From Char Miller here:
John McKinney means well, and his sentiments scan nicely: “I don’t think a nature hike is a forest product and that hikers are forest consumers. We’re out there for something that you can’t put a price on.”
That’s what he told the Los Angeles Times following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in February that the Forest Service had overstepped its bounds when charging for access to the national forests in the American west. According to the court, the agency’s Adventure Pass system, which sold one-day passes for $5 (and an annual one for $30), violated provisions of the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA). That legal finding cheered McKinney no end, but he’ll discover that we’ll pay a steep price for the court’s elimination of user fees.
The author of such standards as Southern California: A Day Hiker’s Guide, John McKinney’s Wild LA, and The Hiker’s Way: Hike Smart. Live Well. Go Green, McKinney knows how to navigate in the woods, revel in the joys of a dusty tramp, and find bliss in exertion.
He is incorrect, however, about his aesthetic claims for the non-economic character of a high-country ramble. Wrong too is his implication that spending a day trekking through the Angeles or the Los Padres national forests, or camping out in the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest, is an apolitical, non-consumptive act.
Let me address the second point first.
These rough-and-ready terrain are the creature of politics. Each of the four national forests of Southern California – including the Cleveland, located north and east of San Diego – was established shortly after the passage of the passage of 1891 Forest Reserve Act. This legislative initiative gave presidents the power to establish reserves on federally owned public land in the west. Yet as a matter of course no forest was ever the result of a top-down directive from the chief executive. Instead, local conservationists, civic leaders, business interests, and an array of citizens demanded from the bottom up that these public lands secure increased federal presence and regulation that in time a national forest would bring.
In this region, that protection had much more to do with the maintenance of watersheds, as timber cutting was not nearly as important as it was in the well-wooded Sierra, Cascade, or Mendocino ranges. Without downstream interests articulating the essential contribution of clean and plentiful water for community development, then, these national forests would not exist. And the recreational opportunities these mountainous landscapes offer today are a direct result of those earlier advocates’ social convictions and political maneuvers.
Think about that enduring gift the next time you lace up, stretch out, and head into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. When you do, recall as well that this landscape exists within another political context: all public lands that bear the wilderness designation, exist because of the1964 Wilderness Act; its passage took nearly thirty years of wrangling in and out of Congress, and the most passionate and persistent lobbying emanated from the Wilderness Society, founded in 1935.
Benton MacKaye | Photo: Appalachian Trail Conservancy/Wikipedia/Creative Commons License
“All we desire to save from invasion,” asserted the society’s founders Robert Sterling Yard, Benton MacKaye, and Robert Marshall, “is that extremely minor fraction of outdoor America which yet remains free from mechanical sights and sounds and smell.” Their words have had special meaning in car-crazed Los Angeles.
Paying for that silence, or as much quiet as is possible in this hyper-industrialized world, is part of the civic obligation built into the 1905 creation of the national-forest system. From the start, Congress demanded that the forests (and thus their users) operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, and the optimistic first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, promised to fulfill that charge.
His was a tough promise to fulfill. While fees for grazing, later timber harvests, and later still recreation may have bolstered the agency’s efforts to research and regulate resource use; protect critical watersheds and endangered species; and enhance recreational infrastructure, they never have fully balanced the budget.
Nor could they: the rates have been kept artificially low to stimulate economic development, so that until the 1980s the deficits were offset through additional public spending. Caring for the Land and Serving the People – the Forest Service’s longstanding motto and commitment – always has cost money.
These expenses spiked in the late 1980s as timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest were scaled back rapidly in response to the Spotted Owl controversy; to protect the endangered bird’s habitat, clear-cutting of old-growth forests, which once generated considerable income for the Forest Service, was largely shut down. By the mid-1990s, the agency faced declining budgets, and began laying off staff and reducing services.
In hopes of stabilizing these budgetary shortfalls, in 1996 Congress authorized the establishment of a recreational fee pilot project, in which hikers, boaters, campers, and other visitors to the forests would pay a minimal amount to access specific services (a boating ramp, say, a picnic area). The funding collected on an individual forest would remain there, enhancing its ability to rebuild trails, staff visitor centers, or insure a steady supply of the all-important toilet paper at trailhead bathrooms.
A waterfall in the Cleveland National Forest | Photo: Chazz Layne/Flickr/Creative Commons License
Despite these and other assorted benefits, user fees kicked off a heated debate. Hiking guru John McKinney was among those who refused to buy an Adventure Pass, a protest and pushback that in 2004 led Congress to rewrite the conditions of the fee-demo program through the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. It prohibits the Forest Service (as well as the Bureau of Land Management) from charging for these site-specific activities:
• General access to national forests and grasslands and Bureau of Land Management areas; • Horseback riding, walking through, driving through, or boating through areas where no facilities or services are used; • Access to overlooks or scenic pullouts; • Undesignated parking areas where no facilities are provided for • Picnicking along roads or trails; and • In addition individuals under 16 will not be charged an entrance or standard amenity fee.
These provisions would become the basis for a lawsuit filed against Arizona’s Coronado National Forest for levying fees on day hiking from and picnicking along Catalina Highway as it rises up the flanks of Mount Lemmon near Tucson. A lower court dismissed the original suit that alleged the Forest Service was in violation of REA. But in February, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that earlier decision and supported the plaintiffs’ claims, concluding:
REA unambiguously prohibits the Forest Service from charging fees…for recreational visitors who park a car, then camp at undeveloped sites, picnic along roads or trailsides, or hike through the area without using the facilities and services.
While McKinney and other opponents of the Adventure Pass celebrated this legal win, yodeling for unfettered access to all public lands, their victory will prove Pyrrhic.
Because federal land-management agencies such as the Forest Service do not have substantial-enough budgets to cover their real costs. Because the 9th Circuit’s decision has stripped forests raise badly needed dollars to clean up such trash-littered, high-impact areas as Lytle Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest and the San Gabriel River Ranger District of the Angeles. And because the American people persist in their stubborn refusal to pay taxes without curbing their insatiable demand for “free” governmental services, these great scenic assets and essential recreational spaces have and will continue to collapse under the weight of our inaction.
Until we can legislate more robust and consistent financial support for the agencies that steward our public lands, no one – not even hikers – should get a free pass.
Char Miller is the Director and W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, author of “Public Lands, Public Debates: A Century of Controversy” (Oregon State University Press), and editor of “Cities and Nature in the American West.” He comments every week on environmental issues. Read more of his columns here
Note from Sharon: There are other photos in the web version of this story, I just reposted one.
So what do you think; develop better legislation for rec fees, have free will offerings to a non-profit, start a lobbying group for rec funds or ????.
This large waterfall, near Oroville, California, takes some effort in getting to. A round trip of almost 9 miles will keep the “tenderfoots” away. Luckily, the hike in the Plumas NF is quite shady and enjoyable. The diversity of plant life is impressive, with even some rare plants, like the California Nutmeg, finding places to grow. This view of the falls only includes about two thirds of the entire height.
A few years ago I received a phone call from from a researcher conducting a study about grassroots environmental organizations’ attitudes and behaviors toward ‘collaboration’ in national forest management.
Caitlin Burke, Ph.D., with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University wanted to know about the factors that affect state and local environmental groups’ participation in collaboration, and how that affects representation, diversity, and inclusion in collaborative processes.
Burke set out by collecting data from eleven western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), conducting a survey of 101 environmental groups that addressed forest-related issues and operated in the study area. The survey gathered information about the organizations and their attitudes and behaviors toward collaboration, to test relationships between organizational characteristics and strategy choice.
Next, Burke did case study research of four organizations operating in US Forest Service Regions 4 and 6. Fourteen interviews were conducted and various archival documents were analyzed to examine in greater detail the correlations between organizational characteristics and the choice of collaboration or confrontation.
Burke’s full research (all 268 pages of it) is available here. A more accessible summary of the research findings can be found here. In Burke’s own words, below are some snipped paragraphs from that summary based on her extensive research:
“The results show that large, more professionalized organizations and those with multiple values use a collaborating strategy; small, less professionalized organizations and those with a single environmental value use a confronting strategy. In other words, collaboration is not representative of all environmental groups – smaller groups and more ideological groups are not involved. This research serves as a caution to those who would use, or advocate the use of, collaboration – its use must be carefully considered and its process carefully designed to ensure the most balanced representation possible.”
“If smaller, more ideological environmental groups are not involved in collaborative decision-making, then collaboration is not representative of all affected interests and collaborative decisions do not reflect the concerns of all stakeholders.”
“Given the rocky history between environmental groups and the US Forest Service, it will be hard for the Forest Service to build relationships and trust as it initiates or participates in collaboration. Moreover, given that collaboration does not ensure representation by all interests, it will be hard for the agency to create representative and participatory processes. Finally, given non-collaborators’ reliance on law and regulations to participate in decision-making, the agency will continue to meet resistance to efforts perceived as undermining the statutory framework for environmental protection”
It goes without saying that Burke’s new research certainly provides some additional – and well researched – food for thought on the topic of ‘collaboration’ and how it’s impacting everything from national forest management, politics and public policy, to the relationships between various environmental organizations. Without a doubt, Burke’s research and findings should be required reading for those currently engaged in collaboration and those interested in the future of national forest management.
Yesterday, Truthout ran this very thought-provoking piece from Jonathan Latham. While not directly related to National Forest planning issues, the article delves into many issues concerning the relationship between some of the world’s largest corporations and some of the world’s largest conservation organizations, a topic that has also been debated on this blog from time to time. According to the article, Jonathan R. Latham, PhD, is co-founder and executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, which is the publisher of Independent Science News (independentsciencenews.org). He has published scientific papers in disciplines as diverse as plant ecology, virology, and genetics.
A few days ago, the Montana Standard ran this editorial blasting the Alliance for Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystem Center for a lawsuit filed on the Fleecer timber sale on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The editorial also claimed that the paper couldn’t think of any instance in recent years when WildWest Institute hadn’t sued to stop a logging project. Since the truth is that the WildWest Institute hasn’t filed a new timber sale lawsuit in Montana in over 5 years, the Montana Standard was forced to run this correction in today’s paper as well. – mk
Fleecer timber cut illegal, says group
By Michael Garrity, Alliance for Wild Rockies
One of the many reasons that Butte is a great place to live is the tremendous wild country surrounding the area. Within minutes of Butte there is world-class fishing on the Big Hole and Jefferson Rivers and some of the best elk hunting anywhere — including the Mount Fleecer area where the Fleecer timber sale is proposed.
The Montana Standard editorial on March 4 criticized the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for filing lawsuits to stop the Fleecer timber sale, the Colt Summit timber sale in the Seeley-Swan Valley, and for other timber sales we have stopped recently.
While claiming the Alliance is “abusing environmental laws,” what the editorial didn’t mention is that we win about 87 percent of those suits. Simply put, unless the Forest Service is found to be breaking the law, we don’t win.
One of the lawsuits we filed in the last several years was to stop the Price Powder timber sale in the Mount Fleecer area. This timber sale authorized 133 acres of clearcuts in prime elk habit and violated the Forest Plan standards for elk hiding cover that these large and iconic symbols of Montana require.
After we filed that suit, the Forest Service’s attorneys looked at our complaint, decided that we were right and pulled the timber sale.
It is common practice for the Forest Service to pull a timber sale before a judge can rule against them, because then they don’t have to pay our attorney’s fees and the thousands of dollars of expenses we incur are paid by us. When a judge rules in our favor, our attorneys get fees but we get nothing to cover our costs.
After the Forest Service pulled Price Powder, the agency went to work on a new timber sale in the same area named “Fleecer,” which is three times bigger than the Price-Powder timber sale and proposes 1,137 acres of clearcuts.
When the Alliance was informed of the new project, we toured the site with the forest supervisor and two district rangers, told them our concerns, and submitted detailed comments in writing.
The previous two forest supervisors worked with us on the Grasshopper, Anaconda Job Corps, Beaverhead-Deerlodge roadside salvage and the Georgetown Lake timber sales, for which they should be commended. But this time around, the agency decided to try and make giant, illegal clearcuts in prime elk habitat instead of following their own rules and laws.
Contrary to media representations, our country’s environmental laws aren’t that strict. They don’t prohibit logging on our National Forests, but do require that the Forest Service must ensure that there will be viable populations of native species after logging — and clearcuts simply do not make good wildlife habitat for elk, grizzly bears and other old-growth dependent species.
We are a nation of laws and that means federal agencies, just like citizens, must follow the law. As before, the Forest Service will either pull this proposal or, if it loses in court, blame environmentalists for once again stopping clearcutting of elk winter range.
The Standard claims it was surprised to find there are grizzly bears around Butte. But in 2010, the Standard reported that a grizzly bear was killed near Elk Park and in 2005 a hunter killed a grizzly bear within the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area which adjoins the Fleecer timber sale and is within the wildlife security analysis area for the project.
If grizzlies are to be recovered and removed from the Endangered Species protections, it means their habitat must be taken into account in Forest Service timber sales.
The Standard also pointed to the Colt Summit timber sale and chastised the Alliance for taking that project to court. But like the Fleecer sale, Colt Summit is another money-losing, taxpayer-subsidized logging proposal that will destroy habitat for elk, lynx and grizzly bears while costing taxpayers $1.5 million. Moreover, the Forest Service’s own records show that the agency made the decision Colt Summit would not impact the environment well before any analysis was done or public input received.
Instead of attacking citizens for participating in the management of our public lands and “abusing” environmental laws, the Standard should ask the Forest Service and its allies, like the Montana Wilderness Association, why the agency has such a hard time following the laws that ensure Butte continues to be surrounded by beautiful national forests full of native wildlife for generations yet to come.
Lawmakers pick fight with feds over public lands
By Michelle L. Price and Josh Loftin Associated Press / March 7, 2012
SALT LAKE CITY—Some Western lawmakers are pushing for a showdown with Washington over federally-controlled land, picking a fight on an issue that they say puts an economic stranglehold on their states.
Republican legislators in Utah and Arizona are leading a charge to try to force the federal government to hand over control of public territory that makes up much of the West, insisting local leaders could manage it better.
“We’re putting them on notice for them to cede it to us. And if they don’t, we’ll start taxing it,” said Arizona state Sen. Al Melvin, who sponsored the legislation in that state.
Skeptics say state officials are likely to do more harm than good, especially to the environment, and stand to ruin what makes the region unique.
“How in the world do they think they could manage these federal public lands?” asked Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
Legal experts say the challenges are unconstitutional. But the fight is worth it for many who see the potential for millions of dollars in revenue from taxes, development rights or even the sale of lands.
Lawmakers also say the federal oversight is crippling industries like ranching, timber and mining, and overregulation has led to overgrown forests and massive forest fires.
“This is killing us,” Melvin said.
State lawmakers say that with local control they could deliver jobs, money for education and even help balance the federal budget.
Utah lawmakers are moving forward with a plan that sets a 2014 deadline for the federal government to relinquish lands that aren’t national parks, military installations or wilderness. The proposal that advanced Wednesday demands control of about 30 million acres — nearly 50 percent of the entire state.
Republican state Rep. Ken Ivory is leading the effort in Utah and helped draft model legislation for use in other states.
“If sovereignty means anything, it means not having to say pretty please or mother may I,” Ivory said.
A similar bill is working its way through the Arizona Legislature, where lawmakers would put the federal government on roughly the same timeline.
About 40 percent of the land in Arizona is under federal control and about 30 percent is tribal land — leaving about 30 percent as state or private land.
About 70 percent of the land in Utah is controlled by the federal government.
The legislation in those two states is mainly directed at land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which controls 245 million acres of land that’s concentrated in 12 Western states.
Arizona’s proposal includes a provision that, if the state does take possession, most of the proceeds from any land sold would be used to pay off the national debt.
Lawmakers in Utah and Arizona have said the legislation is endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that advocates conservative ideals, and they expect it to eventually be introduced in other Western states.
But legal experts say the challenges won’t get very far because any attempt by state legislatures to claim federal land is unconstitutional.
“That’s not really open to dispute,” said Joseph Feller, a professor who teaches natural resources law at Arizona State University.
“The states have absolutely no power to take over the federal public land,” he said. “They’ve tried it before.”
This was made clear during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s, when Western states pushed for greater control of federally owned public lands. Arizona passed legislation during that period that’s similar to this year’s proposal.
“Legally, it’s a ridiculous claim. It would be thrown out in federal court in five seconds,” said John Leshy, a law professor at University of California Hastings College of Law
Leshy, who also served on the President Obama’s Interior Department transition team, added, “This is all just about cranky, symbolic politics.”
State ownership of all that land could also be a big problem for the environment, said Bahr, of the Sierra Club.
“The state doesn’t really have anything in place for land protection, and the attitude of the Legislature is one of abuse rather than protection,” she said.
Local officials, however, argue that the state would at least be a better partner than federal officials.
Dirk Clayson, commissioner of rural Kane County, Utah, said the decisions about federal land access seem to be dictated more by “Washington politics” than logic.
“We really have a federal land management policy that ignores the needs of state, county or local residents,” Clayson said. “There’s risks, but the general feeling is we have a much more effective working relationship with the state. After all, they’re only a four-hour automobile drive away from us.”
Sharon’s note: this is never going to happen but I wonder what would happen if we got some of these folks in a room with a bipartisan panel, told them and enforced leaving the partisan vitriol at the door, and listened to what they had to say.
Forestry budgets sapped by scourges of warming climate
Franken at Senate hearing calls Capitol Hill climate change denial ‘very disturbing’ in face of mounting costs
The warming climate is breeding more beetle-ravaged forest and prolonged fire seasons, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday, as he fielded questions about the White House’s proposed agency budget for fiscal year 2013.
“We’ve been doing research on the effects of a changing climate to the vegetation on our nation’s forests for over two decades,” he told the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources in Washington, D.C. “When it comes to fire, we’re definitely seeing much longer fire seasons in many parts of the country, another 60 or 70 days longer than what we used to experience.”
The Forest Service is not only dealing with an uptick in the number of wildfires, wind storms, droughts and other extreme weather as a result of climate change. “We’re also seeing much more severe fire behavior than we’ve ever experienced in the past,” Tidwell noted.
The wildfire risk is heightened as beetles make their way through the forests, sucking the life from trees and leaving dead, dried wood in their wake. The expansion of bark beetles “has started to slow a little bit,” he said, but “we’re still seeing about an additional 600,000 acres infested each year, so we’re going to have to continue to maintain this focus for the next few years.”
Referencing a new Forest Service report – “Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job Creation on our National Forests” (pdf) – Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, said that expanding the market for forest products from national forests will require streamlining contracting procedures and federal cooperation with private companies that want to use beetle-kill wood for commercial purposes.
“The private sector is key to dealing with this epidemic,” Udall said.
The federal government already is collaborating with communities and businesses to create wood and biomass supply for forest products, bioenergy production and home construction.
“We have examples all over the country now where these collaborative efforts are coming together,” Tidwell said. “People understand the type of work that needs to be done.”
He said the Forest Service is doing more with less by broadening its National Environmental Policy Act requests to include larger landscapes and by emphasizing agency efficiency and flexibility.
The Forest Service budgets about $100 million each year to mitigate bark beetles in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and South Dakota, he said.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, expressed frustration that politics are polluting scientific discussions. He said it only makes sense for Congress to begin incorporating the effects of climate change into budgetary decisions.
“To me it is so obvious the costs of climate change that we are already paying, and these are never factored in when we talk about the costs of things like burning more coal or burning dirtier oil,” Franken said. “This debate that has been going on in this country – it saddens me sometimes when what your scientists are telling us is called a hoax. I don’t know if it’s for political gain or to curry favor with big donors who can fund super PACs or what it is, but there is a climate-change-denial culture among some of my colleagues that I find very disturbing.”
President Obama’s budget requests $4.86 billion for the Forest Service, an increase of less than one-half of one percent over the 2012 appropriated level. The restoration of lands impacted by beetles, disease, fire, urban sprawl and warming temperatures are heavily emphasized.
Sharon’s note: It’s not clear to me why Franken was quoted in this article. Maybe someone said something at the hearing? If so, it would have been helpful to quote that also.