Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tester Response Poor Strategy

Tester’s Response Poor Strategy

In my discussions with some environmental advocates relative to Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation legislation (FJRA), I get the sense that many feel lucky to have any wilderness legislation before Congress. It is easy to understand how one could get such an outlook since there hasn’t been new wilderness legislation passed in Montana in decades. The main problem for Montana has been getting someone to sponsor wilderness legislation and in that regard Senator Tester is the first Montana politicians to do so in many years. But does that mean wilderness supporters must accept anything proposed that may have long term environmental harm and/or unintended political consequences as a “cost of doing business”?

Wilderness advocates often forget that Senator Tester and the timber industry need the wilderness advocates more than the wilderness advocates need either the timber industry or Senator Tester.

Passage of wilderness legislation is not unique. Year in and year out, whether Washington D.C. is dominated by Republicans or Democrats, wilderness legislation is passed. Even such Presidents who were largely hostile to environmental protection like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush signed wilderness legislation. It is really a mundane and routine process—so long as one does not deviate from the traditional rules and guidelines of the Wilderness Act. Thus passage of legislation for new wilderness areas in Montana is not really in doubt so long as the proponents do not try to modify the terms of wilderness designation. If Senator Tester wanted to pass wilderness legislation, there is no doubt he could.

On the other hand, changing the terms for logging on public lands is far more difficult to enact into law. The mandated logging quotas, changes in NEPA requirements, and other terms of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA) that would hasten destructive logging of our national forests is far more difficult to pass—because as much as Senator Tester and the timber proponents hate to admit it, these are national lands, and thus not totally subject to the whims of Montana politicians and industry. In fact, no logging quotas were ever passed through the normal legislative process. The only successful and temporary increases in logging were added on as sneaky last minute “riders” to other must pass legislation. They never had the political support to pass on their own merits.

If Senator Tester and the timber industry really want to enact legislation that will expedite logging of Montana’s national forests, they are the ones that have an uphill battle. In fact, they could not even have a chance of passing such legislation without at least the tacit support of Montana’s and Nation’s environmental community. It is the wilderness proponents who hold the cards for passage of any legislation that will change the laws and regulations regarding how logging occurs on national forest lands.

Additionally, the only reason the timber industry is anxious to deal at all is that groups like the Alliance for Wild Rockies, Wild West Institute and other organizations have successfully challenged illegal and irresponsible logging proposals by the Forest Service. Without such pressure, the timber industry would have no reason to support legislative relief at all. It is the big legal stick environmentalists carry that has gotten the attention of the timber industry. And the only way the timber industry can seek relief is by having Senator Tester bend or modify the laws that surround management on public lands.

Some political strategists believe that the only way that wilderness legislation will be enacted in Montana is on the back of industry subsidies. It is reasonable to come to this conclusion since when polled about whether Montanans favor environmental protection or jobs, their response is captured by the famous quip “it’s the economy stupid”.

A number of national, regional and state wide wilderness advocacy group professionals have told me they are worried that if Tester’s bill passes, it will become the new “norm” so that the only way a wilderness bill will be successful is if it is packaged as a resource giveaway to some industry.

They also fear some of the precedents in the Tester bill such as allowing ranchers to use ATVS in wilderness that might further erode the integrity of the Wilderness Act if widely adopted. Wilderness advocates in states with a lot of BLM lands grazed by livestock are particularly worried about such precedent setting aspects of FJRA. Many of these wilderness advocates see Tester’s legislation through the lens of a national constituency. They all support the changes to Tester’s bill advocated by the Senate Energy Committee draft released a few weeks ago.

Without the wilderness components of his bill, Tester’s proposed changes to public lands forestry practices would never even get a hearing; much less have chance for passage. Tester needs the political cover and “feel good” benefits provided by the support of the environmental community to pass his pro logging legislation.

An honest appraisal of the public lands affected by Tester’s bill would demonstrate that the public does not need to log these lands. They are biologically marginal lands that cannot be sustainably logged. Logging these lands is only feasible by externalizing the environmental harm and with the addition of government subsidies. Given its low productivity, it’s not coincidental that the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) always loses taxpayer money on its timber sales. Even the relatively more productive Kootenai National Forest is a money loser since the best and most accessible timber was logged long ago.

At the same time, the highest and best use of these public lands isn’t timber production, but protection of watersheds, wildlife, scenery, and wildlands. Why should anyone rationally support degrading what are national treasures to get back something as mundane as a 2 x 4 that we either get elsewhere at less costs and/or better yet, learn to reduce our needs so that logging these nationally significant lands isn’t necessary at all.

Every benefit ascribed to logging can be achieved much more efficiently and at less cost by other means—if they are necessary at all. Far too often logging prescriptions are solutions to manufactured problems. For instance, if one truly wanted to reduce fire hazard to communities, one would demand that citizen’s fire proof their homes instead of trying to fireproof the forest. County commissioners must stop approving subdivisions in the fire plain self-creating the hazardous conditions they later whine to the federal government to relieve.

If watershed restoration is the goal, one can remove culverts and close roads without logging, especially since new logging will create additional harm to watersheds that in turn will have to be remediated. Even the creation of jobs could be accomplished without new logging as watershed restoration (road closures, etc.), prescribed burns, and other land management actions would create employment opportunities and likely at far lower cost than the proposed logging subsidies in Tester’s bill.

Senator Tester current strategy of dead on arrival is politically foolish. If instead of being obstinate, he could accept the Senate Energy Committee recommendations and still declare victory. If he needs to save face, he can resort to the tried and true Montana tradition of blaming eastern “elitists” for forcing him to accept some compromises on logging. After all eastern elitists have done this kind of chicanery many times before; shoving down the throats of Montanans such unpopular things as Yellowstone Park, Glacier Park, and even national forests.

The energy committee recommendations still permit logging, and have some other provisions favorable to the industry—though without a mandated quota and loss of regulatory environmental checks. Tester could take credit for creation of jobs in rural Montana while creating the first new wilderness in decades. That would still be a pretty good accomplishment for a first time Senator.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rockies need more wolves

Despite the dire predictions from hunter advocacy groups that wolves are “destroying” elk herds, the real problem for Montana and other western states is not that wolves eat too many elk; rather the problem is that they do not eat enough.
Ecological role
Top predators like wolves, among other things, can reduce populations of elk, deer and moose. Rather than view this as a problem as state wildlife agencies are prone to do, a reduction in ungulates is a good thing for ecosystems. Fewer elk, for instance, can give favored food items like aspen and willows more time to grow beyond the browsing level of elk and deer.
More aspen and willows can mean more songbirds and more riparian vegetation, which in turn can reduce flooding and create more fish habitat. Top predators, by limiting other meso predators such as coyotes, can influence survival of other species — for instance pronghorn fawns appear to have higher survival where wolves have reduced coyote numbers.
Predators can also limit the spread of brucellosis, chronic wasting disease and other diseases, provide carrion for salvagers, and increase the “wildness” and alertness of prey species. Wolves perform and promote all these ecological services for free.
Social disruption
We hear all the time from hunters that “we need to manage predators like other wildlife.” But this ignores the fact that predators are not like other wildlife. Top predators are intricately linked by social behavior that is disrupted when hunters and/or ranchers indiscriminately kill significant numbers of them, increasing conflicts with humans.
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that indiscriminate killing of wolves, cougars, and bears skews the age structure toward younger animals that are less skillful hunters and more likely to kill easy prey like livestock and/or display other bold behavior. Plus, a predator population dominated by young animals is more likely to produce a higher percentage of young that survive—which in turn have high demands for food—likely leading to high ungulate predation. In reality the best way to manage predators to reduce
conflicts is not to kill them at all.
Financial conflicts
Despite the growing evidence that hunting actually has the opposite effect of stated goals of reducing human/predator conflicts, state wildlife agencies are increasing, rather than limiting indiscriminate killing of predators. Why? It’s easy to explain if you understand how agencies are funded. State wildlife agencies depend on hunter license sales to fund their operations; they are not going to jeopardize their funding and growth by promoting predators.
Self-fulfilling management agenda
Agencies exploit the increase in conflicts (that is a direct consequence of their decision to hunt predators) to demonstrate a “need” for more predator control. So we get a self-fulfilling situation where agencies increase the killing of predators, which in turn beget more predators that are socially disrupted and more likely to be creating conflicts with humans, thus fueling more demands to kill predators.
Agencies do little to promote and/or require non-lethal measures that could reduce conflicts with livestock operations (for instance prompt removal of dead animals, requiring use of calving and lambing sheds, and guard animals, etc.) because in reality, they want an excuse to kill wolves and other predators to reduce predation pressures on ungulates as a way to appease hunters.
Stop the killing
The only solution that will ensure reasonable consideration of predator ecological role and the public’s right to see and experience predators is to take away the direct agency conflicts and ban the hunting of top predators. California did just this with cougars. Despite ominous warnings that unhunted cougars would devastate elk and deer, California continues to enjoy not only plenty of deer and elk, but also abundant cougar. Every year some cougars are killed by wildlife officials, but such killing is done surgically to remove individual animals that may have grown too bold, not to appease hunters.
Similarly, in Minnesota where hunting of wolves is still illegal, deer herds and deer hunting continue to thrive. Despite the presence of more than 3,500 wolves there are nearly a million deer in Minnesota. To put this into perspective, 3,500 is more twice the number of wolves that exists in all three Rocky Mountain states which collectively are four times as large as Minnesota. It is clear that wolves and other predators are not going to “destroy” hunting opportunity — though they may at times in some places significantly reduce ungulate numbers — which is exactly what they should be doing.

Collaboration in Testers bill has predictable outcome

Collaboration in Tester’s bill has predictable outcome

By George Wuerthner, 6-17-10

Senator Tester's legislation would mandate even more logging on the already heavily logged Kootenai National Forest.

Collaboration vs Negotiation 6-16-2010

Polite conservationists leave no mark upon the Earth except scars that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.

David Brower

There is a real difference between negotiation and collaboration. In negotication one tries to get the best deal for one’s position or goal. In collaboration, those participating generally adopt the least controversial and least disruptive policies. In collboration all points of views are considered to be equally valid. But that is not the case in conservation. The goal of the timber industry to expand profits is not necessarily in the public interest, and/or have the same value as fighting to prevent the extinction of a grizzly or loss of a wild roadless land to development. When dealing with public resources, collaboration almost always means private industry gets to keep or increase access to public resources. And that is exactly what we have seen as the outcome of the collaborative process that has led to Senator Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation bill.

Collaboration is not a level playing field. Membership in such cooperative committees always includes individuals with a direct financial conflict of interest and those who have already indicated that they are willing to compromise away public resources for a positive outcome. Such collaborative processes are corrupting, not only to those who have a direct financial stake in the outcome, but also any other members of the collaborative group. We can see this corruption in the “collaborative” process that created the legislation being promoted by Senator Tester. Well-meaning and dedicated environmental groups participated in this collaboration adopted a bill that has a direct financial benefit to private businesses interests, degrades public forests, and compromises/ and restricts public participation in the management of public forests.

I do not want to imply that those who supported this legislation are unethical or had malicious intent. Rather they are caught up in a process that had a predictable outcome.

The corrupting effect was even more apparent in the past few weeks when it was revealed that a discussion draft conference committee revision of Senator Jon Testers’ Forest Jobs and Recreation bill provided better protection for Montana’s forest lands.

The draft legislation eliminates many of the worse aspects of Senator Tester’s bill including a mandated logging of 10,000 acres a year. The draft proposal would provide greater protection to old growth and large trees, eliminated a shortened time frame for NEPA documentation, as well as things that are in direct conflict with the Wilderness Act like allowing ranchers to use motorized access in the proposed Snowcrest Wilderness and helicopter landings in the Highlands proposed wilderness. What pro- wilderness and public interest group would not support such changes?

Well, the answer is abundantly clear—not the MWA, TU or NWF. In newspaper articles across the state, these organizations said they wanted mandated logging of Montana’s forests, and they would not support a bill that did not include the timber giveaways and subsidies to the timber industry. Is this what one expects from organizations that profess to work in the public interest and for wildlands?

Hearing these organizations continued misguided support for logging and taxpayer subsidies for a few private corporations, I can’t help but think that they are suffering from the Stockholm syndrome. Like Patty Hearst, these environmental organizations have been captured by their former foes.

Such an outcome is not an uncommon result of “collaborative” efforts. A good example of this corruption of the public interest to benefit private industry is the Quincy Library Group in California. Here local environmental activists joined with timber industry to craft a plan that called for logging up to 60,000 acres of the Plumas National Forest annually in exchange for protection of some old growth trees and small roadless areas. Like the Tester legislation, the Quincy proposal was hailed as an example of how collaboration had achieved a resolution to a long-standing stalemate.

However, other environmentalists, including the Wilderness Society, Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, and Sierra Club among others did not support more logging on the Plumas NF and they railed against the Quincy Library Group proposal. Environmental members of the Quincy group soon joined the timber industry in denouncing the anti-corporate giveaway activists.

We don’t know whether Senator Tester’s bill will pass Congress, or whether the logging mandates will remain. One thing is certain, had the environmental organizations involved used negotiation rather than collaboration they might have received more support from many hard core wilderness supporters, and perhaps even some grudging respect from the timber industry as well without jeopardizing their ability to further wilderness protection in Montana. Because they have adopted the timber industry’s position and propaganda, these groups feel compelled to support Tester’s logging legislation or risk their credibility with the timber industry. I think, given the circumstances, these are legitimate concerns, however one of their own making.

What happens in collaborative efforts is that everyone has a stake in declaring victory—to make attending all those meetings worthwhile—so one is willing to accept the lowest common denominator. So they are reluctant to walk away from an agreement—and we see this with Tester’s legislation.

What these groups failed to understand is that one doesn’t have to give up one’s core values to negotiate with other interest groups. A good example of this is the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) who obtained protective legislation for Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon.

When the proposal to create a Steens Mountain National Monument in eastern Oregon was being negotiated by Oregon Natural Desert Association, there was a lot of discussion between ranchers, county commissioners, and ONDA. ONDA was working with Greg Walden, a conservative Republican Congressman who had no love for wilderness. How did they get wilderness with a Republican especially when ONDA has always opposed grazing on public lands?

First, ONDA remained very up front that their goal was to end grazing--and they were not afraid to tell the ranchers, the Congressman, or anyone else that if they had an opportunity to eliminate grazing, they would go for it. Indeed, one of the things they negotiated successfully in the Steen Mountain legislation was the first legislated cow-free wilderness. Since they were clear in expressing that their chief goal was to protect wilderness and eliminate grazing, no one, including the local ranchers had any misgivings about their motives.

The ranchers went into the negotiations with their eyes wide open. They knew where ONDA stood on matters. They did not think ONDA lied or deceived them when they continue to lobby to remove cows from public lands, not only on Steens, but also throughout Eastern Oregon.

However, ONDA’s goal of livestock removal didn’t keep them from working with the ranchers either. By negotiation ranchers got some things they wanted too. They were able to consolidate their private lands by land exchanges with the BLM. Some received permit buyouts, and left the business altogether, but with a golden parachute. With these negotiations, the ranchers had some control over where wilderness designations occurred.

ONDA never let the fact that they were negotiating with the ranchers keep them from continuing to file law suits to thwart grazing, While the ranchers involved understood this because ONDA was very clear from the beginning that they were always opposed to grazing on public lands.

Furthermore, by keeping pressure up on ranching interests through appeals, law suits and other measures, ONDA created an environment where ranchers felt it was in their best interests to negotiate. This is a lesson that MWA, TU, and NWF appear to misunderstand. Without the legal appeals and law suits from groups like the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biodiversity, and others, the timber industry would have no interest in collaborating at all.

So for the purposes of Steens Mountain legislation, both parties worked to get legislation that was mutually beneficial. However, negotiation did not mean ONDA had to become a ranching industry advocate.

ONDA never diluted their message. They continued to educate the public about the damage done by livestock grazing to the public lands and wildlife. They never compromised their message to appease the ranchers they were working with to garner legislation. You won’t hear ONDA suggesting that a economically marginal industry like ranching is critical to the economies of rural Oregon like MWA, TU, and NWF misinformed claims about the economic role of a dying timber industry in Montana. You won’t hear ONDA parroting the livestock industry propaganda that grazing will reduce fires or improve the health of rangelands like the MWA, TU and NWF have asserted that logging will do for forests in Montana.

In the case of the Steens Mountain legislation, ONDA and the ranchers were being practical. ONDA worked with the ranchers because it furthered their goal of getting a cow free wilderness as well as other things like wild and scenic river designation, a mineral withdrawal and other conservation benefits.

Since the Steens legislation, ONDA has negotiated with ranchers in the eastern Republican House District for two more cow-free BLM wilderness areas. In fact, they have yet another bill introduced into Congress this session that will establish two more new wildernesses. They have done this without compromising their position on livestock grazing on public lands.

Had the MWA, NWF, and TU clearly stated from the beginning that their goal was to garner the best outcome for Montana’s public forests (as opposed to the best outcome for private industry) they would not now have to feel like they were betraying their partners if they openly supported this draft bill and/or any other legislation that may come out of the legislative process that eliminated the mandated logging quota and other subsidies to the timber industry.