The following book review was written by Laura Wood for her blog, The Thinking Housewife: http://www.thinkinghousewife.com/wp/2012/06/how-feminism-wrecked-the-u-s-forest-service/
I thought this might provide an interesting discussion piece for the retired USFS readers who sometimes Comment on this blog, as well as the (usually anonymous) Commenters who still work there. It’s a controversial topic with which we are all familiar — it’s just unusual to see it laid out on the table for consideration and discussion, as Wood has done here.
How Feminism Wrecked the U.S. Forest Service
Book Review by Laura Wood
TWO YEARS ago, I posted an excerpt from a book-in-progress, The Death of the U.S. Forest Service by Christopher Burchfield. Since renamed The Tinder Box: How Politically Correct Ideology Destroyed the U.S. Forest Service, the book was published by Stairway Press earlier this spring.
Burchfield has more than fulfilled the promise evident in that excerpt. The Tinder Box is an outstanding work of investigative reporting and cultural criticism, a blow-by-blow account of how liberalism transformed the U.S. Forest Service, with its millions of acres of cherished timberlands, from one of the most effective and highly motivated government bureaucracies in American history to a rancorous, dysfunctional and despised workplace, a bureaucratic hellhole more preoccupied with egalitarian quotas and sexual harassment seminars than its mission to preserve and govern this country’s vast woodlands.
Burchfield, who has held jobs in the Forest Service, other government agencies and IBM, spent months poring over government documents and interviewing employees of the Forest, amassing a small mountain of evidence. Anyone who doubts that feminism severely damages the morale and initiative of men, and is inherently opposed to the pursuit of excellence, is encouraged to review this evidence. This story is so disturbing, pointing as it does to an environmental disaster of significant proportions, it is sure to be ignored by the mainstream. And that is a crime.
In 1876, Congress ordered the Department of Agriculture to establish the Division of Forestry for the purpose of protecting the nation’s threatened woodlands, which were susceptible to fire and had been carelessly exploited by timber interests. The bureaucratic arm was established five years after the Peshtigo Fire destroyed 1.5 million acres in Northern Wisconsin and killed as many as 2,500 people. With a growing interest in natural conservation and new scientific forest-control practices, the division was in charge of 17 million acres by 1897.
The agency was riddled with corruption and patronage when Gifford Pinchot became its head in 1898. In 1907, the U.S. Forest Service, “the oldest of America’s four great land-owning agencies — the others being the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management,” was officially born. Burchfield writes:
“A scion of a wealthy Pennsylvania family, Pinchot had studied forestry in Europe and felt that America with its immense unsettled spaces, required new concepts to manage its natural resources. A witness to the almost complete denuding of Pennsylvania’s hardwood forests and the watershed problems and poverty that followed, he felt certain that good management of both timber and prairie country was essential to preserving America’s heritage.”
Pinchot curtailed the era of patronage and adopted the Civil Service System, which required all applicants to pass an exam. He envisioned a force of qualified professionals devoted to forest work and prepared for its rigors. Pinchot said:
“I urge no man to make forestry his profession. But rather to keep away from it if he can. In forestry, a man is either altogether at home, or very much out of place…”
With acquisition of more land by Congress, the Service came to oversee 93 million acres in 44 states. Foresters and district rangers were expected to have studied dendrology, physiography, silvics (the study of individual tree species and their conditions) and forestry economics. In time, the forest ranger of lore was replaced by “hydrologists, silviculturists, range managers, geneticists, engineers and entomologists” who built long careers within the Forest Service. They were also expected to adjust to heavy labor and life in remote camps.
Pinchot, who insisted the foresters cultivate a good relationship with local communities and hire locals for seasonal work, was described as a “magnificent bureaucrat” for his vision and high standards.
The subsequent years continued this pattern of professionalism and dedication.
In 1968, in keeping with the times, administrators in Washington and other urban centers grew uncomfortable with a subculture that was overwhelmingly white and male. That year, the Berkeley office hired a woman named Gene Bernardi — “a dark-haired, ordinary looking woman in her mid-forties, wearing heavily rimmed glasses.” She was quickly promoted and appointed chief of the service’s new Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Panel.
Three years later, Bernardi, by then known as belligerent and sensitive to criticism, demanded promotion to a higher Civil Service grade. When she was refused, she promptly filed a discrimination complaint in Washington, D.C. This too failed and then, after strong-arming a few other employees to join her, she filed a class action suit.
The story of her suit, which ended up before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, makes for harrowing reading. Bernardi was represented by the feminist law firm, the Equal Rights Advocates. The suit ultimately resulted in a “consent decree,” a formal settlement between both sides. (By the time, the consent decree was signed, all plaintiffs had dropped out of the suit, even Bernardi herself. As Burchfield writes, “It was thus the weakest class complaint ever filed, a class complaint without a complainant.”)
Though the Forest Service was absolved of all wrongdoing, it agreed to make atonement for its past, promising to employ women at levels equal to the civilian labor force. Judge Samuel Conti specifically warned against quotas, which are forbidden under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Zealous Forest Service administrators ignored his warning and adopted a plan to make its force 43 percent women.
The decree pertained only to California’s Region Five, but the affirmative action mission later spread through the other administrative regions. This project was not generally approved of by women who worked for the Forest Service at that time, women who were hired for qualifications that suited their positions. (And many others have performed well since.)
Accustomed by then to employing rugged outdoors men, elite firefighters and experienced administrators — almost all of them men — to manage its wild lands with brawn and advanced scientific knowledge, the Forest Service embarked in the 1980s on a program of recruiting and hiring unqualified employees to meet its quotas of women. (See Burchfield’s earlier excerpt.) Minorities were actively recruited too, but because the effort to hire minorities was so often unsuccessful — blacks especially were not avid for jobs far from urban areas — the liberal assault on the Forest Service primarily focused on the hiring of white women.
The trend endangered those in the field. Burchfield writes:
“On July 15, 1981, two weeks after the Bernardi Decree went into effect, a tragedy occurred after a fire broke out on the Angeles National Forest. Gilbert Lopez, a fire captain, went in search of an inexperienced pump operator who had become separated from the fire team. Though she later managed to find refuge with another crew, Lopez never returned from his search. His charred remains were found after the fire was extinguished.”
This was not the only death involving inexperienced women or women who were physically inferior to their male colleagues. Burchfield tells of other incidents, including the 1994 Storm King Mountain Fire in Colorado, in which sixteen firefighters, including four women, died. In that case,
“It is all but a certainty that a number of firemen on the crew returned to assist the firewomen and paid for their heroism with their lives.”
As the consent decree took hold, men were continually denied jobs or promotions. Burchfield describes the story of Bill Shaw who started to work for the Forest in 1977.
“He was born in Arcadia, California, where as a boy he and his family routinely camped and hiked in the Forests, and came to know many of those employed in them. He would return home after these excursions and as he admitted without embarrassment, fall asleep dreaming of Lassie, Smokey the Bear or some other animal character associated with the woods. After earning an Asssociattes Degree in forestry, he went to work on one of the Angeles fire crews, rising to the position of fire captain. The pay was poor, particularly considering the high cost of living in the area, but he was working in the Forest and that counted more than anything else.
“…. After learning that he would not be able to hire the engine crew he had trained and worked with over the past three years, he was ordered to take on several women.
“Despite the extra physical drilling the agency granted the new hires, Shaw’s bull** detector went off immediately. He instinctively knew that very few of them would develop the strength and stamina necessary to haul a fifty-foot length of fire hose up a slope. For the next several years it became routine for him to order his female crew members back down the hill to stand by, while he and his two firemen held off the blaze until one or more other engine units arrived.”
Most of the women did not stay long in the most grueling jobs, but they were invariably replaced by others overwhelmed by the tasks. Shaw was eventually denied a position as fire management officer. He said a much less qualified woman was chosen instead. He told Burchfield:
“No one had any respect for her; no one had any respect for fire management; no one had any respect for the Forest, and no respect for the agency. It all drained away.”
Ironically, affirmative action made for a level of hostility toward female employees that did not exist before. Sensitivity training became standard.
Before the Bernardi decree, men who retired from heavy labor in the field often went into office work for the Service, where their knowledge of the lands contributed to their work. Afterward, these jobs went to those who had little experience on the ground, leaving a void where institutional knowledge was once preserved.
While quite a few men have won individual discrimination complaints against the Service – and have been denied promotion ever since – two major class action suits by male plaintiffs were never fully aired in court. The Supreme Court refused to review them.
The Forest Service, which once turned a profit, now loses millions. Undergrowth flourishes, causing many more fires. According to Burchfield, “eight of the eleven worst fire seasons since the 1950’s have occurred over the past twelve years:”
“True enough, urban interfacing, changing climate patterns, and the ever-rising numbers of youths brought up without supervision (today’s arsonists, meth dealers, etc.) are contributors to these disasters. But, the primary cause of these losses is the agency’s madcap obsession with gender equity, which by 1987 had resulted in a tremendous drop in prescribed burns, clearing of fire lines and slash cutting. In many instances, the Forests are so badly overgrown, that they possess 10 to 100 times as many saplings per acre as those managed by the Indians of 180 years ago.”
Mexican marijuana cartels commandeer acreage in the West for farming. Crime has increased and service patrols are inadequate to respond to it, with women forest officers particularly disinclined to restrain those violating rules. Recreational trails and mapping have deteriorated so much that the only hope in many places is that these duties will be someday turned over to local conservancies. The tremendous increase in the use of off-highway vehicles has exacerbated this neglect.
Once the friend and servant of the public, the Forest Service has become the cause of antipathy toward the federal government in rural communities throughout the land, where threats against forest rangers and vandalism of government property are alarmingly frequent. Burchfield writes:
“[W]hen year in and year out, locals see an inordinate number of jobs awarded to people flown in from thousands of miles away, a tinderbox builds, waiting only for one match to ignite it.”
America’s forests have presented extreme challenges and temptations — and have been the scene of greed and lawlessness — for hundreds of years. But the reign of affirmative action racketeers has exposed them to an unprecedented threat. It is no exaggeration to say the U.S. Forest Service has been willfully destroyed by the religion of equality.
Here is an editorial in today’s Oregonian. I tend to agree with the editors, mostly because I think timber protests are the least of our worries. Laws already exist regarding trespassing, theft, vandalism, and public indecency, so doesn’t that already cover most of the new actions?
I think Commenters on this blog sometimes fail to differentiate the stark differences between industrial landowners (Weyco, Plum Creek, G-P, etc.) — who often profit directly from the protest actions and litigation taking place on State and federal lands — from the 20,000+ family-owned woodlands in the State, and/or from the “forest industry” folks typified by the predominantly family-owned sawmills and logging companies that are most dependent on public lands for their needs. The industrial forests had regularly attempted to severely limit public land timber sales since the early 1900s — with the help of Congress and the environmental industry they have pretty much succeeded, and to their own significant profit. It is the family-owned woodlands and small business owners who have suffered most through a lack of competitive markets, taxpaying jobs, and raw materials — and almost all seemingly limited by political decisions, rather than actual biological or ecological limitations.
Here’s the editorial link: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/05/logging_protesters_should_face.html
Logging protesters should face financial, more than criminal, liability: Agenda 2013
By The Oregonian Editorial Board
May 13, 2013 at 4:17 PM, updated May 14, 2013 at 12:16 PM
The Elliott State Forest, east of Reedsport, is but a sliver of some 30 million acres of private and public timberland in Oregon. But whether its trees can be cut according to state plan runs beneath a debate in the Legislature over logging on all state lands and those who would protest the practice.
A pair of bills recently introduced by Gold Beach Republican Rep. Wayne Krieger represents a get-tough stance that brings real consequence to forest protests. The ringer of the two, House Bill 2595, defines any action on state lands that slows or blocks a logging operation as criminal, a misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders with jail time attached.
We get the sentiment. Logging in Oregon, to which public education funding is linked, has been down for more than two decades owing to species protection and disputes — both in the woods and in the courts. Meanwhile, mills have closed, jobs have vanished and timber-dependent counties have suffered unduly from the loss of revenue.
But throwing the book at protesters will neither restore the cut nor tamp down on protests. What HB2595 would do, despite amendments that have softened the bill’s penalties, is criminalize one form of civil disobedience. What about the hundreds who challenged businesses surrounding a couple of city blocks in 2011 during the tiring weeks of Occupy Portland?
State laws already allow Oregon district attorneys to prosecute protesters for disorderly conduct, trespassing, property damage and other forms of criminal mischief. Those who are so knuckleheaded as to conduct outright acts of ecoterrorism — purposefully damaging equipment or placing lives in danger — can face federal penalties, as well.
HB2595, passed by the House 43-12 but awaiting Senate Judiciary Committee action, goes too far in abridging personal freedoms while trying to pave the way to hindrance-free harvests. The bill should be sidelined as an earnest but flawed attempt to help step up the pace of logging.
We have little doubt, meanwhile, that loggers with a contract to cut trees on the Elliott in 2009 lost money because of work obstruction. Protesters had placed themselves in harm’s way to prevent logging from going forward, and until the last of them was arrested and removed by state police, they succeeded in halting operations. It was the type of circus for which Krieger’s companion proposal, House Bill 2596, would have made great sense.
This bill makes clear that any private firm allowed by Oregon to log on state land would have the right to file a civil lawsuit against protesters for financial damages incurred by disruptions associated with the protest. Passed by the House 51-4, the measure is smart because it attaches palpable, rather than punitive, consequence to actions that illegally bring financial harm.
Loggers must have reasonable expectation they will be able to log once they contracted to do so. If they are blocked by protesters, they should be able to charge for the downtime and associated losses. And those protesting should expect they might not only be arrested but face a judgment for those losses. The Senate should approve this measure.
This following Press Release just came out of the Committee for Natural Resources. According to the ESA Working Group’s new website (http://naturalresources.house.gov/esaworkinggroup/), which distributed the release:
Through a series of events, forums and hearings, the Working Group will invite open and honest discussion and seek answers to the following questions:
How is ESA success defined?
How do we measure ESA progress?
Is the ESA working to achieve its goals?
Is species recovery effectively prioritized and efficient?
Does the ESA ensure the compatibility of property and water rights and species protection?
Is the ESA transparent, and are decisions open to public engagement and input?
Is litigation driving the ESA? Is litigation helpful in meeting ESA goals?
What is the role of state and local government and landowners in recovering species?
Are changes to the ESA necessary?
Can anyone think of anything that should maybe be added or refined on this list? I have already requested that the entire process conducted transparently, in full view of the public. It strikes me that this blog might be an ideal forum for such an approach.
Here is the Press Release (my Congressperson isn’t on it, either):
Members Launch Endangered Species Act Working Group
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 9, 2013 – Members of the House of Representatives, representing a broad geographic range, today announced the creation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) Working Group. This Working Group, led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings and Western Caucus Co-Chair Cynthia Lummis, will examine the ESA from many angles. Throughout this year, the Working Group will hold a series of events, forums, and hearings that will invite discussion and input on ways in which the ESA (last reauthorized in 1988) may be working well, how it could be updated, and how to boost its effectiveness for both people and species.
Last Congress, the Natural Resources Committee held a series of hearings examining the impact of ESA-related litigation and settlement agreements. The Committee found that hundreds of ESA lawsuits have been filed over the past five years and that tens of millions of dollars have been awarded in taxpayer funded attorneys’ fees. This takes time and resources away from real species recovery efforts. In addition, the Administration will be making listing decisions on nearly 800 species by 2016, including 160 this year, as a result of settlement agreements negotiated behind closed doors.
The Working Group will continue to examine the impacts of litigation along with a number of other specific topics and questions including: how to measure ESA progress; how to define success; if the ESA is working to achieve its goals; the role of state and local governments in recovering species; whether the ESA conserves species while ensuring property and water rights protection; the need for public engagement and input; and more.
Members of the ESA Working Group include:
Doc Hastings (WA-04)
Cynthia Lummis (WY – At large)
Mark Amodei (NV-02)
Rob Bishop (UT-01)
Doug Collins (GA-09)
Andy Harris (MD-01)
Bill Huizenga (MI-02)
James Lankford (OK-05)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-03)
Randy Neugebauer (TX-19)
Steve Southerland (FL-02)
Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05)
David Valadao (CA-21)
“The Endangered Species Act Working Group is an opportunity to build upon the Committee’s work last year and have a fair, honest conversation and review of the current law. We’ve brought together Members from all parts of the country in order to get a broad range of input and perspectives. We want to hear from states, local community leaders, farmers, ranchers, environmental groups, property owners, and businesses – everyone who cares and has an opinion – about how the law impacts their lives and how it might be improved. I believe we all support the goal of wanting to preserve, protect, and recover key domestic species. 40 years after it was signed into law, and 25 years since it was last renewed by Congress, I hope there can also be recognition that they are ways this law can be improved and made to work better for both people and species.” – Chairman Doc Hastings
“This is an opportunity for Members from across the country to collaborate on creating a more effective conservation tool for our nation’s diverse wildlife. The ESA has long been a topic of great interest to the West, but as Western Caucus Co-Chair, I believe that Westerners must do a better job of reaching out to our Eastern colleagues on this topic in a way that builds trust, not division. The ESA can work, but it is far from perfect. In fact, in some ways the law hinders the kind of conservation of species that we all desire. This Working Group will leave no stone unturned for good ideas on improving the ESA for people and species. I am particularly interested in the ideas coming from our nation’s policy laboratories – the states. In the end, I am hopeful the Working Group will provide a strong base of education and opens a discussion on the ESA that is free of rancor.” – Rep. Cynthia Lummis
“During a time when Nevada at the local, state, and federal levels is so heavily focused on preventing the listing of the sage grouse as endangered, I am grateful House Leadership selected me to participate in the ESA Working Group along with Members from across the country. It is my hope this forum will help enable me to further convey the negative impact the looming sage grouse listing would have on Nevada and the West, as well as to identify tools to prevent it.” – Rep. Mark Amodei
“I look forward to working with all those interested in improving the way we recover and ultimately de-list species from the ‘endangered’ status. Key to these efforts will be the states, advocacy groups, federal wildlife managers, and public land users. Much work is ahead, but the goals of improving wildlife and range health are essential to the future vitality of our open public spaces.” – Rep. Rob Bishop
“There is a very real need to update the ESA so that we can actually help endangered species recover. The ESA should be a straightforward tool to engage public and private entities to work together towards protection and recovery of species. I am proud to join my colleagues on the ESA Working Group to bring common sense solutions that benefits animals as well as humans.” – Rep. Doug Collins
“This Working Group will listen to diverse concerns with the goal of improving the way we govern programs that help recover vulnerable species. The current system is clogged with lawsuits, and as a physician, I understand that courtrooms rarely provide the best diagnosis.” – Rep. Andy Harris
“I look forward to contributing to the Endangered Species Working Group during the 113th Congress. It is extremely important to represent the abundance of natural resources in Michigan; from the shorelines of our Great Lakes, to our many farms and forests, the Endangered Species Act impacts a variety of aspects of our state. This year marks the 40th year since the ESA was enacted. I am excited to be a part of this group of legislators examining the effectiveness of the ESA and to improve the Act for both the public, and endangered species.” – Rep. Bill Huizenga
“I am glad to have an opportunity to address the broken and ineffective Endangered Species Act with my colleagues on the Working Group. Oklahomans who are passionate about protecting endangered species might be interested to know that our current federal structure is ineffective and outdated. We should be good stewards of the planet God gave us and its inhabitants. But federal laws protecting dwindling animal populations should be crafted to actually address the problems they intend to solve. Current law, including the ESA, is outdated and does more to protect paperwork than animals.” – Rep. James Lankford
“This Working Group aims to propose thoughtful reforms to the Endangered Species Act, which over the last few decades has had many unintended consequences that have impacted our citizens and communities. I am honored to be a part of this group and eager to utilize my experience with Mississippi and Missouri River issues to represent the state and the entire Midwest in this capacity.” – Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer
“I’m honored to be a part of this ESA Working Group. Wildlife conservation issues can have a significant impact on West Texans, and smart conservation strategies are critical to our farmers, ranchers, and energy producers. The Working Group will be an excellent platform to coordinate the efforts of all stakeholders involved so that we can protect the livelihoods of individuals while maintaining healthy wildlife populations.” – Rep. Randy Neugebauer
“Protecting endangered species and promoting jobs and economic growth need not be mutually exclusive. Through collaboration, I believe we can produce a more effective Endangered Species Act. That’s why I’m pleased to be part of a working group that is welcoming the input and real life perspectives of a diverse range of stakeholders, including not just animal protection advocates and conservation groups, but also the communities, small businesses, and coastal, agricultural and forestry interests that are impacted by the ESA.” – Rep. Steve Southerland
“The Endangered Species Act was intended as a collaborative partnership between the states and our federal government to protect and sustain our biological resources. This review process is designed so that lawmakers can hear from all stakeholders, which will help to identify the law’s effectiveness in terms of species protection and ecosystem restoration, and to determine its failures and categorize which reforms should guide the policy making process moving forward.” – Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson
“California has the largest water storage and transportation system in the world, yet the Endangered Species Act is preventing people in my district from getting enough water to meet their agricultural and everyday needs. Both sides of the aisle must come together to find common-sense solutions that meet the needs of the people so deeply affected by these policies. I am excited to join my colleagues as we work together to find common ground and do what’s best for our constituents.” – Rep. David Valadao
For more information on the ESA Working Group, visit http://naturalresources.house.gov/ESAworkinggroup
Printable PDF of this document
Contact: Jill Strait 202-226-9019
According to today’s Missoulian newspaper, the logging slated to begin on the Bass Creek project of the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana has been delayed because Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company’s log yard is too full and they have too much inventory.
An unusually dry spring will keep an extremely popular recreation site open to the public a couple of weeks longer than planned this spring.
Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. has pushed back the start of its logging operation at the Bass Creek Recreation Area to about June 1 because its log yard is fuller than expected this time of year.
“We didn’t anticipate this very dry spring weather,” said Gordy Sanders, Pyramid Lumber’s resource manager. “Our decision to delay the start of the logging operation has to do with the overall management of our log inventory.”
The drier-than-normal spring allowed Pyramid’s loggers and contractors to bring in more timber than their mill could accommodate.
So the mill’s log yard is full.
Here is an editorial about spotted owl economics that has been going the rounds of a number of email networks since it was published four days ago, on May 3rd:
This was posted on Amy Ridenour’s National Center Blog, and was written by Teresa Platt, who is listed as the Director of the Environment and Enterprise Institute at the National Center for Public Policy Research. I’m guessing “right wing think tank,” by the title of the organization and Ridenour’s history, and note that Platt often blogs about topics regarding our nation’s natural resources:
I’d never read this blog before, but apparently some of my wildlife biology, range sciences, and rancher friends do — those are the circles in which this has been making the rounds, including a personal email from Platt requesting a wider distribution.
In general, I am in agreement with Platt’s thoughts – however, I think these animals are more rightly referred to as “hoot owls” (the most common type of owl in North America), rather than “wood owls.” I’m going to stick with Wikipedia on that one, until someone explains to me why they think spotted owls have been here “since the last ice age,” whereas historical evidence indicates they may have arrived just a few decades in advance of the more common striped hoot owl.
The Shameful and Painful Spotted Owl Saga: Shooting Stripes To Save Spots
By Teresa Platt
Posted May 3, 2013 at 1:20 PM
Our federal government prefers spots and is moving forward with a million-dollar-a-year plan to remove 9,000 striped owls from 2.3% of 14 million Western acres of protected spotted owl habitat. Our government is shooting wood owls with stripes to protect those with spots; to stop the stripes from breeding with the spots.
It had to come to this.
The 1990 listing of the Northern spotted owl under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) gave the bird totem status in management decisions.
It didn’t work. Spotted owls declined 40% over 25 years. Timber sales on federal government-managed lands dropped too. Oregon harvests fell from 4.9 billion board feet (1988) to less than 5%, 240 million board feet (2009). Beyond the jobs and business profits from making lumber, the Federal and County governments used to benefit from these harvests too. Harvests down: tax receipts down. Today, with cutbacks in Federal budgets and sequestration, the States are arguing about how much of your tax dollars the Federal government should give them to keep impoverished County governments afloat in timber-rich areas.
Beyond competition from barred owls, and after years of not enough logging, mega-fires fueled by too many trees now threaten spotted owl survival. An exhausted veteran of the spotted owl wars, who lives dangerously close to a federally-“managed” forest that is expected to go up in smoke soon, explained:
“You have to realize that even moving a biomass project forward takes a court battle. No salvage of dead or burned timber — it just rots. Not much thinning or fuel reduction – without a two-year court fight the Forest Service usually loses. Hell, the agency is still fighting lawsuits over the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment started in ‘97 — after four revisions and several court decisions — the Greens just keep suing until they get what they want.”
Taxpayers pay for the conservation plans, recovery plans, and action plans, many stalled in court.
Taxpayers pay for all the lawsuits too, on both sides.
Taxpayers pay the salaries and pensions of government workers fighting fire and those shooting striped owls in order to give, temporarily, an advantage to ones with spots.
All this sacrifice and the spots just keep declining and the stripes just keep on coming.
The Northern spotted owl might very well be the most expensive avian sub-species on the planet.
Invasive or just mobile?
It is theorized that striped and spotted owls were once the same species of wood owl before separating into East and West Coast versions during the last Ice Age. The common striped barred wood owl (Strix varia) has expanded its range westward, establishing itself at the expense of the less aggressive, less adaptable and smaller spotted wood owl (Strix occidentalis).
By 1909, barred owls were found in Montana. They made their way to the coast, taking up residence in British Columbia (1943), Washington (1965) and Oregon (1972).
The owls, striped or spotted, are so closely related they successfully interbreed and their fertile offspring, “sparred owls,” are hybrids that look just like spotted owls. The ESA does not protect the hybrids or their offspring so the birds are breeding their way out of the ESA!
Says Susan Haig, a wildlife ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, is exasperated by the interbreeding:
“It’s a nasty situation. This could cause the extinction of the Northern spotted owl.”
The ESA measures and categorizes, then stands steadfast against change. It is attempting, by shotgun, to separate the birds.
Are these kissing cousins from the East invasive and unwanted when they turn up out West? Or just mobile and happy to mix it up with their spotted relatives?
Whatever, and wherever, they are, striped and spotted owls are not the only birds moving around.
111 species, almost 20% of the total bird species in North America have expanded into at least one new state or province with 14 species expanding into more states and provinces than the barred owl. Changing climates and habitats are the cause of 98% of range expansions. The birds go where the food is. 38 states or provinces have gained at least 10 new bird species, some moving into a niche inhabited by an ESA-listed avian cousin.
Beyond birds, the last Ice Age killed off the North American earthworm. It’s since been reintroduced, only to be labeled — by our government scientists — as an invasive species, an undesirable. And — oh no! — earthworms are beating millipedes in the game of survival.
The policy we embrace today for striped and spotted birds can be transferred to other birds and other animals, even earthworms. If this continues, will we be reduced to digging up and killing earthworms to save millipedes?
The ESA is written thus and lawsuits by “green” groups — many paid for by our tax dollars — are herding us in this direction.
Stripes, spots, species, subspecies and stocks
In the Kingdom of Animalia, the Phylum of Chordata, the Class of Aves, the Order of Srigiformes, are two Families of birds of prey: the typical owls (Strigidae) and the barn owls (Tytonidae).
The Strigidae Family is the larger of the two Families with close to 190 species, covering nearly all terrestrial habitats worldwide, except Antarctica. 95% are forest-dwelling; 80% are found in the tropics.
The Strigdae Family includes 11 species of the genus Strix, characterized by a conspicuous facial disk and a lack of ear tufts. They are known as screech owls, wood owls, the great gray, the chaco in South America. The Ural wood owl alone boasts 15 sub-species in Europe and Northern Asia.
Within this Strix genus, in North America, the barred wood owl is broken into three sub-species (the Northern varia, georgica in Florida and helveola in Texas), with a fourth (Strix sartorii) found in Mexico.
The spotted owl species (Strix occidentalis) is broken down into three sub-species ranging across the western parts of North America and Mexico. The “threatened” Strix occidentalis lucida of Arizona and Mexico, the California spotted owl subspecies, Strix occidentalis occidentalis, and the endangered Northern spotted owl, Strix occidentalis caurina, the sub-species of greatest concern. The Northern spotted owl ranges from California, through Oregon and Washington, and up into Canada.
You can break this down even further, if you’d like, into regional sub-stocks of sub-species. If you have the time (our government does) and the money (our taxes), you can follow family units, individuals, and all the new hybrids, the result of striped owls breeding with spotted ones.
The Wise Old Owl Asks, “Who Pays?”
This summer there will be more megafires in our overstocked Western forests, often followed by mudslides from the denuded hillsides next spring.
Another “green” group will file suit to stop another timber sale or attempt to stop government workers from shooting stripes to save spots.
Since the spotted owl wars resulted in the export of so many timber jobs, Northwest timber communities contribute far fewer tax dollars to the communal treasury, so the costs of megafires, mudslides and lawsuits will be borne by Eastern and urban taxpayers. That’s where the people—and the taxes—are.
The striped owl may be relentlessly working its way West, but its costs are steadily moving East.
Teresa Platt is the Director of the Environment and Enterprise Institute at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Press release from Tester’s office. Note the mix of Rs and Ds.
(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are leading a bipartisan coalition warning the President against reducing timber sales on U.S. Forest Service lands.
The Senators are joined by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).
The Forest Service’s budget proposal for 2014 would cut timber sales by 15 percent. The Senators say the plan threatens jobs in rural communities and is inconsistent with the agency’s forest restoration goals.
“At a time when we need to be increasing timber harvest, the Administration’s blueprint sets us even further back,” the Senators wrote President Obama. “The cuts would have serious consequences for counties and businesses in our states and across the country. We urge you to reconsider proposed cuts in timber sales and instead find new ways to boost timber supply in a responsible manner.”
The Senators note that in addition to boosting the market’s timber supply and creating jobs, increasing the timber harvest will help to mitigate wildfires. Dead trees combined with historic drought to burn a near-record 9.3 million acres nationwide in 2012.
A letter from the senators is here:
Matthew has raised the issue of “overconsumption” a couple of times, most recently in this comment.
On the way home from the hearing yesterday, I stopped to get a tour of our local community facility for those in need, the Action Center. They said that they were having trouble with moving people from homelessness into housing due to a less than 5% vacancy rate in rental housing in our area. So it seems like more building would be good in that context to move people from underconsumption to consumption.
I think individuals probably do “overconsume,” and people with more probably have since before recorded time. In those days it was decried more from a “give your extra to those who have none” context rather than a “reduce your environmental footprint” context, but the behavior seems to be the same.
Still, I’m not sure that decreasing timber production from small western communities close to federal land is really related to the problem of overconsumption. If people think so, I would like to hear more about it. Because people definitely do overconsume calories, and the solution has never been to buy up farmland to bring it back to its historical range of variation. When food or timber can be and is imported, I’m not sure that “overconsumption” is an argument for not producing it locally and giving our own folks jobs.
This topic is a bit of a crosswalk of my interests, and I wouldn’t have posted the essay below except that the topic came up. I took a class in Creative Writing with Gotham Writers Workshop online last fall. It was a good course and teacher was excellent. Here’s an essay I wrote for the class…note that Matthew didn’t say “we” overconsume, so the essay is not directed at folks like him.. his comment just reminded me of this essay.
Breast Beating of Others is Neither Attractive Nor Particularly Useful
I spend a great deal of time around people who work in the spiritual and church business. They are great people in general, and I love them. These are the people you want around when things are going very, very badly for you. That’s why I don’t ask them what the H they are talking about, or slap them upside the head, when they say things like I’m going to describe below. Occasionally I am tempted but..
It’s about the profligate use of the word “we”. As in “we Americans consume too much.” I honestly don’t understand why someone would say this to a group of people. You could say “I think some of the people in this room consume too much”, but really how would you know? Unless you were going through their trash, or checking the miles per gallon of, and counting their vehicles. And of course in my spiritual community, we’re supposed to follow the Guy who said “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
My point would be that while some Americans are rich, many are poor. Many are working and overworked, in a less-than-pleasant work environment, to make ends meet and to provide for their families, not to buy their second Prius, and then bask in a glow of climate change prevention self-satisfaction.
We always talk, in the same kinds of churchy situations, about ethnic and cultural differences among Americans and how valuable these differences are. Yet when it comes to something bad, we seem to have been homogenized into one gelatinous glob (“Americans are destroying the environment”). So if you only mean “some” Americans, just say it. Like “I think white upper-class Americans are destroying the environment”. That’s much better as those of us not in the upper class or white, can just grab a milk shake at McDonald’s and go home and feel good about ourselves.
Now that we’ve identified the culprits of over-consumerism, you can target your message to them and make sure that they are there when you engage in your castigation of behavior. This reminds me of my former church in Virginia. A couple of times per year, young priests from somewhere would show up with fire and brimstone sermons against abortion, to a congregation of gray and white-haired folk. Waste of time, anyone?
And really, what good is it to exhort people who are not there? And really, how well does exhortation work to modify human behavior? Seems like we have been hearing “Thou shalt not kill” since the time of Moses, which has been a long time, and people still go around killing.
My solution is that if you want to confess and do penance, beat your own breast, and I’ll let you know when you can touch mine. If you said, instead of “Americans consume too much”, “I consume too much,” I would ask you “what do you think is too much?” and “why do you do it?”. That would be the beginning of an interesting and instructive conversation. But please, leave the “me” in “we” out of it.
On February 12, I asked the Forest Service to make the NFMA rule FACA committee meetings accessible to the on-line public. It didn’t happen for the 2/20 meeting.
With the next meeting scheduled for 5/7, I reiterated the request on 5/1. Once again, no go for the May meeting.
However, despair not policy wonks, the FACA DFO (that’s “designated federal official”) says that the FS isn’t opposed to the idea. He says that by the time of the June meeting, which hasn’t yet been scheduled on the committee’s calendar, the FS hopes to have some kind of real-time electronic access for the public.
In the meantime, if you just can’t get enough after having read the proposed directives, you can see what the committee has been perusing here.
That’s the title of a High Country News article from April 29. It is subscription only and very long. A couple of excerpts in which Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson’s version of “ecological forestry” is discussed:
Along with his old-growth research, Franklin pioneered a “new forestry” that revolutionized federal logging practices in the ’90s — setting basic standards like leaving dead snags and legacy trees for habitat after a clearcut.
Franklin’s more recent “ecological forestry” goes further. Larger patches of the best habitat — 20 to 40 percent of the stand — are left undisturbed while the rest is cleared to let smaller trees and shrubs fill in, creating “early seral” habitat that’s high in biodiversity, with leafy plants for deer and elk, and flowers and fruit for birds and butterflies. Franklin is concerned that there’s not enough of this habitat in the Northwest because clear-cuts on state and private land are managed more like plantations than forests: Almost everything is mowed down and sprayed with herbicide so that only replanted trees will grow — an industrial model that shortcuts natural development.
The new method tries to mimic natural disturbances like wildfire and lets the forest recover more naturally. “It’s an evolution in what we were thinking about under the Northwest Forest Plan,” Franklin says. Back then, the focus was on saving the old growth; now, he says, it’s the young forest that needs help, in part because there’s been so little traditional logging on federal lands over the last decade.
Under the Northwest Forest Plan, clearcuts — “regeneration harvests” in forester terms — left more trees than an industrial cut but still provoked strong protests. In response, the BLM tried to meet timber targets by thinning crowded plantations to restore forests. But thinning provides less wood per acre and less return to agencies and county budgets. And some fear that the BLM will simply run out of forest to thin within the next couple decades. That’s why Franklin wants to begin again with higher-volume, regeneration harvests.
“We need a dedicated land base for sustainable wood production on the federal lands, and this is part of it,” Franklin says. The White Castle sale would produce 6.4 million board-feet of timber, slightly less than if it were cut under the normal standards of the Northwest Forest Plan, but 20 times more than if it were simply thinned. A recent study by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office shows that ecological forestry could satisfy the Northwest Forest Plan’s target of 203 million board-feet for the O&C lands into the future, while continued thinning would fall short and eventually dry up.
However, some environmentalists are not buying this approach (which is not surprising, but how long will the public buy crying wolf about clearcutting and old growth?).
“The White Castle project is a cynical attempt to pass off clear-cutting century-old trees as restoration,” said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild in a press release. “In reality, the true focus of this project is providing cheap timber to old-growth dependent logging mills at taxpayer expense.”
Environmentalists fear that this project could clear the way for more of this sort of “active management” in old-forest owl habitat. They say mature forests on their way to developing into old growth should not be sacrificed especially when impacts to struggling spotted owls are unclear. In December, the BLM dismissed the protest, but the groups appealed.
“Orwellian doublespeak, my ass,” Franklin retorts. He accuses his critics of distorting the terms of the debate. Under more traditional definitions, the project is neither a clear-cut nor is it in old growth, generally said to be at least 180 years old. Yet with all of the ancient stands essentially off the table, the new fight in Westside forests is over the 80- to 160-year-old future old-growth forests. “This is really where the battle is going to be fought out,” Franklin says.
Meanwhile, industry groups say the pilots don’t provide enough timber to satisfy the O&C lands’ promise of logs to support the counties.
“Of all the issues I’ve worked on, this particular one has angered the widest spectrum of people — just about everyone,” Johnson says. He sees the pilot projects as a policy test for a new management paradigm that challenges the divide between forest reserves and timber harvest areas. That schism, he says, harkens all the way back to the split between John Muir’s preservationist ideals and Gifford Pinchot’s utilitarian forestry, which laid the foundation for federal land management.
The pilot harvest model demands that foresters abandon plantation forestry but requires environmentalists to accept that some types of logging — beyond thinning — can be ecologically beneficial. “We’re asking people to look at that and not see forest destruction but see forest renewal — and that’s hard,” says Johnson. “This is really fundamentally rethinking our philosophy of how we conserve and manage forests.”
Well, federal forests. It’s a middle ground, say Franklin and Johnson, between intensively managed private timberlands and reserves on federal ground. I support this approach, though I’d still like to see at least a pilot trust established to oversee harvesting and management of Matrix areas.
Good work from High Country News. In his Editor’s Note, Paul Larmer says the “Historic Northwest Forest Plan needs a careful overhaul.” I think this is open access:
I was just getting ready to respond to Sharon’s public database idea (I’m all for it) and to the HRV modeling crowd (they are NOT historical ecologists — but that’s what is really needed) after checking my email, but came across the following news release first.
My pet peeves are the insistent references to “principles of ecological forestry” (which all of the agencies have apparently bought into, or been required to adopt, whatever they might be) and to the claim that these efforts are “science-driven” and represent the “latest science,” apparently based on “new scientific information.”
These are social value problems, and the scientists who need to be involved are cultural anthropologists and historical ecologists — both sadly underrepresented in the literature and in funding. Once common values and objectives can be established, then experienced resource managers need to become involved. So far, it looks like the whole thing is continuing to degenerate in closed door meetings at the hands of high-level bureaucrats, lawyers, and ivory tower theorists — not locals, and not skilled managers. And certainly not the public.
Have these “principles of ecological forestry” ever been independently peer reviewed, or is it just more in-house stuff? How did they change, given the recent influx of “new scientific information?” And — most importantly — where can American taxpayers review these documents?
U.S. Department of the Interior Contacts:
BLM, Jody Weil, (503) 808-6287
U.S. Department of Agriculture
USFWS, Jason Holm, (503) 231-2264
USFS, Larry Chambers, (202) 205-1005
For release: April 26, 2013
USFWS, BLM, USFS Leadership Travel to Pacific Northwest to Discuss Northern Spotted Owl Recovery, Forest Health
As part of the Administration’s on-going commitment to improving forest health in the Pacific Northwest, recovering the northern spotted owl, and supporting sustainable economic opportunities for local communities, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, Bureau of Land Management Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze, and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell this week travelled to California, Oregon and Washington to meet with employees from both the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture in an effort to underscore what they see as an historic opportunity for forest ecosystem progress.
“In the past two years, the Service has used the principles of ecological forestry and the latest scientific information to revise and update the recovery plan and identify habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the spotted owl,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “With all three agencies aligned around these principles, we have an historic opportunity to accelerate the protection and restoration of healthy forest ecosystems that will support owl recovery and sustainable timber supplies.”
The USFWS , BLM and USFS have been working together for two decades on recovery of the northern spotted owl, protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The four employee meetings held in Olympia, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Eugene, Oregon; and Redding, California provided an important opportunity for agency leaders to articulate a common vision and intent, and address questions from the people who will play a key role in achieving that vision. The visit emphasizes the importance that sustainable forest health plays in the social, cultural and economic viability of communities in the Pacific Northwest.
“Balance is the key to our success,” said BLM Principal Deputy Director Kornze. “We are
working collaboratively with our partners to develop a sustainable path forward and a long-term solution to the complex forest management challenges in western Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
In December 2012, the USFWS finalized a science-driven proposal identifying lands in the Pacific Northwest that are essential to the survival and recovery of the northern spotted owl. The USFWS identified 9.29 million acres of critical habitat on Federal land and 291,570 acres on state land.
“Our National Forests in the Pacific Northwest are a great national treasure, not least for all of the values they provide to local communities,” USFS Chief Tidwell said. “We are working with partners and communities to apply the latest science in maintaining and restoring habitat for spotted owl and other wildlife.”
The agencies have worked closely in developing the revised critical habitat designation and recovery plan. The plan embraces active forest management by applying principles of ecological forestry to target and achieve forest health. This will allow forests within the range of the northern spotted owl to be managed for conservation of the species, ecosystem health and economic opportunities for local communities.
The BLM is revising its resource management plans for 2.5 million acres of forest lands across six BLM Districts in western Oregon in order to address new scientific information related to forest health, the USFWS’s recovery plan and proposed critical habitat designations for the northern spotted owl. The plans will supersede those completed in 1995.