Over at the Summit County Citizens Voice, Bob Berwyn notes a study that throws cold water on some folks zeal for “Large-Scale Forest Biomass Energy.” According to Berwyn, the study, by the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and several universities suggests that such large-scale production “may be unsustainable and is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.” Here are a few “concerns” raised by the study:
- The general assumption that bioenergy is carbon-neutral is not valid.
- The reduction of biomass and lost carbon sequestration by forests could take decades to centuries to be “paid back” by fossil fuel substitution, if paid back at all.
- There are significant concerns about the economic viability of biofuels, which may require government mandates or subsidies.
- A higher demand for biomass from forests will increase prices for the biomass, as in Germany where they have already increased in price 300-600 percent from 2005 to 2010.
- An emphasis on bioenergy production from forests could lead to shorter rotation lengths, questionable management practices and increased dependence on wood imports.
- Negative impacts on vegetation, soil fertility, water and ecosystem diversity are all possible.
- Fertilizer use, another important source of greenhouse gas emissions, could increase.
- The use of fossil fuels in the Industrial Revolution allowed previously degraded forests to recover in much of Europe and the U.S., while industrial-scale use of forests for biomass would likely reverse this trend.
Full study from GCB Bioenergy (2012) here (pdf)
…That [trees] can sequester carbon has been much touted in policymaking circles as one tool to help shrink our carbon footprint; and thus trees seem critical to the larger effort to reduce global warming.
Yet it does not necessarily follow … that we must reforest the planet as rapidly as possible….
Sure: if we had a more complete picture of the variations of potential temperature change across ecosystems and typographies; if we could pinpoint when and where alterations in precipitation will occur; and were we able to calibrate the shifting influence that heat, light, and wet will have on differing soil types, then we might have a clue about what tree species to plant in which biota and at what times.
But we don’t. So to plant trees in hopes that they will survive — and thus increase the odds of us doing so — seems, at best, random.
Take a local analogy. In the scorched aftermath of the Station Fire the U. S. Forest Service feared that the erosive force of coming rainy seasons would strip the burned-over district of its soil. It thus launched an aggressive restoration project. Beginning in April 2011, contract labor planted one million seedlings of an expected three million over five years. The goal was to re-green approximately 11,000 acres of the 160,000 that burned at a white heat during August and September 2009. The Angeles National Forest, or at least a portion of it, would be reborn.
It has not happened. Only about 25 percent of the seedlings dug into charred slopes, cindered meadows, and blackened canyon floors have survived, a mortality rate that has stunned agency foresters. “When we planted seedlings, conditions were ideal in terms of soil composition and temperature, rainfall and weather trends,” one of them told the LA Times. “Then the ground dried out and there just wasn’t enough moisture after we planted.”
The Forest Service has gone back to the drawing board, shrinking the number of acres to be planted and, where possible, switching to tree species that are indigenous to the San Gabriel Mountains.
Critics are unappeased. One of them [mused], “The reality we live in is a Mediterranean climate, and there is just not enough water to create what they have in mind. I do not believe they will succeed because this is Southern California, not rain-drenched Oregon.”
This climatic reality is part of the reason why there has been a very long history of flawed regeneration projects on county and federal lands in the San Gabriels….
The Forest Service has never quite learned L.A. County’s hard-won lesson. Despite what federal foresters long have understood about the low fertility of local soils, mercurial weather patterns, and steep canyon walls, they have repeatedly endeavored to re-engineer the San Gabriels’ ground cover. …
Why this institutional memory has not surfaced to check the Forest Service’s current aspirations to reforest portions of the Angeles is an open question.
More to the point, the agency’s century-long inability to rearrange the San Gabriels’ biota to its liking is a powerful rejoinder to those who so confidently believe that planting trees, indiscriminately and in large number, will help resolve some of the challenges that a climate-changed world is bringing. [most hyperlinks omitted here]
Endnote: The evidence Miller cites is not the only evidence that the Forest Service “never quite learned [its] hard-won lesson.” The Forest Service’s Wyoming Study in the early 1970s came to similar conclusions. In the early 1970s, following a bark-beetle infestation and big clearcuts in lodgepole pine in Wyoming, the Forest Service began a massive re-planting effort. The logging went well. The planting did not. And the very large clearcuts raised controversy, in part fueled by the failed planting effort. The saplings died for the most part, scorched by the sun in the barren clearcuts. Many were planted again, and they too died, as documented in “Forest Management in Wyoming, 1971″ (cited here). The Wyoming Study, led in part to the Church clearcutting guidelines that made their way into the National Forest Management Act of 1976. You’d have thought that the Forest Service would have been very wary of future adventures in re-planting. But no.
Now, in Southern California the Forest Service has, once again, wandered into a planting effort that has failed for pretty much the same reasons. Only this time they had a ‘partner’ – the National Forest Foundation — and outside money from “carbon offsets” government subsidies.
Americans continue to struggle with the idea of a public good, a “res publica,” in their national forests. We struggle in terms of both purpose of the national forests and how to best manage them. Herein we will contrast two different views of ‘national forests: for whom and for what.’ The first view comes from Dave Skinner, in a recent op-ed titled Impossible Dreams at the Flathead Beacon. The second view is mine, as aired here at the New Century of Forest Planning.
As I read through Dave Skinner’s “Impossible Dreams,” I reminded myself of just how diverse our worldviews are. Skinner views the world in a crass form of utilitarianism where forests are to be used for products and human pleasures: logs to flow freely to mills to make things, but also to generate monies to be returned to the treasury. Other ‘multiple use’ products flow freely too: oil and gas, minerals, red meat, and more. Roads are for human travel and to ‘manage’ the forests, recreation is for fun and, incidentally to be free, in part subsidized by timber and other products from the forests. [Note: The "to be free" tidbit is not in Skinner's article, but is clearly what Skinner preaches elsewhere. Note further that I too share the idea of recreation for free outside certain improved sites. I also support commodity and service production from the national forests, but in a frame much more constrained than does Skinner.] Skinner makes no mention of environmental services, no mention of wildlife sanctuaries, no mention of sanctuaries for the human spirit. This is Skinner’s near-possible dream: that people might warm up to the idea that national forests ought to be managed for the version of multiple use embodied in the Multiple Use — Sustained Yield Act of 1960 (MUSY). MUSY predated the spate of environmental laws the were ushered in a mere decade later, following an upwelling of outrage at the wanton disregard for ‘caring for the earth’ that led to the passage of many US environmental laws and led to the celebration of Earth Day as a reminder of what damage we have done to our home—and as a reminder that we must now do better. These “US environmental laws” laws include the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and more. Skinner’s “impossible dream” is that the national forests would be better managed in the tradition of state trust lands, echoing Robert Nelson’s similar push to Free America from Her Public Lands.
I too have an impossible dream. A dream that the Forest Service will finally take Aldo Leopold seriously, and move management toward the ideal that people become part of the “land community,” not overlords of the wild, neither zoo-keepers of the wildlife and garden-tenders of the forest. My dream is also that the Forest Service work up this dream hand in hand with the American people, through the Art and Promise of Adaptive Governance, helping lead America toward sustainability and ecological resilience/restoration. I suspect the Forest Service harbors a similar dream, although I don’t believe that they share my path toward that dream.
Here is a condensed version of Skinner’s Impossible Dreams, Flathead Beacon, 4/11/2012:
Golly gee, yet another U.S. Forest Service project has been blocked in court, [by environmental extremists]. …
Yet again, I found myself “thanking” Congress for writing laws enabling a handful of misanthropic kooks to utterly waste the labors of hundreds of professional, professionally paid public employees. ..
Um, what’s it called when you do the same things over and over and expect different results? Crazy!
Utah’s government is trying something different. On March 23, Utah passed House Bill 148 into law, demanding the Feds transfer title to public lands … by the end of 2014. … Arizona … passed a nearly identical bill (SB 1332) through their Senate, but it died (for now) in Arizona’s House Rules committee. The bill sponsor … told the Arizona Republic he spearheaded the legislation because “in the last 30 years, the radical environmental policies of these federal agencies have ground [resource] industries to a halt ….”
Now, it’s constitutionally impossible to force such a transfer. But — what if a bunch of states followed Utah’s lead, and Congress went along?
In attacking [the] bill, Arizona Sierra Clubber Sandy Bahr rhetorically asked, “How in the world do they [states] think they could manage these federal public lands?”
Turns out the states (and tribes) already do a better job: Oregon State University forest engineering professor John Sessions has studied the comparative costs of forest management under various ownerships (federal, tribal, state, and private). Dr. Sessions found that, in post-spotted-owl Washington and Oregon, annual management budgets across ownerships were roughly comparable.
But when based on timber sold (which pays for management, imagine that), Indian forests harvested a thousand board feet for every $92 of budget. Private and state operators were in the $102-$107 range, with the Forest Service at a ridiculous $1,296. At the time (2001), wood stumpage in the region ran $150-$300 a thousand, putting USFS costs at four to eight times revenues — a loss carried by taxpayers. Other forests supported themselves.
Sessions’ pattern seems to hold for Montana, too. Both state and tribal forest management programs in Montana, operated under state or tribal laws and regulations, are fiscally self-supporting. More important, they are good, even excellent, forestry. …
If [the Flathead National Forest] could sell its plan maximum (50 million feet), meeting FNF expenses with revenues is an impossible dream — a dream doomed to remain impossible as long as these lands are “managed” by federal employees under federal law applied in federal courts.
So, while Greens like Ms. Bahr are doing everything possible to portray legislation such as Utah’s as impossible, even crazy – the current federal land management regime is no less crazy.
Congress should seriously consider allowing states (and tribes) so inclined to have a go at managing these lands — if they succeed, they keep the land. ….
For those not familiar with Skinner’s narrow, antiquated views and exhortations on this and other multiple use matters, neither with the legacy of plunder associated with both the Forest Service’s multiple use timber management of the 1960s and 1970s, I simply ask you to ponder a few good books, including Paul Hirt’s A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two and Richard W. Behan’s Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands. David Clary’s Timber and the Forest Service is also useful to get a flavor of the religious zeal that drove Forest Service timber management back in the go-go years.
As to what Skinner calls “excellent forestry” on the state trust lands, all I can say is that ‘trusts’ are a good way to raise money from land. As to biodiversity conservation, ecosystems services for clean air and water, aesthetic considerations, wilderness, and other uses and values not amenable to commodification, I believe other avenues for forest management offer much better solutions to the res publica idea of national forests, parks, and monuments.
The jury is out as to what we want for our national forests in this emerging century. Somehow I don’t believe that “we,” the American people, really want to take the ‘forest land trust’ path, back toward those ‘thrilling days of yesteryear’. As for me, I’ll continue to support the Forest Service’s move toward Leopold’s philosophy/practice. And I’ll continue to champion public engagement in the process when done legally, and with and eye toward fairness.
The April issue of The Forestry Source, leads off with “The Sagebrush Rebellion Renewed: Bills Aim to Create Trusts to Manage Federal Timber,” by Steve Wilent, Forestry Source editor. The article begins with what I perceive to be a very narrow view of the origins of the 1980s Sagebrush Rebellion, blaming it all on “environmentalists”. The article ends with what I perceive to be cheerleading for “forest trusts” as a solution to current problems including the impending drying up of “Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act” funding. It is an opinion-editorial, so Wilent is entitled to his perspective. But I thought I’d share it with you, since my own framing of this matter is much different. I see the 1980s Sagebrush Rebellion being just one of many from a West that was always angry over public lands. In my frame, fully funding Payments in Lieu of Taxes is a better solution to the rural schools problem. And I find the “forests trusts” idea a non-starter in dealing with America’s national forests.
Wilent’s article begins:
In his 1993 book, Federal Land, Western Anger R. McGregor Cawley describes the Sagebrush Rebellion as “a protest originating from three interrelated perceptions: first, that environmentalists had succeeded in gaining a dominant position in federal land policy discussions; second that the environmental community’s influence had created an underlying bias in favor of preservation over development in federal land management decisions throughout the 1970s; and third, that the only way to counteract the increasingly restrictive character of federal land management decisions was to precipitate an open confrontation.”
The first shot in that confrontation was fired in 1979, when the Nevada state legislature passed a bill that sought to transfer control of 40 million acres managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – about 79% of Nevada – to the state. …
In February, Utah fired a new salvo when its house of representative passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act….
My own framing, built in part off the Public Land Law Review Commission’s “History of Public Land Law Development”, here, tracks the Sagebrush Rebellions (several of them, with continued skirmishes in between) back to the fights for statehood in the USA. In my state of Utah the fight was nasty and long-standing. Some Utahan’s were mad back then and continue to be mad today, with their anger welling-up periodically. Ron Arnold may have captured the spirit of that 1980s “Rebellion” as well as did the Society of American Foresters (SAF) article, calling it “a temper-tantrum over public lands thrown by a handful of cowboys”. That “temper-tantrum” turned into yet-another bandwagon that powerful rural Western politicians could jump onto—which they ultimately parlayed into substantial gains. Here is what Frank J. Popper had to say about these “gains” in “A Timely End of the Sagebrush Rebellion” (pdf), National Affairs 76, Summer 1984.
The Sagebrush Rebellion did not fail—it ended because it achieved many of its goals. The Reagan administration rapidly found clever, politically appealing ways to start to transfer some public lands without having to ask Congress for new legislation. Watt’s Interior Department undertook a “good neighbor policy” that allowed state and local governments to request the department’s “surplus” lands. The initiative was soon broadened to an Asset Management Program whereby all federal agencies could sell their excess land in the West and elsewhere; the eventual sale of 35 million acres–an area the size of Iowa–was expected. Separately, the Forest Service prepared to sell up to 17 million acres. The federal land agencies sped up the transfers to Alaska’s state government and Native Americans authorized by the 1958 Statehood Act, the 1971 Native Claims Settlement Act, and the 1980 National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The BLM experimentally revived homesteading in the Kuskokwim Mountains in central Alaska. Numerous federal-Western state land exchanges were in exploratory stages, and seemed most advanced in Utah. [p. 68]
Another look at the 1980s Sagebrush Rebellion, from “A Brief History of the Anti-conservation Movement” frames the issues as conservatives v. liberals:
At its most basic level the Sagebrush Rebellion was a conservative backlash against the growth of federal power represented by, among other things, such landmark environmental legislation of the late 1960s and ’70s as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. These legislative programs created new roles and concerns for managers of federal land — protection of endangered species, water quality, air quality, etc. This required closer scrutiny of activities on federal lands, including the activities of miners, loggers and ranchers who operated there. Significantly, these businesses usually enjoyed substantial operating subsidies by virtue of longstanding below-market rates for grazing, mineral and timber rights on federal land. This closer scrutiny inevitably led to federally imposed restrictions when mining, grazing and foresting practices damaged the water and air and threatened endangered species. Recognizing that a return to the good old days of less regulation would be good for business, the movement took support and comfort from the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, one of whose campaign planks was reduction of the size and power of government. Certain Reagan cabinet appointees, most notably James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, were selected in part for their willingness to further the de-regulatory agenda of Reagan and the right wing of the Republican Party. …
The Anti-Conservation Movement further benefitted from the attention it received from industries with something to gain. In particular, big agriculture (the American Farm Bureau Federation, The Cattlemen’s Association), the extractive industries (mining, including coal, oil and gas) and timber producers (who thrive on easy access to federal forest lands) saw a reduction of federal regulatory power working to their advantage. This message of the economic benefit of deregulation appealed as well to small businesses. After all, if workplace safety regulations could be reduced or eliminated, the money saved could be plowed back into the business.
During this period anti-regulatory forces sought to define and project an agenda that would be publicly acceptable. Throughout the 1980s the anti-regulatory/anti-environmental sentiment was expressed largely as support for the Reagan Revolution and its promise to deliver the country from the clutches of over-zealous, regulation-happy bureaucrats.
In studying the various Sagebrush Rebellions we would all probably benefit from a good class on the history of the American West. Here is one (pdf, syllabus) from Professor Chris Lewis, from the University of Colorado. Lewis places Cawley’s book in a class lecture on “‘The Lords of Yesterday’ and the Sagebrush Rebellion”. The book is well-placed there, since it is evidently written from the perspective of ‘the rebels’, according to a Great Plains Research book review (pdf). There is nothing wrong with that. One of my favorite books is Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which is unabashedly written from the perspective of those who lost (and/or who were horrible abused) in the struggles to form the United States. Zinn acknowledges his bias, but is quick to note that no “history” is written without bias. But what is wrong with Wilent’s piece, in my opinion, is to use the book to suggest that one particular perspective is the only perspective that counts. Still, opinion/editorial pieces often do that. So, I’ll just leave it at, “I beg to differ”.
Wilent’s article goes on to highlight various ongoing problems including the impending falldown in Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act funding—problems which are clearly still with us. These problems don’t necessarily cry out for the solutions that are being proffered in the various bills currently working their way through Congress. But you wouldn’t arrive at that particular conclusion from Wilent’s article, which concludes by essentially cheerleading attempts to put federal land management into “land trusts.” “Cheerleading” is how I see it. What Wilent actually said was this: “Management by a trust dedicated to maintaining revenues to schools and other beneficiaries may offer a solution. …”
Wilent didn’t bother to daylight any other “solutions.” So cheerleading is where I’ll leave it. When dealing with ‘trusts’ my question is, as has been for a long time, “Land trusts provide a solution to what?” Yes land trusts are a good way to generate revenue if that is all you are interested in. But I thought that the ‘public trust doctrine’, under which the national forests were carved out and managed, is much broader than ‘revenue generation’. And we are not living in 1900, when income taxes and other revenue generation means now available to the federal government were not established.
In the middle of Wilent’s article, John Freemuth is quoted on both the complexity of federal lands management and his desire to reconvene a Public Lands Law Review Commission. I support Freemuth’s desire. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that just about no one who is ranting and raving in this (or the last) Sagebrush Rebellion has ever read the last Public Lands Law Review Commission Report. Why should we expect a new one to add value to this debacle? Still, I would like to see a new one, if only to force the Administration and the Congress to delve deeper into the issues (and the history) surrounding our “Angry West”. But I’m not sure that a re-reading of the original Public Lands Law Review Commission Report wouldn’t suffice to dispel myths surrounding each seemingly-novel episode when the American West, particularly the “rural West” explodes anew in yet-another “temper-tantrum.” I guess we all get to pick our frames, and our scapegoats.
Recently, one of the main the topic of conversation here at NCFP has been about collaborative forest management. We have wandered though several posts and many comments into the controversy surrounding, in particular the Montana Forest Restoration Committee in Montana and the Tongass Futures Roundtable in Alaska. In these discussions, there have been those sitting just beyond the perimeter of a collaboration who feel that something is amiss. Concerns often expressed by local environmental groups include, “Who is at the table, collaborating, and who is absent?” That is, Is the committee biased? If so, what type bias? On the other side of this divide are those who champion collaboration, particularly some National environmental groups who seem tired of litigation battles and stalemate, and to prefer more direct forms of engagement. These would-be collaborators don’t seem too uncomfortable with the make-up of collaboration committees. Because they are well-represented?. Sometimes they look askance at those who challenge the validity of specific collaborations, even accusing local environmental groups of being obstructionists. Local environmental groups counter, and accuse the Nationals of “selling out,” becoming part of the problem that is often labeled “Washington D.C.”
As I’ve watched and participated in surrounding discussion, I’ve wondered: Whither FACA? The Federal Advisory Committee Act FACA) was passed in 1972 in an effort to reign in federal agency ‘capture’ by special interest groups, particularly corporate interests. By the late 1990s there was substantial interest in collaboration in natural resource policy, but FACA was seen by many as a barrier to effective collaboration: Too bureaucratic, too heavily-laden with process requirements. But collaborators seem to have forgotten, else never understood a little facet of the law: an advisory committee doesn’t need to be declared to be a FACA Committee to be held accountable to at least some aspects of FACA law.
A good overview of this FACA problem/opportunity can be found in “The Federal Advisory Committee Act and Public Participation”, 1999 (pdf) publication by Resources for the Future. The act itself can be found here. Another useful reference is “The Federal Advisory Committee Act and Its Failure to Work Effectively in the Environmental Context”, (pdf) 1995, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review. After reading the latter, I was about to give up on FACA, in part because the courts had failed pretty much to allow people to challenge federal agencies under FACA. And the prevalence of closed-to-the-public advisory committees was still substantial in 1993:
FACA has … failed to fulfill Congress’s goal of opening all advisory committee meetings to the public. Closed-door advisory committee meetings still prevail, despite FACA’s mandates that meetings be open to public participation.218 The GSA, which monitors advisory committee activity throughout the government, reported that, in fiscal year 1993, there were more closed and partially closed advisory committee meetings (2,225) than open meetings (2,162).219 It is clear from these statistics that a substantial amount of advisory committee work is still done in private, away from the public scrutiny and participation that would help limit the influence private interest groups have on the agencies they are advising.
In short it looked like those finding themselves on the outside of collaboratives couldn’t find much recourse via the courts. Then I found an interesting little decision (pdf) rendered after the Idaho Wool Growers Association successfully challenged the Forest Service in Idaho, 2009. In Judge Winmill’s decision I saw a ray of hope that indeed FACA challenges might still reign-in committees that bias agency decision-making. In particular I found this interesting:
Memorandum Decision and Order – Page 18
FACA defines an “advisory committee” as “any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group, or any subcommittee or other subgroup thereof . . . which is . . . established or utilized by one or more agencies in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the President or one or more agencies or officers of the Federal Government . . . .”
Memorandum Decision and Order – Page 19-20
“When a committee is established to provide expert summaries or interpretation of technical data, their reports can be ‘in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for . . . one or more agencies.’” . . .
“Even though [the committee] provided the USFS with only narrative summaries of scientific information, and made no policy recommendations, the [committee] drafts and the final assessment provide the framework, context and information that the USFS will rely on in making policy decisions.”
Memorandum Decision and Order – Page 20
FACA imposes a number of requirements on advisory committees. See, e.g., 5 U.S.C. App. II, §§ 2, 5, 9-14 (records must be made available for public inspection; charter must be filed; upcoming meetings must be announced; meetings must be held in a public place; minutes must be kept; attendance must “be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented” and may “not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest”). Typically, a close examination of each requirement, contrasted against the circumstances in a particular case, is warranted when determining whether a FACA violation occurred.
So FACA may indeed be ‘in play’ in broader contexts than have heretofore been considered by many. That is, it matters not so much that FACA committees be chartered by agencies. What matters is what the players do, how they deal with the public interest and how they vet various interests/positions. Post Judge Winmill’s decision, it looks like the courts may finally be listening. Or not! If the courts are listening, we may be in for more FACA lawsuits to test these waters.
What does it all mean? How does and agency, say the US Forest Service, go about getting workable committees (defacto FACA committees) that can come to any agreement or give advice that is not all over the map?
I think that the answer lies in an area that the Forest Service is so far loathe to go. That area is the area of multi-scale adaptive governance that includes policy development as well as program and project management. The Forest Service seems to want to hold policy development to itself, yet to collaborate on site-specific watershed projects. That type arrangement gives no space to deliberate upon and enact the type preservation sought by John Muir naturalists, who want intact ecosystems for say, wildlife—big home ranges for large carnivores, protected corridors for migration, etc. So the whole idea of local-only collaboration is a nonstarter to many environmentalists.They want to deal with matters of broader scale and scope. But there is no such forum available in the 2012 NFMA rule. At least that’s the way I see it. No wonder environmentalists cry fowl. When will the Forest Service warm up to adaptive governance, with its emphasis on collaboration and adaptive management? Not likely anytime soon. So, for this and other reasons, we’ll just see what shakes out in FACA court room battles. When dealing with extant collaboratives, we are left to wonder: What the FACA? Or maybe just WTF?
Perhaps the answer, or part of it, has already been offered up in a NCFP comment from Terry Seyden, if only ALL would/could operate in good faith and keep the public interest in mind:
In my view, there is just no substitute for ongoing substantive dialogue to help the agency truly understand what the real underlying interests of various constituents are. Having a rich two way dialogue also assists the agency in creatively exploring all available options for meeting agency goals while trying to meet sometimes competing interests. … [T]o be legitimate and effective, any collaborative effort has to be well grounded within a larger public involvement strategy that gives the larger community of interests substantive opportunity to comment on and influence collaborative recommendations BEFORE decisions are reached.
Of course for any of this to work, the process has to be seen as credible and fair, both in terms of who directly participates in a collaborative group and how those “not at the table” have meaningful opportunities to contribute before decisions are made. While good faith among all interests is not a requirement for this approach to be successful, good faith on the part of the Forest Service or other third party convening any collaborative effort is absolutely essential.
This is echoed by An Optimist:
A good process… will seek to represent the ideas or interests of even non-participating groups. The challenge, however, is that a collaborative process is a learning process ….
In a Michigan Law Review article, Daniel Walters (pdf) seems to agree with both. He advocates for a “deliberative approach” to FACA. It all sounds right to me.
The challenge, for all of us is to be ever-vigilant to ensure that ‘collaboratives’ are indeed operating in good faith, and in the public interest. But if the many of the comments in the posts linked just below are an indicator, many such collaboratives in the past may not have been acting in good faith and in the public interest. Also the Forest Service needs to make sure that collaborative fora are available at appropriate scale to deal with relevant issues—not just at the local level. So let’s keep talking, keep challenging emergent collaboratives and broader policy both in terms of resource-related policy, programs and projects and in terms of collaboration design and operation. And let’s talk here about what I missed, what I messed up, and so on re: FACA, collaboration, and US Forest Service policy and planning.
Some related NCFP collaboration posts of interest:
Odd bedfellows try collaborating to resolve conflicts- from E&E News, March 15, 2012
“Collaboration on natural resource management is divide and conquer” The Wildlife News, March 11, 2012
New Research: Who Litigates, Who Collaborates and Why?, March 7, 2012
Two Views of the Tester Bill, December 22, 2011
Collaboration Can’t Fix What Ails Public Forest Management, October 6, 2011
Colt Summit- Garrity EditorialOctober 6, 2011
Some related NCFP collaboration posts of interest:
From ABC News, Denver:
How The Fire Started
On Tuesday, the Colorado State Forest Service admitted to 7NEWS that the Lower North Fork Fire started as a result of a prescribed burn it was conducting late last week. …
Last Wednesday, the Colorado Forest Service initiated a prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property. The purpose was to reduce woody fuel from past forest restoration activity.
Prescribed fires sometimes have unintended consequences, and sometimes the consequences are tragic. We all know this, but it proves useful to our extended conversation here at NCFP if we acknowledge it. Our forest management efforts play out in contexts that are quite wild, and we should be ever-mindful of that fact.
Much government policy and some law resides in a realm philosopher Henry Frankfurt labels “bullshit”—in earlier times called humbug or balderdash. Much US Forest Service policy falls here too: regulation, manual and handbook directives. At least that’s the way I’ve seen it for a very long time.
Early in my Forest Service career, a colleague and I were conscripted into a week-long Forest Service Manual/Handbook writing exercise, specifically focused on the Forest Planning sections. A quick survey of the materials led us to conclude that our week had to be spent making sure that there was nothing in the FS planning manual that could possibly harm anyone. We knew that we could not ‘fix’ the manual, so we spent our week in a second-best endeavor.
A few years later a FS Planning Director asked a group of us for policy ideas at an economists conference. I suggested a bold move: Throw the Forest Service Manual and Handbook in the Potomac. I made the recommendation in the main because both the FS Planning and Economics Manual/Handbook materials were pretty much bullshit. Note that I immediately added that people should be able to swim out and retrieve portions of the policy manuals they deemed useful, and then upgrade them as necessary to help advise program development, project design and work generally. The point was to decommission the whole mess, and free the agency of both the manuals/handbooks and the mini-bureaucracy that oversaw them. Of course I didn’t believe that the FS would act on my suggestion, at least not then. But one can always hope. [Note: I wish there were electronic copies of earlier FS Manual/Handbook materials to point to for historical (hysterical?) purposes. ]
I suggested “tossing” the FS manual and handbook to both Chief Dombeck (via Chris Wood) and Chief Bosworth. Both were somewhat warm to the idea, but nothing happened. I’ve once again raised that issue with FS top brass, suggesting that collaborative adaptive governance can’t work if everybody shows up with several yards worth of “holy writ” that must be followed.
Later I called bullshit on the Forest Service’s initiative to tie planning (and pretty much all else) to environmental management systems—chronicled in my Forest Environmental Management Systems blog (Oct. 2005 – April 2007). That particular mess went away, with EMS rightfully retreating to a minor place (facilities and fleet management) in Forest Service administration. I’m sure my blogging did not influence the outcome. But at least I left a record, so that we might learn from the mistake.
Common wisdom says, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Let’s pause a moment and explore special characteristics of what we are digging through.
What is ‘bullshit’?
Before anyone gets too upset with my BS terminology, maybe we ought to delve into Frankfurt’s little book On Bullshit—an essay really, which you can read online. Frankfurt’s little book adorned a special shelf in my FS office bookshelves, accompanied by Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Something Happened, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and some other classics. Frankfurt begins On Bullshit with,
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. … In consequence we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.
Frankfurt attempts to tease out a ‘theory of bullshit’ for us. I’ll not bore you with all Frankfurt’s building blocks, but I at least we need to know that he distinguishes bullshit from lying, in part as follows:
The essence of bullshit is not that it is false, but that it is phony. … The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. [But it does mean that they don't quite ring true.]
How much FS policy falls in this realm? Politicians tend to create bullshit to pander—to curry favor. Bureaucrats create bullshit for very different reasons. Frankfurt says,
Bullshit is unavoidable when circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. … [This is] common in public life, where people are frequently impelled—whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.
Think about how Forest Service teams are put together, often without asking for volunteers and without too much regard for seeking out the most knowledgeable team members. It always seemed to my jaundiced eye that team members were selected to construct manual and handbook materials in the main because they were ‘good soldiers’, and particularly not ‘radicals’ who might rock the boat too much.
Why I’ve tried to stop the BS
I know that it is pretty much a fool’s quest, but I’ve always tried to get the Forest Service bureaucracy to ‘swing for the fences’ and pull itself up from the morass of its own policy, manuals and handbooks. But, like many American institutions the Forest Service will not take a hard look at itself. Maybe it’s due of fear. Maybe it is due to ennui—stuckness, lack of hope. Maybe it is something else. Maybe it is just because they don’t realize that bullshit might be outright harmful, even toxic to the organization.
This proves especially true when bullshit policy is brought into court, “for the record,” when people challenge federal actions, which must be based on federal policy. At the point federal policy bullshit makes an appearance in court, federal judges are not pleased to have to wade through it—so we too often get strongly-worded federal decisions against the Forest Service.
In any case, meaningful links between process and outcome in the Forest Service often simply don’t exist in any practical sense. They are too encumbered by bullshit. For example, we often hear that if the Forest Service can’t fix the Forest Planning process (for example) in ‘rulemaking’ then we’ll fix it in forest plan implementation—as if that can happen. Isn’t such talk just administrative governance denial?
I keep the pressure on, hoping against fate that a miracle will occur, as it did with General Electric not too long ago, just before GE was to fall in to a bureaucratic quagmire from which it would not, could not escape. Make no mistake, the GE rebirth was brutal. But the company is arguably much better today than before—now that fierce conversations are standard practice innovation is center stage, and people are required to challenge each other to do better, and to be better. Maybe someday the same will happen in a government agency, even perchance to the Forest Service. But I’m not holding my breath.
Robert H. Nelson is at it again, pitching the transfer, sale, or lease of much of our federal lands. Today’s installment comes from the Denver Post, 3/11/2011, where Nelson writes as “Guest Commentary” a little diatribe titled Free America’s West. I remember Nelson’s earlier attempts to sell the idea of selling or leasing much of the federal estate. I wrote about it in my little quasi-blog Eco-Watch in 1995, as Public Lands, Private Rights, Public Responsibilities. Let’s look at a bit of both my argument and Nelson’s. You can decide which is in the best interest of the American people.
Here is a snip from my “Public Lands, Private Rights, Public Responsibilities”, which was in part a response to Nelson’s Book Public Lands, Private Rights:
Even though much of the history of the West (or at least the mythology of the West) has been written in terms of individual rights and responsibilities, there has always been lurking in the shadows of conscience the public side of life and the responsibilities that accrue to living in communities, in regions, in nations, and on Earth. To highlight some of these issues consider the following: (1) responsibilities to maintain clean air and water systems; and (2) responsibilities to provide habitat for communities of species that keep landscapes functioning as forests, as marshlands, as prairies, etc. to form the environment that nurtures the variety of life that provides both sustenance and quality for our own existence?
What are we to do, if anything, to try to maintain the functions of the biosphere that cleanse both air and water throughout the world? Many of those functions are performed by our forests, rangelands, marshlands, and estuaries. Also, what value do we find in the presence of other species with whom we share the Earth? We commonly recognize and mourn the loss of each species that vanishes from the planet (at least those few that we hear about–or even know about) but we seem to forget that these ‘other’ species do not recognize our so-called property rights and often fall victim to human endeavors. …
Arguments that [Robert ] Nelson and others bring to the table are only germane when placed in context. Absent context how could we get to the heart of this or any other issue? What is at issue, it seems, is: Who are we as a people? What is our heritage? What heritage are we to leave to those who follow in our footsteps? Some of our collective desire to leave a proud heritage is wrapped up in the noble goals embodied in federal land and resource law. What are we to do, for example, about habitat needs for species that have grown up and flourished in Western wildlands? What about the access to relatively undeveloped public lands (also strictly undeveloped lands in primitive areas and wilderness areas) for recreation and spiritual renewal that so many take for granted? Would this access be retained in proposals for changing management? If so, where and at what cost to the user? What about the ‘attraction value’ that accrues to lands adjacent or in close proximity to federal set-asides from development? Are Sun Valley, ID, Jackson Hole, WY, Whitefish, MT, Telluride, Aspen, Vail, CO, Taos, NM, Moab, UT valuable in their own right as isolated communities filled with rather rich inhabitants? Or are the values somehow generated from the intertwining of private and public lands and the unspoken trust that the public lands are to remain intact? …
Yes, public land management is expensive. Federal government administration is expensive, as noted by all recent administrations as well as the Congress. So is a new home, a new car, or even most vacations we Americans take. But that is not to argue that we should abandon government improvement efforts. Government should be improved, and if the Government Performance Act of 1993 ever takes hold some of the costs of federal administration will better balance with the beneficial outcomes from that administration. And in part that balance will develop, assuming that it develops at all, due to partnerships between federal, state, county, and municipal government administrations working in concert with other organizations hand-in-glove for better government in general rather than locked in head-to-head competition one with another. As we begin to discuss these matters maybe we can find better roles for government generally and specifically in the hierarchy from local to federal government. But to ask right now, out-of-context, if federal government administration is too expensive is to ask a question anchored in air.
And here is a snip from Nelson’s “Free America’s West”:
The U.S. can no longer afford to keep tens of millions of acres of “public” land out of service. Some of these lands have great commercial value; others are environmental treasures. We need policies capable of distinguishing between the two. …
Probably no more than 20 percent of the tens of millions of acres of public lands are nationally important, requiring federal oversight and protection. This includes 45 million acres of Forest Service and BLM lands in the national wilderness system and other environmentally special areas such as BLM’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
An additional 60 percent, perhaps, are ordinary lands, used principally for recreational purposes, such as hiking, hunting, fishing and off-road-vehicle use. Most of the remaining public lands are useful primarily for commercial purposes, such as the timber-rich forests in the Pacific Northwest.
A rational public lands policy more suited to current and future needs would put the nationally important lands into a newly reorganized federal environmental protection system. Ordinary recreational lands would be managed at the state and local level, perhaps by transferring them to local counties. What better steward of a local recreation area than the people who live in the area?
The commercially most valuable lands, meanwhile, would be transferred to new ownership or put under long-term federal leases. Lands that have real commercial value could produce a double benefit: revenue from leases and land sales, and additional revenue from the jobs, minerals, oil, gas, lumber and other commodities the freed-up lands would produce.
It is time to end outdated federal land policies that are draining our country’s wealth, tying up valuable resources in red tape and bureaucracy, and harming the environment.
Where will all the hot air around this issue go this time around?
With the recent Ninth Circuit Decision, suggesting that the Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004 disallows “parking fees” on the national forests, I think it time to begin to think through some issues that surround the Forest Service recreation fee debacle. ‘Area access’ fees have been highly controversial since at least the late 1990s (See, e.g. my To Fee or Not to Fee?)
I think that many would agree that right now we have too many users for some of our public places, e.g. some National Forests, some National Parks, etc. And many would agree that there are too few dollars to oversee recreation programs on public lands. There are law enforcement problems, garbage collection issues, rest-room facilities issues, environmental damage problems, and more. It seems that there are always, everywhere, too few dollars chasing too many initiatives. Or maybe the federal government just doesn’t prune initiatives or programs back to fit the realities of budgets. In any case there is always plenty to fight over when it comes to money.
In this little note and follow-ups we will begin to sort out what is ‘at issue’ regarding recreation programs and dollars, and to see whether we few bloggers and commentators can find any common ground on issues and resolutions. Here are my preliminary issues: congestion (How do we disperse and/or discourage use where resource damage or experience degradation results from congestion?), ease of fee collection and participation, distribution of moneys, government agency culture transformation.
Congestion/Dispersion of Use
Let’s begin with congestion. Some would propose that fees be used to help disperse users from over-used areas to other areas. But in this day it might be that other measures could be used to disperse use. For example, federal land managers could require passes for over-used areas—passes that could be allocated via computer-based lottery and waiting lines at places of entry (e.g. a FS Ranger Station). These could be administered and allocated for free. So, perhaps too easily we can take ‘congestion’ off the table when discussing recreation fees.
Fee Collection—ease of collection, ease of participation
With congestion issues off the table at least for now, maybe we can look directly at fees to used to defray government costs. If the Congress wants to charge access fees, in addition to specific facility fees that are allowed in the 2004 Recreation Enhancement Act, then it would seem prudent to have people buy an ‘all federal lands’ pass, that could be used anywhere on federal lands for specific periods of time. This is not my recommendation, but rather a least impact means to an end. [Here is my plea for free primitive recreation on the National Forests.] At minimum the Congress ought to disallow the piecemeal, nightmarish type fees now common on federal lands. An annual pass comes to mind, that would be available at all federal public lands facilities and also on the Internet. It might be an interesting twist to allow users with scant means a free pass, if they were to pass an income/asset test—although I don’t really see an easy way to administer a test like that.
Distribution of Fee Money
There are problems associated with allowing local units to keep the monies they collect from fees. I would like to see local units keep none of it, except as filtered through governmental funding mechanisms. First, there are equity problems that accrue to, say, national forests that don’t have the attraction points (focal points) that other forests have. Second, there is the incentive to pump up prices to cover costs, a phenomenon known to some as ‘budget conservation and enhancement,’ or simply ‘budget maximization.’ I’m sure there are other issues, but let’s move on. Of course the forests flush with cash from a ‘keep it local’ advantage, will argue the flip side of this argument.
Government Agency Culture Transformation
Finally, there is the problem of creeping commercialization—the problem of government forest managers perceiving themselves to be business people rather than government administrators. This problem has to do with government administrators and their attitude and behaviors toward outfitters and guides and concessionaires (including big-ticket items like ski resorts). Do we really want the US Forest Service to move further into the marketization/commercialization world? If not, how might the Congress work to ensure that government agencies act like government agencies and not perceive themselves to be in business?
So. Take your best shot at me, both as to the issues I put on the table and those I left off. Also, what might we do to help the Congress, as well as the Forest Service and other agencies, as they continue to grapple with recreation fee issues?
Could it be that with the Adventure Pass program, the Forest Service was once-again trying to emulate business interests it once sought to regulate. Not that this is wrong, or evil—at least not unless you firmly believe that “Money is the root of all evil.” But it is clearly not what I want from the Forest Service. I made this case last year in Forest Service Mindshift: From Regulators to Partners.
I believe that the move to “marketize”, say, an ‘Adventure Pass’ program comes naturally to those in the Forest Service who have been hobnobbing with ski resort owners, Disney people, outfitters, etc. and want to be part of that world. It is just a piece of a broader “Print Your Own Money” mentality that has become firmly entrenched I the minds of some Forest Service managers? Of course they want to be apart from that world too, they want to be recognized as government agents, civil servants, etc. Can they have it both ways? I don’t think so.
My ‘beef’ with the Forest Service in this is, and has been for a very long time, simply expressed via Joni Mitchell’s lyrics from A BIG YELLOW TAXI. (copied from a dialogue thread I put into Eco-Watch bulletin board back in 1999):
by Joni Mitchell
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin’ hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
They took all the trees, put ‘em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em
Hey farmer farmer, put away that D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees
Late last night I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took away my old man
They paved paradise, put up a parking lot (choo bop bop bop bop)
They paved paradise, put up a parking lot
I don’t want national forest trees put into a “tree museum,” where you “pay a dollar and a half just to see them.” I don’t want “swingin’ hot spots” and other overly luxurious recreation facilities on the public lands. Not that such is imminent, but it might be only a bit further down the road to ‘market land’. In short I want my experiences on public lands to be as far from Madison Avenue spin as possible.
So I was delighted that the Ninth Circuit slapped the Forest Service hard (pdf) on this one—particularly since the Congress put the Recreation Enhancement Act in place to give firm guidance as to how the Forest Service ought to administer fee collection programs. Questions remain. How/Why did the Forest Service come to believe that it was acting within the scope of the Recreation Enhancement Act (available here) when it continued to use the Adventure Pass program for general access fees in some areas after the REA was passed in 2004?
Extended Footnote on Framing/Blaming
In an earlier post, I argued that the there were various ways to frame arguments, building from one of Sharon’s posts. The frame I imposed was a bit extreme, and unfairly characterized the Forest Service as a villain. I did it in part to suggest that Sharon’s earlier post had unfairly characterized the Forest Service as a victim. I realize now that I was unfair in my framing and in my characterization of Sharon’s earlier framing. In short, the victim/villain framing was too harsh and a bit silly—but it did get some folks to think a bit. A better approach would have been to admit that villains are best left for fiction, and that better framing for real world situations ought to follow this advice:
“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. … There are no villains … rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.” Ben Bova
In a recent book, Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz says, among other things, that people often put people they disagree with in one of three boxes: either they are “unformed”, else they are “idiots”, else they are “evil.” Schulz argues that there remains another possibility. People we disagree with may be quite well informed (have plenty of facts at hand), and they may not be idiots, neither evil. They might just view the world differently.
I challenge all to steer clear of the victim/villain framing that I used in my earlier post, as much fun as it is to frame things that way. But to so steer is to move away from much of the rhetoric used in the “industry/environmental wars” and other political arenas.
Finally, keep in mind that it proves very hard for any of us, particularly those in power, to admit error. Here is what Diane Ravitch said, when being interviewed on being wrong about her earlier championing of the “No Child Left Behind” program:
Schulz: If you could hear someone else interviewed about wrongness, who would it be?
Ravitch: That’s a hard one. Donald Rumsfeld said he was wrong, but I don’t even want to hear from him. [Former Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs Co-Chair, and former Citigroup Chair] Bob Rubin would be interesting, but he’ll never admit he was wrong. Right now what’s coming to mind are people who have never admitted that they’re wrong about anything.
Schulz: Like who?
Ratcliff: Like basically everybody I’ve been associated with for the last 20 years.
Kathryn Schulz. 2010. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
Robert Jervis. 1997. Systems Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life
Albert O. Hirschman. 1991. The Rhetoric of Reaction. Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy
Deitrich Dörner. 1989. The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations
Larry Tye. 1988. The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of Public Relations
Richard Hofstadter. 1952. The Paranoid Style in American Politics
[Note: Here's a post I developed on The Logic of Failure]