Letters From the West

Should we replace multiple use with dominant use on public lands?

Caribou-Targhee National Forest with Tetons in the background

Caribou-Targhee National Forest at Warm River Canyon with Tetons in the background

The term multiple use grew into a powerful phrase that signaled the long-time consensus view for managing public lands.
It first appeared in a 1933 U.S. Forest Service report describing the five major uses of forests; timber production, watershed protection, recreation, production of forage, and wildlife conservation. The passage of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 was designed to give each of these uses equality since some in Congress worried then that logging was becoming the dominant use of national forests.
But in practice the act did not really hinder timber production or logging. Instead the word multiple use changed to reflect the majority support for productive use of federal lands and maximizing a sustainable yield of timber.
When four years later Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964, opponents labeled wilderness as a single, dominant use that went against the spirit if not the meaning of multiple use management. Supporters argued that wilderness was but one of the multiple uses of public lands.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee described the traditional view of multiple use during Sally Jewell’s confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary last week.
“Multiple use is a principle that has become more less synonymous with public land management policy on the federal level,” Lee said. “This a fundamental concept a broad-based concept that is designed to ensure that our federal public land will be open and available to a number of different uses including grazing recreation timber harvesting mineral extraction energy development and so forth.”
Lee was trying to get Jewell to say that regulations, which could force ranchers to reduce grazing numbers below a level that is financially sustainable, went against the multiple use concept.
“You would agree that federal land management policies ought to focus on preserving multiple use to the maximum degree possible?” Lee asked.
But Jewell didn’t bite.

“Multiple uses are important,” Jewell said. “Multiple uses in the Grand Canyon, the Grand Canyon is a National Park and it’s got its primary use. In areas of oil and gas production or mining that is a primary use and I think its important to look at things on a case-by-case basis to understand those uses and respect them for their value to the region and our nation.”
Jewell was reflecting the reality that there are places where one or more uses are dominant and places where that dominance is no longer recognized the same way. It used to be people jokingly called the Bureau of Land Management the “Bureau of Livestock and Mining.”
There was a time when the joke was close to the reality. But today, to Senator Lee’s chagrin, endangered species and water quality now are as important as livestock grazing on much of the public land managed by the BLM.
On the forests, much of Idaho’s 20 million acres of is protected as wilderness, national recreation areas or roadless, which Idaho state forester David Groeschl said lessens “the likelihood of litigation when the Forest Service makes a decision in keeping with the prescribed management of those lands.”
Another seven million acres falls under the term multiple use and there lies the problem, Groeschl said.
“On these 7 million acres, most actions the Forest Service deems necessary to improve the health of the land – for instance, using timber harvest as a management tool to remove vegetation to promote growth of desired tree species – need to comply with onerous procedural requirements and are met with reams of paperwork to withstand an appeal,” he said.
Groeschl points to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s trust model that would put these lands under a separate trust as one way to achieve the dominant use focus he believes is necessary to make management work on these 7 million acres. But he doesn’t rule out another option that keeps federal land managers in charge.
“The establishment of a dominant use model in addition to wilderness and roadless areas for some of our federally forested lands in Idaho… would create realistic expectations and a clear mission for Forest Service land managers to achieve the economic, ecological, and social benefits we all seek,” Groeschl said.
I’m not sure how Groeschl’s idea will go over politically. Americans like the words multiple use and have been trained over the years to oppose the idea of dominant use.
But Groeschl’s views come from a professional land manager who has in state management a shield from the politics of federal public lands. He’d like to share that with other professionals.

 

Here is his entire guest opinion:

Idaho State Forester David Groeschi

Idaho State Forester David Groeschl

By David Groeschl
Idaho State Forester
Ask Idahoans if they value healthy forests and you’ll likely get an affirmative response.
Ask them how to manage for healthy forests and you’ll likely get a wide range of opinions.
Therein lays the challenge for the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land managers. A tangled web of federal laws and policies designed to guide the management of most federally managed forestlands in Idaho often leaves professional land managers in the unenviable position of trying to be all things to all people on all acres.
The result is gridlock.
Governor Otter recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge a House subcommittee to support setting aside a specific national forest in Idaho for a pilot project under a trust management model as a way to address the gridlock.
As State Forester, I oversee management of 1 million forested acres of the total 2.4 million acres of state endowment trust lands in Idaho. The Idaho Department of Lands and the Land Board manage these lands under a trust model mandate grounded in Idaho’s constitution. Our mission is clear: to “maximize long-term financial returns” to public schools and other constitutionally designated public institutions.
Meeting our mission requires ongoing stewardship of endowment trust lands. Tree planting following a harvest and leaving in place seed trees for natural regeneration are examples of that long-term stewardship. Stewardship also means we follow all state and federal environmental laws aimed at protecting water, air quality, and habitat. In fact, recent water quality audits show harvest activities on state lands have a 99 percent rate of compliance with standards set forth in the Idaho Forest Practices Act and accompanying administrative rules.
Legal roadblocks to achieving our land management objectives are limited because the law dictates for us one type of dominant use paradigm – active management to produce revenues for schools.
The benefits of a trust management model in reducing fire-prone fuels, enhancing economic activity and creating jobs, and improving forest health undoubtedly are the Governor’s driving motives in urging this approach. It is the dominant use concept that makes the trust model so effective in achieving well-defined land management objectives.
Even wilderness areas are managed under a dominant use model, as are national recreation areas, national parks, and roadless areas, lessening the likelihood of litigation when the Forest Service makes a decision in keeping with the prescribed management of those lands.
But roughly 7 million acres managed by the Forest Service in Idaho have no defined dominant use to drive effective management.
On these 7 million acres, most actions the Forest Service deems necessary to improve the health of the land – for instance, using timber harvest as a management tool to remove vegetation to promote growth of desired tree species – need to comply with onerous procedural requirements and are met with reams of paperwork to withstand an appeal. Former Chief of the Forest Service Dale Bosworth termed it, “analysis paralysis.”
Additionally, a recent study of the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that Region 1 of the Forest Service, which includes northern Idaho, lead with the most appeals and lawsuits on federal projects involving fuel reduction activities than any other region of the Forest Service during Fiscal Years 2006 through 2008. Region 1 is facing 10 timber sales with active lawsuits and was even blocked on a collaborative stewardship project because of perceived threats to lynx habitat, according to one article following an interview with the Region 1 Forester.
As past Forest Service Chiefs have pointed out, including Jack Ward Thomas, without a clear mission or mandate from Congress, the Forest Service is left longing for how to define and measure success.
We may not all agree on how to manage public lands, but at least the establishment of a dominant use model in addition to wilderness and roadless areas for some of our federally forested lands in Idaho, as Governor Otter suggested, would create realistic expectations and a clear mission for Forest Service land managers to achieve the economic, ecological, and social benefits we all seek.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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