Wilkinson on 4FRI
I thought it was interesting that High Country News published this piece, by Charles Wilkinson, a law professor at University of Colorado. Here’s a link to his bio. Historical note: yes, the same person who was on the Committee of “Scientists” for the 2000 Planning Rule, so he’s been following these issues for some time.
Below is an excerpt of the piece. You can also find it at here at the Summit Daily News (thanks, Bob Berwyn) and other papers where Writers on the Range is syndicated. Because HCN and the syndication reach many readers who are not following this issue, I think it’s important to take a look at what Wilkinson says- what most people (outside the area) will read about what’s going on. The stakes are high for a landscape scale collaboration, so it is interesting to follow this, even for those of us far removed. What is interesting to me is the continuing story/question that the FS is screwing up with its choice of contractor, or about to screw up (before the EIS is released..??). Do people really think that the FS would go back on the general agreements that they worked so hard, for so many years, to get?? Or is this about something else entirely?
This blog is one of the few places that we could actually have this discussion with the details and knowledgeable people involved, so I am hoping when the EIS comes out we can track it here. Also, I think it’s the proposed action we’re interested in and not the EIS, but I guess I’m being pedantic again. I like to keep those separate in my head because I think it helps clarity.
The first link discusses the FS reasons for selecting the contractor. Like I said in that post, there is plenty of wood around the SW and Interior West, if folks have a good business plan maybe they could take it and develop 4FRI II elsewhere?
But a red flag has gone up: On May 18, the Forest Service announced its choice of contractor for the 4FRI process — Pioneer Associates, whose representative for the project just recently worked for the Forest Service. This was the largest stewardship contract awarded in the agency’s history, and yet the agency bypassed the contractor most deeply involved in 4FRI, the one whose business plan was closely tied to the project’s unique provisions.
Several 4FRI organizations have strongly criticized the choice of Pioneer Associates, citing the inadequacy of its business plan. The Eastern Arizona Counties Organization, for example, detailed “glaring deficiencies” in Pioneer’s bid and concluded that the award was “not based on either economic or ecological merit.” What’s troubling to many observers is that the choice of contractor may indicate that traditional attitudes are tearing away at the agency’s support of 4FRI.
The Forest Service, with its long and rich history, has run into trouble with the public and Congress in modern times over two main issues: Its timber harvests for far too long were set way too high, and far too often the agency insisted on doing things its own way. This approach — “we are the experts” — persisted in spite of contrary public opinion.
Both problems have been alleviated over the past decade or so. The timber cut is way down. The Forest Service now touts its commitment to collaboration with citizen groups, an approach that is widely agreed to be preferable to litigation and top-down, federal decision-making.
Doubters in Arizona, however, see the recent selection of Pioneer Associates as a bad sign. Tommie Cline Martin, a Gila County supervisor, predicts that, given the chosen contractor, the Forest Service will follow the same path as in the past, and that means “cutting big trees before getting to the small stuff, which is the threat to our remaining sickly forests.”
In the next few months, the Forest Service will face a major test on 4FRI, perhaps the agency’s most ambitious and carefully prepared collaboration effort. The regional office in Albuquerque will release — probably in July or August — the draft environmental impact statement for the collaborative effort. Does the choice of contractor suggest a lesser Forest Service commitment to 4FRI? Will the draft EIS weaken 4FRI’s environmental safeguards?
An immediate sign of trouble ahead is the news that Pioneer failed to include in its bid any funding for the regular monitoring of restoration efforts, an essential activity for good public land management. Will the draft EIS insist upon monitoring that will meet the standard set by the collaborative effort? Another hallmark of 4FRI’s approach is its commitment to thinning small-diameter trees because they, and not the large-growth trees, constitute the fire hazard. Will the draft EIS continue that emphasis?