Editor’s note: This commentary was posted by NWAF! Coalition member, Robin Stanley.
I find it very interesting and concerning, to say the least, that a leading timber industry magazine would agree that the solution to our national forest problem is collaboration.
While I can agree there have been some abuses by the Forest Service in the past with regard to overcutting, those abuse pale by comparison to that agency’s current forest management practices of abandonment and failure to manage overgrowth and hundreds of thousands of acres of diseased and dying trees in our national forests. And in fairness to the Forest Service, they did not just decide one day to stop cutting trees. They were stopped in court by the same people Evergreen Magazine is now encouraging collaboration with.
So have the “anti-cut” people all of a sudden decided that they want to sit at the table to “collaborate” with the timber industry to improve the harvest and rebuild the logging industry? I think not.
I believe the reasonable anti-logging element is finally seeing the results of their failed policies. And if they are not seeing it, then, if they are wise, they are seeing Congress finally waking up to its failed policies and the unintended consequence of the destruction of the logging industry brought about by congressional legislation.
Those unintended consequences include the uncontrolled growth in our national forests. Sick and diseased forests that have become thickets ready to burn in catastrophic fashion, destroying watersheds, wildlife, personal property, human lives, timber value, followed by mud slides, and the loss of the economy of rural America. All were avoidable had our national forests been managed. And the situation will only continue to erode until the current management practices have been reversed.
I am disappointed Evergreen Magazine does not recognize the complex nature of a forest. There are delicate balances that need to be maintained between tree species, wildlife, watersheds, volume of timber, the various types of forests, the type of terrain, the amount of rainfall/snow just to mention a few. Forests are very complex and it is not like growing a sing crop in a garden. That is why there are colleges and degrees specializing in forest management.
A retired forest manager once said that turning forest management over to a group of citizens equates to turning brain surgery over to a group of townspeople. After spending a career in the field, he recognized the gravity of the decisions in forest management and felt they should not be abdicated to untrained personal bias and opinions. Forests need to be managed by people who understand the science behind forest management. I agree with him and not the Evergreen Magazine.
So now instead of forests being managed by those who have studied and have backgrounds in forest management, we are going to let a committee made up of all those who have an opinion or a “vote” have a say on how our forests are managed. Now it becomes a matter of who can get the most votes on the committee. Consequently, we will let politics rather than science drive our forest management policies. Tough decisions can be left of the table or abdicated to a vote of the masses to make a politically correct decision rather than the sound decision based on science.
That also bodes well with Congress because they too do not have to face the angry anti-logging community and can hide behind the vote of the collaborative. After all, “the people have spoken.”
A second issue to ponder: If collaboratives are such an effective way to manage forests, why hasn’t the forest industry embraced it. Imagine Potlatch or Weyerhaeuser taking the management of their forests out of the hands of the professionals trained in forest management and turning management over, instead, to a group of laypersons with little or no training in forest management. The thought is really quite laughable. So why would our national forests deserve less professional management than private forests? It’s because management of the national forests is no longer based on science but instead on the politics of collaboration and Congress has abdicated their authority to the courts.
The collaborative concept is a small bandage on a severed limb. While it is better than nothing, it is not much better. It does not adequately address the problem. It can appease those who “severed the limb” by being able to say “look we are offing some aid” and it may buy a little more time. But it does not really address the bleeding problem. The same is true of collaboratives in operation. While the collaborative sits around voting on where to place the bandage, the patients (our forests) are bleeding to death. And if we cannot agree on where to place the bandage and its proper size, then it will end up in court or we do not even apply the bandage at all. And so it goes with our national forests. Collaboratives may agree on carrying out some projects, which is still better than carrying out none. But in the meantime our forests will continue to burn, our rural communities will remain at risk, and catastrophic wild fires will continue to ravage the West.
As evidence of the restrictive nature of the collaborative system, Forest Service Chief Tidwell told the Idaho Statesmen that the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program alone has treated 1.45 million acres and harvested 1.2 billion board feet over the past five years. That amounts to an average of 290,000 treatment acres and 240 million board feet per year across our entire national forest system. It’s an extremely small bandage on a huge bleeding limb. By comparison, Shoshone County has 1.2 million acres of national forests and at one time had 300 million board feet under contract. It appears the collaborative process has really very little to brag — that is, beyond that it has avoided court challenges and suits by doing very little.
Now the collaborative advocates will be quick to say, “But we do have professionals and experts on our collaboratives.” Here are two additional thoughts to consider. If collaboratives include experts and defer to them in the collaborative process, then why do we the collaborative at all? Why not just let the professionals manage the forests? The answer is because the extreme environmental groups do not want science driving management. They want to drive the management.
Secondly, collaboratives are open for anyone who wants participate. Therefore it is easy to outnumber the professionals with the masses from the anti-logging camps. Bottom line is that collaboratives are just another way of giving the anti-logging community what they want through a political agenda so they don’t have to spend time and money in court. In an article published in The Bulletin, out of Bend, Oregon, on July 3rd, and reprinted at this blog on July 4th, Karen Coulter, executive director of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project in Fossil, threatens litigation from her own and other environmental groups because they are not pleased with the collaborative outcomes. Are there any assurances that a project supported by the collaborative cannot be challenged in court? The answer is a resounding no! So keep the approved projects small, avoid controversial proposals, and, in the meantime, our forests continue to burn up. There is an old adage that negotiating with unions was easy if you just give them what they wanted. The same is true of collaboratives. But collaborative members can pat each other on the back and take satisfaction in the small temporary bandage they have applied.
Forests need to be managed by professionals with training and experience, and not by laypeople who want to have a vote based on their personal bias as to where the bandages need to go. I personally agree with the retired forester. Managing forests by committees equates to managing brain surgery by a committee of citizens.