I just wrote to lambast Mike Noel for this quote: “When we turn the Forest Service over to the bird and bunny lovers and the tree huggers and the rock lickers, we’ve turned our history over. We are going to lose our wildlife and we are going to lose our scenery, the very thing you people wanted to try to protect. It’s just plain stupidity.” Mostly, I focused on what he got wrong.
Today I take a more positive look at what he could have said that would have been constructive and more accurate, and likely accomplish what he wanted to in the process.
First, it seems like a bad idea to resort to demeaning constituents through name calling. I am a bird lover, and a tree hugger and I don't mind people calling me that. However, Mr. Noel clearly has a derogatory intent in his usage of these terms. This immediately alienates a set of people and unhelpfully draws a line between us and them. Any kind of solution in a contested issue is eased when we can get us to agree with them, better yet, to blur the lines between us and them. So, why draw that line. He should have said that historical choices that may have made sense at the time have led to unintended consequences that I think we can all agree are undesirable. This is both true and coalition building rather than opposition line forming.
Second, focusing on the past without looking to the future is a mistake. The Rep. Noel focused his rant (you can see the video here) on what he thinks are bad decisions of the past. His focus is on people's vacation homes, resort villages and the tax base of the counties he represents. Fair enough, he should worry about the tax base. However, vacation home owners are, in point of fact, generally very vocal in their opposition to logging on public lands adjoining their property. It lowers their home values, and, by the way, the tax base. Just as ski resorts like forests, but not logging operations. This is a nuanced issue that is simply not helped by painting it as good (e.g., forest management that includes a healthy amount of logging) versus evil (e.g., forest management that does not include logging).
Third, doesn't everyone want to seek solutions? Mike Noel's summary statement about the future and solutions was, "...and now we have a president that can do something about it." to paraphrase. Not very helpful.
What, exactly should the President, Secretary of Agriculture, or Secretary of Interior do? Increase timber sales around vacation homes? That would work, but good luck with the political fallout from that.
These are tough issues that require tough negotiations and tough solutions. We know that fire suppression has resulted in increased fuels. We know that increased ignitions makes the problem harder. We know that climatic conditions are becoming more favorable to high fire intensity. We know that reduced logging has exacerbated the fire issue. We also know that logging pines in the west has become a marginal economic operation in many locations. We also know that there are many environmentalists that oppose actions that result in reducing fuel loads in forests. We know that we lack the capacity to get a handle on this through the increased use of prescribed fire.
We have people from all perspectives working on solutions. We know that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to get these interventions implemented. We know that time is not our friend as we have increasing numbers of these events through time. Mike Noel should have told us all about those things rather than lambasted a caricatured group of people that he both chastises and calls his constituents. Simplifying the issue into overly simplistic and caricatured sides is polarizing and inaccurate. Finally, polarizing an issue is the easiest way to stop policy reform in its tracks.
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