College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

The S.J. Hall Lecture in Industrial Forestry

Collaborative Stewardship: A New Environmental Ethic for the West

Mark Rey

Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be back in Berkeley. I am experiencing some degree of culture shock, however, going from the turmoil characteristic of the end of a congressional session, to the more contemplative environs of academia. It is somewhat akin to being dragged from a ship's boiler room to sit in the crow's nest to scan the broad horizons of public policy.

The end of a Congress is a very dramatic time, actually, because the last person standing gets to spend all the money. Senator Larry Craig, for whom I work, would have liked to have been here today. Unfortunately, the ongoing budget negotiations keep him back in Washington, DC. He wanted me to tell you that, as a conservation Republican, he was not uneasy with the prospect of coming to Berkley on Friday the thirteenth with a full moon. What I will offer you, in his place, is his vision and mine of a new environmental ethic for the West.

We have come to this view as the result of hundreds of conversations over the last five or six years with elected officials, activists, academics, and interested citizens throughout the western United States and the country as a whole. Indeed, since 1995, Senator Craig has chaired over 100 congressional hearings on environmental and public lands issues relevant to the West.

The Bay Area is the perfect place, it seems to me, to make the observation that there is something of an "intellectual gold rush" going on in the West. You can see it in the new high-tech start-ups and literary journals. You can see it in the cultural melting pots of the Bay Area, Denver, Boise, Santa Fe, Bend, or Bozeman.

At the same time, many residents of today's West, like Senator Craig, come from old pioneer stock. His grandmother arrived in Idaho in a covered wagon. The same is true for many of the westerners I know, and perhaps for some of you as well.

The first wave of pioneers came here for the freedom of the open land. They came from the warehouses of St. Louis, the stockyards of Chicago, the railyards of Philadelphia. They came from the declining farmlands of Ireland, northern Germany, and Scandinavia. They were not raised as cowboys, or loggers, or miners - but they were willing to become whatever the land offered, and the times needed.

Now we are witnessing a second major immigration into the region. This new wave of pioneers is as likely to come from the West Coast as the East, and from Vietnam or Mexico as from Europe. They come here to do what they can do anywhere, to be computer analysts, to sell financial services, to open restaurants, or to run convenience stores.

It would be a mistake to think they have come here for the growth of the region. In fact, they have not. Nevertheless, they, too, were drawn to the West by the open land. The Center for the New West, a think tank in Denver, has a good term for them: "Amenity Migrants". Ask these newcomers what they do, and more often than not they won't say: I'm a computer analyst, or a stockbroker, or a restaurateur.

They will tell you, I am a rock climber.

I am a hunter.

I go fly fishing.

I ski.

I'm a mountain biker.

I hang-glide.

I hike the high country.

I fly back and forth across this country a lot. Often times my seat mates are these Amenity Migrants. Unlike my neighbors in Washington, DC, their most animated conversations are not about their jobs. Rather, they are most excited about their outdoor experiences. I will tell you unequivocally, that makes them better seat mates, and makes me less prone to air rage.

Like the pioneers of old, these people are tied to the land - but in their own, special way. So in the 21st Century, easy-access to public lands still defines the West - but in a very different fashion.

So we still have an old West - a rural society centered on the original commodity-producing industries and agriculture. And then there is a New West - paradoxically, an urbanized region centered on the vigorous enjoyment of outdoor lifestyles.

For those in Washington, D.C., who live for politics and by the polls, it has over the last decade or more seemed like smart politics to try to drive a wedge between the old, rural West, and the New West of edge cities and high speed Internet access.

Both parties have been guilty of pursuing these kinds of policies and politics. There are, after all, plenty of weaknesses to exploit.

The Old West is ailing, with small towns suffering as a result of declining access to public lands. The last eight years, for example, has seen a near 80 percent decline in logging. Across the board, access to water, to grazing, to the vast mineral wealth of this region, is being increasingly restricted for a variety of either sound reasons or simple pretexts, depending upon your point of view.

Today, I believe a calculation has been made by the current Administration: "Let's set the cities against the towns in the West. Let's drive a wedge, right in the heart of the other party's strongest region. And, at the same time, let's exploit some themes that resonate outside the region with one of our base constituencies, national environmental organizations."

If this is so, it is a cynical ploy. It is a malicious ploy. And most important - it simply won't work.

The reason is that, in time, the people of the urban cities will discover that their access to the land is as much at stake as the people of the rural towns. And they will recoil from the inflexibility of a distant bureaucracy. You see, the same organizations who never want to hear a chainsaw in a national forest also never want to hear a snowmobile. The same people who never want a miner's or oil driller's bit to cut the earth also never want a rock climber to place a bolt in a canyon wall.

As I see it, we are presently enduring a command and control approach to western resource management. It is based on a sincere, but nevertheless, antiquated idea - an idea that only a select few, mostly from national governmental or nongovernmental organizations headquartered in the East, can be trusted with environmental responsibility.

Here is why it fails. Available survey research suggests that virtually all Americans consider themselves to be environmentalists. It is now a uniquely American title - we all proudly hold it.

This was not true when I first got into natural resource policy twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years ago, the commodity-producing industries - timber, cattle, oil and gas, and mining - dominated the national public lands agenda. They constituted a defensive status quo, many with heels dug in. They hesitated to embrace environmental awareness and to create a sustainable balance. They resisted change - ultimately becoming its victims - instead of the agents of change. As a result, since the late 1970's, public land policy has largely been made by the agencies and the courts, not by the Congress or the people.

Since then, times have changed. People have changed. Go to any person you know and show him or her the "Wilderness Letter" that the late, great Western writer, Wallace Stegner, wrote in 1960, from which I quote:

    "Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clean air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence, so that never again will Americans be free in their country from the noise, the exhausts, the stinks of human and automotive waste."

Who today is not moved by such words? No one. But how relevant are they today? Not very.

When Wallace Stegner wrote this in 1960, there were no congressionally designated wilderness acres or wilderness system in America, no Endangered Species Act, no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, and no National Environmental Policy Act. Since then, the Congress has designated 95 million acres of wilderness. We have protected virgin forests and wild species.

Wallace Stegner expressed this spirit of preservationism, a desire to protect the rare, the wild, the most beautiful. This is one legacy of the West, the legacy of John Muir, Bob Marshall and Ansel Adams.

The other legacy of the West is conservation and progressive use. This is the West of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, who said, "National Forests are made for and owned by the people. They should also be managed by the people. They are made, not to give the officers in charge of them a chance to work out theories, but to give the people who use them, and those affected by their use, a chance to work out their own best profit."

The dynamic tension between these two legacies has been at the center of the debate over the West for over 100 years. It is also the backdrop for the proposal I will shortly describe.

There is a need to preserve pristine areas. Preservationism has its place.

But extremism - even in the service of preservation - has no place in our public life. It has no place because it is inflexible in both time and spirit. It refuses to acknowledge either the dynamism of natural systems, the role of active management, or the opportunity to accommodate multiple uses. It sees every acre of public land, set aside for the people, as a wilderness in the making. It seeks preservation, but sows conflict and unhealthy public lands.

From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton
These are fine distinctions, which some in Washington would like us to overlook. The current Administration has set aside more federal monument land, outside of Alaska, than any other - an area about twice the size of Delaware. These actions have been "stealth decisions", without input from Congress, the states, or the public.

Like the twenty-sixth president, the forty-second - our current leader - has used his most exclusive executive powers, but to different ends, and for different reasons.

Senator Craig's colleague in the Senate, the venerable Strom Thurmond, tells us he knew Teddy Roosevelt. He believes he may have even served with Teddy Roosevelt. And he still considers Teddy Roosevelt as his friend. Nevertheless, he assures us that Mr. Clinton is no Teddy Roosevelt.

Mr. Clinton has been quoted to the effect that he was also following in Teddy Roosevelt's footsteps when he targeted roadless areas in the national forests, creating de facto wilderness areas. By executive fiat, the President almost doubled the size of restricted land, leaving many in Congress dumbfounded, the Forest Service paralyzed, and citizens angry and without a voice.

Worst of all, the President's policy swept away all the work of local environmentalists and local land users who had begun to work together. A Supervisor of one of our nation's largest national forests, put it this way in a letter in a letter to Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, "I have been a line officer for just over 20 years and a Forest Service Supervisor for over 10 years. In all that time I have never experienced such public disbelief and animosity directed toward any policy proposal as this one."

There are important differences between the actions of Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is trying to harness extremism in the environmental movement for broader political gain. Teddy Roosevelt founded a conservation club named after Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.

Bill Clinton shows little or no interest in the plight of the rural West. Teddy Roosevelt understood the importance of the forest to the rural West more than any Easterner of his time. Teddy Roosevelt once said:

    "Eastern people need to keep steadily in mind the fact that the Westerners who live in the neighborhood of the forest preserves are the [ones] who, in the last resort, will determine whether or not these preserves will be permanent. They cannot, in the long run, be kept as forests and game reservations unless the settlers roundabout believe in them and heartily support them."

Just as we have very different presidents with very different philosophies, we also live in starkly different times. In Teddy Roosevelt's day, there was a genuine environmental emergency. Industries poisoned the land without compunction using the accepted practices of the day. Today, these same industries routinely incorporate environmental considerations into their process and product designs. Whether they would do as a matter of conscience is irrelevant, although some probably would. What is most important is that they must do so as a matter of law. Our public lands are now under the protection of sweeping laws, like the Endangered Species Act, enforced by powerful federal agencies.

There is no emergency that warrants this unilateral exercise of executive authority.

As an aside, it is important to remember, that among the original thirteen states, any land the federal government has acquired, it has purchased. To this day, in the majority of these and other eastern states, the federal government owns less than five percent of the land.

But, in the West today, almost half of the region of 11 public land states belongs to the federal government. Every minor issue that should be a matter for a local zoning board is truly "a federal issue". And, as counsel to legislators, I spend an extraordinary amount of time legislatively adjudicating minor public land disputes, often involving less than an acre of land. This is true here in California, where the federal government owns 44% of the land. It is especially true in Senator Craig's home state of Idaho, two-thirds of which is owned by Washington, D.C.

If the President wishes to seize on a genuine emergency, he might compare the performance of a Forest Service that can run a $42 million deficit selling timber in Montana, during a period in which Montana generated $13.3 million for its schools, from the same type of forest lands run by the state.

If the President wishes, he could turn his attention to another emergency, the appallingly poor health of our forests and parks, overcrowded, infested with insects and disease, increasingly at risk to catastrophic wildfire as this summer amply demonstrated. Or, he could also note that lands under federal management are twice as likely to have toxic wastes than privately held land.

What is the cure? It is the exact opposite of the President's prescription. Healthy forests and watersheds require forest management. And that means, and other things, access to the land.

The Rural West
Instead, this administration seems, in my view, intent on punishing the rural West.

The new policy is having a devastating impact on small towns and schools districts, which were set to receive 25 percent of every federal dollar produced from these trees.

Go to Grangeville, Idaho, Prineville, Oregon, or Red Bluff, California, and you will see an exhausted and tapped out citizenry, where every year parents have to cut firewood, sell bottled water, hold raffles and solicit - in truth, beg - for donations to keep their schools open, and their kids educated. From testimony at our hearings, I can show you school districts rationed to just four days, where the football teams, drama clubs and debate teams are a fading memory.

I can take you to other places in the western states where thousands of acres of productive state school trust lands are effectively isolated by the "land-locking" effect of the President's roadless areas policy.

In the Pacific Northwest, there is another raging debate over dams and fish. This one is largely about how Washington can lock up the West's water resources.

We all care about our steelhead and salmon fisheries. It just seems clearly premature, until science better understands the Pacific Ocean environment, to resort to "blowing up dams" on the Lower Snake River, and with it much of the region's economy. Yet this is what Secretary Babbitt has said he wants, and where his Administration clearly wants to go.

Mining was the West's first industry, and it remains one of our most important contributors to our tax base, our jobs, and our economy. It has made great strides in environmentally responsible mineral production. Yet, the elimination of mining on public lands is clearly where the current Administration wants to go.

Ranchers were the first small businesses of the West - the keepers of traditions we cherish. Today, they are governed by a one-size-fits-all bureaucracy, in which grazing policies are made in places where 40 cows graze on a few acres, while western ranchers need 40 acres for just one cow. As grazing fees and restrictions are raised, ranch families of the West are hurting. And as they disappear, they sell, and large ranches become suburban ranchettes and both the West's openness and its heritage are diminished. Yet, this is clearly where the Administration's policies are taking us.

In short, I do not think I exaggerate when I say that the rural West is being subject to a quiet, brutal war of attrition.

Recreation: Closing Access
Why are they doing this? Perhaps Administration policy-makers are counting on that other West, the urban West, to cheer them on.

They have some reason to believe it will. For instance, when the President declared a new monument from lands along the rim of the Grand Canyon, a poll by the Arizona Republic showed that 80 percent of Arizonans supported the measure.

On the surface, it would seem a winning issue - not that I'm cynical enough to think that anyone would be looking for one in an election year.

But more sophisticated survey research suggests a different conclusion. For example, the Center for the New West performed a poll of its own - one that scratched below the surface. While 55 percent of Coloradans are generally supportive of expanding wilderness, 74 percent are "less supportive" when they understand a wilderness designation would give the federal government more control over both land and Colorado water. When given a choice, 68 percent say they prefer parks and open space to a more access-restrictive, wilderness designation.

A little education is a wonderful thing. And the Administration is rapidly educating more and more people - from both the old and the new West.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service - basing its decision on vague standards of solitude - cut back the number of hikers on the Mt. Hood National Forest in its Draft plan by as much as 90 percent. This will rebuff more than 20,000 hikers a year, mostly from the Portland metropolitan area. Where will they go?

National environmental organizations are lobbying for two new federal wilderness areas in Nevada County, California, and a third near the biking center of Downieville, though this will economically cripple small bike shops and outfitters up and down the main streets of those towns.

The Administration has targeted skiing. If they have their way, lift tickets will go from expensive to exorbitant, and lift lines will look like Times Square in summer. Andy Bigford, editor of Ski Magazine, writes that we should denounce this quote, "surrender by the Forest Service to the vocal minority of environmental groups who simply want our sport to go away. If this proposal becomes national policy, we may end up forfeiting all kinds of recreational opportunities from coast to coast."

Snowmobilers are finding their access areas being curtailed by millions of acres, including virtually all of the national parks.

And it's not just the hikers, bikers and "snow jocks" who are getting hit. Every conceivable form of recreation, from rock climbers to trekkers are slapped with new restrictions every day. It seems that almost any reason will do. We are told, for example, that snowmobile tracts could lead coyotes to prey on Canadian lynx hiding in the snow.

What we are rarely given are the scientific data to back up such claims.

And when local groups push too hard or look for a better option, instead of hard science, they get veiled, or not so veiled, threats.

Consider this remark from Mike Dombeck, chief of the U.S. Forest Service. "I would tell the recreation industry to look what happened to timber."

Whether intended or not, the meaning of Mr. Dombeck's statement ought to be clear. Recounting someone's unpleasant history to another who is desperate not to repeat it is among the most elegant ways to threaten.

The Doorkeepers of the West
In Roosevelt's time, the West was ruled by the railroad, timber and mining establishment. The West today is ruled either directly or indirectly by large advocacy groups adept in adversarial proceedings.

The result is a system clouded with enough conflict and confusion to intimidate most. This is just fine by the defenders of the status quo. It prevents change, except the kind of change they like, the kind that comes from the whip of an injunction or the lash of a judicial ruling.

The first casualty of this official dysfunction is the democratic process. Comment periods are announced abruptly, and then only for a short time. Web sites announce bold new initiatives, that at the next click turn out to be "under construction". A senior in high school testified at a Forest Service Roadless hearing in Idaho this summer by saying, "This initiative is a poor example of the proper working of a government."

You have to wonder, when the Idaho Attorney General filed an FOIA request for Forest Service documents on its roadless proposal, why did a "who's who" of the national environmental establishment file a counter motion to keep these documents hidden? It is ironic that public policy groups with proud names and reputations built upon public access to federal environmental decision-making, would try to hide government decisions from the people.

Just what is it, exactly, are they afraid people will see?

These are the same groups that were included in meetings in June and August of last year, with the top White House environmental aide on the coming rule-making. There were no public hearings, and no opportunity to comment. No one has any idea what was said or bartered in that meeting on our behalf.

And it was this same White House aide who had to respond to Congressional inquiries by affirming that, yes, he did review polling data on roadless issues with the President's Chief of Staff before the decision was made.

I have to sympathize with Tom Stone, commissioner of Colorado's Eagle County, who was quoted in High Country News as saying, "The decisions are being made back in Washington...and they don't care because there's just eight electoral votes from Colorado."

Perhaps the worst aspect of all of this is that it is bad environmental policy. It was, after all, the environmental movement that made us aware of the global impacts of local decisions. Americans are not going to stop opening new stores, buying new houses, or building wooden decks. If we deny access to the well managed forests of our public lands, where will our timber come from? Of what do our children build their homes?

Will our wood come from the ravaged forests of the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Central America. Where will our minerals come from? Will they come from countries with little or no concern for the environment? Where will our open spaces be? All of this is occurring in the name of - but in a way fundamentally antithetical to - environmental responsibility.

A New Vision: Collaborative Conservation
The long struggle over public access to our lands has left many with battle fatigue, and created a professional generation of people weary of the fight. I am here to say to you tonight that if we come together and focus on what's most important, we can all be reinvigorated by new possibilities.

First, clearly, we need a new approach. Perhaps we should begin with a new lexicon. For starters, let me suggest that lands that are off limits to people are not "public" lands at all. They are federal lands, the government's lands, in another century - the Eleventh, for example - they would be the King's lands or the "New Forest".

To restore federal lands to the public, we are all going to have to sit down with our neighbors and talk. We will need to keep the corrosive posturing that has infected national debate out of our communities. Above all, we must strive to not demonize one another.

The continuing conflict on the national stage has turned off a lot of local activists - committed environmentalists who feel they can better spend their time working to bridge differences, to find a common solution that reflects our broadly-shared national environmental ethic. In a phrase, they are moving to join their neighbors in collaborative stewardship.

This is what happened at the Quincy Library in California. Senator Feinstein, Senator Craig, and others, passed legislation in the last Congress to make it possible to free more citizens to explore a Quincy Library solution of their own.

Collaborative conservation is also the guiding spirit of the Vail Compromise, where snowmobilers and the backcountry skiers worked out a compromise on their own. We are all learning that the West is a big place, with plenty of room for all kinds of activities.

I believe that we also saw an increased willingness toward cooperation in the aftermath of this year's fires. As communities throughout the West have grown, so too has the wildland/urban interface. This summer's fires were a wake-up call to the New West owners of the "Trophy Homes" that are in harm's way. Press reports during the fire season suggested an emerging consensus on the need for active land management to reduce forest fuel loads. Senator Craig worked with New Mexico Senators Pete Domenici (a Republican) and Jeff Bingaman (a Democrat) to provide funding and additional direction for the federal land management agencies to cooperate with local communities to reduce fuel loads and fire risks.

Just this week, Congress passed legislation introduced by Senator Craig and Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, to help public lands dependent communities finance their school systems, and to provide a mechanism and financial support for local activists to come to a consensus on needed investments on public lands and appropriate uses for federal resources.

The bill - entitled the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act - (demonstrating that I am not sufficiently clever to develop an acceptable acronym.) "decouples" rural school systems from federal lands timber receipts by allowing local communities to accept a guaranteed payment to support rural schools in lieu of a share of actual receipts. But more importantly the bill "recouples" local citizens with their nearby federal lands by establishing local advisory groups for each national forest or Bureau of Land Management unit. Financial support is provided for stewardship investments on federal lands where local consensus can be reached. Where local consensus cannot be reached, investments won't be made.

The empowerment for local consensus groups in this legislation may well be the most significant legislative contribution to federal land management in two decades. It will for example, reverse the ill-considered effort by the Carter Administration Office of Management and Budget to eliminate all local advisory committees. It is my hope that the legislation - which the President has said he would sign - will provide a catalyst to hasten what is already occurring throughout the West as local interests put aside their differences to practice collaborative stewardship. If so, we are reaching a turning point toward a new environmental ethic for the West.

Let me offer a few guiding principles to help us all move this along.

One: Let's stipulate that for all the progress made by the commodity-producing industries, by loggers and ranchers, and by recreation, we can always do better. We need a process of continuous improvement in reducing our impacts on the land.

Two: The federal government desperately needs reform. The mid-1970's statutes that govern federal land management are antiquated. The federal government needs to manage better, and reverse the shameful condition of our federal lands. It must not allow inflexible, and command and control restrictive approaches to management to trump what would otherwise be environmentally sound activities, or to shut out local people who have to live with the consequences of federal decisions.

It must also end another federal doctrine - the infallibility of nature left to its own devices - which is in danger of igniting another Sagebrush Rebellion, something none of us want or need. The ironic truth is that this doctrine doesn't even serve the goal of improving habitat. We need to get back to the philosophy that man is a part of a dynamic environment with changing ecosystems.

Three: We must look for policies that simultaneously favor people and ecosystems. To always choose one or the other is to consign ourselves to a lifetime of intractable conflict. Put simply, we should start with the premise that a policy cannot be good for the environment if it is bad for people.

Four: We must discard the doctrine of the primacy of national interest groups, where decisionmakers are selected from national organizations, and return to a doctrine of local community interest. We should not allow federal bureaucracies and national organizations to overwhelm the fragile process of local consensus-making, working within the framework of national environmental laws.

Of all the things we need to preserve, let us not forget to preserve democracy, and the spirit of tolerance and trust that guides it. There is, after all, no shortage of local environmentalists to serve as strong representatives of this powerful movement. They are people second to none in knowledge of, and commitment to, the local public land.

Instead of igniting a nationwide battle, as the current Administration's initiatives often have, I believe we should let the extremes of the issue fight their battles in court. The reasonable 90 percent, can reasonably solve their differences at the round table of consensus and compromise. It will take work and time, but hard-won accommodations can be reached.

Of course, these principles do not sit well with some. The national power structure today is as defensive as the structure that existed twenty years ago. Only now, it's the national environmental organizations that have replaced land user groups as the reigning establishment in Washington, D.C. They can be expected to encourage your skepticism about whether such consensus is possible, and your fear over whether the results will be desirable.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to talk with you to nurture the spirit of collaborative conservation, to break the logjam, to dispel the rancor. If invited back next year, I would hope to meet with you again to mark our progress, and keep it going.

After all, there's one West, a West that cherishes the land, honors its traditions, and believes in its future.

The West of young men and women seeking glory. They are people who won't be shut up in enclaves of glass and steel. People who want to be free to wander the meadows, climb the rock cliffs, and snowboard in the glory of the Sierra and Rockies. They are people who want to straddle a horse and ride across the high plateaus.

In the West, humans are not apart from nature. We are both its children and its stewards. Humanity and nature were not meant to be opposed to one another. Thank you.

Introducing: Mark Rey

Profesional Staff Member,
Subcommittee on Forests and Public Land Management,
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Education: University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources, 1973, B.S. Wildlife Management with Distinction; 1974, B.S.F. Forestry, with Distinction; University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources, M.S., Natural Resources Policy and Administration, 1975.

Career: 1976-81, Environmental Forester, National Forest Products Association; 1981-83, Director of Water Quality Programs, American Paper Institute/National Forest Products Association; 1983-84, Director of Water and Air Quality Programs, American Paper Institute/National Forest Products Association; 1984-89, Vice President of Public Forestry Programs, National Forest Products Association; 1989-93, Executive Director of American Forest Resources Alliance; 1993-94; Vice President of Forest Resources, American Forest & Paper Association

Work of the Subcommittee on Forests and Public Land Management
National Forest Policy
Endangered Species
Forest Service Management
National Forest Land Designations
National Forest Timber Sales