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August 29, 2007

RPA/NFMA – Time To Punt

Dick Behan once — likely more than once — called for the repeal of RPA/NFMA (the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 as amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976). Here is part of Behan's reasoning:

… Idealized, perfect planning that is mandated in law [and Regulation], and constrained only by an agency's budget, will exhaust that budget. … There will come a time when the Forest Service can do nothing but plan ….

… The agency has a long tradition of hard work, dedication, and "can-do" management; but we have given it, this time, an impossible task.

RPA/NFMA cannot be made to work. Its flaw is fundamental: it is a law, and it needs to be repealed. We failed, in our collective problem solving, by placing too much faith in planning and placing far too much faith in statute. It is time to punt.

The Key is Better Administration, Not a Better Law
Certainly we need to plan, to make assessments, and to write programs to submit to Congress. And we need … forest-level [site planning.]. … But planning can be done without statutory coercion, and it can be with a great deal less than perfection in mind. …

[from: "RPA/NFMA—Time To Punt", R.W Behan, Journal of Forestry, December 1981, via ingentaconnect]

Instead of following Behan's sage advice, the Forest Service blundered on—for three decades spanning several iterations of 'NFMA Rule' rewrites. Behan was (and is) an advocate for planning and management (as separate organizational functions). Still, he does not now and did not then see daylight in the path the Forest Service has taken. Behan adds:
… [P]lanning is, finally, only planning—a precondition, not a substitute, for management.

In the management of the national forests, we need to improve or construct some new approaches to problem volving—other than seeking legislative remedies and resorting to subsequent litigation. I believe a new pattern of public forestry is in order, in which the forest manager sees his task as actively solving public problems, not passively executing public laws. …

Time to reconsider? If not now, when? Why does the Forest Serivce seem incapable of learning? Sally Farifax's assessment of 'NEPA as a paper-chase' comes to mind as well. So does Herbert Kaufman's The Paradox of Excellence, pointing to the broader culture of the Forest Service laying the foundation for its own demise, or at mimimum 'very painful' transformation.

Instead of talking through the nature of administrative governance for the 21st century, the Forest Service seems to be attempting yet-another tweak of the NFMA rule, yet-another tweak of its own organizational structure via a "transformation" effort hidden behind intranet firewalls, and more without giving a moment's thought to the reality that 'form must follow function', not the other way around.

Behan's wisdom rings as true today as it did almost three decades ago. And it appears to be even more absent from the minds of FS managers than it was then.

Posted by Dave on August 29, 2007 at 11:58 AM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2007

Privatization by Many Means: 'Carbon Offsets' Edition

Professor Bill Willers, emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, claims the American people are being duped (privatized) into losing their public lands — "losing one of the greatest gifts it has to convey to future generations." The latest in a long line of privatization schemes, says Willers, comes in the form of the Forest Service's Carbon Capital Fund Program. Is Willers right? If wrong, where so?

Voluntary 'Carbon Offsetting' as Strategy for Privatizing America's Public Lands, by William Willers, [Common Dreams, Aug 22]: … There is a new twist to the carbon offsetting policy that is particularly insidious in that it is linked with the loss of public ownership of America’s public domain. On July 25, 2007, the U.S. Forest Service announced a "Carbon Capital Fund" that would allow one to "offset" personal CO2 emissions by purchasing vouchers, the cash then being applied to tree planting in national forests. The Service has a website at which a well-intentioned citizen can determine one's annual "carbon footprint", which the Service reports to be, on average, 10.73 metric tons. At $6 per ton, that would indicate an annual individual "investment" in the Fund of $64.38. In other words, the U.S. Forest Service is seeking voluntary donations from citizens for "management" that for generations has been paid for by taxes. (Consider also the irony that the massive clearcutting projects of the Forest Service in recent decades has been linked to global warming http://www.stopclearcuttingcalifornia.org/ ).

But there is even more to this Carbon Capital Fund in that it is being done in concert with a tax-exempt organization, the National Forest Foundation (NFF). Generally, governmental bureaus funded by federal taxes do not solicit private funding as a means of support. But in 1990 the NFF was established by Congress "…to encourage, accept and administer private gifts of money and property for the benefit of the U.S. Forest Service, and to conduct activities that further the purposes and programs of the National Forest System." In fact, NFF president Bill Possiel claims credit for the Carbon Capital Fund: "We came up with the idea because everyone is looking at what they can do in terms of climate change." …

The NFF provides a route for the transfer of funding responsibility away from the public sector. Its Matching Awards Program stipulates "NFF funds awarded through this program can be disbursed only as a match to cash contributions from a non-federal source." Instead of funding the Forest Service directly and completely, Congress has made tax money available only if matched from the private sector. Federal funding of NFF in 2006 totaled nearly four million dollars.

Industry groups support NFF programs not only because donations are tax-deductible but also because they provide a means by which corporations and their public relations organizations can then advertise their concern for the environment. Moreover, because corporations are the truly significant players in "the private sector", they will ultimately be the real benefactors in the privatization of public domain. …

This is part of a long-term strategy to privatize the public's forests, a process implemented during the Reagan Revolution through stepwise defunding of land management agencies in the name of "trimming budgets". The process continues to this day and has forced the U.S. Forest Service to seek funds from the private sector simply to continue on. Nor is the larger plan confined to the national forests alone but includes the federal lands generally — BLM lands, national parks and wildlife refuges as well, collectively nearly a third of the nation. At about the time the NFF was being created, corresponding foundations were established in the form of the National Park Foundation and the Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The coordinated effort to privatize federal lands has included the "Sagebrush Revolution" of the 1970s, the "Wise Use Movement" of the 80s and 90s, and the more recent "free-market environmentalism" that consists of a network of corporations and conservative foundations and think tanks intent on gaining control of what was intended to belong collectively to "We the People". Right wing economist James Beckwith, writing for the Cato Institute in 1981 with reference to public parks, summed up the strategy bluntly in his call for "…ascending radicalism from reform through volunteerism and privatization of services to the outright abolition of public ownership and transfer of parks to private parties."

… [N]ow there is the Carbon Capital Fund that gets the average citizen into the privatization project by exploiting the altruistic instinct to volunteer in reducing global warming. In being the first governmental entity to sell carbon offsets, the U.S. Forest Service is certainly providing a pilot project that can reveal avenues into other agencies and toward a further privatization of society.

Free market economist Beckwith was a savvy strategizer who understood that too sudden a takeover of public land would trigger citizen reaction, so he proposed that privatization be introduced by degrees, with the most "tentative step" being recruitment of volunteers and later "the contracting out of support services to private firms operating for profit." The public, it seems, is presently like the fabled frog in gradually heated water, unaware that it is losing one of the greatest gifts it has to convey to future generations.

Posted by Dave on August 27, 2007 at 02:54 PM Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Recreation Fees as 'Public Lands Shakedown'?

Ted Williams minces few words in letting us know that all is not well in 'Rec Fee Demo Land'. Increasingly, people are questioning the wisdom of the fees. As one Forest Service observer puts it, "We're going to have to do more with less until we do everything with nothing." Here's a snip:

FEES HAVE BECOME A PUBLIC LANDS SHAKEDOWN, Ted Williams, [Aug 24]: … With little public or congressional oversight the Forest Service assesses recreational facilities for profitability. The ones that generate least revenue -- remote campgrounds and trailheads, places to which lovers of wildness and quiet would naturally gravitate -- are now first to get disappeared. Bulldozers are knocking down campgrounds, dismantling latrines, removing fire pits. You won’t even be able to park. The agency is financing the process with $93 million in fee receipts; in effect, charging you for the rope it hangs you with.

As abusive as [Recreation Access Tax] RAT fees are in their own right, the Forest Service is abusing them further by playing fast and loose with the law. The Recreation Enhancement Act requires that fees be charged only if there has been “significant investment,” defined as six amenities: security services, meaning staffers who check to see if you’ve paid, parking, toilets, picnic tables, trash receptacles, and signs.

A site has to have all six. But the Forest Service has dreamed up a way of getting around the law by designating sections of forest as “High Impact Recreation Areas” (HIRAs). One corner of a HIRA might have a sign; another, perhaps two miles away, a trash can. Three miles from both might be a parking lot; the law makes no reference to anything like an HIRA. The Forest Service flouts even this bizarre interpretation of the law. Last year it admitted to Congress that 739 HIRAs didn’t have the six amenities. Moreover, there are at least 3,000 former Fee Demo sites outside HIRAs that are still charging fees, many of them illegally.

When Christine Wallace, a Tucson legal secretary, refused to pay a fee on a Coronado National Forest HIRA in Arizona, she was prosecuted for what amounted to hiking without a license. While the law allows the Forest Service to charge all manner of fees, it specifically prohibits entrance fees. Accordingly, a court found that the agency had acted illegally.

But the Forest Service appealed, and in January 2007, won a reversal. If the ruling is not struck down by Wallace’s motion to reconsider or by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it seems headed, case law will criminalize exiting your vehicle on your own public land without first finding a ranger station, if one is open, and coughing up money that even the motorized-recreation axis that hatched RAT fees never intended for you to pay.

RAT fees are more than just a ripoff. They’ve become a replacement for squandered wealth, an incentive for continued profligacy, and an excuse for the White House to keep slashing appropriations for public-lands management. …

Scott Silver explains the derivation of RAT:
". . . officially known as the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, [it is] commonly referred to as the Recreation Access Tax (RAT), See: The Rat is Vermin, Earth First! Journal.

Posted by Dave on August 27, 2007 at 01:43 PM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack