Collective Statement on Collaborative Group Trends

Grassroots organizations and individuals joined together to issue a joint statement that questions the recent trend of the collaborative process used by the Forest Service to influence National Forest management. This statement shows how that process has undermined public involvement in National Forest decisions and science-informed decisions. Some of the undersigned organizations have engaged in the so-called collaborative processes and found them far from what they had claimed to be.

These collaborative groups (usually initiated by the Forest Service) often allege that they would work toward common ground for all parties involved; would operate on the basis of full consensus; and would be fully inclusive of citizens, with the Forest Service serving an informative role. Promises are often made that environmentally protective sidebars would be established, respected, and maintained and that the goal was ecologically sound restoration with some economic return for local communities.

However, the undersigned organizations and individuals have found that most collaborative groups stopped working toward common ground with biocentric, more ecologically protective groups, and no longer operate by full consensus. Indeed, the over-riding goal has become economic return to local communities and/or the timber industry. These groups are no longer diverse (if they ever were) and the dominant participants tend to be Forest Service staff and others whose vested interest is to increase National Forest logging.

With Forest Service representatives holding sway, significant scientific controversy over foundational agency assumptions is glossed over (e.g. as to whether logging really reduces fire “risk”, whether moist mixed conifer forests are appropriate for fire “risk” reduction, and challenging the idea that all stand replacement fire is ecologically “catastrophic”.)  Karen Coulter, Director of Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, stated: “Dry Ponderosa pine science has been inappropriately applied to moist mixed-conifer forests in order to increase logging. Ironically, more recent research suggests that the dry Ponderosa pine model, which states that high frequency, low intensity fires were the norm, is not accurate elsewhere and may even be too simplistic for Ponderosa pine forests themselves.”

The full statement is below:

Collective Statement on Collaborative Group Trends

Some forest protection organizations started to engage with local collaborative groups (usually initiated by the Forest Service) based on the following promises and initial collaborative agreements:

–that the collaborative group would work toward common ground for all parties involved

–that the collaborative would operate on the basis of full consensus decision-making

–that the goal was ecologically sound restoration with some economic return for local communities

–that environmentally protective sidebars would be established, respected, and maintained

–that collaboratives would be fully inclusive, with diverse participation, and respect the positions of all participants or members

–that the Forest Service would not be a member of the collaborative group, would not have a vote, and would only serve an informative role

The emerging reality:

Instead of these bottom-line initial agreements (all or most of which are in collaborative group charters or operating principles) being fully respected and implemented on an ongoing basis, the following negative trends have predominated among most collaborative groups:

–Most collaborative groups stopped working toward common ground with biocentric, more ecologically protective groups

–Most collaboratives no longer operate by full consensus and biocentric forest protection groups are cut out of whatever partial consensus is reached (e.g. as the “1” in consensus minus one.)

–The over-riding goal has become economic return to local communities and/or the timber industry with little or no consideration of critique and objections (e.g. re:  saw log or heavy logging not being ecologically sound restoration.)

–Most collaborative groups have abandoned established ecologically protective side bars (such as not logging large trees, not managing roadless areas, etc.) with no looking back at past agreements or mission statements that included these protections.

–Collaboratives are no longer diverse, no longer represent the full spectrum of public interests, as more ecologically protective voices are silenced or ignored.  The dominant participants (both numerically and regarding influence) tend to be Forest Service staff, loggers, timber industry representatives and local community officials whose vested interest is to maintain or regain historic community economic reliance on National Forest logging revenue.  These dominant participants are usually more local to the collaborative meeting places and are often or usually paid to participate.  Collaborative group facilitators often let them steer the group agenda and effectively determine the decision outcome.

–While the Forest Service is still legally not a member of the collaboratives, and does not vote, they are looked upon by the local community as “the experts”.  Significant scientific controversy over foundational agency assumptions is glossed over (e.g. as to whether logging really reduces fire “risk”, whether moist mixed conifer forests are appropriate for fire “risk” reduction, and challenging the idea that all stand replacement fire is ecologically “catastrophic”.)   Various serious ecological concerns (e.g. forest carbon storage, water quality impacts, loss of interior and old growth forest-dependent species, cumulative deforestation) are ignored or trivialized.  Only Forest Service-approved scientists are usually included in collaborative group field trips and for guidance.  These tend to be heavy cut supporters such as Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson or rubber-stamping agency scientists.  The Forest Service participation in some collaboratives tends to be over-whelming numerically and is allowed to determine the agenda, as well as being the unofficial deciding vote in many cases. 

–Collaborative groups often receive agency funding. As such, there is a question whether they are indeed independent. They likely violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

–Sometimes collaborative group facilitators repeatively postpone decisions where there is clear multi-member controversy until those raising concerns are not present at a future meeting.  Official false consensus (mis-representing the positions of ecological groups participating) is becoming a prevalent tactic and undermines our perceived integrity as biocentric organizations, as well as undermining ecologically sound outcomes. We have experienced official proclamations of false consensus in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and in media statements, as well as implied full consensus of collaborative groups supporting timber sale/ “restoration” projects.

Therefore, we the undersigned:   

Find it necessary to distance ourselves from existing collaborative groups and collaborative group process as:

–Most collaborative groups are no longer respecting or incorporating the perspective, goals, and concerns of biocentric ecological protection groups, and thus are not incorporating the concerns and values of the majority of the national public regarding their desire for National Forest protection from logging

–The collaborative group process is being used by the Forest Service to negate the democratic process of checks and balances, and to rubber-stamp agency projects that may have significant public opposition, violating the intent of NEPA to provide full public disclosure and full public participation (not just collaborative group participation) to inform decision-making.

–Many collaborative groups are now backing agency proposals that clearly violate existing Forest Plan standards and provisions of various laws, such as the Roadless Area rule, and which may result in other legal violations, including of NFMA, NEPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

–Most “collaborative group projects” are clearly ecologically destructive, usually supporting a regional Forest Service push (with right wing Congressional support) to greatly escalate the pace and scale of logging to even more unsustainable levels.

–Most “collaborative group projects” are mostly just rubber-stamping agency proposals with few and inadequate ecological protection sidebars, reflective of a lack of biocentric activist input incorporation.

–Most “collaborative group projects” have little or no ecologically sound restoration incorporated and often any restoration proposed is heavy-handed artificial manipulation posing significant potential impacts.

–Most “collaborative group projects” are predominantly just timber sales with increasingly heavy logging, and targeting of large trees, roadless areas/undeveloped lands, Wild and Scenic River corridors, riparian zones, and other critical wildlife habitat for logging.

–Collaborative processes divide citizens into two castes, those who can or choose to participate and those who can’t or decide that the NEPA process is the legitimate avenue for public involvement. In contrast, NEPA is a process that allows all citizens equal access to the process.

–Citizens or organizations who do not participate in the illegitimate collaboratives are demonized even though they are acting ethically.

–Collaborative groups violate the spirit of NEA. These collaborative groups usually come up with decisions, couched as recommendations, before scoping letters go out. As such, NEPA becomes a pro forma exercise.

–In essence, collaborative groups are back room decision-making processes that are disguised as feel-good endeavors which aid agency decision makers.

Therefore, we the undersigned agree to:

–no longer be members of such collaborative groups following these negative trends and practices as described above

–publicly denounce negative trends and ecological consequences of collaborative groups and collaborative process, and any related violation of existing environmental laws

–offer alternatives for the public to collaborative group participation by working with us instead or by providing an expanded frame of reference within which dissenting individuals can speak their minds

–distinguish our organizations and organizational positions from these collaborative group negative trends through the media and public outreach

–reserve the right to participate in collaborative meetings, field trips, and events as interested members of the public.

Karen Coulter, Director
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project
27803 Williams Lane
Fossil, Oregon 97830

Denise Boggs, Executive Director
Conservation Congress
P.O. Box 2076
Livingston, Montana 59047

Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director
Friends of the Clearwater
P.O. Box 9241
Moscow, Idaho 83843

Jeffrey St. Clair
Counter Punch
Oregon City, Oregon 97045

Mike Garrity, Executive Director
Alliance for the Wild Rockies
P.O. Box 505
Helena, Montana 59624

Mr. Ara Marderosian
Sequoia ForestKeeper
®
P.O. Box 2134
Kernville, California 93238

Marnie Gaede
Board Member
Fund for Wild Nature

Ryan Talbott, Executive Director
Allegheny Defense Project
117 West Wood Lane
Kane, Pennsylvania  16735

Duane Short
4631 Oriole Lane #1
Laramie, Wyoming 82070

Dr. Brian L. Horejsi
Speak Up For Wildlife Foundation

Ron Mitchell, Executive Director
Idaho Sporting Congress
P.O. Box 1136
Boise, Idaho 83701

Ernie Reed, Council Chair
Heartwood
P.O. Box 1026
Bloomington, Indiana 47402

Frank Robey
Stoneham, Maine 04231

Janine Blaeloch, Director
Western Lands Project
P.O. Box 95545
Seattle, Washington 98145

Lori Andersen
Save Our Sky Blue Waters
PO Box 3661
Duluth, Minnesota 55803

Sam Sterns, Public Education Coordinator
Friends of Bell Smith Springs
794 Ozark Road
Stonefort, Illinois 62987

The following signatories are exempted from the above statement that the undersigned agree to “–no longer be members of such collaborative groups following these negative trends and practices as described above”.

George Wuerthner
Public Lands Media

Michael Krochta, Forest Watch Coordinator
Bark
P.O. Box 12065
Portland, Oregon 97214

Cyndi Tuell
Tucson, Arizona

This statement was published in June, 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Collective Statement on Collaborative Group Trends

  1. Thank you to all of the people who contributed to this report. I have not read much about these trends, but I am here to say that our local collaborative(s) fit the description perfectly. How did you know?
    Nancy Ostlie, Bozeman

    • Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for the feedback and for your interest. In the future, we will be compiling short stories of specific problematic examples of collaborative experiences that different environmental groups have had. We’ll post info about it on our website– though it may be a few months from now.

      Best,
      Paula Hood
      Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project

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