – for the reasons provided above and to keep things from running amok in an unaccountable manner. In this regard, we found it troubling that one person speaking at the Jan 22 Vegetation group had only what we assume to be a nickname on his pre-printed placard – something along the line of “Boomer.” Are you allowing folks to participate in this process without firstly identifying themselves, or is this person’s full given name actually “Boomer” or whatever?

We offer these criticism after having attended all of the collaborative meetings thus far, but having also been promised full transparency and accessibility via eCollaboration and other means for when folks can’t make the meetings. Can you imagine not being able to attend these meetings and trying to track who is involved and what is being said via the meeting summaries you have thus far provided?

We ask that you follow up on your promise to make this process transparent and accessible to everyone. We urge you to put yourselves in the shoes of someone that can’t make a single meeting and then conduct this process accordingly.

Keith Hammer – Chair
Swan View Coalition


Flathead NF Skews Forest Plan Revision Process, Deceives Collaborative Group

Please consider the following memo from Keith Hammer, Chair of the Swan View Coalition, an update and addition to the previous post, “Another invite-only collaborative leads to unprofessional Forest Service conduct.”

The Flathead National Forest has front-loaded its Forest Plan Revision process to reduce wildlife security while increasing motorized access and logging, playing favorites of folks willing to go along with it!

After telling its newly convened Forest Planning collaborative to use its draft 2006 Plan revision as a starting point, the Flathead has now instead distributed a Modified 2006 revision to the collaborative.

The modifications most importantly would:

1. Abandon Forest Plan Amendment 19 and its securing of grizzly bear habitat through limits on roads and motorized vehicles.

2. Greatly expand the “suitable timber base” where commercial logging is scheduled, partly by logging in areas previously set aside as grizzly bear “security core” under Amendment 19.

3. Retain and expand already extensive snowmobile areas established by Forest Plan Amendment 24, while not proposing to reduce snowmobile areas to protect grizzly bear denning, wolverine and lynx.

To make matters worse, the Flathead is playing favorites to the Whitefish Range Partnership collaborative, which has already largely agreed with the Flathead’s modifications for the North Fork Flathead.

Click here to read our letter to local newspaper editors, which includes links to a couple news articles demonstrating the Flathead’s unacceptable favoritism and skewing of the Forest Planning process.

We’re working hard to insure your voice can be heard during the Flathead Forest Plan revision process and will advise you of specific points when your comments will be most useful.

Meanwhile you can track or join the revision process at the Flathead National Forest’s web site and at Meridian Institute, the contractor the Flathead has hired to attempt to sidestep certain requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (the Forest Service cannot ask for collective advice during meetings that it controls, so it hires a contractor to control the meetings).

Another invite-only “collaborative” leads to unprofessional Forest Service conduct

Yet another invite-only, exclusive “collaboration” involving public U.S. Forest Service land management has sprung up in Montana. This time the collaborative group is called the Whitefish Range Partnership (WRP), and they are focused on roughly 350,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest’s portion of the Whitefish Range above the cities of Columbia Falls and Whitefish.
As you will see below, the leaders of the Whitefish Range Partnership completely admit that they made a conscious decision to exclude certain members of the public. Notably, the WRP admits to purposely excluding any conservation organization that had worked within the established public participation processes outlined within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to comment, appeal and, if necessary, file a lawsuit against a timber sale on the Flathead National Forest. It also appears that the WRP purposely excluded some of the “multiple-use” folks.  Also of note is the fact that Flathead National Forest officials were invited to attend all the meetings of the WRP in an advisory capacity.
The WRP leaders conducted a media blitz last week, announcing an agreed upon deal that, among other things:

• Increases the “Suitable Timber Base” by 45% in order to supposedly achieve “commercial certainty for the timber industry” (in an era where lumber consumption and home construction are down more than 50% and not expected to rebound anytime soon).
• Decreases recommendations for areas protected as Wilderness.
• Increases motorcycle recreation in the southeast portion of the Whitefish Range.
• Provides a large increase in recreation opportunities for snowmobilers.

Q: Has there even been a public lands “collaborative” group that didn’t decide to increase logging, decrease Wilderness and increase motorized recreation?

At the time the WRP deal was made public there were no plan details or maps available to the public.  In fact, board members of at least one organization that did participate in the invite-only, exclusive collaboration also didn’t know any details, except what they read in the newspaper.  A few days after framing the debate and controlling the media messaging, the leaders of the WRP did make this copy of the agreement available to some of people, although I’m pretty sure it’s not available to the general public.

Keep in mind that starting tonight the Flathead National Forest is hosting “Stakeholder Collaboration Orientation Meeting” from 4 to 8:30 pm Kalispell to kick off their Forest Plan revision process.  The weather forecast calls for a low tonight in Kalispell of 8 below zero, with wind chill values dropped to 32 below zero.  Many roads in the area are snow-covered and icy.

Ask yourself this question:  If you are a member of the public who cares about the management of the Whitefish Range and the Flathead National Forest, and you were excluded from the Whitefish Range Partnership “collaboration” and plan, would you venture outside in the cold and dark to attend the Flathead National Forest’s “Stakeholder Collaboration Orientation Meeting?”

Before you decide, read the information below, where you will see that Chip Weber, the Supervisor of the Flathead National Forest, has already publicly claimed that the plan developed by the invite-only, exclusive Whitefish Range Partnership “may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing.”

What follows below are some reactions and more information to the Whitefish Range Partnership plan, and the Flathead National Forest’s “advisory” role in this invite-0nly, self-selected, exclusive “collaboration.” The views expressed below (which are shared with permission) come from long-time conservationists who live in the immediate area, but were not invited to participate in the WRP’s “collaboration” on account of supposedly being too radical or extreme.


[Founded in 2006, James Conner’s Flathead Memo is an independent journal of observation and analysis that serves the Flathead Valley and Montana. Below are some of Mr. Conner’s thoughts, including a number of recent posts about the Whitefish Range Partnership plan made at the Flathead Memo. – mk]

Matt Koehler asked my permission to repost some of my essays on Permission granted, and granted with pleasure.

Collaboration is not an intrinsic evil. In fact, when conducted in an ethical manner, it can do good. There’s never any point to fighting over common ground. But, as with the Frenchwomen who “collaborated” with the Wehrmacht’s soldiers, it also can be an act of desperation and betrayal, a lesser of evils in an effort to survive, or simply an outcome of weak character. It can can and does turn colleagues against each other in the pursuit of ephemeral gains, poisoning relationships and weakening communities.

One collaborative effort I encountered involved citizens, who, frustrated with a county commission’s heads-in-the-sand approach to planning in a rapidly growing northwestern valley, decided to take matters into their own hands. They wrote their own master plan which, wrapped in bells and bows, they presented to the commissioners, expecting swift approval. “Here, we’ve done your job for you,” they said in effect. The rump master plan never was adopted, and the collaborationists never realized they were practicing vigilante politics. When government is broken, it must be fixed, for it cannot be sidestepped.

We’re now beginning another round of national forest planning. The U.S. Forest Service, desperate to adopt new plans that enjoy widespread public support, hopes a collaborative process will rally the public around the plans. It won’t, certainly not to the extent the agency desires. The public is too diverse for that. Moreover, not all uses and practices are compatible, not all collaborative efforts will produce wise, or even legal, agreements, and no amount of collaboration can relieve the agency of its legal and moral duties to decide what the plan includes and does.

As these collaborative efforts move forward, those involved must remember that the objective is not compromise, for compromise is not an intrinsic good, but support for that which best protects the land in ways consistent with the needs and aspirations of humanity and the world of living things. – James Conner

Unprofessional conduct at the Flathead National Forest

By James Conner, © James Conner,

The man in charge of revising the forest plan at the Flathead National Forest, Joe Krueger, and his boss, forest supervisor Chip Weber, exercised questionable professional judgment in their remarks on the forest plan alternative developed by the Whitefish Range Partnership.

Here’s what the InterLake’s Jim Mann reported:

Joe Krueger, the forest plan revision team leader, said forest officials are impressed with the work done by the Whitefish Range Partnership.

“That’s a very big group,” Krueger said, referring to a membership roster that included representatives for raft companies, timber interests, conservation groups, business owners, hunting and angling, mountain biking and much more. “Anytime you can get a group of diverse folks together and problem solve like that … we’re going to give that a lot of weight.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Now it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the process to take pot shots at it,” Krueger said. “The hard part was working through this.”

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott reported:

“This may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing,” [Flathead National Forest Supervisor] Weber told the group at its Nov. 18 meeting, after the members presented him with a lengthy draft plan, the product of more than a year of bi-weekly meetings. “You were first out of the gate, you’ve put in an incredible amount of work and you’ve given us a lot to think about.”

“What the people did here was some yeomen’s work,” he added later. “This group helped set a good example and a model for others to look at.”

One can defend Weber and Krueger by arguing they were trying to be positive and diplomatic, but expressed praise for the WRP’s work in a way that inadvertently endorses the WRP’s proposal. I’m sure someone will make that argument. I won’t. This is more than a case of not being artful — it’s a case of playing favorites, and not in a subtle way.

Had Weber said only “…you’ve put in an incredible amount of work and you’ve given us a lot to think about,” and followed with “your proposal will accorded the same fair consideration as all proposals,” he would have been on solid — and neutral — ground. But he couldn’t curb his enthusiasm.

But Weber’s statements are weak tea compared to Krueger’s “ …we’re going to give that a lot of weight,”and “…it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the process to take pot shots at it.” He’s both endorsed the WRP’s proposal and denigrated as cheap shot artists those who may criticize the proposal. Quite clearly, Krueger is invested in the WRP’s proposal. That’s old school Forest Service favoritism and bully boy behavior, and highly toxic to a successful forest planning effort.

The FNF’s unprofessional conduct imperils the forest planning process from the gitgo, and sullies the hard work of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

[Addition: Here’s an example, captured on video tape, of the Flathead National Forest’s Joe Krueger (at left with yellow hard-hat) mocking a very sincere question from a concerned citizen about the role of science in timber sale management targeting old-growth forests and grizzly bear habitat during a Forest Service public tour of the Beta Timber Sale on the Flathead National Forest in 2005. – mk]

Whitefish Range rump agreement far from a done deal

By James Conner © James Conner,

Another rump caucus, the Whitefish Range Partnership, has reached agreement on how a tract of National Forest land, this time in the Whitefish Range, west of Glacier National Park, should be managed. Rob Chaney of the Missoulian has the story.

The agreement has no force of law, but it does have political weight that will be recognized by Congress, which has the power to designate wilderness, and the U.S. Forest Service, which is starting another round of forest planning. Many of the WRP’s proposals are intended to be incorporated in the next forest plan, which will have the force of law.

Here, from Chaney’s report, is what we know so far:

In the final agreement, the [mountain] bikers gained recognition for their trail-building efforts around Whitefish, as well as their interest in using mountain roads and trails elsewhere. Loggers saw their suitable timber base go from about 55,000 acres to 90,000 acres. Wilderness advocates outlined 85,000 acres they want federally protected. Forest homeowners concerned about having federal wilderness bordering their property borrowed an idea from the Flathead Indian Reservation and proposed a buffer zone that would allow reduced logging or hazardous fuels management around their land before the nonmotorized territory began.

All of this remains tentative, as the Forest Service adds it to the public process for its forest plan. The radical fringe of all camps will likely object. But few will have put in the 13 months of Monday nights to present a case as convincing as the Whitefish Range Partnership.

According to the North Fork Preservation Association, maps will be released in early December. They could, of course, have been released now, but the absence of maps makes it easier for the WRP to shape the public discussion, and I’m concerned that part of the shaping will include an attempt to characterize those who disagree with the agreement as radicals or ignoramuses. That was the tactic employed by the rump caucus that engineered the agreement leading to Sen. Jon Tester’s ill-fated wilderness-forest management bill, so I won’t be surprised it’s employed here. (My 2010 comments on Tester’s bill and the rumpery leading to it.)

The agreement was reached not just because the WRP’s members worked hard. It also was reached because the “radical fringe” was excluded. Rump caucuses can do that, but the U.S. Forest Service and Congress cannot. Those excluded from the WRP’s rump caucus have the same right as the rumpers to petition their government. Furthermore, the excluded are not by definition radical or fringe. Some may endorse the agreement. Others, I suspect, will object to parts of it.

Speaking for myself, based on what I know about the Flathead National Forest’s history of logging in the Whitefish Range, I’m skeptical that a 64 percent increase in the suitable for timber management acreage can be justified. There was a lot of old growth mining in the North Fork 40–50 years ago, and the lands not permanently damaged are still recovering. Some never should have been logged or defiled with roads. In the rump agreement leading to the Tester bill, conservationists got rolled by the timber beasts. I hope that didn’t happen here.

I’m keeping an eye on the situation, and from time-to-time will offer my analysis, comments, and recommendations.

See also The WRP agreement – grand bargain or deal with the Devil? by James Conner. © James Conner,


Keith Hammer, a former logger who is the Chair of the Swan View Coalition, brings up some additional concerns about the Flathead National Forest’s “advisory” role in the WRP invite-only, exclusive “collaboration” process in this recent letter to the editor:

Dear Editor;

It is truly disappointing to watch the Flathead National Forest make a mockery out of the Whitefish Range Partnership collaborative and its Forest Plan revision public involvement process. In local newspapers the past week, the Forest Service demonstrated its utter lack of objectivity and fairness when it comes to public input.

The Flathead Forest Supervisor told the WRP “This may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing,” praising them also for being “first out of the chute.” (Flathead Beacon 11/27/13). This even though he has not yet had his staff or the general public assess the environmental impacts and merits of the proposal.

The Supervisor’s right-hand man made things even worse when he said that those folks that weren’t invited to be a part of the WRP could later “take pot shots at it.” (Daily Inter Lake 11/30/13). What better way to disenfranchise an American public only recently invited by the Flathead to participate in revising its Forest Plan through both a collaborative and a broader public review and comment process?

Ethics, common sense and the law require that the Forest Service not play favorites. The Forest Supervisor and his staff should have thanked the WRP for its proposal and said it would be considered right alongside the many other proposals it will be receiving during the Forest Plan revision process.

The Flathead National Forest belongs to all Americans, not just those that live locally or able to participate in a lengthy collaborative process. That is why the law requires that all proposals be submitted to the entire public for comment – and that those comments be regarded as something more than just “pot shots.”


Keith J. Hammer
Chair, Swan View Coalition


Brian Peck, a sportsman and wildlife advocate from Columbia Falls, MT recently shared some good background information about the history of Wildereness advocacy in the Whitefish Range:

I just ran across a Montana Wilderness Association proposal for the Winton Weydemeyer Wilderness in the Northern Whitefish Range from 2005. It noted that in 1925, Weydemeyer proposed a 485,000 acre Wilderness in the Whitefish Range, back when that was still possible.

However, by 2005, just 171,000 (or 35%) of potential acres remained after decades of trashing by the Kootenai and Flathead National Forests. About 100,000 of those acres are on the Flathead NF, but the Whitefish Range Partnership would only recommend 83,000 as Wilderness – a further loss of 17,000 acres of Wilderness.

That means that when the conservation members of the Whitefish Range Partnership agreed to sit down at the table with long-time adversaries, 65% of the Whitefish Range had already been lost to logging, roading, motorized Wreckreation summer & winter, and more recently to “combat mountain biking.”

Clearly, the only responsible environmental position to take was that not so much as 1 additional acre of the remaining 35% would be given up. Yet, by agreeing to a format where all 30 groups had to agree or there was no deal, conservationists guaranteed that that they’d have to compromise away thousands of additional acres – unless they were willing to say no and walk away from the table – something that Dave Hadden said he would do “if things started to go sideways,” but clearly didn’t follow through on.

Swan View Coalition Shares Perspective on Collaboration

Snapshot of the Flathead National Forest (MT) Plan Revision field tour on the Tally Lake Ranger District, August 2013. That's New Century of Forest Planning commenter Dave Skinner with the camera, green hat and snazzy shirt. Photo by Keith Hammer.
Snapshot of the Flathead National Forest (MT) Plan Revision field tour on the Tally Lake Ranger District, August 2013. That’s New Century of Forest Planning commenter Dave Skinner with the camera, green hat and snazzy shirt. Photo by Keith Hammer.

(The following two columns are guest posts from Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition in Kalispell, Montana. Feel free to make comments below, but if you have any specific questions regarding the Swan View Coalition’s perspective on collaboration, please contact Swan View Coalition directly. Thank you. – mk)

Swan View Coalition on Collaboration
By Keith Hammer

Swan View Coalition will always follow the legally required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public involvement process and will participate in optional collaborative processes as time and funds allow. We appreciate both as avenues to better understand all interests and issues.

But we have seen the collaborative process abused by federal agencies and key “stakeholders.” In 1997, national “conservation” groups joined industry in insisting its Flathead Common Ground logging plan be called “ecologically-driven vegetation treatments,” even though the scientific panel they asked to review their proposal disagreed and concluded “The desire to harvest timber products should be explicitly recognized here as the driving force.” This oft-repeated collaborative myth allows industry to argue old logging roads are ecologically necessary to log the forest back to health!

In 2012, the SW Crown Collaborative down-played opportunities for road decommissioning to benefit fish and wildlife in the Swan Valley, based on a mistaken report by the Flathead Forest Supervisor that “the Swan RD has already decommissioned 800 miles of roads . . .” We had to correct the record by providing the Supervisor’s own spreadsheet indicating less than 10 miles of road have been decommissioned in the Swan Valley! Who’s on watch here?

Forest-based collaboratives are skewed toward logging as “forest restoration,” rather than including a robust consideration of road decommissioning and other time-proven means to restore over-logged and over-roaded forests. Indeed, National Forest Foundation’s “A Roadmap for Collaboration Before, During and After the NEPA Process” helps institutionalize the assumption that trees must be removed to restore forest ecosystems. It offers the following tip: “It can be helpful when in the field to ask stakeholders what they would do to improve the condition of the project area. In the case of forest restoration, it can be as simple as asking stakeholders which trees they would leave on the landscape and why.”

We will continue to provide the Forest Service with the scientific research – most of it its own – indicating most forests suffer from too many roads and motorized vehicles, not too many trees. We’ll always do so through the NEPA process and will via the collaborative process when able. But we’ll continue to file lawsuits when necessary to prevent the Forest Service from continuing to create a landscape “pocked with clearcuts and criss-crossed by roads” (see the comments of Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas below) and we’ll refuse to be marginalized simply because we dare speak up and advocate for fish and wildlife.

Why Collaboration and What’s the Fuss?
by Keith Hammer

Definitions of collaboration include “working together” and “traitorous cooperation with an enemy.” Over the past several decades, the Forest Service has increased its use of collaboration to forge consensus among key “stakeholders.”

This has allowed it to marginalize those of lesser means or not in agreement with social compromises that again “cut the baby in half” and perhaps violate laws protecting fish, wildlife, and water quality. Indeed, the National Forest Foundation’s “A Roadmap for Collaboration Before, During and After the NEPA Process” warns of the significant expenditures of “time, effort, funds and social capital necessary for an ongoing collaborative process.”

Current Forest Planning regulations urge that an optional collaborative process precede then parallel the National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) public involvement process. And therein lie two aspects of the rub: 1) collaborators get to front-load the process with their proposals while, 2) many folks who can’t afford to do both must choose whether to collaborate or follow the legally required NEPA process.

The process of seeking consensus through collaboration remains contentious, especially when the Forest Service and industry use it to enlist enough folks to agree with them so they can marginalize those who disagree. Consider these quotes:

“Between private lands and public lands the world that was once covered with a sea of green was now pocked with clearcuts and criss-crossed by roads. But we still continued until we were faced with a segment of the public that had a differing view of what their national forests should be.”
– Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)

“[W]hen local environmental groups and timber representatives learn to reach consensus . . . that will marginalize extremists.”
– Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas (Daily Inter Lake 6/8/97)

“We need to find common ground so the people who want to litigate are marginalized.”
– Former Assistant Secretary of Interior Rebecca Watson (Missoulian 11/28/02)

“The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act . . . is largely being used to circumvent existing environmental laws and give control of the management of our National Forests to local special interests.”
– Al Espinosa and Harry Jageman, retired USFS fisheries and wildlife biologists (Letter to Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests 8/21/10)

“I believe that we . . . have public lands that belong to all people . . . I fear that localized decisions are usually based on ‘How much can I get now?’”
– Former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)

“There’s something unreasonably comfortable about focusing primarily on alternative structures for decision making instead of the issues that lie at the heart of the debate.”
– Economist Tom Power (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)

“Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes; but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, ‘I stand for consensus’?”
– Former UK Primer Minister Margaret Thatcher

270 big larch on Flathead NF saved from cone collection scheme

Readers may recall that back in March we highlighted the Flathead National Forest’s plans to cut down 270 of the biggest, genetically best western larch trees remaining on the Montana forest in order to, get this, collect seed cones. The proposal garnered some Montana media attention and lots of comments from the public, 97% of which were opposed to killing these big larch trees for seed cones, especially when there are so many non-lethal ways to collect larch cones and seed.

On December 3, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber sent out this letter officially cancelling the “Forest-wide Western Larch Seed Cone Collection Project.” Supervisor Weber’s letter stated:

“This project has been cancelled because our seed orchard in Bigfork produced a larch cone crop this fall that was sufficient to meet our immediate larch seed needs. This was an unexpected cone crop as the trees had previously only produced a few cones….While the seed that we collect in the Bigfork Seed Orchard must be shared with the other forests in Montana, we anticipate that with this cone collection, the Forest-wide Western Larch Seed Cone Collection Project is not necessary.”