Collaborating With the Enemy

US Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell has been collaborating with the Wilderness Society in order to undermine and sabotage the USFS and to incinerate America’s public forests. Kimbell’s subversive actions are not secret but overt and arrogant, and the rank-and-file of the agency are well-aware of it.

While the field operations of the Outfit (as the USFS is fondly referred to by dedicated life-long employees) have been severely constrained by forced adherence to Byzantine environmental laws, NEPA processes, and endless planning, Gail Kimbell has ordered Let It Burn fires, at the behest of the Wilderness Society, with no planning, no NEPA, and no adherence to any environmental laws or regulations.

Case in point: after eight years of a planning exercise called the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment [here], one that involved thousands of people, hundreds of meeting, and tens of thousands of documents, studies, reviews, rehashes, monitoring, and re-monitoring, a Federal judge last week enjoined a fire-preventative thinning created under SNFPA guidance with the judgment that the planning was not “rigorous” enough to satisfy him [here].

That suit was brought by the Wilderness Society, and in effect destroyed eight years of effort by USFS employees to comply with the law.

Yet the Wilderness Society sits on the highest planning body of the USFS, the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, and has ordered, via Gail Kimbell, the USFS to conduct Let It Burn fires (termed Wildland Fire Use fires of WFU’s) with no planning, no hearings, no studies, no NEPA process, and no adherence to any U.S. environmental law, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, or the Clean Water Act.

The Wilderness Society had every opportunity to participate in the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan planning exercise. That was an open process with public hearings and public involvement every step of the way. Indeed, the Wilderness Society was invited and even begged to participate, to become part of the process, to meet with local residents, to resolve differences in an amicable and collaborative fashion.

Instead the Wilderness Society chose to shun that process and instead to sue to kill it, in concert with the Sierra Club, the Center For Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign (who recently changed their name to Sierra Forest Legacy in a marketing/branding move).

The Wilderness Society conspired to sabotage the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan, not only in cahoots with other so-called “environmental” groups, but with the blessing and assistance of USFS Chief Gail Kimbell.

Kimbell meets more often with Wilderness Society lobbyists than with her own staff, and together they plan “extra-legal” fires. The nexus of Let It Burn is the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC), a federal advisory committee that dictates USFS fire management. Since Kimbell became USFS Chief in January of 2007, the WFLC has become more and more brazen in their defiance of federal law.

One of Kimbell’s first acts was to install the Wilderness Society on the WFLC and to pay them to attend the meetings. That was in violation of FACA, the Federal Advisory Committee Act (Public Law 92-463, 5 U.S.C., App). FACA is a little known law that requires public transparency in federal meetings with non-federal participants. FACA was enacted:

… to ensure that advice rendered to the executive branch by the various advisory committees, task forces, boards, and commissions formed over the years by Congress and the president, be both objective and accessible to the public. The Act not only formalized a process for establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating these advisory bodies, but also created the Committee Management Secretariat (MCC), an organization whose task it is to monitor and report executive branch compliance with the Act.

The Wilderness Society and other environmental groups have repeatedly sued the USFS under FACA for meeting with the public in venues such as the Quincy Library Group [here] and the Applegate Partnership [here]. But when complaints were made to the the Committee Management Secretariat about the Wilderness Society’s participation in the WFLC, Kimbell and the other leaders of the WFLC shut down their website, removed their minutes from the public eye, and went into hiding [here].

The WFLC later resurfaced after their lawyers issued a Memorandum of Understanding that declared the WFLC not to be a Federal Advisory Committee and therefore outside the purview of FACA [here]. From the minutes of the Feb. 22, 2007 WFLC meeting:

- Request Secretaries to extend MOU
- Revise MOU language for NGO participation consistent with WFLC goals. WFLC should not become a Federal Advisory Committee.

In an act of utter cynicism and arrogance, the WFLC then incorporated their website into the Healthy Forests and Rangelands site [here], home of the Healthy Forests Initiative. The Wilderness Society along with other environmental groups had lobbied against the Healthy Forests Initiative, and have repeated sued to enjoin nearly every Healthy Forests Act thinning project. Indeed, for the four years that Gail Kimbell was Regional Forester of Region 1 in the Northern Rockies, not one single Healthy Forests project was implemented.

The WFLC paid the Wilderness Society (and the Nature Conservancy) to promulgate a marketing campaign to convince the public that “Blackened, dead, burned forests are beautiful” [here]. The propaganda is supportive of Let It Burn fires (WFU’s). From the minutes of the Feb. 22, 2007 WFLC meeting:

DECISION: Lead agencies will continue to convene teams to complete tasks not only in 2007 but longer term as well. TNC and other NGOs will assist with communication plan for wildland fire use as part of TYIP Goal 3, Task 2.

The Wilderness Society proceeded to create a “multi-media fire package” called “When a Burning Fire Is Nature’s Best Friend” [here]. This was in addition to previous efforts to promote “free roaming” fire [here]. The earlier production is ominous because this year the USFS adopted the Wilderness Society’s recommendations of October, 2006:

Scientists at The Wilderness Society have just released “Managing the Landscape for Fire: A Three-Zone, Landscape-Scale Fire Management Strategy”. In this report, Dr. Greg Aplet, senior forest ecologist, and Bo Wilmer, landscape ecologist, explore how federal agencies can standardize the inclusion of fire-management goals into Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) using a three-zone strategy. All too often current LRMPs are devised with only cursory consideration of the important role of fire in the landscape and how to prioritize fire-related planning.

The fire season of 2007, Gail Kimbell’s first as Chief, was the worst in U.S. history. Nearly 10 million acres burned ( second only to 2006), and more money was spent on fire suppression than ever (the numbers are fuzzy but well over $2 billion was expended). Nearly 3 million of those burned acres were in Region 1, Kimbell’s previous duty station. Many of those Region 1 fires were not fought. They were either WFU fires (a record 400,000 acres) or were de facto WFU fires (so-called “suppression” fires manned only by skeleton crews). Nearly 800,000 acres burned in a continuous strip in central Idaho, decimating forests from north of the Salmon River to points 100 miles south in the Payette River watershed. Over 2,000 private homes burned as USFS fires raged over legal boundaries in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Lake Tahoe, CA. Worst hit was San Diego and adjacent communities where1,600 homes burned in a repeat of the devastating 2003 fires.

In December of last year, after all that devastation, Gail Kimbell issued a statement declaring that it was her personal goal to incinerate 400 million acres of private forestland. She was quoted in her own press release as saying, “We all benefit from keeping wildlands wild,” and indicated she wished to extend wildland fire use (WFU) to an area of private lands twice the size of the entire USFS ownership [here].

The Wilderness Society has been lurking in the background all the while. Their goals are the same as Kimbell’s, or more precisely, she has adopted the Wilderness Society goals (for unknown reasons). Those goals are to incinerate as much of America’s public and private forests as possible, and as soon as possible.

And environmental laws be damned. When the USFS was sued last December for lack of a NEPA process in formulating national forest Fire Plans, Gail Kimbell withdrew those plans [here]. Justice Dept. lawyers working for Kimbell then told the federal court that the lawsuit was moot, because the Fire Plans did not exist anymore. There is no law, Kimbell claimed, that requires the USFS to create fire plans.

In March of this year Kimbell declared 15 National Forests to be “Let It Burn” experiments [here], and ordered those forests to incorporate WFU fires into their Fire Plans, again with no NEPA process, no consideration of threatened and endangered species, and no consideration of any other environmental laws.

In April, in a conference call vote, the WFLC expanded potential WFU status to every wildfire that may occur, and authorized the USFS to declare WFU fires whether or not suppression activities were contemplated or used [here, here]. Again, that authorization was made without any NEPA process, no analysis of environmental effects, no public hearings, and no public input. The WFLC now meets in secret, with no transparency to the public, because they have declared themselves to be unburdened and outside the jurisdiction of FACA.

In a surprise move in March, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest declared they were going to incorporate WFU into their Fire Plan and did request public comments [here]. However, the RR-SNF has been silent ever since. Speculation is that they were told by Kimbell that public involvement is not desired, and that they incorporate WFU or else abandon their Fire Plan altogether.

Last week, responding to a lawsuit brought by the Wilderness Society, the 9th Circuit Court overruled the trial court and enjoined fire-preventative thinnings on the Plumas National Forest. Those thinnings had been planned within the constraints of the Sierra Nevada Plan Amendment, a body of documents that had been fully vetted through the NEPA process. At the same time, the Inyo National Forest (in the Sierra Nevada) declared a WFU fire, the Honeybee WFU Fire [here]. The Honeybee Fire is a USFS action that was undertaken with no NEPA process whatsoever, at the behest of the Wilderness Society and Gail Kimbell via the WFLC.

The law apparently applies only when the Wilderness Society says so. USFS Chief Gail Kimbell has publicly stated her personal goals, and demonstrated her methods in defiance of the law, and they include incinerating America’s forests. Those goals and methods are identical to those of the Wilderness Society.

Neither entity has the slightest regard for the efforts of USFS employees to comply with our federal environmental laws. If employee actions lead to megafires and forest incineration, good, and if they don’t, then lawsuits will enjoin those actions. Nor does the Wilderness Society or Gail Kimbell have the slightest regard for public involvement, public transparency, or open government. They act in concert and attempted secrecy to subvert and sabotage public forests and democracy.

The scale of damage wrought by the Wilderness Society and Gail Kimbell is in the tens of millions of acres and tens of billions of dollars of resource destruction. The Outfit, an agency with a proud, 100-year history and dedicated current and former employees, has been corrupted and crippled by sabotage emanating from the Washington Office, and in particular the WFLC.

Despite the shadowy efforts of the Wilderness Society and Gail Kimbell, there is nothing secret about their conspiracy to destroy our forests and the USFS. Public awareness and understanding of the depth of the machinations may be lacking, however.

That lack needs to be corrected, and soon. Please feel free to distribute this essay to all who might be interested. Many should be interested because the forests and federal agency that the Wilderness Society and Gail Kimbell seek to destroy, and the laws they seek to subvert, belong to you.



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