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Forest management and collaboration

Collaboration undermines the National Environmental Policy Act, FOC Photo Credit

Approximately 200-million board feet of timber came off the Clearwater National Forest on an annual basis in the 1970’s. The neighboring Nez Perce National Forest produced about 125-million board feet every year. Both forests combined yielded an unsustainable annual cut of approximately 325-million board feet! The 1980’s saw a modest decline, with both forests combined still producing approximately 275-million board feet.

By the time the 1990s rolled around, the combined annual cut on both forests was approximately 70-million board feet. The Clearwater was logging about 40-million board feet per year, and the Nez Perce was at about 30-million board feet. The 1987 Forest Plan for the Clearwater National Forest and Nez Perce National Forest forced the agency to be accountable to other values besides cutting trees. The Forest Plan contained measurable and enforceable standards for water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.

In the 2000’s, the Bush Administration took bold steps to try and ensure the timber industry could once again get the cut out of the National Forests. Timber lobbyist Mark Rey was appointed Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture (the Forest Service is located in the Department of Agriculture). “Collaboration” was soon introduced as a new template for reaching “consensus driven” decisions involving natural resource management. The collaborative model was designed to navigate our public land laws, and expedite decision making so that industry had quicker and easier access to natural resources.

Locally-based “stakeholders” or “stakeholders groups” were soon formed across the West to work out agreements that “balance” extraction interests and economic growth, with conservation priorities and environmental protection. In reality, these politically-appointed “working groups” were grossly comprised of industry representatives (mining, timber, off-road vehicles) with staff members from a few “environmental” groups that were paid to collaborate and make back-room deals involving federal public lands that belong to all Americans.

Collaboration (in the context of public lands decision making) is an undemocratic and exclusive process that creates an uneven playing field by empowering working groups to meet and make recommendations involving federal public lands management, while the rest of the American public is afforded no such opportunity. Collaboration is a form of social engineering that creates a hierarchy or dual-citizenship among public land owners (the rewarded and the informed). It weakens the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by making it a pro-forma exercise.

A democratic decision making process for public lands management should be less about agreement or consensus, and more about following our existing public land laws, using the best available science and maintaining an equal platform for citizens to participate. NEPA ensures that people are afforded the same time (Example: 45-day comment period) and equal opportunity to analyze projects, offer alternatives and provide feedback on agency proposals. NEPA does not elevate “working groups”, nor does it direct politically-appointed “collaboratives” to influence policy. The National Environmental Policy Act, while not perfect, works because it treats all citizens equally and holds agencies accountable.

The Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC) was formed in 2008 by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID). It was created to “break barriers” and “bring people together to solve long-standing and divisive issues” on the National Forests in north-central Idaho. For the record, Friends of the Clearwater was never invited to participate.

Since the CBC’s inception, Friends of the Clearwater has witnessed a steady increase in the volume of proposed timber sales on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. One of the “restoration” projects agreed upon by the local collaborative seeks to heavily log in a watershed (Clear Creek) that already does not meet water quality standards (see 1987 Forest Plan). It appears one of the main objectives of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative is to increase logging levels to decades past, regardless of the condition the watershed(s) may be in.

Read our analysis of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative Work Plan and Agreement.

Read Collaboration sounds good but is it?

Read  The Forest Service is Paying Collaborative Partners! 

Learn more about National Environmental Policy Act and other public land laws.