Collaboration? Not Now, Thanks

The collaboration deck is inherently stacked against participation by ordinary people

The Beacon opinion section has spilled barrels of ink lately regarding National Forest policy, mainly on two separate yet intimately intertwined issues, collaboration and litigation.

Collaboration proponents hope to leave an impression that Kumbayaing together will make America’s forests spring up renewed. But I’ve been around since the days of the Seventh American Forest Congress (a mid-1990s “consensus” effort that accomplished nothing), up to the Flathead National Forest’s latest forest plan revision. Over the years, I’ve seen all these battles over U.S. Forest Service policy inevitably boil down to “Industry Versus Greens.” Everyone else gets the butt cut, every time.

For example, for the new forest plan, the Flathead National Forest hired a fancy consultant and tried hard to actively recruit what was initially a broad base of participants. However, the dropout rate for “regular people” was disturbingly high. Why?

The collaboration deck is inherently stacked against participation by ordinary people. Usually, the sawmills send their employees, the environmentalists send their employees, and the Forest Service sends agency staff. Who sends Ordinary Joe or Jane, you know, typical weekend-warrior forest users who simply want well managed, accessible forests? Nobody. And who pays Ordinary Joe and Jane? Nobody, and that’s a real problem.

Ordinary people have busy lives – day jobs, bosses, families needing food and shelter. When if we have time off from those obligations – well, it’s nice just to hop in the rig and go – or at least it used to be nice, right?

Go to a weekday or weeknight meeting? How about multiple meetings? Want to wade through a 1,000-page Environmental Impact Statement, draft and final, plus appendices? Heck, I’d rather watch Survivor re-runs than volunteer what is, in reality, real work – overtime work at that.

So, for economic reasons alone (time, even wasted, is money – period), the collaboration arena defaults to those paid to play. The needs, much less any wants or hopes, of the average people who own these forests, don’t count much.

Nonetheless, even volunteer collaboration could work if the end results matched the efforts expended, which leads us to the related matter of litigation.

On that topic, Beacon readers have been treated to warring opinion pieces regarding the latest legal “success” by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR), which tied up the Kootenai National Forest’s East Reservoir Project (a “collaboration”) in the Ninth Circuit Court just two days before work was to begin.

A Beacon story by Tristan Scott on AWR’s bombshell spurred a defensive item about “following the law” from AWR executive director Mike Garrity. Responding to Garrity was one Nick Smith of Oregon, who is pro-collaboration, and sure enough, a collaboration “pro” who runs a pro-forestry/collaboration nonprofit called Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.

Smith savaged AWR as a “poster child for serial litigation.” True enough – since 1988, AWR has been engaged in 216 lawsuits, with 192 coming since 1996 (about the time the grizzly bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act, giving AWR a heck of a useful legal hook).

Smith further declared that AWR’s “obstructionism is based in ideology, not science” and that AWR and other “extremists will not be satisfied until Montana has lost its mills and loggers, leaving no one left to make forest restoration possible.”

Mr. Smith’s spade-calling generated irate responses from two well-known environmentalists, George Wuerthner, a former, first-wave Earth Firster and AWR board member; and Steve Kelly, a “co-founder” of AWR and board director of another reliable Montana litigant, Friends of the Wild Swan. Both are also well-known as adherents of “deep ecology,” which is basically Earth worship.

After reading their responses, such as Mr. Kelly’s reference to the “corporatist, collaborative agenda,” it appears AWR and its defenders would rather our national forests burn flat rather than have any capitalist ever “exploit” the forest (or “nature” in general) ever again. And it’s for darn certain that through the court system, the inmates are, in fact, running the forest policy asylum.

So forgive me if I can’t get excited about any Forest Service policy, especially collaboration, until Congress changes the laws governing litigation.

  • Craig Moore

    Well stated. The average person is mere window dressing, camouflage if you will, for the paid players pulling the strings.

  • Caddisfly

    And this is different than any other issue brought before any governmental group? Have you ever addressed a legislative committee, you stand in line behind paid lobbyists from corporate groups and the Chamber of Commerce. No matter which committee it is always the same paid lobbyists in the line to make comments. Average citizens pay their own way to Helena, have to take a day off of work just to be able to speak for two minutes. Until we find a way to control these paid lobbyists, nothing will change. By the way after you speak for two minutes and then leave, the lobbyists remain behind getting private meetings with State Senators and Representatives, it is all a show to make it look like citizens have a say in the process.

    • Dave_Skinner

      At least in Helena, there’s really no place to hide.

  • geraldcuvillier

    Well Mr. Caddisfly, I find myself in agreement with you. Yes I have stood in line at the legislative sessions waiting while some long winded blow hard like Chas Vincent takes up hours and hours thereby preventing the people from having their say. As for the topic of the letter, this only adds fuel to the fire for having our public lands returned to the control of the state. The faceless bureaucrats from Washington need to be eliminated and we the people of Montana should have our say in how the lands are managed.

  • Concerned Citizen

    This problem has stemmed from earlier days when people began realizing that the timber industry would go out and completely decimate the forest rendering it barren and disgusting for years and years (clear cutting), while they claimed to be “stewards” of the land. After groups began scrutinizing the activities of the large timber industry land barons (via the good ol’ boy method), trading barren tracts of forested land for prime, heavily forested areas, without notice or without any compensation for the land owners (us), or going through any legal land transfer process, these groups of citizens started calling BS. Yes, they are too aggressive now, but that was required to get the insanity to stop, as it had been going on for years and years. Now the forestry department has to be above board with every timber sale, and justify each sale, which can then lead to litigation. This is the only avenue available for citizens to take to stop timber sales that may effect pristine habitat, that took thousands of years to develop, and may affect dwindling species of certain plants or animals. Their mantra is that they “don’t clearcut anymore”, which, is a total lie. I have watched them “harvest” logs leaving one or two useless snags, taking all else (except the slash/burn piles), and calling it “responsible stewardship”. The timber industry has shot itself in both feet by using these practices, and now they want to continue without these pesky lawsuits. Another issue, usually not addressed by the logging industry, is that any company from anywhere on the planet can legally come here and get timber practically for free, and the lumber taken does not produce jobs here because the logs are milled and dried on ships during their trip back to (in this example), Japan. The logging industry is not hiring employees any more due to high tech logging equipment doing all of the work for much less money leaving loggers in the “dying breed” category.
    The special interest groups, logging, mining, and water bottling plants, are profit driven and frequently rape, pillage, and plunder, our natural resources, leaving us the cost and mess of cleaning up their “superfund” sites. They just disappear (with their profit) without taking responsibility for their pollution and destruction. If you want to know how us weekend warriors see the situation, re-read my post.

    • Dave_Skinner

      Right, anonymous….
      If you can figure out a good use for slash, you’re welcome to take it all.
      Clearcuts are silviculturally proper for certain species, say lodgepole, and there’s nothing wrong with clear cutting a burn salvage with the exception of good snags. Trees regenerate and start best on disturbed soils with good sun.
      And speaking of burns, you really prefer those to a well-done harvest, or perhaps a combined harvest/burn? Really?

      • Concerned Citizen

        That is a good argument Dave (not anonymous), If we don’t clear cut, it’ll just burn away, all by itself.
        “there’s nothing wrong with clear cutting a burn salvage with the exception of good snags”. Dave, as recently as the Bear Creek Complex fire last year, I watched the loggers? cut down trees that were not even scorched by the fire so that they could come back and collect the “salvage”. Do you think I am the only person who saw this activity and recognized that it was not right? This ongoing practice is cheating the system, and they need to be held accountable. We are not stupid.
        You said: “Trees regenerate and start best on disturbed soils with good sun.”
        I fly over some areas (regularly) that were “clear cut” over 50 years ago, and there is still no tree regeneration, so your point is not clear to me. Maybe you can point out an area like you describe?
        I remember a few years back when we had many “lightning strikes” in the forests, which “caused the fires”. I thought it was strange that lightning only struck in forests within five miles (east or west) of highway 93 (for about 200 miles). Then, surprise, surprise, surprise, a couple of loggers were arrested for arson.
        The issues facing the logging industry are not so “clear cut” as the industry wants us to believe, that is my point. Those companies and government bureaucracies that we allowed to “manage” our forests mis-lead the public and stole millions of dollars from the land owners (us), and for that they are no longer to be trusted with the responsibility.
        I am in favor of responsible management, and multiple use, as long as we are all represented fairly. That would include responsible logging, responsible mining (if they don’t contaminate and pollute everything, and they clean up their own mess), and reasonable access for the rest of us.
        The “free for all” abuse practices of the past need to stay in the past, as becoming better stewards is imminent and necessary.

        • Dave_Skinner

          Oh, man. Bear Creek? You mean the immolation of the South Fork?
          I’ll have you know that logging by Packer’s Roost was a green sale to start with (to moderate fire impacts) that was delayed. The fire then burnt the sale area (mostly lodgepole, and that matters) to a crisp. Silviculturally, the post-fire work done was the best and smartest option, period. As you say, responsible.
          Furthermore, I was down there a couple of years prior where some partial harvest was done, right there at the Roost. Again, the responsible thing.
          I went down in spring 2016 because all my buddies said I needed to see it, took pictures galore of the utter wall-to-wall intensity of the blowup, right? Just awful. Amazing.
          Worst of all, I wanted to go take some “after” pictures to go with the “before” shots I’d taken of the good forestry, conducted to moderate fire impacts. If that work hadn’t been done, I’m convinced the blowup would have crossed the river and utterly wasted even more habitat.
          Well, the effects were so total, I got lost. It was only after walking around real carefully that I was able to figure out where I’d taken my pictures, and that only because I recognized a particular unusual stump.
          Otherwise from that stump, the fire had taken everything else away. There was nothing that looked anything like it had before, it was all not just dead, but completely burned away, just incredible. And, without the prior logging, it would have been worse.
          Forestry works better than doing nothing. If you won’t recognize that, that’s your right, but you’re wrong. Irresponsible, even.

    • David J. Ingraham

      This persons assumptions of disaster are typical fabrication of the leftest environmental groups who have used it over time to demonize timber harvest. A tree harvested is a tree that will not burn during the next wild fire. Also reforestation is an obligation of those who harvest the timber. Who has the obligation to reforest after a wild fire, especially on burns that happened on Wilderness and national monuments?

      • Concerned Citizen

        “Also reforestation is an obligation of those who harvest the timber”
        Hahahaha! You are joking, right? Hahaha! Hahahaha!
        It is apparent you are a city slicker who has never been near a real forest.
        You live near dizzyland? their forests seem to survive fairly well.