Congress needs to examine basic departures from the current system, including the possible privatization of some forest lands, transfer of lands to states or local governments, reorganization of the federal system, and other new basic approaches.
The Forest Service was created in 1905 to bring scientific management to the forests of the nation. Forest management was conceived as a technical task that should be put in the hands of professional experts. Foresters believed that they should be empowered to make decisions in the public interest, tree of interference from politicians, interest groups or other outside parties.
These core elements of Forest Service culture have long been overtaken by events. Since at least the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s, the management of federal forests has become an arena for engaging in deep value conflicts in American society. Professionals are no longer seen as authoritative. The current malaise of the Forest Service reflects its inability to find a successful new mission in the changed circumstances. The multiple- use mandate has been so vague as to give little practical guidance to managers.
The Forest Service has become more centralized even while many other public and private organizations have been decentralizing. Yet, most land use issues on the federal forests and elsewhere are state and local in nature and local values should be controlling. The state and local political process will have a greater legitimacy than an outside federal administrative agency.
I am pleased to be able to testify here today on the future of the federal forests. I am one of many millions of Americans who remember with great fondness past visits to the national forests for hiking, camping, fishing and other activities. The federal forests are among the great natural resource assets of the United States.
Yet, as your previous subcommittee hearings have been demonstrating, federal forest management is today in a state of crisis. It is failing economically and environmentally. Two words that all sides seem to agree on are "gridlock" and "polarization."
The current crisis in my view reflects a faulty set of fundamental principles. Before real improvements can be made, Congress will have to revisit the foundations. Band aid solutions will not work. That is why it is especially important that the Congress is now examining alternative forms of forest management, including basic departures from the current system. These should include the possible privatization of some forest lands, transfer of lands to states or local governments, reorganization of the federal system, and other solutions.
The Forest Service, as its first chief Gifford Pinchot preached to the nation, was created to bring scientific management to the forests. Pinchot believed that forestry was a technical task suited to experts. He sought to build university programs to supply such expertise, and to hire professionally trained foresters to run the Forest Service. He was especially concerned that "the special interests" be kept out of the forest management process. The overall goal of forestry was conceived in utilitarian terms: producing wood, water, livestock forage, and other consumptive items, all from the standpoint of "the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run."
These features served the Forest Service well for many years. They yielded up an organization with a strong sense of mission, a powerful esprit de corps, and an almost religious zeal to fulfill its goals. Many people have observed that the Forest Service over the years has exhibited a military quality in its strong sense of internal loyalty and organizational discipline. This is reflected in one small way in the uniform worn by employees.
Scientific management was essentially a centralizing vision. Once scientific management of the forests became the goal, it was logical that authority should be placed at the federal level. Only the federal government would have the scope of responsibility to plan and coordinate comprehensively for forests all across the United States. It would be the federal government that would have the resources to bring together the best technical experts to find the correct scientific answers. If forestry is conceived in scientific terms, there is one best answer, and this answer should be applied everywhere in the United States.
Similar centralizing forces were at work around the world throughout the twentieth century. Yet, in the last part of the century, it is the limitations of centralization, rather than the advantages, that are driving events in most places. Many nations are privatizing former state owned enterprises. The United States has undertaken to deregulate a number of industries. In recent years, as traditional pillars such as General Motors and IBM have tottered, the American business world has moved aggressively to decentralize, selling off units and giving much greater operating autonomy to local divisions.
Yet, if anything, the Forest Service has become more centralized over the same period, often reflecting the impact of planning, environmental and other procedural requirements, many of them imposed by Congress. The result has been a large and cumbersome bureaucracy increasingly unable to respond to real needs on the ground.
The Forest Service was built on the idea that science and politics are to function in clearly separate domains. Pinchot liked to brag about his great success in keeping politics out of the management of the Forest Service--somewhat misleadingly, it can be said in retrospect (Pinchot himself was a gifted political practitioner). Yet, by the 1950s and 1960s most observers were finding that major interest-group involvement was standard practice in virtually every area of American government, including the Forest Service.
Congress was in some degree legitimizing this outcome when it enacted the Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act of 1960. At a trivial level, this law simply said that many uses should be considered and have access to the national forests. Beyond that, the idea of multiple use was so vague that it gave very little substantive guidance. The real meaning was procedural. Congress was really saying that multiple interest-groups--the "multiple-users"--should get together and work out a set of acceptable compromises on the use of the land. Of course. it was not advertised at the time that such an approach would amount to a direct repudiation of Pinchot's hopes for independent direction of the federal forests by scientific experts.
The next major piece of forest legislation was the Wilderness Act of 1964. This was important in two respects:
At the same time, however, beginning in the late 1940s, the Forest Service had sharply increased its timber harvests. Prior to World War II, timber companies had relied largely on private forests; indeed, they had often opposed harvesting of federal timber, because large government supplies might reduce timber prices. But following the war, as private forests were depleted by cutting, companies finally turned to the national forests as a major source of supply. It was in a sense the fulfillment of Pinchot's original vision that the national forests should be put to intensive productive use to supply the wood to build the homes of the nation. Foresters in the Forest Service would plan the sales, oversee the harvests, ensure regeneration, and undertake other professional management tasks.
The clash between timber and other uses of the national forests was being felt by the 1960s and reached crisis proportions with the Monongahela court decision in 1973 that threatened to halt clearcutting from the national forests. These pressures forced Congress in the 1970s to take up in a systematic way the issue of the proper management of the national forests. For this and other reasons more important public land legislation was passed in that decade than in any previous one in American history. Among the most significant laws for the federal forests were the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA), the National Forest Management Act of 1976, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.
The new legislative direction of the 1970s amounted to a confusing mishmash: do what the public tells you to do through the involvement of all the interests (or at least pay very close attention) but also do what is the scientifically correct answer. But what if these are not the same thing! Even more confusingly, what if the fundamental issues are not scientific at all--or when they happen to be, but the scientists still can not agree among themselves?
Surrounded by fierce value conflicts, facing growing public concern for the management of federal forests, and with confusing if not contradictory directions from the Congress, the Forest Service and BLM have fallen back on what Charles Lindblom famously described many years ago as "the science of 'muddling through.' " In this case, however, muddling through has not been good enough: the Forest Service--and the BLM on its forests--have fallen further into the crisis of effectiveness and legitimacy that we see today.
The failure-of Forest Service land use planning since the 1970s epitomizes the downward trend of events on the national forest system. RPA mandated a cumbersome process of long range targets and actions to realize these goals. As a number of observers have pointed out. it was virtually a socialist planning regime of five year plans and targets, imposed by Congress at just about the time that the intellectual bankruptcy of such approaches was being recognized around the world. The local land and resource management plans (LRMPs) mandated by the National Forest Management Act have served .some useful purposes but this process has on the whole also been a failure.
Plans have been long delayed and often rendered irrelevant by events. The two most important set of planning actions on the national forests, wilderness decisions and the spotted owl protection plan in the Pacific Northwest, had to take place outside the formal land use planning process. Plans have been in significant degree a public relations camouflage designed to give a superficial veneer of rationality to what is in essence a chaotic and unpredictable decision making process. In terms of actual practical impact, they have been a vehicle for creating gridlock to serve one particular interest group: the set of people whose real preference is for doing nothing.
From an economic standpoint, as long ago as 1976, the dean of land economists in the United States, Marion Clawson of Resource for the Future, described Forest Service management in a Science magazine article as "disastrous." The agency invested where economic returns were low; neglected other much more promising investment possibilities; followed irrational timber harvest rules; and in general put considerations of public image and political gain before economics. It is remarkable that an agency responsible for managing a natural resource asset of immense wealth--including more than 10 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states and some of the prime timber growing forests in the world--has consistently imposed large net claims on the U.S. Treasury. Most recently, the General Accounting Office just reported that Forest Service timber sales from 1992 to 1994 returned $1 billion less to the federal treasury than the sale costs incurred by the government.
In October I attended a conference on public land management sponsored by the Natural Resources Law Center of the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. Speaker after speaker lamented the state of paralysis affecting the Forest Service and public land management generally. The adverse consequences are not only economic but environmental; it is as difficult today to take positive steps to improve the environment as to achieve higher economic returns. Misconceived fire suppression policies, for example, have yielded federal forest conditions that, as the Forest Policy Center reported recently, are "so far out of normal ecological range that virtually every element of the system is affected, and may be at risk."
In its bureaucratic paralysis, its uneconomic management, and its lack of environmental sensitivity, the Forest Service has unfortunately come to resemble many other government owned enterprises around the world. Many nations are today actively engaged in privatization, deregulation, decentralization and other rethinking of the institutional arrangements of their national economies. If on a much smaller scale, the United States needs to undertake a similar rethinking of its system of federal forest management--and public land management more generally.
Correspondingly, if the scientific management philosophy were to be officially and explicitly abandoned today, it would have radical consequences for the institutional arrangements on the federal forests. The impact could be as great as the adoption of the progressive paradigm one hundred years ago, which led to the end of the nineteenth century policy of public land and disposal to states or private owners and instead the retention of the public lands in federal lands. If progressivism had a strongly centralizing influence. the direction of events today in many arenas is toward the significant decentralization of authority.
The impetus toward decentralization is in part a matter of a recognition of the practical administrative and economic liabilities of centralization. In an information age, where the pace of change is extremely rapid and new technology can operate at small scales, it is more efficient to decentralize. The trend towards decentralization is worldwide, from the great diversity of firms in high tech industries to the break up of the former Soviet Union.
But there are also other values than efficiency at stake. Even in the progressive era, John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club in 1892, argued for the preservation of wilderness because it was in wild areas that he felt a spiritual inspiration; a wilderness, he said, was his "temple." What do we do as a society, however, when others see wilderness in a much different light'' For example, some people today are offended by the very creation of wilderness, regarding it as a wasted resource because the land is not being used for some productive purpose.
Clearly, science cannot resolve these value questions. Ultimately, they have to be made in the political process. The critical question is what political process: federal, state, local or other.
Here I would suggest the following guidelines. There are certain core values of the national community with little room for compromise. The bill of rights set out some of these. The civil rights struggle in the south in the 1950s and 1960s involved another set of such national values. The country today is engaged in a fierce and thus far inconclusive debate concerning the degree to which any similar set of environmental values must be asserted everywhere in the United States. At least in selecting certain areas for formal designation as part of a national system of wilderness, the answer has seemingly been in part affirmative.
I doubt, however, that national values can or should be determinative of most land use matters. The United States is too diverse a country. Imposing outside values on local people is bound to create social tensions. On most land policy and management matters, there will be much room for reasonable people to disagree. Thus, I conclude that as an operative rule it should be the values of the people directly affected, the people on the ground, that typically govern.
Indeed, it is for such reasons that land use has historically been considered the most local of government functions. The exercise of zoning authority is constitutionally a state responsibility that has largely been delegated to local governments. The ownership and control by the federal government over 47 percent of the land in the West is a basic anomaly in the American federal system. The federal government becomes for practical purposes the planning and zoning board for much of the rural West. The Forest Service by itself is responsible for the management of 19 percent of the land in the eleven westernmost of the lower 48 states.
Deciding the future of the federal forests thus involves a complex set of tradeoffs. There are matters of legitimate scientific question where the federal government may have the greatest ability to marshal the scientific evidence. Yet, the centralization of decision making responsibility in large organizations such as the Forest Service has generally proven administratively cumbersome and inefficient. Many critical questions, moreover, will not be technical in nature but will require the resolution of basic value disagreements. Some of them may be appropriately addressed at the national level simply because they involve core values, that relate to the identify of Americans as participants in a national community. But that will not be true of the large majority of policy disagreements relating to land use.
For most issues, I conclude that political legitimacy will lie at the state, or more often local, level. Indeed, I suspect that many of the current arguments for keeping management responsibility at the federal level arise mostly because certain groups have mastered the politics of the federal level to their advantage. They fear that they would lose out in a more democratic decision making process.
All this suggests that there is no one management regime best suited to all the land in the federal forests. The thrust, however, should be towards a major decentralization of responsibility. This can be accomplished through various institutional mechanisms that I will mention briefly below. Each mechanism needs to be matched up with lands that pose economic, environmental, and other issues that are best resolved at this particular level and in this manner.
Today, a similar solution may be needed. Congress took a step in this direction with the Wilderness Act of 1964, which established clear management parameters on certain forest lands. However, most of the lands are still without clear direction. Congress could instead establish a classification process to set well defined purposes for other federal forest lands as well. New federal agencies could then be created with missions specifically tailored to those purposes and with personnel trained for each mission.
The federal forest lands, for example, include some of the prime timber growing lands in the world. A portion of these lands might be dedicated to timber production. Other uses would not be precluded but they would be secondary. Thus, hiking, hunting, fishing and other activities would continue but the lands would be managed with a clear mandate set by Congress: manage the lands to maximize long run net revenues--mostly from timber under present economic circumstances--consistent with strong environmental protections. It would be similar to the management of some state trust lands today. Under the trust arrangement, for example. the State of Washington currently earns positive net revenues of about $100 million per year that can be turned over to the trust beneficiaries.
If Congress decides to declare that some timber lands are to be managed for revenue purposes, it should create a new agency--or multiple new agencies for timber lands in different areas--to serve this purpose. The organizational culture of the Forest Service is simply not suited to operating for economically and administratively efficient management. Congress would also have to act to ensure that the new agency is insulated from Congressional micro management. Some form of public corporation may be appropriate. The federal government may also want to experiment with creation of trust lands similar to those in many states. There would be designated beneficiaries who would have a legal right to intervene to ensure effective long run forest management in the interest of the beneficiaries.
The federal forests in the Pacific Northwest are prime timber lands but in the majority of areas timber is marginal and outdoor recreation is a more important use. Some of these lands serve important values that are national in character. The National Park System was created in 1916 to manage the most important of them. National wildlife refuges in some cases also fall in this category. As noted above, the most recent set of additions to what might be called the "national interest environmental lands" are the 90 million acres included since 1964 in the national wilderness system.
I would suggest the consolidation of these national interest lands into one federal land system to be managed by a single federal agency. It might be formed from a reorganized National Park Service, although that agency today suffers from many of the disabilities that beset the Forest Service. Moreover, not all the units of the national park system or the national wildlife refuge system involve truly national concerns. In consolidating management of national interest lands, there should first be a review of the existing systems to verify that current units do in fact belong at the federal level.
The federal government would derive a significant immediate financial benefit from the sale of the asset. Future financial benefits would also be derived from income taxes collected.
Privatization of timber lands could be accomplished in various ways. Sale of the lands by competitive bid is one option. A better approach might be to create one or more new corporations and then sell stock in the corporations on Wall Street. Some of the shares could be given to state and local governments that now receive a significant part of the revenue stream from federal timber lands. The federal government would not have to sell all its shares immediately but could parcel them out over a period of time.
The complex land ownership patterns in the West have left many small federal forest parcels surrounded by private and state land. Livestock grazing is often the main use of these lands. Recreational access may require crossing private land and thus be difficult to obtain. These forest parcels are also leading candidates for privatization. Where an existing user has a long history on a particular parcel of forest land, it would be appropriate to give that user a preference in any sale of the land.
In other areas of the West economic growth is creating strong demands for land for urban expansion, resorts, second homes and other intensive recreational development of the land. The Forest Service has accommodated some of these uses, such as development of ski areas, through leasing. However, sale of forest land would bring in substantial current revenues and provide the security of tenure that may be necessary to making large long term investments.
The leading users of these lands are state and local people. The policy issues are mostly state and local in character. I would therefore recommend that these lands be transferred to state and local governments. The principle that state and local matters should be handled by state and local governments is an ancient and honorable one in American federalism.
To be sure, in the early twentieth century the progressives moved away from this principle because they believed that government should be put in the hands of a professional class of experts most likely to be found at the national level. States and localities, by contrast, they saw as parochial and ill informed. Over the course of the twentieth century efficient government for many Americans thus came to mean reducing the states to operating divisions within one unified system of centrally directed government for the whole nation.
History, however, has shown the failure of this centralist vision of the progressives. No activity of the federal government is less intrinsically national in its scope than the day-to-day management of the ordinary federal forests and other public lands. The ownership of ordinary lands with mainly dispersed recreation use should, I believe, be transferred to the states.
It is an open question whether management responsibility should then be transferred from the state to the local level. In truth, many of the issues and activities on federal forest lands are more local than state concerns. The federal government, however, need not resolve this matter. Local governments in the United State are creatures of state government. Hence, each state should take the responsibility for sorting out the appropriate division of land management authority between the state government and the local government. States can also be responsible for deciding whether some of the lands they receive are suitable candidates for privatization. There might in fact be substantial differences among the western states in these regards, an appropriate outcome in a world that no longer seeks the one-size-fits-all of a single federal system.
I propose a return to the concept of American federalism that the progressives rejected in favor of centralization and concentration of power at the federal level. Instead, forest ownership and management authority should be assigned according to the following principles:
A variation on this idea would be to undertake the classification state by state. The Congress has before it at present legislation to transfer the BLM lands to the states. The governor of the state must first make this request. I am sympathetic to the legislation but would modify it in the following way (and in some other ways that I will not go into here but are detailed in a forthcoming paper). The immediate commitment to transfer all the BLM lands would not follow a request from the governor of the state. Instead, the first step would be to assign an appropriate group the task of classifying BLM lands in the state in the manner described above. The BLM lands subsequently transferred to the state would be those identified in this process as being ordinary dispersed recreation lands of state and local concern. There should be a tight time frame--say two years--for completing the reclassification in each state.
In conclusion, I thank the subcommittee for this opportunity to testify. The present period is in many ways similar to the progressive era that played such a great role in shaping American government during the twentieth century. As in the late nineteenth century, there is today great discontent with existing institutions. Populism then and now is a powerful force, especially in the South and West. A reigning paradigm is once again collapsing--if now the antiquated set of scientific management ideas inherited from the progressives--requiring a basic rethinking of fundamental governing issues.
This is all stressful but also exciting, because we face again in the current period the opportunity to set the stage for a whole new century. As was also true in the progressive era, some of the most important indications of the events to come may first become visible on the federal forests and other lands.