Collaboratives have been initiated on many national forests across the West. The stated goal is to resolve controversial resource issues through cooperative discussions between various interests, Thus collaboratives typically include representatives of industry such as timber companies, ranchers, local tourist promotion, county commissioners, Forest Service, BLM, FWS, state and county government, and state wildlife agency representatives, recreational interests like horseman, mountain bikers, ORV interests and what are variously termed “environmentalists” which typically includes one or two paid staff of national or regional environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and so forth.

I have participated to one degree or another in five collaboratives and I can attest that there are institutional biases inherent in all collaborative that makes them unlikely to promote policies that are in the best interest of the public in general, much less the integrity of the land. Indeed, some critics argue their purpose is to reduce public participation in public lands management decisions.

BIASED PARTICIPATION

First is the fact that participation in collaborative is voluntary. Meetings are typically scheduled during week days during “work” hours which is one way that overall public participation is significantly reduced.  What happens is that most involvement is from those with a vested economic interest in the outcome– paid lobbyists of the timber industry, ranchers/grazing industry, ORV industry, and other groups.

One timber company representative acknowledged when asked why we were at the meeting said quite unabashedly that he was paid to be there to lobby for more logging.

One can question the ethics of allowing individuals with a direct financial stake in the outcome to participate in decision-making and recommendations that will benefit themselves or their employers.

While it’s true that occasionally there are one or two paid representative of environmental groups or other members who do not represent exploitative interests (nor have a financial stake in the outcome), they are completely overwhelmed by resource extractive interests.

Even beyond the obvious representatives of industry who often dominate these collaborative, other agency and public employees in attendance also have a philosophical and indirect vested interest in continued resource exploitation. For instance, many of the collaboratives I’ve attended include county extension foresters, state foresters, representatives of the state forestry schools, and Forest Service foresters in attendance. If you are a forester your job depends on continued logging of public lands, and most take it for granted that logging is overall a public good.

Occasionally you might get a Forest Service or Fish and Game biologist attending who might have a slightly different outlook on what is the “public good”, but even these folks know their marching orders—which are not to interfere ultimately with the general demand for some logging, grazing, or other resource exploitation.

Beyond even these obvious conflicts of interest, others in attendance like county commissioners, extension agents, and other public employees also generally see resource extraction like logging and grazing as a “good” for local economic interests.

Given the membership of the typical collaborative it is hardly surprising that most support greater logging/grazing of our public lands.

To make an analogy, imagine there was a collaborative that was put together to determine whether a nuclear power plant should be build adjacent to your city and the majority of participants were representatives of the nuclear power industry, nuclear engineers, and members of the local power company with maybe one or two environmentalists—would you trust their recommendations to the federal nuclear regulatory agency?

PARADIGMS SUPPORT EXTRACTION

Beyond these obvious conflicts of interest, there are starting assumptions that serve to limit participation as well. Basically those who agree with the basic premise that our forests need to be “managed” and are “improved” by logging are those who self-select to be on collaboratives. Those who may question such starting assumptions have limited opportunities to voice their objections and disagreements and if they attend at all, often become frustrated and leave. This self selection process guarantees certain outcomes and recommendations.

There is also a lot of group pressure to “get along”, so even when environmentalists are paid to attend the meetings and may have some different ideals than the overall group philosophical values, it is difficult for anyone to make any substantial differences except along the margins. It takes real courage to attend such meetings and continuously voice objections, or concerns that run counter to the dominant paradigm. Most environmentalists I’ve encountered at collaborative meetings are subtly pressured to agree to actions that they are uncomfortable supporting, but resisting the social pressure to “cooperate” is difficult.

GROUP THINK

Because of this group think, there is little opportunity or support for alternative interpretations of science, economics, and policy paradigms. For instance, all collaboratives I’ve attended believe our forests are “unhealthy” even though forest health is largely defined in terms of timber management goals. Most believe that wildfires, beetles, and other natural selective processes are detrimental to forest ecosystems, despite a growing body of literature that questions such assumptions.

Most believe that wildfires “damage” the land, again despite a lot of science that shows that wildfires are largely beneficial to the long term health of forest ecosystems.

Most believe that logging is good for the economy, ignoring the fact that nearly all federal timber sales are money losing affairs subsidized by taxpayers.  And most of the economic analysis used to justify logging/grazing do not consider the inherent collateral damage caused by resource extraction as a cost. Thus sedimentation from logging roads, weeds spread by livestock, trampled riparian areas that harm fish, loss of biomass from the forest ecosystem, and other impacts are simply ignored or downplayed.

Most start out with the assumption that thinning/logging can preclude or stop wildfires (again because wildfires are viewed as “bad”), even though there is abundant evidence that under severe fire conditions, wildfires burn through, over, and around thinned forests.

Because most are dominated by pro-logging/grazing interests, they ignore other alternatives that might achieve many of the same goals but with less environmental impacts and less direct subsidies to the industries. For instance, one will hear that logging will reduce forest density which is presumed to improve forest health, but it’s not considered a viable option when it is pointed out that beetles will selectively reduce forest density for free, and do a better job of picking the trees that are genetically or otherwise most vulnerable to drought.

KEEPING UP WITH SCIENCE

In addition, due to the technical nature of some of the issues, in particular the science on fire ecology, thinning effectiveness, grazing practices, fire management, logging impacts, wildlife impacts, and even what constitutes a healthy forest that are used to justify resource exploitation, participates are really not scientifically equipped to debate or disagree with the dominant paradigms.

To give one example of how new science can change assumptions, in Oregon many logging proposals are now justified on the belief that wildfire is detrimental to spotted owl survival due to the owl’s need for old growth forests. If the forests burn up, so it is thought, owls are harmed. While it’s true that owls require old growth forests for nest and roosting habitat, it turns out that recent studies demonstrate that owl preferentially forage for prey in burned forests due to the increase in rodent populations created by wildfire regrowth. But most agency personnel, much less the average collaborative participant, have never heard of these studies, and thus support  logging and thinning on the presumption that they are protecting spotted owls.

Unfortunately even the agency personnel do not have the time to keep up with the vast amount of new scientific information generated annually, and it is beyond the ability and time constraints for anyone else involved in these collaboratives to monitor the latest scientific literature except in the most cursory manner.  No matter how dedicated one may be to keeping up with the latest science, one can’t know everything and there will always be debate about what constitutes the “best” science.  So nearly all collaboratives are operating under flawed assumptions, outdated ecological science, and of course, the inherent bias to find science that supports resource extraction while minimizing and/or ignoring science that questions such assumptions.

WHY ARE COLLABORATIVES PROMOTED

We all want to be liked and respected and the social pressure to agree with collaborative decisions is exceedingly strong—which is why collaboratives are so universally endorsed. Those in power know that getting the approval of a collaborative with “representatives” of environmental interests certifies and legitimizes the outcomes.

Participation in collaboratives also silences environmental groups on many other issues that are not necessarily discussed as part of any particular collaborative. There is a tendency to avoid vigorous advocacy for environmental protection in other areas if it might offend other stakeholders (read industry representatives and rural politicians).  Thus environmental representatives that may be promoting wilderness designation may avoid criticism of livestock grazing or logging proposals if they believe they must remain “friends” with the timber, ranching and others collaborative members.

They also know that all those meetings are a huge time commitment, and since most environmental groups have limited funds, paying an employee to attend meetings usually comes at the expense of other activities like reviewing and commenting upon environmental impact statements, visiting timber sale sites and grazing allotments, and most importantly organizing community resistance to additional resource extraction and/or promoting wilderness designation and other protective measures.

IS THERE ANY REASON TO PARTICIPATE IN COLLABORATIVES?

Given all the drawbacks is there any reason why anyone with environmental concerns should participate in a collaborative? I think yes, but with qualifications. This should not be done In the absence of good organizing, advocacy in other ways or coop your group or you from voicing objections to nebulous and destructive projects.

Be clear from the start that you are like the Lorax—there to speak for the forests.  People are more likely to respect you if they know you are speaking from heart-felt and honest feelings.

Participation does guarantee that collaborative members will hear alternative perspectives that they might not otherwise be exposed to in their daily encounters.  I am certain, for instance, when I repeatedly voice the opinion that wildfires, beetles, mistletoe, and other natural agents are “RESTORING” the forest, it is counter intuitive and contrary to what most collaborative members ever hear otherwise. Or when I point out that some scientists question the validity of fire scar studies for determining past wildfire history due to inherent biases in how the data is collected and analyzed, I know this is news to many in the group. Now, of course, many may dismiss my ideas as heretical to “good forest management” but at least they are exposed to the ideas.

In addition, there are some agency people who regularly attend these meetings who are sympathetic to the concerns of environmentalists.  When someone questions the dominant paradigm or introduces some new scientific perspective, it gives them the political cover to raise these same issues in their own internal discussions and decision-making process.

Finally there are some members of the collaborative who are truly open to new ways of viewing forest management and concepts. Voicing a different perspective may be the only exposure they may have to these ideas and it can change opinions and perspectives.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important for the media, politicians, agency personnel, and the general public to recognize the inherent conflicts and limitations of collaborative efforts. No one should automatically assume that collaborative are reaching the best outcomes in terms of public interest , much less the best interest of our forests.

 

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

32 Responses to The Problem With National Forest Collaboratives–Why They Don’t Serve The Public Interest.

  1. avatar JB says:

    Mr. Wuerthner rightly notes that one of the reasons for the popularity of collaborative management efforts is that there is social pressure to cooperate. However, the pressure works both ways — it isn’t only environmental advocates that feel social pressure, industry/extraction advocates also feel such pressure.

    Multiple-use resource management agencies (Forest Service, BLM) have a statutory obligation to manage lands to obtain multiple benefits. Collaborative methods are used to help agencies negotiate conflicts over the *right* allocation of the different benefits they must–by law–provide. Until the law changes such that one type of benefit/use is given primacy over other benefits/uses, agencies will continue to use methods designed to help them negotiate conflict among competing interests.

    A better title for this essay: Collaboration doesn’t work because I don’t get what I want all the time.

    • avatar Brian Ertz says:

      Wuerthner’s concerns make sense in the context of an agency captured by extractive interests. That’s the real world on-the-ground.

      Collaboratives make sense if one is looking to further subvert the regulatory function of agency, to file down agency’s teeth.

      When an agency is already dismally deficient in enforcing its existing statutory and regulatory fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of the public interest – employing a conflict resolution paradigm premised on getting along with the industry your agency is charged with regulating is a recipe for exacerbated nonfeasance.

      • avatar JB says:

        “Wuerthner’s concerns make sense in the context of an agency captured by extractive interests. That’s the real world on-the-ground.”

        Funny, I get the exact opposite complaint where I live. The forest service can’t cut or burn–despite the ecological benefits of providing early successional habitat–because ‘tree huggers’ have captured the forest service. Could be regional differences, or differences of perspective, but I’m willing to bet that collaboration isn’t responsible for the ecological woes you perceive.

        • avatar JB says:

          And I should add, this is another great example of Congress setting up a deficient system that seems designed to make government fail (while making them look great). After all, who doesn’t want to have their cake and eat it too? The fact that people blame the FS, FWS, and BLM while letter Congress off the hook is a goddamn tragedy.

        • avatar Brian Ertz says:

          The collaborative model is influenced by the balance of power that colors the process on-the-ground. To comment on the propriety of collaboration as if in a political and cultural (at agency) vacuum is a dangerous and irresponsible proposition where the balance tips so favorably to interests that are devastating the public environmental interest.

          We could volley back and forth about the propriety of communism in the same way. Just because U.S.S.R f*cked it up shouldn’t invalidate the integrity of the egalitarian, utopian ideal … of that theoretical model … Right ? Right. We can agree that the model is nice to look at, nice to consider, nice to use academically as a paradigm through which to critique the existing and prospective efficacy of various mechanisms of administration. But the efficacy of those theoretical mechanisms must be considered in the context of existing conditions – including ecological condition, agency culture, existing resources, rational interest-based motive on the part of of all actors, additive mechanisms (or lack thereof) of oversight, conformance of all actors’ objectives with existing law, political balance of power, etc.

          Your example of “treehuggers'” capture – begs its own question. ecological benefits of cut/burn policy ? i suspect the treehuggers might have something to say about the balance of ecological benefits associated with that prescription. again … the details of a myriad of conditions inform the call on the propriety of a model’s ability to effectuate outcomes that comport to existing legal policy …

          Regulators should not be buddies with the private interests for which they exercise oversight – it inevitably results in a diminished vigor, a diminished willingness to enforce. Unfortunately, too many regulators are too sympathetic with industry. At least out west.

          Simply put:

          Where the condition of the landscape is diminished by an agency’s unwillingness to enforce its legal mandate – and, where agency is already skittish about enforcing those legal mandates on account of enforcement’s propensity to upset private-interest stakeholders – introducing a model that increases the emphasis of cordial relations among stakeholders is a recipe for disaster.

          • avatar WM says:

            Brian,

            I think it would be good to remember that agencies, as JB states, are often charged with competing multiple use obligations which require balancing of those interests in a very real world (often political). And I know you know enough about the specific laws that these agencies must interpret and enforce, to know that statement is true. Sometimes there are conflicts, maybe even some not resolvable to the satisfaction of environmental interests/advocates.

            I know George’s example is the Forest Service. But I’ll use the the Department of Interior, with all of its agencies from the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, US Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and until about 10 years ago the Bureau of Mines, etc. Sometimes Interior crosses over into the statutory obligations and interests of the…Forest Service, as well as user groups.

            I think some come into the “collaborative process” without a good understanding of these competing statutory missions, local interests at the county or state level (remember co-operative federalism), and national interests, and good old industry trying to make a profit for shareholders or owners.

            It’s complicated stuff, and anyone in the who comes to the table, especially environmental stakeholders of some sort (sometimes without a power base or economic clout)thinking “collaborative” means I’m going to get what I want is on a fool’s errand.

          • avatar JB says:

            Brian:

            You’re avoiding my fundamental point–collaborative processes are the result of broken law. Until the laws demanding multiple use change, you will have conflict over whose use best serves the public interest. Federal agencies, just like normal human beings, will seek to avoid conflict. To the extent the collaborative processes are viewed as useful for that purpose (and I can assure you that they are), they will continue whether you and George think they are fair or not. In other words, your continued focus on collaboration is misplaced. Collaboration is not the root of your problem; rather, the root is federal law that prescribes the things you and George dislike (e.g., harvest, grazing, etc.) as legitimate and appropriate uses of federal lands.

            I think you also need to ‘look in the mirror’ when seeking to understand the rise of collaborative processes. Interest groups continual use of lawsuits to achieve desired outcomes has forced agencies to go looking for ways to stay out of the courts. The more you sue, the more likely the agencies are to turn to collaboration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. So you can rest assured that more collaboration is coming, and it is coming BECAUSE of the endless lawsuits.

            But hey what do I know? Let’s ask a public affairs scholar who studies land management, shall we?

            “Many divisive environmental conflicts are exacerbated by problematic statutory language that tell our public land agencies relatively little about what they should be doing and a lot about how they should go about doing it. At the very least, this language explains why our public land agencies have become the central brokers of conflict resolution and why administrative rulemaking and resource planning processes are the dominant venues in which these conflicts are managed. The result is that these processes are stressed to their limits and agencies continually find themselves in political quagmires.”

            I get really tired of the ‘blame the agencies’ game. It’s dishonest, let’s the real culprit (Congress) off the hook, and it feeds the bullshit “government can’t do anything” rhetoric.

            Ref. Nie, M. 2004. Statutory Detail and Administrative Discretion in Public Lands Governance: Arguments and Alternatives. J. Envtl. Law and Litigation (19): 223-291.

            • avatar Brian Ertz says:

              JB,

              You’re avoiding my fundamental point–collaborative processes are the result of broken law. Until the laws demanding multiple use change, you will have conflict over whose use best serves the public interest.

              The state of the law is not so ‘up in the air’ or conflicted. FLPMA, NFMA, ESA, and even NFMA do not allow agency to turn a blind eye to nor facilitate any number of examples of resource degradation at the levels that they actually occur on the ground. Agencies do so anyway. The alphabet soup of statutes don’t do enough, by any means – but they, and agency rules, do set the baselines – and agency enjoys a great deal of “play room” above those baselines with which to accommodate multiple uses. Agency routinely violates the baselines anyway. This isn’t on account of conflicting statutory mandates – this is on account of nonfeasance at agency.

              the root is federal law that prescribes the things you and George dislike (e.g., harvest, grazing, etc.) as legitimate and appropriate uses of federal lands.

              Wait ? federal law prescribes harvest, grazing, etc. in amounts and at levels that violate ESA, FLPMA, NFMA, CWA, etc?

              Nope. Agency has ample deference with which to significantly ratchet down abusive levels of harvest, grazing, etc. without offending the multiple-use mandate. In fact, I’d argue that doing so would bring Agency into a more serene judicial stasis if avoiding lawsuits were Agency’s true motive. It ain’t.

              Interest groups continual use of lawsuits to achieve desired outcomes has forced agencies to go looking for ways to stay out of the courts. The more you sue, the more likely the agencies are to turn to collaboration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. So you can rest assured that more collaboration is coming, and it is coming BECAUSE of the endless lawsuits.

              It sounds like you’ve spent plenty of time listening to agency-folk whine, and not a whole lot of time sifting through many facts – or administrative records – or the law – or explored the judicial construction for where the lines are and where they’re crossed. The records are where the he-said, she-said ends JB.

              It ain’t about conflicting law JB, if it was – agency would win in court every time and there wouldn’t be a problem with lawsuits as the financial resource to file them would run dry. It’s about a lack of willingness to enforce the law – usually stemming from a politically motivated direction from on-high. The question is whether the collaborative is an organizational model that can effectively mitigate that political influence. I argue that it can’t, that it is more susceptible to political interference than the organizational model our founding fathers employed – namely, that of checks and balances – that of the courts.

              In any event, you’ve just made my point. The limit of the achievable outcomes that any lawsuit can accomplish is compliance with existing environmental protections (a baseline that in most instances more than accommodates multiple use). In almost ZERO cases does even a conservative compliance with environmental statute or rule conflict with the multiple-use mandate – other uses are allowed to occur, it’s always been a question of finding the degree that strikes the best balance. Too often Agency seeks to maximize the degree of extractive use, or maintain them in spite to deteriorating environmental condition. This puts agency in conflict with the environmental statutes/rules – and so they lose 80%+ of their lawsuits to groups like Advocates.

              Is it the lawsuits that are the problem ? Or the deteriorating environmental condition ?

              Let’s say it’s the lawsuits themselves: There’s a couple of ways of avoiding the lawsuits:

              (1) Comply with the law. There is a large amount of deference that agency enjoys JB – they gotta be breakin’ it pretty bad to get nailed on it (see: standard of “arbitrary and capricious”). Compliance with the law ensures those baseline environmental protections. Compliance with the law RARELY, if ever, pushes agency beyond the deference they enjoy with respect to the relative balance of use – it just forces a taper-down of particular uses where the environmental condition is so deteriorated as to bottom-out below the baseline for environmental standards. And it can halt increases in those uses where inconsistent with codified environmental protections.

              (2) Obfuscate the whole thing. Limit the scope of the necessary action to that with which private interest groups and public interest groups are able to agree – examples typical of collaboratives: slight modifications to monitoring type/frequency (*bonus: we’ll get to say we don’t have the resources for it, it ain’t enforceable anyway, and it pushes the need for any meaningful action out until a decade or so, whereby a sound data-set can be compiled); increased infrastructure development (*bonus: we’ll get to intensify & subsidize extractive use at the same time !); the need for more collaborations (*bonus: we’ll get to see how all our new friends’ families are doing); and which flavor cookies and soda the moderators should provide at the meeting next time.

              * bonus: regardless of what the condition of the environmental values may be now, what may be necessary to bring agency into compliance with the law now, and the meager willingness agency may have to do it anyway – we get to say we’re doing something, and that something requires we not take any controversial enforcement actions that may alienate the stakeholders away from this neat new way of doing things that offsets our fiduciary and legal responsibilities onto a quasi-public/private entity while simultaneously further marginalizing (or sapping the leverage of) the independent voices within agency, and their science-based objective “calls” within agency, that may actually prompt meaningful action.

              Another question about your prescription (i.e. Congress getting off its hands and passing clarifying statute, or abstaining from menacing interference). First, I agree with the abstention of menacing interference – unfortunately collaboratives serve as a playground for such as menacing (to the environment) congressionals/politicos have repeatedly and inappropriately influenced the scope, “ground rules,” process, and otherwise pressured agency against meaningful action so as not to offend the collaborative process. It becomes a political cover not to act. On the first point – if the problem is the need for clarifying statute, then your solution begs the very question: What good is a Congressional fix to priority without a willingness to enforce it ? What good is the ESA without enforcement ? What good is NFMA without enforcement ? What good is FLPMA without enforcement ?

              That’s where our founders designed the independent judiciary to play.

              I get really tired of the ‘blame the agencies’ game. It’s dishonest, let’s the real culprit (Congress) off the hook, and it feeds the bullshit “government can’t do anything” rhetoric.

              Dishonest ? First, (1) I agree with you, there are too many lawsuits. I’d like to see far fewer (2) It becomes a simple question: Who should we blame for the lawsuits ? Should we blame for agency’s for their routine violation of law (see infra for the proposition that it ain’t the conflicting statutes, agency’s got plenty of room to play within the multiple-use mandate) or those pesky enviros (’cause, ja-heezus – if they’d just look the other way there wouldn’t be a problem) ?

              The judicial record speaks for itself. 80%+ JB, 80%+ groups like Advocates prevail by court order – often on a standard of “arbitrary and capricious.” I dunno about you, but it seems to me the only intellectually dishonest proposition being spouted is that which would blame too many lawsuits on the prevailing party for the underlying suits demonstrating “arbitrary and capricious” unlawful conduct.

              If the multi-use statutes/rules created a legal landscape mired by ambiguity and fatally conflicting mandate, agency would be arguing such in court – and they would reap the sweet fruit of its merit. In fact, they do argue that in court – most of the time. I can see that you (and in fairness, quite a few folk) are quite sympathetic to the argument made by Agency and the extractive interests that it’s the conflict in the law that makes them need to abstain from enforcement of environmental rules/statutes. I can see that you don’t buy public interest environmental advocates’ arguments that in so many cases the effect of the mandates are not so ambiguous or fatally conflicting. But who gets to be the arbiter ? The statutes themselves say: The courts. The decisions brought down by the courts themselves are enviros’ vindication – and what gets me is that they are so often won not just on a “this side is more right than that side” standard of merit – but so often agency must be found to have acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. The argument that conflict in the law boxes agency into non-compliance is bogus. Agency has plenty of playroom with level and extent of extractive use before it offends the multiple-use mandate. Instead, agency chooses to violate the clear baseline Congress set via environmental statutes (and the rules Agency promulgated themselves pursuant to those statutes) because it knows that doing so is more politically expedient than the alternative and even where benevolent managers are left they know that groups like WWP & Advocates will be there to give them cover.

              Here’s the nut, JB: What good would any Congressional fix you could conjure be without enforcement ?

              If the balance of political power in the West were different – I would agree that collaboratives would have potential to facilitate positive outcomes for environmental conditions.

              Because the balance of political power out West is so skewed in favor of extractive interests, and against the public environmental interest, environmentalists must evaluate the propriety of any administrative decision-making organizational model by the capacity to resist political influence. Because the courts are *by design* more insulated from political pressures than collaboratives and because enviros have got a whole lot of gain to be got for the environmental condition simply by compelling Agency to come into compliance with the statutes/rules that already exist – I maintain that the courts promise a more effective avenue of influencing administrative management than collaborative administration.

              • avatar JB says:

                Brian:

                Your argument rests upon the ability of environmental advocates to win in court–that is, it can be reduced to the following:

                ‘If the lawsuits are to blame, then why is it that advocates win 80% of the time?’

                The answer to that question, again, is Congress–or more specifically, funding. Congress has been slowly pulling money away from resource management agencies, money needed to comply with the provisions of FLPMA, NFMA, NEPA and the ESA. The situation has become so bad that agencies simply cannot handle the workload–that is, they are not staffed at a level that allows them to do what the law requires them to do.

                This situation works both for environmental advocates (such as yourself) and the tea party-types, who want governmental protections to go away entirely. Your response is a case in point, you get to tout your record of success, claiming that the only reasonable explanation is that agencies are colluding with industry. Meanwhile, the other side looks at the same data (i.e., agencies’ continued losses to environmental groups) and comes to the exact opposite conclusion–i.e., that the agencies must be colluding with environmental groups. And the so-called “conservatives” laugh from the sidelines, point at the whole thing and say, “see government is broken”.

                —-

                Occam’s razor suggests the simplest (most parsimonious) explanation is usually correct. So I’ll ask you, what’s the simpler explanation? Is it that agencies are simultaneously colluding with industry and environmentalists to both increase and stop the exploitation of natural resources? Or might it be that Congress has so crippled these federal agencies with conflicting mandates and diminutive budgets that they simply cannot accomplish what the law requires?

              • avatar Louise Kane says:

                I did not see Brian’s argument as resting on the ability to win in court but the underlying reason for the win… that the agency does not comply with the laws and that the win rests on the ability to prove the arbitrary and capricious actions of the agency because they are not following the mandates under the law. That’s much different.

              • avatar Louise Kane says:

                a great debate by both sides although I strongly agree with several points in Brian’s argument

                1) “Who should we blame for the lawsuits ? Should we blame for agency’s for their routine violation of law (see infra for the proposition that it ain’t the conflicting statutes, agency’s got plenty of room to play within the multiple-use mandate) or those pesky enviros (’cause, ja-heezus – if they’d just look the other way there wouldn’t be a problem) ?”
                2) “I can see that you (and in fairness, quite a few folk) are quite sympathetic to the argument made by Agency and the extractive interests that it’s the conflict in the law that makes them need to abstain from enforcement of environmental rules/statutes. I can see that you don’t buy public interest environmental advocates’ arguments that in so many cases the effect of the mandates are not so ambiguous or fatally conflicting. But who gets to be the arbiter ? The statutes themselves say: “The courts.
                3) “Agency has plenty of playroom with level and extent of extractive use before it offends the multiple-use mandate. Instead, agency chooses to violate the clear baseline Congress set via environmental statutes (and the rules Agency promulgated themselves pursuant to those statutes) because it knows that doing so is more politically expedient than the alternative”

                4) “I maintain that the courts promise a more effective avenue of influencing administrative management than collaborative administration”

              • avatar JB says:

                “… that the agency does not comply with the laws and that the win rests on the ability to prove the arbitrary and capricious actions of the agency because they are not following the mandates under the law. That’s much different.”

                Louise: The question is why? Why do the agencies enact rules that fail to comply with the law? The article I cited (BTW, it was written by Martin Nie, of wolf policy fame) suggests the reason is that agencies have been given law that is sets up conflict regarding the purpose of management (timber production, watershed protection, recreation, etc.) then saddles the agencies with precise standards for implementation. That, he argues, is a recipe for continuous conflict, which is typically resolved through litigation, or sometimes, through collaborative efforts. I added the idea that Congresses’ slow drain of agency budgets further constrains their ability to comply with the law.

                So let me ask you a question: How many of these cases that WWP, Defenders, the Sierra Club, etc. win are won procedural matters? I’d be willing to bet procedural issues determine the outcome in the majority of cases? I would argue that this is indicative of a lack of resources to comply with the law, as opposed to internal efforts to undermine it. Certainly there are examples of the latter (Jule MacDonald, for instance) but these are the exception.

    • avatar Nancy says:

      “Multiple-use resource management agencies (Forest Service, BLM) have a statutory obligation to manage lands to obtain multiple benefits. Collaborative methods are used to help agencies negotiate conflicts over the *right* allocation of the different benefits they must–by law–provide.

      **Until the law changes such that one type of benefit/use is given primacy over other benefits/uses, agencies will continue to use methods designed to help them negotiate conflict among competing interests”

      So I have to wonder, is there any desire to change the “statutory obligation” for the agencies involved, when most who show up at the table, are seeking to profit $$ from public lands/forests, wilderness areas?

      Agree with George:

      “No one should automatically assume that collaborative are reaching the best outcomes in terms of public interest, much less the best interest of our forests”

      Again “much less the best interests of our forests” And THEIR ecosystems…….

    • avatar Ken Watts says:

      Very well stated JB. How could anyone say that collaboration is not beneficial. Talking is always good even if the only result is to understand another person’s position. George always seems to have tunnel vision.

      • avatar JB says:

        Thanks, Ken. I love interacting with folks on the Wildlife News; however, from time to time I get frustrated with the ‘group think’ that says (paraphrasing) ‘everything agencies do is bad.’ This idea is nowhere near the truth and it completely discounts the fact that these agencies are attempting to negotiate laws that seemed design to set them up for failure.

        Collaboration allows people with opposing views a chance to ‘walk in another’s shoes’–and thereby, learn something about them. People are much easier to vilify at a distance.

        —-
        P.S. My grandfather used to say that ‘no one ever learned anything with their mouth open’.

        • avatar Louise Kane says:

          yet JR something to consider as a correlation is the outcome of collaborative actions lets say under statutory obligation for example Magnuson Stevens Act or OPA. Under Magnuson Act fishers are part of the management councils as set up to manage commercial fisheries in 6 regions. As George points out the conflict of interest angles often impede a good outcome even in a collaborative situation. Under Magnuson the fishermen of the councils stonewalled fishery recovery plans, created diversions to creating plans for species of concern, and generally objected to any regulations that would impact their fishery. Now, fisheries are collapsed with the councils still the crux of the problem in my mind. they do nothing to shut down fisheries, the fishermen are the ultimate fox in the hen house. Under OPA the responsible party has the right to propose remedial actions (restoration plans) under the damage assessment process. That always bothered me a great deal. Responsible Party (RP) always want to create and elect feel good plans that make them look good at the expense of meaningful restoration that might not be as sexy or ecologically important. what gets better attention after an oil spill? a quahaug replenishment hosted by multiple agencies with a lot of media attention and happy commercial fishermen going back to work or a shut down of an area to allow for natural recovery, or water quality studies and monitoring over a long term in an affected area? Both pieces of legislation were designed for collaboration and input of parties of interest and resource extractors and both pieces of legislation have failed at preventing collapse of fisheries and big oil spills. under OPA industry could have done numerous things like implement double hulls earlier but instead they fought this and other common sense measures that could have prevented some major spills and opted for collaborative solutions that often involved pr events that made the industry look good. I think that conflict of interest aspect in George’s piece as well as the points he makes about peer pressure and entrenched interests that are unlikely to change are very important considerations. I have witnessed first hand and participated in collaborative agency ventures and they are very political and often designed as thinly veiled pr events to get funding or achieve target budget goals.

          • avatar Louise Kane says:

            i would argue that sometimes hard decisions need to be made by uninterested parties to protect the public’s interest.

      • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

        Ken Watts,

        Talking is not always good. After participating in several of these and hearing ranchers talk, I liked them less — oh, so that’s how they see it! We have even less in common than I thought.

  2. avatar Jill Shultz says:

    I believe you’ve over-generalized from your personal experiences. You’ve blamed the process, yet from what you’ve shared, I’d say that your five experiences were not good examples of collaborative decision-making. For example, did these groups have neutral, skilled facilitators? That’s crucial. Also, it seems the group composition was problematic.

    Bias, group think, and social pressure are issues that affect us whenever we get together to share ideas, both in person and online. They are not exclusive to collaborations, nor are they more common there. A skilled facilitator, however, can mitigate these effects–and that’s not something you’ll see in a public hearing or in the comments section of most blogs.

    Collaborations are difficult and can go astray at many stages. That doesn’t mean the very concept is flawed and always doomed to failure.

    What would you want to see instead?

  3. avatar Joanne Favazza says:

    “… nearly all colloboratives are operating under flawed assumptions, outdated ecological science, and of course, the inherent bias to find science that supports resource extraction while minimizing and/or ignoring science that questions such assumptions.”

    No wonder we continue to lose wildlife and wild places at such a rapid rate. I agree, Goerge, that we must all be “like the Lorax,” and speak for the forests, rivers, native wild species, etc. every chance we get.

    Courage, passion, and heart are needed now more than ever.

    • avatar Joanne Favazza says:

      Whoops–sorry George! Accidentally spelled your name wrong!

    • avatar Ken Watts says:

      We should also speak for multiple use.

      • avatar Louise Kane says:

        Ken….even when speaking for multiple use means supporting extractive industries that potentially do long term irreversible harm to the increasingly shrinking areas that could actually sustain them

  4. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    I think it would be good to remember that agencies, as JB states, are often charged with competing multiple use obligations which require balancing of those interests in a very real world (often political).

    I think we can see that the government agencies are weighted more in favor of the traditional uses of the West; ranching, hunting, and extraction. They haven’t moved forward as much, and are even going in the opposite direction with the ESA changes, under the so-called spirit of cooperation. Some, like the BLM, are even working contrary to laws in favor of ranching by taking a look-the-other-way approach and insidiously eradicating the wild horse herds in opposition to the laws, spreading falsehoods about reducing their numbers and adopting them out. Wild horses are not domesticated for adoption.

    From what I have seen, the anti-wildlife and pro-traditional ways of life people are really dug in; there is no changing their minds. They’d love it if you compromised and came around to their way of thinking, but they will not. They have really clamped down on the wolf issue, even going so far as to try and stop the Wolf Stamp. It was a huge mistake to think that delisting would work in the way some had hoped, and most of us think the whole thing is playing out predictably.

    • avatar Ida Lupines says:

      I think most of us have all thought at one time or another that seeing these issues from another point of view would help. Then we find out it doesn’t.

  5. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    The federal land management agencies (BLM and FS) use inter-disciplinary teams to develop projects such as timber sales, and in-stream and wildlife habitat restoration. The IDT’s are comprised of foresters, wildlife and fisheries biologists, hydrologist, fire ecologist, soil scientist and silviculturirist (tree growers) and all are employed by the agencies. The regulatory agencies (US Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service provided the rules (sideboards) the projects must comply to. We solicited input from various groups, with most of the comments coming from “conservation groups”. We considered and sometimes used their comments to design the projects.

    Due to ESA listed species many of critical design features of the projects were automatically instituted. IDT members had equal representation and the process worked quite well. The decison maker regularly attended the meetings and made sure the process was kept on schedule.

    Environmental documents must be legally defensible, thus requiring the best available science which is as George mentioned, is quite time consuming. Agencies are “hit” from various sides and must adhere to laws and policies and even then are subject to protests and appeals.

    We attempted collaborative projects but they resulted in few accomplishments due to the complexity of forestry land management in the 21st century. I think the most efficient use of personnel time and resources should be conducted within the agency and left to the resource specialists who are ultimately responsible for managing the lands and its resources.

    We attempted collabrative

  6. avatar Nancy says:

    http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/magruder-road-closed-due-to-multiple-slides/27508578

    The 101-mile primitive road corridor between Darby (Montana) and Elk City (Idaho), was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.

  7. avatar Marc Bedner says:

    Only in a nation like the USA where people have no sense of history, can a government agency recruit people willing to call themselves collaborators. Europeans, who still remember World War 2, know how to deal with collaborators.

    • avatar JB says:

      Marc, I think I’m on solid ground in suggesting to you that our current political woes are not caused by too much collaboration and compromise, but rather, by too little.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Marc,

      I fixed your comment so it is the way you wanted it.

      I want to add that one highly negative meaning of the word “collaborator” is lost on most people. It shouldn’t be. However, its use in the way it is by the government and the people who participate in these committees, most often called “consensus groups,” should not be seen as equivalent to some French (or others) collaborating with the Nazis. -Webmaster.

      • avatar Marc Bedner says:

        Ralph, thanks for fixing my comment.

        As government agencies are carrying out a war on wildlife on behalf of livestock interests, I view collaborating with them as a form of collaborating with the enemy.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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