Here’s the decision.
Here’s a link to an Idaho Stateman story.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, in a decision dated Jan. 29, ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service against the Wilderness Society and other environmental groups.
The decision upholds the Idaho roadless rule that Sen. Jim Risch negotated when he was governor. It means the Idaho roadless rule will remain in place, no matter what happens to the areas in other states.
The rule, which set up a unique system to protect nearly 9 million acres of roadless land in Idaho, had conservation groups divided. Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League are on the state’s side. The Wilderness Society, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and others are opposed.
The Obama administration, the state of Idaho, the Kootenai Tribe, counties and the Idaho Mining Association defend the decision.
More as info trickles in…
The State of Colorado convened an interesting meeting to discuss biochar. For those of you unfamiliar with it, here’s the Wikipedia article and here is another general and historic description of its use.
The group included a variety of scientists, from the Forest Service, ARS, and CSU; and a variety of people with interests in development of biochar products and markets. There’s a natural connection in Colorado between the ever-present bug killed trees, and restoring the soils of abandoned mines. Not only that, biochar may be valuable for agricultural soils in Colorado. What was interesting to me was how much this meeting was not the usual suspects talking about our usual stuff. The connection to agriculture was strong- definitely an “all lands” approach. We had people talk about international aspects of food security, and US soil loss; we had people who were starting businesses to use different kinds of waste; we had people interested in renewable energy. The Front Range of Colorado is a hotbed of interest in renewable energy- we have DOE’s National Renewable Energy Lab, the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Colorado and Colorado State.
Someone even asked “what kind of competition is there for feedstock from dead pine trees?”. That’s how novel our issues are to these folks. The great thing about this dialogue is that the technology is at such an early stage that its development can be guided by environmental concerns. You don’t like big plants because you are afraid that the FS will be pressured to cut extra trees? Well, we can have small mobile equipment that can cluster when large amounts of dead trees are available, and then migrate somewhere else.
There appear to be extra dead trees sitting around from fuel and hazard tree treatments. No one is arguing (at least that I have heard) that they all must be burnt in place for environmental reasons. Abandoned mines and agricultural soils are previously impacted and currently managed by humans, so they are not subject to the same kinds of concerns that people might have for previously unimpacted soils of native forests.
It’s pretty obvious to Coloradans that using some of our dead lodgepole would be a good idea; renewable energy is a good idea; and sequestering carbon and helping soil is a good idea. The State level is a handy scale to organize, as there is social and political coherence- and groups of people who are used to working with each other on a variety of issues. It was invigorating to see a group of people excited about the opportunities to do good and make a living, and for us all to talk about what we can contribute to this goal.
Study ties pine beetle to severe Wash. wildfires
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
YAKIMA, Wash. — A new study mapping the mountain pine beetle outbreak in north-central Washington shows that infested areas were more likely to experience larger, more destructive forest fires.
The study, which was a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Forest Service, aimed to detect bark beetle infestations and to evaluate the link between them and forest fires in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Satellite data showed regions of the forest experiencing water and vegetation stress, and analysis tied these regions to beetle infestations. Additional review showed highly infested areas that subsequently burned had more intense forest fires than areas without infestations.
The forest has experienced severe wildfires in recent years, including the Tripod Fire, which burned on more than 273 square miles.
Now, I have argued that the whole “more/worse fires” controversy isn’t particularly relevant to real-world management decisions, as most bark beetle funding (in lodgepole country) is used on hazard trees and making defensible space around communities. But I could be looking at the world through dead lodgepole-colored glasses. However, every new journal article seems to fan the flames of controversy so here goes..
You can find more photos by Bob Berwyn (and other good information) here at the Summit County Voice.
Is Recreation in the Rockies Becoming a Bigger Forest Service Priority?
Ski resorts, outfitters and others in the recreation industry want the U.S. Forest Service to think about outdoor sports enthusiasts in the same way they think about species and habitat. Will the Forest Service listen? by Steve Bunk
This story is a description of the planning rule development and the interaction with people interested in recreation.
Well worth a read. Here’s a quote.
Seven leaders of the groups met with Tidwell later that month, including Lyle Laverty, CEO of the National Association of Gateway Communities, headquartered in Denver. Laverty’s job history includes Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, director of Colorado State Parks, and associate deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service.
He said the letter to Tidwell and the subsequent meeting with him were sparked by a Forest Service document issued during last year’s development of the planning rule. Addressing input received by the agency concerning the new rule, the document said, “Many noted that the Forest Service does not have much ability to influence economies, and should focus instead on the land management business it knows.”
“That stimulated a lot of angst,” said Laverty. During about 38 years working for the Forest Service, he never had heard anyone in the agency question its importance in influencing economies, he said.
For years, a notion has been brewing in the agency that it should leave the planning for recreational uses of national forests up to local and regional officials, Laverty said. “My personal sense is that this didn’t just happen. It’s a trend we’ve observed, starting back in the early 1990s.”
Derrick Crandall, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Recreation Coalition (ARC), which organized the letter to Tidwell, suggested that other aspects of Forest Service work are trendier than planning for recreation. Global planning issues, such as climate change and biodiversity, “have a lot of cachet within the beltway circle,” he said.
Recreation is a key use of national forests under various federal laws, but the agency’s written materials that outlined the core concepts of the upcoming plan did not include it, he noted. “We did find it very serious that the number one benefit of national forests—camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, and other recreational activities—wasn’t even represented.”
Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado, which is the leading trade group for ski resort owners and operators, also attended the meeting with Tidwell.
“We all know that recreation, particularly in the 11 western states … plays a huge part in economies,” he said. “The issue of the agency’s ability to manage recreation is a topic that we want to continue to ensure will be addressed.”
The lobby’s emphasis on that topic bore further fruit last November, when 41 House of Representatives members wrote to Tidwell in support of recreational opportunities in national forests, including Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Denny Rehberg of Montana, Mike Coffman of Colorado and Mike Simpson of Idaho. Simpson is chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Committee, which overseas Forest Service funding.
“We were very interested to see the dramatic interest of the congressmen in this issue, and we think that’s probably been very helpful, also,” Crandall said.
In a recently updated list of core concepts for the planning rule, recreation now holds equal place with four other concepts: people and the environment, climate change, watershed health, and resilience, the latter of which is defined as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.”
In terms of inviting public input, the process of developing the new planning rule has been impressive. More than 40 public meetings were held in 2010, and more than 26,000 written comments were received, plus many informal comments on the agency website devoted to the rule.
Even so, Laverty thinks that a deeper change might have been instigated by the recreational lobby’s involvement in developing the new planning rule. He said the traditional model of collaboration with interest groups is shaped like a wheel, with the Forest Service at the hub. That process involves one-on-one dealings between the agency and each interest group, with the Forest Service reviewing comments received.
The new model, which he and others suggested to Tidwell, is a circle with a number of nodes on it, one of which is the Forest Service. The others include representatives of county and city governments, wildlife management, ATV use, hunting, and numerous other special interest groups. Final decision-making power still resides with the Forest Service, but all the nodes interact with each other.
“It’s a table of trust,” Laverty said. “You have to take off your stripes and sleeves and leave your gun at the door when you come to the table.”
In the comments, Matthew Koehler linked to a couple of articles. I thought this one from 1997 was particularly interesting. It’s about Lyle coming to Denver to be Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region.
Outdoor enthusiasts like Laverty used to be seen as friends of the environment, but conservation groups increasingly contend that the growing demand for outdoor recreation is wreaking havoc on national forests. They argue that ski-resort construction, off-road vehicles and mountain bikers not only drive reclusive animals out of their natural habitats, but also create trails that irreversibly damage soil and plants. “There’s no shortage of favor for the Forest Service from ski resorts and the like,” says Rocky Smith of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Sometimes it seems like the Forest Service is acting as an agent for the ski areas, especially since the Forest Service has been promoting this sort of industrial-strength recreation.”
Colorado environmentalists are already firing warning shots at Laverty, sending letters of concern and other documents to his D.C. office.
“I don’t have a problem with ski resorts or recreational trails,” says Jasper Carlton, “but we’re afraid that Laverty is going to allow all-out development and the forests won’t tolerate it.”
McClellan points to the impact caused by the 100,000 mountain bikers she estimates visited Vail last summer.
“The mountain bike is dangerous,” she says, “because of its potential to get people further into undisturbed backcountry–the last refuge for reclusive species like the lynx and wolverine. Where a hiker can maybe get ten miles into the backcountry, a biker can get forty and an off-road vehicle one hundred. When you throw in skiing, the result is a year-round gridlock of recreation, which is a greater threat to our lands than logging ever was. Twenty years from now, forests harvested for timber will have grown back, but a trail will always be there.
“If this kind of proliferation continues, which it looks like it will when Laverty gets out here, I predict that we’ll have uniform saturation [of Forest Service land] within two decades.”
It’s 14 years out.. I wonder how we are doing with the “saturation” idea?
Jim Fenwood and I ran into Keith Allred when he taught us at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. During his lectures, Allred described “the Common Interest”, an organization he founded described here. Yes, he also ran for Governor of Idaho recently. What intrigued me the most about the project was not so much the advocacy, as the process for development of useful information to help citizens decide on a policy.
Fair and Accurate Issues Briefings and Representative Positions
When we brief an issue, we aim to provide the best factual evidence and fairest representation of the competing perspectives as we reasonably can. To help ensure the fairness and accuracy of our briefs, we interview those with expertise and important perspectives on the issue. We then provide draft briefs to those we interviewed to give them an opportunity to tell us if we’ve fairly captured their perspective. We keep improving the draft until there is a broad consensus among those involved with the issue that we have fairly and accurately represented the issue.
I invite you to take a look at the Common Interest website here.
George Washington warned in his Farewell Address that for the system the Founders deeded to us to realize its full promise, we would need to recognize and resist the typical ploys of faction.
One of the expedients of Party to acquire influence…is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other [parties]. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render Alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
More by Allred on the Founding Fathers here.
The recent comment by David Beebe on this blog here reminded me that this might be a productive approach on “our” issues to ensure that citizens get to hear quality information from both sides on complex topics. I wonder if we should start a 501c3 that uses a similar approach to Forest Service or public lands issues? This might be a helpful resource to both citizens and to journalists. What do you think?
Here’s a New York Times story on the BLM and FS response to a 2005 petition from some environmental groups on raising grazing fees.
This is from the FS letter:
Joel Holtrop, deputy chief of the National Forest System, said the agency is pursuing separate rulemakings to revise its forest planning rule and respond to Colorado’s roadless proposal, each of which have drained agency resources.
Moreover, roughly 4,000 grazing allotments on Forest Service property are in need of environmental analyses that will help determine the best management of rangeland resources, Holtrop said in the FS letter . The original petition and the BLM letter can be found on links through the NY Times article.
“This major effort will require focused agency range management technical expertise and funding and is not expected to be completed for several years,” he said.
A recent order from a U.S. District Court in Montana also requires the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement in order to continue applying aerial chemical fire retardants to fight wildfires, Holtrop said.
“Given these and other significant agency priorities, I am reluctant to burden the agency’s limited resources by initiating an additional major rulemaking endeavor at the present time,” he said.
Pp 10-12 of this Ark Initiative vs. Forest Service decision deal with the “NEPA for master development plan” question. It also has a good discussion of a variety of NEPA issues and the detailed discussion of the FS approach and why the judge found it was OK. Sometimes on this blog we talk about “if the FS followed the law there would be no problem” but people can disagree on not so much the concept, but the details of following the law, especially NEPA.
Here’s a quote:
The Forest Service’s acceptance of the conceptual 2003 MPA does not meet these
criteria. The 2003 MPA merely discloses Aspen Skiing’s goals and objectives, AR
5748-50, the existing conditions, AR 5762-76, and Aspen Skiing’s desired future
conditions, AR 5778-96. The Forest Service expressly noted that the acceptance of the
2003 MPA “in no way guarantees that all elements represented here will be completed at
any time in the future.” AR 5751. Nor does the agency’s acceptance mean that all of the
elements described in the 2003 MPA will be approved in the future, that the Forest Service has completed its environmental review of elements described in the 2003 MPA, or that the Forest Service completely agrees with Aspen Skiing on all of the listed actions. AR 5898-99. Instead, the Forest Service accepted the 2003 MPA as a guiding document for Aspen Skiing’s future development of the Snowmass Ski Area that would help the agency understand Aspen Skiing’s vision for the ski area and evaluate future connected actions when analyzing site-specific projects. AR 5899. Accordingly, it is not a “definitive statement of [the Forest Service’s] position determining the rights and obligations” of Aspen Skiing or other parties. More decisions remain to be made, depending on what Aspen Skiing actually proposes and the further required NEPA analysis, which means that it is not the consummation of the agency’s decision-making process. Thus, the acceptance of the 2003 MPA is not a final agency action.
Haven’t had time for thoughtful responses to the last two posts yet (one of my other volunteer activities is having some difficulties), but here is another story on the Lookout in Wilderness from Joel Connelly of the Seattle PI. The story is here.
Warning: the rhetoric of this article is fairly inflammatory.
As an ultimate test, the lawsuit issue was put to Rick McGuire, a friend and North Cascades Conservation Council board member with whom I have trekked deep into the 573,000-acre Glacier Peak Wilderness.
McGuire grumbles at Forest Service use of helicopters. Still, he adds, “a lot of people like that lookout. It was there even if not in its new improved form, and it seems to be there are way more dire threats out there.”
And that makes the Green Mountain lawsuit even more puzzling.
Wilderness Watch is being represented by the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center. The center has taken on “dire threats,” from protecting old-growth forests marked for liquidation to exposing dioxin emissions by Columbia River pulp mills.
Why hassle Green Mountain? Green interlopers from Montana and Oregon should heed locals who love our wilderness areas — and their lookouts. Litigate elsewhere.
This cartoon is from Stu’s Views and used with his permission.
This post is another on some of the advantages and disadvantages of use of litigation in resolving environmental conflicts, and so let me clearly reiterate my position. I am not anti environmental law. I am not against the use of courts to decide when the government breaks the law. I do think we could have better and cheaper quality control on government decisions and documents than appeals and litigation. I am for consideration of different ways to reach desirable policy outcomes, as well as the costs and benefits (as well as opportunity costs) of each approach. I would argue that the courtroom is not always the best place to resolve policy or environmental disputes, for a variety of reasons, and I will try to describe these reasons through a series of posts as time permits.
When people litigate the Forest Service, the case is defended by the Department of Justice. So the discussions tend to be between the Forest Service, the Office of General Counsel, the plaintiffs and the Department of Justice. You can see an opportunity for a conflict concerning a certain project in a certain geographic area, where the public has weighed in throughout the NEPA process, to be effectively decided (through settlement) by individuals, mostly attorneys, who see the project through the legal lens.
In my observation, people bring different lenses through which they see environmental disputes. Let’s take a grazing case. There are the local professional lenses of the range conservationist and the local wildlife biologists, there are the local community lenses, the lenses of different scientific disciplines, and the lenses of different lawyers. By restricting the ultimate decision to those who look at the world through the legal lenses, I would argue that you restrict the choices of dispute resolution by leaving out potential solutions only visible to those with other lenses than legal.
Now, I am not saying that anyone’s lens is individually “correct.” It is like the old story of the blind man and the elephant. The elephant both is, and is more than, the sum of all the people feeling the tusk, the foot, and the ear. But any effort to feed an elephant would not work unless someone were aware of its mouth.
But that is just my observation, and my data points are fairly restricted. Let’s look at what Jack Ward Thomas, the former Chief has to say about this.
These quotes are from the 2004 book “Jack Ward Thomas: the Journals of a Forest Service Chief. Thanks to Matt, I found it on Googlebooks here and at least part of the book can be searched.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t copy it, so had to retype. Any other ideas out there to obviate retyping would be appreciated, and any mistakes are solely mine.
One of the most stunning facts that I have learned over the past year is that, in its ability to independently determine whether or not to proceed with any legal activity, the Department of Justice wields the greatest capacity to set policy of any agency of the government. I naively assumed that the chief of the Forest Service made the decision as to whether to pursue a court action. Not even the undersecretary or the secretary makes those decisions. Such can merely request and suggest. The Department of Justice decides- the agency can proprose and the Department of Justice disposes. That power is not well understood even by students of the internal workings of government. If the policy-setting power of the lawyers in the Department of Justice were well understood, I don’t think anybody- Congress, the persons affected, or politically appointed agency administrators- would appreciate that fact.”
“In my opinion, and those of my legal advisers, the proposed agreement contained three real clunkers to which we strenuously objected. The Department of Justice is, in my opinion, almost always too eager to settle legal actions, particularly when plaintiffs are of the environmental persuasion. It was a shock to my system to find that the Department of Justice does not consider the Forest Service a client. They have little concerns as to the desires of the Forest Service or any other agency. They set their own course and in doing so are de facto setters of policy. Somehow that seems to be a serious flaw in the system. But for now, at least, it is the system.
So that was JWT’s view. For my smaller sample, I see that DOJ is willing to settle, at least in part, because that is how their work is incentivized. When we quantify performance (one of my pet peeves, albeit possibly a necessary evil) we sometimes look for what we can observe (cases settled) rather than what is a judgment call (excellence in policy outcomes). What we incentivize is ultimately what we get, for good or ill.
Most cases I see are brought by environmental groups, so we don’t have to go any farther than incentives and the proportion of cases to explain the behavior that Chief Thomas takes issue with.
In response to Martin’s previous point in a comment here :
“why does industry use of litigation not get nearly as much attention in the context of the ESA? I bet a majority of the active ESA cases right now, or in the recent past, are industry-based challenges trying to undo critical habitat designations.”
I think that this is a difference between looking at the overall issue of “ESA and the courts” compared to “FS cases that invoke ESA.”
In the family of cases that most Forest Service people see, most NEPA/NFMA/ESA cases are brought by environmental groups. Other litigation tends to be around round lands or water rights issues and also settles disputes, but they tend to be more overtly legal disputes, and not so much land use/allocation/practice disputes.
The latter kinds of disputes are the ones where one might argue that a broader range of public interests should play a role in the resolution of the conflict. To summarize, then, by determining the solution to land use conflicts through settlement, we may be missing certain points of view that could lead to better policy outcomes. There may also be a concern about the public being involved in decisions about the management of public land at these points, but I will leave that for the political scientists.
Sure, Dr. King was concerned about the great issues of the day, war and peace and civil rights. But some of the things he said about peace also relate to environmental conflicts. Things to think about.
In honor of our holiday honoring Dr. King, I selected some quotes that may be worthy of our consideration with regard to our daily “environmental conflict” lives.
We will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process. Ultimately, you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
Thank you, Dr. King.