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The Four Cs

Bush Administration Takes Aggressive Forest Thinning Measures

Calling it the "new environmentalism," the U.S. Interior Department Thursday issued guidelines for stewardship contracts that allow private companies and communities to keep forest and rangeland products in exchange for services such as thinning trees and brush and removing wood.

... the Bush administration last week moved to streamline the logging of national forests for fuel reduction. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman issued an interim final rule for a special administrative review process for hazardous fuel reduction projects in national forests.

The interim final rule is effective immediately, before the U.S. Forest Service has heard public comments, but the Service says it will accept comments from the public on the rule for 90 days.

Implementing the rule before the public has commented does not bother Secretary Veneman. "I am very proud of this quick response to implement the Healthy Forests legislation," she said. "A pre-decisional administrative review process will assist federal land managers in reducing hazardous fuels in high priority areas. We are implementing this legislation aggressively to lessen the impacts of wildland fires on communities and our natural resources."

... Interior Department Assistant Secretary Rebecca Watson, said Thursday, "Stewardship contracting will demonstrate a 'new environmentalism' - land stewardship based on partnerships and common ground rather than litigation and confrontation. It is part of a new culture of communication, cooperation, and consultation, in the service of conservation - a culture that Secretary Norton calls the 'Four C's.'"

Those four Cs are very interesting. They represent an appealing ideal of more democratic environmental stewardship. But none of them seem to be implemented very well in the Healthy Forests initiative -- in fact, they were cited as by proponents of the Healthy Forests bill as being exactly the problem they were trying to solve.

Communication: The article above notes that the stewardship contract system is being implemented before they've heard public comments on it. This sort of desire for haste was part of the rationale for Healthy Forests. President Bush said in an appearance this summer: "If somebody has got a different point of view, we need to hear it. This is America. We expect to hear people's different points of view in this country. But we want people to understand that we're talking about the health of our forests, and if there's a high priority, we need to get after it before the forests burn and people lose life." In other words, communication is nice, but with these fires threatening there's no time to sit around talking. (This same point could be extended to cooperation and consultation, as it's not entirely clear how to draw the line between the first three Cs).

Cooperation: One of the key provisions of the Healthy Forests law is to reduce the scope for public challenges to fuel reduction projects. Certainly it will reduce the amount of overt conflict over management decisions. But cutting one party out of a decision is not the same as cooperating. Indeed, it reduces the cooperativeness of the final outcome because the Forest Service doesn't have to take citizens' views into account to as great a degree in drawing up the plan because unsatisfied citizens can't effectively complain through the courts.

Consultation: The opposition to consultation is a bit subtle. The Healthy Forests act directs judges hearing challenges to take into account the long-term health of the forest. Phrased that way it sounds fairly benign, but what it does is to 1) give the benefit of the doubt to the party proposing fuel reduction, and 2) establish by fiat what the management priorities will be. This sort of move isn't in and of itself bad -- it's at the heart of many environmental regulations -- but it is anti-consultative. It takes us away from what Habermas calls the "ideal speech situation," in which all parties have an equal opportunity to participate in setting the agenda.

Conservation: Environmentalists recieved substantial blame for the poor condition of the nation's forests. An irrational dedication to preserving the environment (particularly endangered species), they said, was at the root of the barriers placed in the way of fuel reduction, and hence was responsible for out-of-control fires that threatened lives and property. Granted, some people made the case (erroneous, in my view, given the actual extent of environmentalist obstructionism and the impacts of mechanical fuel reduction) that fuel reduction is in the long-term best interests of nature. But the dominant framing drew on the idea that environmentalists care more about nature than about people.


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