FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Environmentalists Out on a Limb

There’s nothing wrong with a group of people historically at odds sitting down to find common ground. Or is there?

For decades, our public lands have been a battleground: Timber, wildlife, recreation, wilderness — which interests and uses should dominate? But now, “collaboration” is all the rage. In collaboration, diverse stakeholders (as they invariably tag themselves) — environmentalists, developers, off-roaders, timber companies, county officials — hash out an agreement on how to manage their local public lands and then submit it to Congress for approval.

A few deals already have been enacted, and another half a dozen are in the works across the U.S. Collaboration has been touted as the solution to “gridlock” on our national forests. Timber companies and their allies gripe that the normal process — extensive analysis, citizen involvement and the right to challenge agency decisions — has ground all “management activity” (read: logging) to a halt. Western counties surrounded by public land argue that they need room to expand. Others believe lands worthy of protection are still threatened. The new paradigm means everyone sits down with their adversaries.

But these collaborations are troublesome, particularly for environmentalists, who risk undermining their mission as well as the very laws that are the basis of their power, effectiveness and legitimacy.

For example, a bill poised for introduction in Congress would turn into law an agreement reached by one collaborative group on how to manage Montana’s 3.3-million-acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The stakeholders — Montana Wilderness Assn., National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and timber companies — had one thing in common: They hated the management plan proposed by the Forest Service. So they came up with their own plan specifying which areas can be logged, which can be opened up to off-roaders and which should be recommended to Congress for wilderness designation.

Sounds reasonable enough. So what’s wrong? To start, as owners of the public lands, all Americans have a stake in their management, and they have not designated these representatives. Even the most inclusive collaboration can go bad: Outliers who pose a threat to consensus are either not invited or made to feel unwelcome. And ultimately, decisions are being made behind closed doors. But Congress loves a done deal. With a local sponsor, Congress is inclined to rubber-stamp these initiatives, overlooking the fact that they are an end-run around the suite of laws that safeguard public lands and keep land-management decisions an open process.

The Beaverhead bill, for example, triples the acreage where logging can take place from what was in the Forest Service’s plan. It requires an environmental analysis only for individual logging projects rather than the plan as a whole, thereby waiving the bedrock U.S. environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act. It also allows logging in roadless areas — a radical departure from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that environmentalists championed during the Clinton era. Other deals have sold off vast acreage of public lands in exchange for wilderness designations.

The collaboration prototype — the 1998 Quincy Library Group legislation — illustrates the problem. That group, named for the California town library where it met, came up with a plan for three national forests in the Sierra affected by endangered-species listings. The proposal increased logging while protecting pristine areas. When it landed in Congress, California Rep. George Miller insisted on adding one provision: All environmental laws would apply. That meant the Quincy Library logging plan had to go through the same environmental analysis a Forest Service plan would.

The Quincy Library proposal, held up at the time as a model of local, consensus-based decision-making, has never been fully implemented. Why? Primarily because it didn’t jibe with Endangered Species Act guidelines protecting the California spotted owl. In other words, it did not pass scientific or legal muster.

That environmentalist “stakeholders” signed on to the Quincy Library agreement in the first place highlights the danger of the collaboration fad. After years of being tarred as obstructionist ideologues, some environmental groups now have a seat at the negotiating table — indeed, are seen as crucial to legitimizing any deal. Enjoying their newfound popularity, these self-appointed decision-makers become heavily invested in reaching an accord, regardless of the science, the law or the long-term effect on the land.

For decades, environmentalists fought to get a more level playing field and establish transparency and accountability in public-lands policy; they continue to fight the Bush administration’s relentless efforts to dismantle these policies. How ironic it would be, then, if in their eagerness to embrace the new paradigm, they craft and push through Congress deals that undercut the very laws that got them to the table in the first place.

ERICA ROSENBERG directs the program on public policy at Arizona State University’s law school and served as counsel to the House Resources Committee from 1999-2004. Rosenberg is also a board member of the Western Land Exchange Project.

 

 

 

More articles by:
September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail