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October 07, 2005

Healthy Forests?

Wondering just how healthy the 'Healthy Forests Initiative' is? Here’s a new book that may shed some light. Review is from the publisher’s website:

George W. Bush's Healthy Forests
Reframing the Environmental Debate

by Jacqueline Vaughn, Hanna Cortner

In George W. Bush's Healthy Forests, Jacqueline Vaughn and Hanna Cortner detail how the Bush administration, by changing the terms and processes of debate, sidestepped opposition and put in place policies that restrict public and scientific involvement in environmental decisions. Their groundbreaking study analyzes the context and legal effects of the Healthy Forests Initiative, Healthy Forests Restoration Act, and related regulatory changes.

The authors show how the administration used news events such as wildfires to propel legislation through Congress. Focusing blame for wildfires on legal obstacles and environmentalists' use of appeals to challenge fuel-reduction projects, the administration restricted opportunities for environmental analysis, administrative appeals, and litigation. The authors argue that these tools have a history of use by diverse interests and have long protected Americans' right to question government decisions.

This readable study identifies the players, events, and strategies that expedited the policy shift and contextualizes it in the president's career and in legislative and administrative history. Revealing a policy change with major implications for the future of public lands and public process, George W. Bush's Healthy Forests will become required reading.

Jacqueline Vaughn is a professor of political science at Northern Arizona University and author of several books on environmental issues, including Environmental Politics and Green Backlash.
Hanna J. Cortner, president of Cortner and Associates, coauthored The Politics of Ecosystem Management, co-edited State and Nature, and has held professorships at Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.

Posted by Dave on October 7, 2005 at 09:52 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: Travis Cork

While I have little doubt that w's healthy forest initiative is another dose of what will be failed central planning, I question whether Ms. Cortner can add any meaningful insights.

Her previous tome on politics of ESM was not so much a call for a change in policy, i.e., the standard government policy being some degree of central planning and command and control regulation, as it was a call for the change of the cast of characters making the policy.

For very logical and good reasons, government is a poor manager of everything. It doesn't matter whether republicans or democrats are in charge.

Travis Cork
dirt forester

Travis Cork | Oct 7, 2005 12:30:12 PM

Posted by: Independent Forester

I don't know about Ms. Cortner, but Dr. Jacqueline Vaughn, a Poly Sci professor with inflamed biases, wrote a weeping diatribe called "Show Me The Data!: Wildfires, Healthy Forests and Forest Service Administrative Appeals" in response to the USFS 2002 report, "The Process Predicament".

Her contention was (and probably still is) that "The Process Predicament" is a right wing plot drafted by neo-cons to discredit environmentalists who file endless administrative appeals. In her self-centered view, she feels that tying up fuels treatments and thereby inviting catastrophic wildfires should be her legal privilege as a shrill, feminist whiner. Anyone who thinks otherwise has insulted her, in her opinion.

Works for me.

All that this book represents is more irrational and emotional human baggage that we responsible people have to drag up the learning curve.

Independent Forester | Oct 14, 2005 7:33:19 PM

Posted by: Don Floyd

I've been using the Vaugn/Cortner article (a short version of the book's argument--Review of Policy Research, 2004) in my graduate forest policy course. One may agree or disagree with the direction of the current administration's policy, but the article is an excellent analysis of how the White House and the senior leadership at USDA accomplished their goals. They are very good at what they do.

It's important to remember that at least some of the "process predicament" is self-inflicted. Some other agencies complete their NEPA analysis and implement their management programs without the travails that seem to characterize the national forests. Think for a moment about the processes that BLM, NPS, USFWS and others use. I'm not aware of any data that we can use for a direct comparison, but my impression is that these agencies take less time to design and implement projects than USDA-FS. If that is indeed true, then its time to take a hard look at the administrative process that the agency writes for itself.

The response to the CATEX case will be instructive.

Don Floyd | Oct 18, 2005 9:39:58 AM

Posted by: Alex Dunn

...true that other agencies move through their analysis processes more quickly than the FS, and true that there is some very high stakes political gaming going on in this admin., true that some of the "paralysis" is self-inflicted, and I would be the first to point out the flaws in the way NEPA is "done" in the FS. However, also true is that these other agencies have slightly more clear mandates (multiple use=multiple suits), particularly NPS. Martin Nie's work tells this side of the tale susinctly. To simply compare time that it takes to "do NEPA" between these agencies is to seriously over-simplifiy. Let's get at what's really driving the analysis paralysis, and not just a morass of legislation that works at cross-purposes, which does exist to a large degree. Martin, comments?

Alex Dunn | Oct 19, 2005 12:20:05 PM

Posted by: Martin Nie

The independent forester’s comments are rude and inaccurate. Note that nothing of substance is refuted by him/her.

I am familiar with their previous work on the topic, and believe that it is as careful and well-documented as the follow-up work done by the GAO.

After finding a used copy (apologies to authors), I can say that the book is even better, mostly because it allows a wider-angle view to be taken by the authors, to show the full legislative and administrative strategies that are being used at the moment to change forest policy in significant ways. The same games are being played with other public lands as well—and all raise significant questions about the future of public lands governance in my opinion, in terms of accountability, participation, transparency, etc.

Martin Nie

Martin Nie | Oct 25, 2005 9:03:41 AM

Posted by: Mike Dechter

I'd agree that the book does provide a very interesting view of the Forest Service and its relationship with appeals and other administrative dissent. I'm not one to put much weight in any of the numbers they present in the book ("There are lies, damned lies, and statistics"), but I do think it makes a strong argument that it's truly not only the appeals and litigation that's keeping projects from implementation.

On the other hand, as a NEPA person myself I know that though appeals only prevent implementation of a minority of projects they have a much larger indirect effect. Just the fact that projects can be appealed makes us do more analysis, more documentation, more paperwork, more coordination, etc. It triggers internal reviews that send projects zinging back from supervisors office to the district for more analysis and justifies job codes for office dwellers to spend days assembling giant tombs they call project records.

In my opinion, the Forest Service is the most scrutinized agency of them all (have you read a state or Defense Dept EA recently?). In some cases this can be a very good thing, but in other cases it can truly hurt communities. The value of the book is that it clearly shows that appeals simply do not have such a potent direct effect as many have argued. Yet, it misses the overall (cumulative effect?)of the appeals process and abstracts the entire debate from the FS's ability to care for the land and serve the people.

Mike Dechter | Oct 25, 2005 6:10:05 PM

Posted by: mohsin


I kindly request u to please send me a document of FOREST POLICIES OF USA till now.

mohsin | Dec 1, 2005 11:23:54 PM

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