Testimony of Larry Layton, Supervisor, Navajo County, Arizona; and Merle Dinning, Boundary County, Idaho

before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify on the important issues associated with federal land management, now and in the future. We believe that fundamental changes need to be made in our current management practices and possibly land ownership patterns, to assure the stability of our communities, their economies and a sustainable future for our citizens.

Federal land management is currently burdened with a web of stringent and often conflicting laws that place common sense aside, and substitutes regulatory alternatives that are often unworkable. The Endangered Species Act is a good example of this problem. A good idea gone awry. The Act, and its associated regulations, assume we can save them all. We all want to protect important species to the fullest extent practicable, but some form of reason must prevail and it may be necessary to acknowledge the need for "species triage". We as a society have limited resources and we have to admit we cannot save every species, everywhere. It also only takes into consideration part of the equation when review the implications of species conservation. Human concerns are often given short shrift.

In the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), you have a law designed to assure that federal decisions are made with input from outside the government by empowering citizen advisory committees. Then, through regulation, the federal government has made it too complex and too expensive to be workable. Because of the statute's provisions and regulations, citizen groups that have banded together on their own to help solve vexing land management questions have been barred by the courts from "advising" the land managers because they have not been constituted as an "official" advisory committee. What nonsense! Two good examples of these citizen groups are the Quincy Library Group of Northern California and the Applegate Group in Oregon. Both have been prepared to make significant contributions only to be rebuffed. While this problem has been solved for state and local officials, it still prevents the citizenry from having input that might be critical to the successful resolution of resource conservation/use conflicts.

There are other challenges facing federal land managers often unrelated to the resources themselves. To the chagrin of veteran land managers, there is interference from "non-professional" political managers that may have other agendas besides best land management practices.

A classic example of this situation has been the fight over the so-called "salvage timber" amendment attached to the rescissions package passed earlier this year. Congress listened to the professional land managers about the need to remove dead and dying timber from our national forests. These trees have been ravaged by disease, insects and fire, and will only rot if not removed in a timely manner. These resources would go to wood product producers desperate for raw timber to produce jobs and stable economies for their often small communities. The "professional" Washington, D.C.-based environmental community was successful in convincing the political elements of the Administration that this amendment was tantamount to destroying the forests forever. Nothing could be farther from the truth and the truly professional land managers are in steadfast support of this effort. It took action in federal appeals court to force the Administration to accede the wishes of Congress, and yet, just last week an Administration spokesman said they would continue to attempt to stop timbering that wasn't consist with Administration political policy goals. How can a federal land manager do his or her job in this climate?

While the above example of court intervention worked in the favor of resource users, the federal courts and their esteemed judges have too often become the de facto managers of federal resources. These individuals generally do not possess the experience or background to make good resource decisions, but rather make decisions based on legal technicalities and paperwork. Thousands of people have been put out of work, and millions of dollars in revenue have been denied counties by these court actions. Today, in each of our states, court limitations have federal managers hamstrung and unable to process timber sales under the provisions of the National Forest Management Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. We believe the series of hearings undertaken by this subcommittee, are important first steps in resolving some of these vexing problems.

The Subcommittee has asked us to comment on a number of issues relating to the ownership, management and control of natural resource assets currently held by the federal government. We will attempt to address each individually, but will by necessity move between them as we discuss alternatives.

1. How would an alternative design improve on the serious problems with the current system identified in our oversight hearings?

Common sense, flexibility and a clear vision of what we are attempting to accomplish. Good forest management practices are often based in good common sense, which is not easily codified in regulation or law. We need to provide our managers (regardless of which agency or level of government) the latitude to make decisions based on their experience, training and, yes, common sense. They need to have the flexibility to take one set of management actions in an area, and another set in another area. Adaptive techniques can be effectively utilized if "on the ground" managers have that flexibility and are not limited by narrowly drawn EIS alternatives that have been analyzed to death.

Managers need to have a clear vision of what their role is, and what the agency is trying to accomplish. Without that vision, it is impossible to make the proper investments for the future and take the proper tactical actions to assure your strategic future. Without this strategic vision, it would be like bombing a target simply because it's there, rather than for some purpose that would advance your battlefield position.

There are too many process-oriented requirements on land managers in the federal system. What are we really trying to accomplish in our national forests? We should be goal-oriented in our approach. Environmentalists would probably scoff at this notion because they believe we have been too oriented to getting the timber out of the forest. By being goal-oriented we need to set the correct goals. This indeed may be the proper thinning and specie selection in our forests. This may be riparian regeneration and repair, this may mean brush clearing and habitat regeneration, but we need to decide what we are trying to accomplish and get it done. It shouldn't matter whether every hoop has been jumped through, but more importantly have we accomplished the needed activities to improve our forests and their resources?, but we need to decide what we are trying to accomplish and get it done. It shouldn't matter whether every hoop has been jumped through, but more importantly have we accomplished the needed activities to improve our forests and their resources?

Another concern, is that current federal regulations focus on restrictions on activities, and behaviors rather than on offering stewardship direction for federal managers. These managers are trained to identify and control perceived problems, but are not sufficiently focused on positive opportunities for our forest resources. Citizen groups could be helpful here if they were not barred by FACA.

The answers to these concerns are to provide federal managers (or those who would take their place) with a more goal-oriented, flexible system that has a clear vision of the strategic plan for the national forest, and the tools with which to accomplish these goals. Unfortunately in this budget-cutting era, this means dollars, which are a scarce commodity when it comes to public land management.

2. Who else, beside the federal government, effectively manages substantial areas of forest land? States? Counties? Special Jurisdictions? Private Entities?

This question can be answered only on a state-by-state basis. In many western states the second leading resource land owners are private interests, followed by the state and local jurisdictions. Laws relating to the effective management of non-federal resources vary across state lines and some states take a more aggressive approach than others. There are some counties that manage substantial timber resources, Gray's Harbor County, Washington is a good example. They have thousands of acres of timber available for sale, and have chosen to manage it for a sustainable yield that will bring the best price in the marketplace. Rather than conduct a sale just because some schedule says it is time, the county chooses to wait until stumpage prices meet a predetermined level and then they sell, but again only enough to maintain their sustained yield. They have chosen the twin goals of sustainability and profit as their "benchmarks" for their management regime. This effort produces a significant revenue stream for the county, and reduces pressure on other tax resources. It is clear that not all counties have the resources, or would be prepare to take on additional burdens in this area without significant increases in personnel and funding.

3. What comparison can you make about costs, outputs, and environmental standards followed by other owners relative to federal agency performance?

Again the results will vary from state to state. Large private owners have not always been the best stewards of their resources, but have improved dramatically in recent years. States have been at the forefront of providing for healthy, sustainable forests for years. Oregon's sustainable yield requirements of its Forest Practices Act are a good example that has been replicated throughout timber county. Indeed, the federal government's management response to environmental concerns is too often unnecessarily restrictive, and prescriptive rather than adaptive an innovative. Private firms such as Collins Pine Company in Plumas County, California, have found ways to improve wildlife habitat, riparian health, forest health, reduce fire danger and, most importantly, get sufficient resources from the forest to make a profit. The federal response to similar environmental pressures was to virtually eliminate resource production entirely. Many states have tougher environmental requirements than the federal government, but they provide sufficient flexibility and innovation to allow timber interest to proceed while the environment is maintained.

4. How do other managers' management constraints compare to those faced by federal managers as a result of federal legal requirements?

They don't. Federal managers are often faced with a "one size fits all" management regime that has been handed down by the courts, or Washington, D.C. bureaucrats, without the freedom to do what's best for the resource. At this point in our statement, we should point out that the local managers of these federal land managing agencies are often in personal agreement with our comments, and would love to be able to have the necessary flexibility to do their jobs as the professionally see fit. Unfortunately, they do not have this luxury. State, county and private interests have a much greater latitude in dealing with environmental and resource issues. While constrained by laws like the Endangered Species Act, and others, these non-federal agencies are generally more creative in responding to specific concerns. Flexibility is again a key ingredient for effective land management.

5. Do other managers operate more efficiently than federal managers?

By their very nature, governments place extra burdens on their employees and managers. Private landowners are much more likely to manage their resources for efficiently because of their need to establish and maintain profitability. There is no incentive for the federal government to maintain such a standard. Depending on the breakdown of revenue sharing between entities, there may be greater efficiencies generated at the state or local level than within the federal land management hierarchy. What should be our focus here however, is good forest practice. Efficiency is one thing, but good sustainable forest practices based on emerging science and a better understanding of the interactive nature of nature is where we should be heading. Clear cuts are efficient, but are proving to be less effective in securing our long term timber resource interests.

6. Could some federal forests be sold, leased, or other wise transferred to states or other public managers on some sort of cost reimbursement or revenue sharing basis?

Some, but at this point we don't believe we can advocate wholesale transfer of federal forest land to state or local public managers. The costs associated with this transfer would be significant and beyond the resources of many states and counties. Having said this, we do believe that there are portions of the federal forest that make sense to transfer to state control and management. A good example of this is the Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands in the southwestern part of the state of Oregon. These lands present a patchwork of state, private and federal lands that cause many management problems that could be resolved if the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was authorized and directed to turn over these lands to the state of Oregon for management and control. The state is currently in a position to manage these lands and we believe it would be in the best interest of the state and federal governments to accomplish this transfer. There are other checkerboard lands in Arizona and New Mexico that would also benefit from the consolidation of management authority. Any transfer to the state, and or local government control should come without the federal mandates currently burdening federal management, and if just management responsibilities, and not outright ownership is transferred, state and/or localities should receive the majority of revenue from these lands. An example would be the 75% share of timber receipts going to counties, rather than the 25% currently in law. Could some federal forests be sold, leased, or otherwise transferred to private interests at their own cost, or on some sort of cost reimbursement or revenue sharing basis?

You used the word transferred here. That implies an actual exchange of ownership. We would only comment that this approach could be quite controversial and could meet with high resistance because of the perceived loss of public input. It might be more practical to consider a stewardship approach where private interests participate in management of public lands--an innovative partnership solution. The property tax revenue would be enticing for counties currently struggling with increasing costs and decreasing sources of revenue, however, at this time we do not believe this would be an acceptable alternative.

8. What sort of transfer system could be utilized that would free these lands from some federal land management statutory/regulatory constraints?

As mentioned above, any transfer of lands to states and/or counties in fee title or for just management activity, must not be transferred with the heavy burden of mandates currently clogging the management system. If the federal government would retain title and expect certain goal-oriented outcomes as guidance, we don't believe there would be a problem. However, if state and local managers were burdened with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the ESA and other federal environmental laws, along with the burdensome load of case law that has been heaped on federal managers, there would be little point in making such a transfer. Just as state law differs, the needs and expectations of public lands in those states differ, and while we may have some national goals for our public lands, these goals can be accomplished in different ways.

9. Even without any land transfers or reductions in federal land management constraints could the Forest Service contract out certain land management functions?

Given the authority, the Forest Service would be advised to attempt to contract out some of the management activities they are currently pursuing.

The reality of the marketplace is that federal workers receive a premium wage and benefit package (although not overly generous), that the state and local managers are not generally matching. The private sector, too, can accomplish these tasks for less money. But this begs the question. The issue of better management is not one solely based on cost. The burdens imposed by federal statute, regulation and practice are the truly limiting factors for federal land management.

10. Could land management be contracted out on a results-oriented rather than a task-oriented basis?

We believe that contracting out in this manner could be done, but only with significant changes in the requirements of managers. If the contractor was expected to follow all the laws, regulations and practices currently in place, the effort and savings would be minimal at best. This begs the true question of what is causing the gridlock in America's forests? It is the plethora of interlocking requirements that have caused today's problems.

11. What incentives currently motivate federal forest management activities? If the Forest Service were funded differently, how might these incentives and management activities change?

Today the Forest Service has no specific incentives to improve management techniques or pursue new avenues for better forests. Indeed there are many disincentives. With severe reductions in staff precipitated by reinvention and buyouts, and even more draconian budget cuts, the professionals of the Forest Service are disheartened and discouraged. Tie this with the second-guessing of our courts and you have an untenable position for a professional resource team.

We should reevaluate how we use funds from America's forests. It may well be that dedicating the financial resources deriving from the federal forest to that forest's management might provide an incentive, but only if the manager, whether federal, state or local is fully free to make the appropriate resource and environmental decisions necessary to secure a well managed and sustainable forest.

12. What demonstration projects could test any of these possibilities? America's counties, working with the National Association of Counties and its Western Interstate Region would be prepared to examine possible alternative programs for forest management that may provide a window into the viability of some of these proposals.

There have been some examples of better working relationships between federal managers and state and local officials. The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project has been an example of this type of cooperation and coordination.


The bottom line is this. Wholesale transfer (either ownership or management) of national forest lands to non-federal entities is no panacea. Professional federal managers, freed from the ridiculous web of federal laws and regulations and given the flexibility and freedom to make wise choices, can manage our federal forests and grasslands effectively. Non-federal managers can also perform these management functions, with sufficient resources, if they too are freed from the heavy burdens imposed by current law and regulation. No one can meet the land management challenges of the next millennium with the continuing legal baggage heaped on resource managers.

Having said this, we firmly believe that some federal lands can be better managed by certain non-federal managers. Our colleague John Howard, from Union County, Oregon has made an eloquent case for the Oregon Department of Forestry taking on the O&C Lands in western Oregon. It makes sense. We ought to review all of our forests for these types of opportunities. It won't work everywhere, but in those selected areas, the resources can be better managed, cheaper, with more citizen involvement than is currently possible. We need to explore these opportunities and provide the flexibility within federal law to make them happen.

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