Editor’s note: This post — a (fake) transcribed interview published in Burnt Tree Magazine — was submitted to NWAF! this morning by Robin Stanley. The (fictional) interviewer was Tim Patterson.
Tim Patterson, from Burnt Tree Magazine: So Robin, tell us about yourself.
Robin: First, Tim, I want to thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed. You are the first magazine to ask me about this subject in my thirty years of involvement with national forests. That’s probably because I have such a strong opinion on what has gone wrong.
Tim: Here at Burnt Tree, we’re trying to carry out a totally objective and comprehensively thorough review of the issue of the collaborative model; we want to generate a totally unbiased article without any preconceived notions. But, and in the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that you are the only person we’ll be interviewing on this subject.
(I guess I can get away with saying things like this cuz I am making up this whole interview to meet my needs anyway.)
Tim: So, Robin, tell us a little about your history.
Robin: Well my involvement started thirty years ago as a high school principal, and for the last twenty-six years I’ve been a school superintendent, so I’m keenly aware of what is happening to our forests and to our forest-related revenue in our community. I have seen a lot of changes over the last thirty years and I truly believe our forests are in the worst condition they have been in my lifetime.
Tim: You appear to be pretty passionate about it.
Robin: Yes I am. I am tired of failed policies and feeble politically-correct attempts at trying to fix a serious problem while our forests and communities continue to burn up.
Tim: Well, let’s get right to the point. Almost everyone else I have talked to (opps, I forgot I am the only one being interviewed) says how great the collaborative are working. The Fish People, the recreation people, the lumber mill people all are supportive. Why are you such an objector?
Robin: Because I am more worried about outcomes than political correctness. I see the “fish” people having their own agenda, as well as some lumber people and politicians.
Tim: Would you care to be more specific?
Robin: Damn right I would. Our forests are very complex. Decision on managing forests need to be made based on science. Things like types of trees, age of trees, type of terrain, types of soil, types of wildlife, types of vegetation, endangered species, slope grades, and the like all need to be factored into forest management decisions. These decisions should not be left to a political vote. They should be made by people trained in the field with background and experience in forest management. Such decisions need to pay heed to the balance nature requires, and finally they need to factor in the potential for catastrophic wildfire. Our forests are sick, infested, and dying.
Picture this, a segment of our nation’s population has become sick that the Center for Disease Control intervenes and determines that a portion of our population needs to be treated or the disease will continue to spread and kill people. So the CDC calls together a group of people and says instead of using our scientists and experienced people, we want to do what is politically correct. CDC says, “Let’s get together a group of people, explain the problem to them, and then let them vote. And if some members of this committee doesn’t like what the committee’s majority decided to do, then they can stop the implementation by going to court.”
Tim: Come on Robin, isn’t that a little extreme?
Robin: Well think about it, Tim. People are losing their homes, their livestock, their livelihoods, forests are burning up, wildlife is dying, and watersheds are being destroyed. How bad does it have to get??? I am an “outcome” person not a process person. While the collaborative model is a politically correct process, look at the outcomes. In Chief Tidwell’s interview with the Idaho Statesmen he states that collaborative have treated 1.45 million acres and harvested 1.2 billion board feet over the last five years across our entire system of national forests. That’s a joke. To use my old analogy again, that is like throwing a deck chair off the Titanic to keep it from sinking. Shoshone County alone has almost two million acres of forest and at one time sold 150 million board feet in one year. And nationwide the collaborative model is averaging only 240 million board feet per year. That is a joke when it comes to solving our national forest problem.
Again, look at the outcomes. If the collaborative model was working why are we still having the worst fire seasons in years and can expect it to only get worse.
Tim: So Robin, Do you refuse to accept the fact that global warming is causing it ?
Robin: No, I am saying climate change is contributing to it. But we can do very little to control climate change. But we can control the amount and intensity of fire. If you go to an eighth grade science book, and if you go to the Forest Service’s website and checkout Smokey, both sources talk about the fire triangle. It takes three components to make fire. You need oxygen, heat and a fuel. We cannot control the amount of oxygen so what is left? — heat and fuel. We attempt to control heat by dropping water and pray for snow. But we can’t get enough water on big fires so what’s left. Fuel, of course! We can control the amount of fuel. We can thin our forests and manage the amount of fuel like we control the throttle on our car engine. Less fuel means less fire. I’ll admit that the type of fuel also makes a difference. But the bottom line is , no fuel no fire. Less fuel, less fire. I cannot understand for the life of my why some environmentalist commentators don’t get that.
Tim: So Robin, if the collaborative model is not the answer, do you have a better suggestion?
Robin: The biggest problem is that the Forest Service has lost focus of what their mission is. Managing the forests is no longer their top priority. Now they have a hodgepodge of missions including protecting fish, watersheds, endangered species, decommissioning roads, invasive species, recreation, archaeology, wildlife, the list goes on. Oh! Did I leave out fighting fires? Consequently, they are spread too thin to do their job adequately. They bend to the political pressures from the enviros as well threats and real court actions. Lack of adequate funding, political pressure from the environmental community, federal regulations, and the courts have all contributed to the failure of the Forest Service to manage the forests. Consequently, our forests have become a “fire box full of kindling” just waiting for the next opportunity to explode into a wildfire.
Tim: Robin, that was a nice little bird walk, but you dodged the questions. So if the collaborative is not the answer, do you have a better suggestion?
Robin: Yup I do. I’m not saying throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is a place for the collaborative model. It does provide a venue for getting all sides together and for working out compromises. But the problem is much much bigger than the collaborative model can handle. The overall health of our forests need to be addressed immediately. The longer we wait, the more communities and forests will burn. There are three basic things that need to happen to save our forests and our rural communities from catastrophic fire.
First, the ability for the fringe environmentalists to challenge every and anything in court needs to be curtailed. Collaboratives cannot be expected to spend months, and even years, working out projects only to have them challenged in a sympathetic court and ultimately thwarted. Burdensome consequences should face groups filing frivolous law suits seeking to sidetrack or terminate projects aimed at protecting our communities from fire. So the first and most important step is that we eliminate or at least limit all the “land mines” that provide grounds for court challenges.
Secondly, the Forest Service needs to be given the resources required to once again seriously address forest health. While fish, archeological digs, wildlife and recreation need to be considered, the ability to “fire proof” to the best of their ability needs to “trump” all other forest service missions. Ask Jim Doran about the Forest Service’s failed efforts to support the collaborative projects. Instead of decommissioning roads, we should be building and maintaining fire access roads. The Forest Service professes they do not need roads, they have air support. Nope, that doesn’t work when there is smoke. Plus, they still end up building roads to access fires and to create fire breaks after the fire begins. Why should the Forest Service pay to obliterate roads that may someday provide valuable fire access. The Okanagan fire area had over a thousand miles of roads and ditches dug this last summer. The fire boss on the Coeur d’Alene River fire complex reported to about 250 residences that they’d torn out a “permanent road closure and used three bulldozers, one track hoe and three water trucks to attack one of the complex fires.” What’s the difference between a road built in advance or roads that are already in place, and the roads built as fire breaks? Why not leave the current roads in place to serve as fire breaks?
Lastly, collaboratives cannot give individuals or groups veto power to kill projects at the table. That method only serves as a preliminary screening to avoid court cases. It is a win-win for the those wishing to kill projects they don’t like without even going to court. While politicians love the “political correctness” of the collaborative’s “let everyone vote” model, the fact is that it has failed while serving the radical environmental community very well in saving them court fees.
If the environmental community steered clear of abusing their authority in collaboratives, then the process could work. But as long as the same community can always thwart the collaborative process by going to court, or veto projects at the collaborative table, then the model is doomed to failure and will never make a substantive difference in our forest health.
Tim: Whew, Robin, you get pretty long winded.
Robin: And one last comment Tim. Contrary to what some would like you to believe, we are not in this mess because of global warming or because the Forest Service has chosen not to do their job. We are in this mess because some in the environmental community have hijacked the process. They have used the courts to stop logging projects they dislike. They are well known for appealing logging and thinning proposals. Consequently, they are responsible for the literally thousands of acres of projects being pulled. And, therefore, as well, they have contributed to the buildup of fire fuel and ultimately the smoke that has hung around our valley for weeks. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t file law suits and object to logging projects and push for decommissioning of roads and then say your effort has not thwarted the Forest Service’s effort to manage the forests. You can’t brag about decommissioning roads and then not take the blame when the access to fight fire has been decommissioned. It is payday and we are all paying for the failed forest management over the past thirty years.
Tim: Anything else to say Robin?
Robin: Nope, I think I’ve said it all. I want to thank you Tim for this opportunity to talk to myself. I would never have had this interview if I wouldn’t have made it up. Most of the interviews are with those who have a reason to support the collaborative. They are either benefiting from the collaborative, being paid, or their community is on the winning side of the collaborative, unlike Shoshone County that got the shaft. So I appreciate this opportunity to have my side of the story being heard even if I had to invent the magazine and Tim Patterson.
To everyone that takes time to read this, thanks for at least listening to my rants.