Don't Shoot, I'm Not A Lawyer!
Good morning. I am your second-string keynote speaker. Your first-string speaker, Marc Racicot begged off, perhaps recognizing what a political mine field your conference theme poses. “The Law and Forestry”: oil and water, David and Goliath, night and day, the good the bad and the ugly. You get the picture.
24 MINUTE READ
A Speech by James D. Petersen Journalist and Executive Director of the Evergreen Foundation Publishers of Evergreen Magazine
On the occasion of the annual meeting Montana Society of American Foresters Holiday Inn Parkside, Missoula, Montana March 31, 2006
I am your second-string keynote speaker. Your first-string speaker, Marc Racicot begged off, perhaps recognizing what a political mine field your conference theme poses.
“The Law and Forestry”: oil and water, David and Goliath, night and day, the good the bad and the ugly. You get the picture.
Some of you will be amused by my chosen title: “Don’t shoot, I’m not a lawyer.” And it is true: I am not a lawyer. I am a journalist.
Tomorrow morning about this same time my good friend, Scott Horngren, who is a lawyer will be standing here. The title of his talk is, “Don’t shoot, I’m not a journalist.”
Between our two professions, we have almost destroyed forestry in America, and we have surely earned the eternal damnation of all who seek truth in forestry matters.
I am utterly dismayed by the intellectual laziness that now characterizes my profession’s daily work product. What passes for journalism in America today would have received a richly deserved failing grade when I was in J-school at the University of Idaho more than 40 years ago.
I can’t make this same statement about the law because I never went to law school, as some journalists do, but as one who has devoted the last 23 years of his life to a constant study of forests and forestry, I can say that I cannot think of one example of good work done by a lawyer in service to forestry, wildlife habitat management, water quality, air quality or forest health. Not one.
I wonder what my old friend Leonard Netzorg would say if he heard me make this claim. For more than 40 years, Leonard was forestry’s most formidable lawyer. We became friends after he retired in 1984.
Fresh out of Yale Law School in 1937, he went out to Detroit to defend striking members of the then fledgling United Auto Workers union. Years later he told me he had only feared death twice in his life: first in Detroit courtrooms and later on the front lines in France, where he spied on Hitler’s Panzer divisions as a member of the Army’s super-secret Signal Intelligence Group.
Leonard’s fiery defenses of union organizers got him introduced to Ben Cohen, a brilliant lawyer and perhaps the most influential member of FDR’s New Deal Brain Trust. He worked briefly in the Department of Interior’s Washington office but was transferred to the Portland Bureau of Land Management office in 1948, where he spent two years crafting the regulations that stipulate reciprocal access to federal and private timberland.
Had Leonard not written these regulations as he did the family-owned sawmills that quickly gained both political and economic prominence in the post-World War II building boom would never have been established – and society would never have benefited from their contributions to forestry, lumber manufacturing, conservation, technology transfer, education and the economic and social stability they bring to the communities they inhabit.
I interviewed Leonard in 1991 for an Evergreen Magazine cover story. Our day- long conversation turned out to be one of the most exhilarating, most intellectually stimulating interviews I’ve ever done. And because so much of what Leonard said is still applicable today, I have decided to make the interview the focal point of my remarks this morning.
It is my fervent hope that Leonard Netzorg’s insights prove useful to you, for it has long been my belief that the Society of American Foresters is far too timid in its defense of forestry. Society expects more from you than it is getting. It is time for you to become more aggressive, to publicly challenge journalists and lawyers who so often dishonor the quite honorable and productive work that you do.
For 54 years, in courtrooms from coast to coast, Leonard championed the causes of little people swept away by events beyond their control. Small wonder then that, in the aftermath of the reciprocal rights of way battle, he became chief legal counsel to the old Western Forest Industries Association, which for nearly 50 years championed the various causes of the West’s family-owned sawmills. If there were two tougher guys walking the streets than Leonard Netzorg and Joe McCracken, WFIA’s fiesty leader, I do not know who they were.
Of their years together, Leonard said, “There were two opinions of us. We were either Great Saviors or No Good Son-of-a-bitches, depending on who you asked.” And of Leonard’s brilliant victory in the rights-of-way cases, McCracken said, “If you were from a family-owned mill that didn’t own land you thought he was Jesus Christ, but if you were from one of the big publicly traded outfits that opposed the federal timber sale program you thought he was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party.”
Leonard saw the battle in its purest light: a bare-knuckled, knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish between the family-owned David’s and the publicly-traded Goliath’s, both of whom hoped to capitalize on the post-war building boom. For a Depression-era lawyer who first rehearsed his oratory skills atop lunch room tables in Detroit union halls, it was an easy decision. He sided with the families, and devoted his life at law to the survival and prosperity of their mills.
“I have always abhorred concentrations of economic power in the hands of the few,” he told me the day I interviewed him. “I guess it goes back to my old union days in Detroit. The road access rules broke down a concentration of power, allowing many new companies to get into the lumber manufacturing business. Competition increased and log prices went up, forcing companies to modernize to reduce wood waste. It was a good deal for the industry, forestry, forest communities, the government and the public.”
Indeed it was. But those days are gone now, along with the federal timber sale program that was the economic lifeblood of most of the West’s family owned mills. Those that survived the collapse now compete on a global stage – having secured new, more stable log supplies from lands they’ve purchased or from other ownerships: state forests, tribes, other non-industrial landowners and, in a few cases, other countries. Montana is the last remaining exception to this truism: we simply don’t have enough alternate log sources here to make such a transformation possible. Thus, Montana’s seven surviving family mills desperately need federal timber. Without it, they will soon perish, and without them, most of you will be out of a job.
The federal timber sale program still had some life left in it when I interviewed Leonard, but he clearly sensed what he called “profound change in the wind.” Mills in the I-5 corridor in Oregon and Washington were already cursing federal judges, lawyers and their clients, and it only got worse after the June 1990 threatened species listing of the northern spotted owl.
But Leonard had a slightly different view of the proceedings. He said, “The problem facing forest communities has little to do with the law, or the courts, and a great deal to do with changing environmental values, and with an urbanized nation that simply does not understand sustained yield forestry.”
I could not agree more.
And yes, I am well aware of the millions of board feet of timber tied up in timber sale appeals, and the million more lost to the arbitrary whims of activist federal judges. Here in the Forest Service’s Region One, 475 million board feet were tied up in appeals and litigation at the end of 2005 – an amount sufficient to supply Montana’s surviving family mills for about year; a big impact to say the very least.
But nothing has impacted these mills or your profession or the forests you tend more than our society’s changing environmental values, what Leonard called “felt necessities,” a phrase often attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who was famous for observing that, “The life of the law is not logic. It is experience.”
Nowhere is Justice Holmes’ observation truer than in our nation’s forests. Today, society wants a much different forest experience than it wanted in the fall of 1945 when the post-war housing boom ignited the greatest peacetime economy the world has ever seen. We still want the wood – in fact we want more of it than we’ve ever wanted before. But it has to come from somewhere else: out of sight out of mind.
Here is a spectacular quotation that underscores just how profoundly society’s felt necessities have changed in the last century. It comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous presidential instruction to members of the Society of American Foresters, meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1903
“And now, first and foremost, you can never afford to forget for a moment what is the object of our forest policy, for that object is not to preserve the forests because they are beautiful, though that is good in itself; nor is it because they are refuges for the wild creatures of the wilderness, though that, too, is good in itself; but the primary object of our forest policy, as of the land policy of the United States, is the making of prosperous homes. It is part of the traditional policy of home making in our country. Every other consideration comes as secondary. You yourselves have got to keep this practical object before your minds; to remember that a forest which contributes nothing to the wealth, progress or safety of the country is of no interest to the Government, and should be of little interest to the forester. Your attention must be directed to the preservation of forests, not as an end in itself, but as a means of preserving and increasing the prosperity of the nation.”
It would be almost 70 years before society’s scribes and pharoses seriously questioned Roosevelt’s instruction, before environmentalists finally got the public’s attention on the question of liquidating what remained of the West’s old growth forests, a process begun by the Forest Service and the BLM as part of their post-war mission, a mission spelled out for the agencies in two laws: the 1937 O&C Act and the 1944 Sustained Yield Act.
To generations of foresters trained in classic German forestry, bringing all U.S. federal forests “under management,” replacing decadent old timber stands with vibrant fast growing forests, made perfect sense. But it made no sense to a restless nation worried about Vietnam, acid rain, Three Mile Island, global cooling and the last old growth forests.
You know the rest of the story. Society’s felt necessities changed. New laws were passed and courts interpreted old laws in new ways that invited controversy, often bitter debate and what public foresters now call “analysis paralysis.” Between 1989 and 2004, 414 wood processing plants in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and California closed. 48,501 mill and woods jobs were lost
Also lost in the din of battle is the fact that the post-war building boom, and the societal values that drove it, created this nation’s middle class. Forestry, logging and sawmilling played vital roles in the country’s growth. Many GI’s went to work in sawmills or for logging companies after the war, affirming the Democrat-sponsored notion that federal forests ought to provide not just timber, but good paying jobs. You heard me right: Democrats were the ones who breathed life into the family-owned mills, not Republicans.
And those who fought hardest for the family mills were all WFIA Democrats: Joe McCracken, Montana-born, Princeton educated, ex-Marine, and brilliant strategist with a photographic memory; Joe Miller, WFIA’s lobbyist, JFK confidant, a brilliant writer and perhaps the greatest election strategist the DNC ever had; Dan Goldy, a Marshall Plan economist who as a young Department of Interior staffer unmasked an attempt by major timberland owners use the government’s interest in sustained yield forestry as a tool to wipe out the family-owned mills, and, of course, Leonard Netzorg, their lawyer for more than 40 years.
In the 79th year of his life, Leonard began to think deeply about society’s felt necessities. It was his desire to rejoin the debate that led me to his doorstep more than seven years after he retired. The day we talked he was in rare form. In fact, I had a hard time keeping up with him. One moment he was a lawyer celebrating a hard won case by reminding me that judges are human beings too, with values and prejudices just like the rest of us; and in the next instant I was transported to an earlier era by the fiery rhetoric of a young Detroit union organizer, determined to write society’s wrongs, to bring down General Motors, the largest corporation the world had ever known.
“Working conditions were unimaginable in those old auto plants,” he recalled. “So were the abuses piled on union organizers and their families; people lived in fear of being seen with the wrong people. It was not uncommon for union members to be stashed away in jails without charge or public record. Some of them simply vanished without a trace. It was worse than Castro’s Cuba.”
The title of my 1991 essay told the story in two words: “Distant Thunder,” a memoir rolling up from the depths of all that Leonard Netzorg believed in and stood for.
Listen again for a moment to that thunder:
“What the hell have loggers done to deserve this? Absolutely nothing! To whom or what are we sacrificing these families? Where is it written into law that government has the right to trash the lives of decent, honest hard working families? Who has pressured the government to do these things and why? The government must be held accountable for what it is doing here, because what it is doing is wrong and unfair and inconsistent with the values our society places on human rights and human dignity.”
Four good questions for which I have no answers beyond Leonard’s observation that, with society’s transformation from a rural to an urban culture, our felt necessities changed. Journalists and lawyers are simply mirrors reflecting these changes.
I confess that I do not like most of what I see when I look in this mirror, and I dare say you don’t either. Neither did Leonard, though he was more philosophical about it than I was at the time. Now I am more philosophical too, perhaps because I have lived through so much pain, not just my own, but that of many others who have lost even more than I have. I am also more philosophical because I sense, as did Leonard, that society’s felt necessities are again on the move.
In his years at law, Leonard developed the capacity to make nearly everyone uncomfortable at one time or another: judges, other lawyers, forest scientists, the Forest Service, the BLM, Congress, environmentalists, industry association executives and most definitely the major forest products companies that he met and defeated time and again in court. He delighted in their constant discomfort.
Of environmental groups Leonard said, “There is no brooding omnipresence in the sky. No foreign power planted these people in our midst. They are a reflection of new and untested values which need to be debated openly and honestly. They’ve hired some damned capable lawyers to present their cases. If the Forest Service and the BLM listened to their lawyers as well as environmentalists listen to theirs, the government would have a much better track record in court.”
Of lawyers, Leonard said, “Lawyers do not abuse laws. Courts do. Lawyers do not decide who lives or dies. Courts do. Your lawyer is your advocate. You have a constitutional right to have one and he has a constitutional duty to defend you. We have lawyers because our society has determined they offer a better way to settle disputes than guns and knives.”
Of federal judges then pulling the industry apart at the seams he said, “Were I a judge, I would make damn sure I knew what the hell was going to happen to the people affected by my rulings. What is the public going to do to help these people? This strikes me as a very important test of the law – a very important litmus test necessary to expose the anguish and despair some environmental legislation and some judicial decrees have inflicted on woods and sawmill workers.”
If there is one gaping wound in all of the federal and state court rulings that have come down since the mid-1980s, this is it. Put simply, our courts are not accounting for, much less acknowledging the social, economic and environmental upheaval their rulings have caused in rural timber communities, to say nothing of the public’s desperately ill national forests: all of them political pawns in the wider war for forestry’s soul. And make no mistake: there is a war for the soul of your profession.
But as much as I would like to blame judges for these grave injustices, for the magnetizing of society’s moral compass, the fact is that the fault lies in all of us: we have allowed this to happen by not holding others accountable for their actions, most notably radical environmentalists and their lawyers. The misuse of litigation to derail congressional intent and silence civil discourse has become a cancer on our society – and like all cancers it must be rooted out before it is too late.
On this subject, Leonard held out some hope for a social re-awakening. “There are great invisible leveling forces in our society,” he observed. “When society decides that this or that group has become too grabby, without regard for the consequences, it slaps them back into the corner. What society decides is good in environmentalism it will keep; and what it deplores it will eventually toss aside.”
There is a good deal of evidence suggesting Leonard was right on this point too. Much has changed since we started Evergreen Magazine in 1985. Back then, society was more willing to believe all of the dreadful things environmentalists were saying about the forest products industry, including the outrageous claim that we, the unwashed who live in rural areas, are simply too stupid, too unenlightened to participate in lofty societal discussions about the environment, the future of forestry or national forests.
I remember with great bitterness the Forest Service’s announcement that letters written in response to its Byzantine draft forest plans would be judged on substance, not number. So if you were a logger, with a high school education at best, seated at the kitchen table at 11 o’clock at night, struggling to write a few lines in defense of your culture, your job, your family and your community before tumbling into bed for a few precious hours of sleep, your letter most likely went in the round file. But, if you were the head of a big time environmental group, living the life of luxury in Washington, D.C., writing from your palatial office about the destruction of the last cathedral forest on earth, your letter got framed and hung on the wall. You got an “A”. Loggers got “F’s”
No, it wasn’t fair, or logical, but it was an experience. It was Justice Holmes talking to us from the grave, reminding us again that the life of the law is not logic, it is experience.
Now, almost 20 years later, experience is again moving to the forefront. City dwellers and urbanites moving into our rural environs are beginning to see us in a more forgiving light. For some it was simply a matter of discovering that we had not chopped down every tree in sight, as forestry’s opponents routinely claim; but for others, it was the looming threat of catastrophic wildfire that changed their perceptions of us, and of forestry.
I first observed this phenomenon in Show Low, Arizona, a resort community nestled in the White Mountains, elevation 5,000, about three hours north of Phoenix. It’s much cooler in Show Low in August than it is in the desert, which is why families that can afford it have summer homes there - usually on golf courses in gated communities, where cottages routinely sell a half million dollars or more.
Life was good here until the summer of 2002, when the Rodeo-Chediski Fire came within a few blocks of burning Show Low to the ground. It was a huge wakeup call for Arizonans who, though they had no doubt read about the West’s forest health crisis in the newspapers, had never seen a firestorm close-up and personal. For those who barely escaped with their lives, it was a life-changing experience.
It was also educational. In the aftermath, Show Low residents watched in astonishment while the White Mountain Apache tribe salvaged its losses and the Forest Service fought it out in the press and in court with lawyers representing environmental groups that opposed salvage efforts in the adjoining Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
But it was largely a symbolic fight because, save for a small Apache-owned mill at White River, there are no sawmills left in Arizona. And because the tribe’s mill was too small to handle the enormous volume of pine that was salvaged, most of it was sold to Sierra Pacific, and was railed to mills in California. So whatever profit the tribe might have been earned if sufficient milling infrastructure had been available went in the railroad’s pocket. Watching hundreds of logs trucks from Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, California and Alaska roll through town every day, enroute to railheads at Globe and Snowflake, was a good lesson in economics for Show Low residents who rather quickly picked up on the idea that millions of dollars in logs and jobs were leaving town every week.
Rodeo-Chediski changed the nature of the forest health debate in the southwest. “Zero cut” was off the table. Angry citizens wanted to know what had happened to their forests and their once robust timber industry. Of course the industry had disappeared pretty much without notice 10 years earlier. And in my opinion it won’t return until the lawyers stop circling Forest Service offices like hungry vultures. So despite the government’s best efforts to attract new sawmilling capital to northern Arizona’s chronically overstocked ponderosa pine forests, it is likely these forests will continue to die and burn in stand replacing wildfires, until there is nothing left to burn.
However, felt necessities being what they are, there is now a 10-year, 100,000 acre stewardship contract in full swing on the Apache Sitreaves. But I’m guessing it will end up an uncompleted exercise in futility. Economics are against it. You cannot truck or rail small, low quality logs to markets in California or Mexico and expect to make any money, not with fuel costing what it costs today. And it is hard to see how biomass power plants sitting on top of the largest known natural gas field in the United States can make it without billions in annual government subsidies.
Perhaps emerging markets for tradable renewable power credits, which trade like pollution credits, will help create biomass and bio-fuel markets. There isn’t a reason on earth why electricity could not be a by-product of the Bush Administration’s Healthy Forests Initiative. Much of the biomass that fire ecologists say must be removed from at risk forests has no other value. But how do we convince the lawyers, their clients and the judge that courting biomass investment capital is in the best interests of society - and its forests?
I confess I cannot shake my fear that the same infrastructure crisis that besets the Southwest will soon be upon us in Montana. Sawmilling requires critical mass – meaning you have to have a sufficient number of mills occupying different product niches to make a market. As mills close and critical mass shrivels, profits decline, markets wither and competitiveness is lost. This simple economic equation is as old as China’s silk trade. Why so many people have such a difficult time understanding it is beyond me.
Montana has lost 27 mills since 1989, the most recent being Owens & Hurst, a mill ideally configured to profitably handle even the smallest logs the Forest Service had to offer. But when my friend Jim Hurst looked at the numbers – the future availability of logs and the difference between what he was paying for logs and what he was getting for lumber – it became clear to him that he could not make it, underscoring the fact that investment capital is both fleeting and mobile. It goes where it is welcome, and when it senses it is no longer welcome, it goes somewhere else.
The loss of Owens & Hurst brings us to the precipice. Montana’s sawmilling industry is now a house of cards. My guess is that the loss of one more family owned mills will cause Smirfit Stone to pull the plug on its linerboard plant here in Missoula. With their departure, the mill residue market will collapse, meaning that the surviving mills have no efficient way to dispose of their chips, fines and sawdust – the mill residues from which linerboard is most efficiently made. The linerboard-mill residue story, as unglamorous as it is, is a perfect example of the synergy – the glue – that has held Montana’s timber industry together - and made it profitable - for generations.
The glue is disintegrating now –which brings us to the 5,000 pound elephant in the room that no one seems to want to talk about: Plum Creek. Their recent infrastructure investments in Columbia Falls suggest a belief that some sort of federal timber sale program will emerge from the current morass. But how long do you suppose their shareholders put up with this nonsense when there are so many more lucrative opportunities in the Southeast and the southern hemisphere? And if my reading of the tea leaves is correct, the Region One timber sale program for fiscal 2006 may not top 90 million board feet, thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court’s Lolo decision. For those who may wonder, 90 million board feet is slightly more than 10 percent of annual log usage here in Montana.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the Montana shootout between forestry and the law is almost over. In fact, I will argue that what we are hearing now are the scattered shots that mark the ceasing of hostilities in all wars: the victors and the vanquished pick up their scattered dead and head home. It is probably time for most of you to start shopping your resumes. Harsh words I know, but as an old logger friend in Oregon once observed, “The world is not using less wood, so the only questions we need to answer are, ‘Where will the wood come from and what language will loggers be speaking on the job’?” Increasingly, the answer to this question is “Anywhere but here, and in any language but English.”
The Lolo decision, which was made by a three-judge panel, reminds me of something else Leonard told me in 1991. He said, “Even if you have the truth of the archangels on your side, you lose if you cannot convince the judge you are right.”
But then, perhaps because Leonard suddenly realized no one who is in his 79th year should be tempting the archangels, he offered this clarification.
“Law is what the government will enforce and the government will only enforce what society allows it to enforce. As the felt necessities of life change, laws change to reflect changing societal values. Nowhere is this phenomenon more clearly seen right now than in the growing conservatism of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is a mirror image of changing societal values.”
We can only hope that the Ninth Circuit senses society’s changing felt necessities, detects growing citizen impatience with environmental litigants. Although they’ve given no evidence of this hope, it would be very good sign if the full court revisited and reversed the panel’s decision. Meanwhile, we face a crowded Missoula courtroom filled with murderers, rapists, embezzlers, drug dealers and other social miscreants. Like everyone else, we take a number and wait our turn to plead our case. Meanwhile, our industry is dying.
As an SAF member, I’m disappointed in our failure to sound the public alarm over the loss of sawmilling infrastructure, because once this infrastructure is gone, the public’s options for managing its forests are gone too. These options have already been forfeited in the Southwest – and I think there is a better than 50-50 chance they will be here too, unless this organization shoulders this crisis and does something about it.
What Montanans need to know is that even if the public jettisons what little remains of the federal timber sale program, there will still be a need to tend national forests, to do the periodic thinning necessary to minimize the risk of catastrophic wildfire, protect and enhance wildlife habitat, hold insects and diseases within their natural range of variability and, of course, protect recreation areas, watersheds and communities. The kind of perpetual thinning program Montana’s mixed conifer forests require to maintain species and age class diversity would provide more than enough wood to keep the family mills in business forever. Or they could be gone forever if something isn’t done to revitalize federal forestry.
Of course, it does not have to end as badly as I increasingly fear it will. There is fleeting evidence the same public that tossed you out of its forests 16 years ago may soon invite you back, having witnessed the god-awfulness of wildfire, and having learned that it is much easier to regulate the logging industry than it is to regulate Mother Nature. Nothing seems to restore lost confidence in forestry faster than personally witnessing the visual transformation that occurs when overstocked forests are thinned.
I am privy to some very expensive polling and focus group work done in major U.S. cities over the last five years. In poll after poll and focus group after focus group four forest values score highest: clean air, clean water, abundant fish and wildlife habitat and a wealth of year-round recreation opportunity. These are not amenities found in the ruinous remains of fire-killed forests. But they are most certainly be found in forests that have been cared for, that have been the focal point of the kind of long-term thinning program for which this region’s mixed conifer forests cry out. Happily, public support for this kind of work runs in the high 80 percent range, which gets back to what I was saying earlier about the misuse of appeals and litigation to thwart congressional and public intent.
This said, I think it is likely we will continue to battle rogue lawyers and their clients until public outrage – felt necessity – intervenes, until the lawyers and their clients lose their last drop of public credibility and with it, their funding sources. I have no idea how long this will take, but we don’t help ourselves when, as a society, we continue to pay these lawyers and their clients to sue us.
Increasingly, I catch myself looking longingly at Canada, a country that guards the economic well-being of its forest products industry very jealously, a country in which environmental litigation is taboo because, as Jean Cinq-Mars explained it to me two years ago, “Canadians prefer not to waste time, money and energy fighting about problems that are common to all of us. We like the round table – the partnership approach.”
How refreshing, especially coming from one of Canada’s most influential environmentalists. Environmental litigation is almost unknown in Canada because causing someone else to lose their job is, as Mr. Cinq-Mars put it, “unseemly.”
I heard much the same thing from Quebec’s minister of forestry 10 years ago. When I asked him why U.S. environmentalists were finding it so difficult to drum up business in his province he said something that astonished me. He said, “The language your environmentalists speak, with all of its darkness and foreboding, does not translate well into the French language. We enjoy the good life, and we want others to enjoy it with us.”
It’s pretty clear we need some very creative, out-of-the-box thinking. I for one would like to see many more stewardship contracts offered, not the small, short duration projects we see here and there, but long-term, landscape scale projects like the Arizona project. We should have at least two of these on every national forest in the West, and they should go to any reputable group willing to take one on.
It’s time for conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to step up. These are politically powerful groups with diverse memberships and enormous resources. I’d like to think the Forest Service, the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service and the public would welcome them with open arms. Let’s give these groups a chance to break the choke hold rogue lawyers and judges have – and then let’s have a qualified third party certify their work so the public knows their national forests are being sustainably managed.
My time with you is almost up. I want to close out with what I think are quite timely observations from two people who are a lot smarter than I am: Sally Fairfax, who still teaches at the University of California at Berkeley and my old friend Leonard, whose passion and wisdom I miss more than words can tell.
Sally’s observations from nearly 30 years ago are particularly appropriate to your conference title. Here is what she said about the combined negative influences of the federal Resource Planning Act and the National Forest Management Act:
“Far from achieving a rational decision-making process, RPA and NFMA may well result in stalemate and indecision as the Forest Service turns from managing land to simply overseeing a convoluted, ever more complex set of congressionally mandated procedures. The tradition of land stewardship, if indeed it survived the 1950s and 1960s, may have died in the 1970s. RPA and NFMA take the initiative from experienced land managers – those revered people on the ground, the folks who have lived with the land and their mistakes long enough to have developed wisdom and a capacity for judgment – and gives it to lawyers, computers, economists and politically active special interest groups seeking to protect and enhance their own diverse positions. This shift in initiative will result from the layers of legally binding procedure that RPA and NFMA foist on top of an already complex and overly rigid planning process. Constant procedural tinkering does not, I fear, lead to efficiency or simplicity. Rather it promises a proliferation of steps, sub-steps, appendices and diverticulae that makes the Forest Service susceptible to the ultimate lawyer’s malaise: the reification of process over substance.”
And now Leonard, from our day in the sun:
“Congress needs to stop waiting around for divine guidance from the scientific community because it will never come. There is no perfect truth that can guide us forward. The larger issues involve separating society’s material wants from its spiritual needs. Sorting these will not be easy, but this does not remove the decision-making burden from Congress’ shoulders.
“Meanwhile, the timber industry is going to have to learn how to share these forests with others who have different values and want different things from the forest. Frankly, I welcome it and I rue the day when polarized factions no longer tear away at the fabric of our society.
“The American Revolution is still going on. We are still changing, still learning. If some of us were not constantly tearing away at what others of us think we know, we would all still think the earth is flat. What is science today is witchcraft tomorrow.”