You Have Reached the
Concept Zero
Op-Ed Page



CONTENTS:
A Short List of Things the Forest Service Should Do
Service or Survival
Making Lemonade
Some Reasons For Not Logging Commercially at LBL



A SHORT LIST OF THINGS THE FOREST SERVICE SHOULD DO

A.K.A as Ways for the USFS to get off on the Right Foot at LBL

1. (Re)commit management of the area to the purposes for which LBL was established - and eminent domain was invoked.

2. Redefine the role of the LBL Association to ensure that both its activities and its purposes are consistent with the traditional mission

3. Restore the environmental education programs to at least their former quality and extend them to diverse age and interest groups

4. Restore key environmental education facilities that have not been maintained in recent years and manage the entire area as an outdoor laboratory

5. Encourage program participants and other visitors to participate directly in meaningful restoration and improvement activities throughout LBL

6. Commit to continual improvement in incorporating enlightenment and sensitivity in managing both the natural and cultural resources of LBL.

7. Phase out the commercialization within LBL; starting with commercial timber harvest and competition with private enterprises in "the surrounding region"

8. Reduce the size and costs of the administrative staff

9. Seek meaningful public input prior to making irrevocable and/or unacceptable policy changes - whether or not required by law

10. Work with the people to identify and develop reliable funding sources that are:

A) Consistent with the purposes for which LBL was established,

B) Adequate for professionally fulfilling the mission, and

C) Most likely to increase political and financial support for the Forest Service in the long run.

11. Ensure that user fees do not tend to disenfranchise those owners of LBL who have minimal ability to pay

12. Avoid skewing the programs and services available to visitors toward those that are favored primarily by the more affluent visitors

13.Commit to ensuring that LBL will become and remain the "premier National Recreation Area" in the United States (as described on the USFS website).



Service or Survival



We are all familiar with state and/or federal agencies which appear to have outlived their usefulness. It would, of course, be helpful if we understood more clearly why this occurs--and how to avoid the societal and environmental problems it causes.

In the case of TVA/LBL, recent events have served to increase our awareness and understanding of the process. In a nutshell, both the parent, TVA, and its bureauracratic offspring, LBL, are currently attempting to abandon their fundamental reasons for existence; i.e. their mission.

In 1933 the preamble of the TVA Act stated clearly that the primary purposes of TVA were to improve flood control and navigation, to help boost the economy of the region, and to convert the Muscle Shoals plant from wartime munitions to a producer of fertilizer. The production of hydropower was seen as an almost incidental role, justified because the incremental cost of adding power production to the dams being created to meet TVA's primary purposes appeared to be cost effective. The broader purpose of TVA was to demonstrate how regional watershed management, dealing with the often conflicting demands upon the river, could be more effective if it were coordinated by a single governmental agency such as TVA. The original concept was to "perfect" the idea and then implement it in numerous other river valleys throughout the United States. The fact that, in the intervening 64 years, Congress has not seen fit to clone the concept should give us pause.

In 1964, LBL was created; i.e. the land was taken by use or threat of eminent domain and TVA was given (what was assumed to be temporary) responsibility for its development. In the context of Section #22 of the TVA Act, LBL was to help fulfill TVA's assignment to "research test and demonstrate" how the following three mission components could be done in a coordinated manner which would be both innovative and exemplary. In order to convince a somewhat skeptical Congress that TVA really meant to ensure that this role was to be fulfilled, A.J. Wagner, the TVA Board Chairman offered repeated assurances that LBL would be unique in that it was to remain free of occupied residences and free of any form of commercialization--to use his words--"either from the past or in the future." At the time, this solemn commitment was quite convenient for TVA since it helped to provide a rationale for forcing the then current residents from their land. Currently, we are being told by both TVA and LBL spokespersons that "times have changed." What they really are saying is that it is time to break the promises of the past and abandon those portions of the mission which are inconvenient.

It is helpful, but not necessary to read Orwell's 1984 to fully appreciate what TVA/LBL is attempting to do. Basically both are attempting not only to abandon the primary reasons for their existence (and concentrate instead upon peripheral, but potentially lucrative, "sidelines"); but they are also trying to make us believe that: a) they are doing this because the public "demanded" that they do so, and/or b) somehow their abandoning the roles they were assigned by congress will magically reduce the national debt. Most of us would find it embarrassing to admit that what we had been doing for generations was so unimportant that no ripples would be caused if we ceased to do it--not so TVA/LBL.

Who, at no cost to the taxpayers, is going to coordinate the conflicting demands for full reservoirs for hydropower and empty reservoirs for flood control? Who is going to coordinate the conflicting demands for fluctuating water levels to control insect vectors and stable water levels to increase nesting success of waterfowl and shorebirds? Who is going to ensure that the Tennessee River and its tributaries do not remain on the list of the "Ten Most Endangered Rivers in the United States"?

Most of us would accept a national policy based on the understanding that the government should concentrate on doing only those things which private individuals and groups cannot do as well. TVA and LBL are trying to convince us that it is not only appropriate, but necessary for them to compete with private entrepreneurs in logging, power production, campground rental, gift shops, restaurants, etc. There is ample evidence that neither TVA nor LBL does these tasks as well as their private counterparts; there is also ample evidence that TVA and LBL are attempting to abandon their original missions--and hoping to accept our applause for doing it. No longer dedicated to performing useful and valuable services for our society; they are concentrating instead on their own survival--at our expense, and at the expense of our environment.

Regardless of our political leanings we should make it clear that we accept--and plan to take action consistent with--the Supreme Court decision which stated:

"It is not the duty of the government to keep the citizen from error;
it is the duty of the citizen to keep the government from error."
Return to top

& Return to the Concept Zero Homepage



Making Lemonade



The current crisis at LBL is reminiscent of the comment of the young American diplomat who was assigned to the Middle East. "I can't understand why the Jews and Arabs don't sit down like Christians and discuss this," he said. The perceptions of what can, and what should, be done at LBL are as diverse as the cultural perspective in the Middle East; but the time has come for us to "reason together."

The use of Section #22 of the 1933 TVA Act, instead of new and specific enabling legislation in 1963, required that the "demonstration" be unique and/or innovative. Thus, the commitment to "no commercialization in the future; therefore none from the past," became the operative policy. Ironically, the recent and rapid move toward intensive commercialization at LBL does not disturb the casual observer. LBL appears to be much like other National Recreation Areas throughout the nation. But that is just the point! The formation of LBL was founded upon the promise that it would become and remain unique. Instead, LBL is rapidly becoming homogenized--looking and acting like all the other National Recreation Areas. This trend is eroding, rather than inspiring, confidence in our government; it results in LBL's competing with, rather than complementing, private and state enterprises in the surrounding region; and it casts LBL as reluctantly complying with environmental legislation--rather than enthusiastically leading. In short, we need a plan for the future LBL which is morally, economically, and ecologically superior to the current policies and actions at Land Between the Lakes.

Sadly, we have watched as LBL commercialized most of its main functions; so it is imperative that we work together to remedy this wrong. That is, we must find a way to make lemonade. Three candidates for this rejuvenation, which we can use to illustrate our proposals are the Nature Station, the Homeplace 1850's and the Youth Station (with its Brandon Springs Annex).

Dr. Joe Baust and his colleagues have developed a "business plan" which incorporates several of the concepts we believe can and should be utilized to recommit LBL to its mission. Generalizing, in order to make these concepts applicable to each of our three "candidates," we suggest the following:

1) The Regional Policy Commission, suggested by Congressman Clement, prepare a comprehensive request for proposals and make it available to all interested and competent agencies (and other groups); so that the best available plan and the best available agency can be selected as the steward of LBL. The criteria for evaluating the proposals should be developed in such a way as to provide useful guidance for the applicants and to serve as the basis for writing new and specific enabling legislation which will, for the first time, provide a statutory mission for LBL--and a means of holding the administrators of LBL directly accountable for fulfilling that mission.

2) The selected agency should follow a similar procedure in issuing requests for proposals to operate the three candidate sites and programs listed above. The criteria for evaluation should be prepared and distributed in advance; and, of course, place emphasis upon fulfilling the relevant components of the mission in an enlightened, responsible, and frugal manner.

The underlying emphasis here is upon seeking ways to do more with less; specifically to do a better job of fulfilling LBL's unique mission, and requiring the consumption and exploitation of fewer resources in doing it. We can readily envision universities seeking a place at the table to further their research and instructional obligations. Similarly, we can envision, non-governmental organizations seeking an opportunity to move towards their environmental and/or recreational objectives. Perhaps most important, as public trust in LBL is gradually regained, we can envision former residents and their families enlisting to enrich the historical interpretation of LBL--perhaps with a little less emphasis on moonshine, and a little more on the heavy price former residents paid in order for LBL, with its unique mission, to be established.

Unabashedly placing our crystal ball in HD mode, we can envision three similar and interrelated consortia, with one focusing on each of the three candidates: the Youth Station for environmental education, the Nature Station for outdoor recreation and education; and the Homeplace 1850's for historical interpretation. Each of these, or all collectively, might be operated as not-for-profit groups relying heavily, but not exclusively upon well qualified and committed volunteers. By moving in this direction LBL could follow the dictates of common sense (and the House Committee on Water Resources and Environment) by scaling down its budget and staff while becoming more nearly self-sufficient.

Implementing and refining a broad plan such as this will require a great deal of time, effort, and cooperation; it will not automatically all fall neatly into place. On the other hand, it offers a moral, economic, and environmental high road for us to follow.

Return to top

& Return to the Concept Zero Homepage



Some Reasons For Not Logging Commercially at LBL



Note: "Commercial" logging differs from cutting for forest or wildlife management in both the species and the quantity of trees selected. In commercial logging the primary criteria is the current dollar value of the timber.

No further fragmentation of our public forests should be allowed since recent studies have confirmed the dependence of so many migratory bird species on large blocks of closed-canopy forest.

The so-called profits from commercial logging on public lands are often illusory. Honest accounting (when available) rarely shows a financial profit; even when true dollar profits do exist, the ecological losses almost invariably outweigh them.

Financially, timber sales from publicly owned forests actually cost American taxpayers millions of dollars per year. They not only lose taxpayer dollars in a thinly veiled subsidy to the forest industries, but they also compete unfairly by depressing regional markets for the sale of private timber. In addition, they tend to discourage recycling efforts by keeping the prices of wood products artificially low.

As private forest lands continue to be converted to other uses, the public and the wildlife are no longer able to find sufficient unexploited forest lands to meet their needs.

As currently perceived and practiced by federal land management agencies, the concept of sustained yield is typically limited to estimates of the board feet of timber grown vs. the board feet of timber harvested. This outdated concept ignores the fact that forests are ecosystems comprised of many related parts. The federal land management agencies should be leading the way in finding and utilizing more comprehensive and realistic methods of assessing true sustainable yield--of soils, wildlife, wildflowers, and clear water.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) places great emphasis upon living up to the spirit, not only the letter, of the law. The public land management agencies should be setting good examples in this regard; not dragging their collective feet to the extent that they attract a rapidly increasing number of successful law suits against them. Recently, it cost the taxpayers approximately $850,000 because LBL failed to follow the minimal requirements of NEPA.

The costs incurred in such law suits and in the sanctions for breaking other environmental laws are typically seen by the agencies as "the cost of doing business"; rather than reasons for insuring that they "start to do things right." The on-going expense of daily water quality checks throughout LBL is not because the EPA routinely requires an excessive number of tests; it is because LBL did not comply with the reasonable and necessary requirements of the law. Thus LBL is the one that caused the increased effort and costs entailed in monitoring water quality.

We need to consider carefully whether we can afford LBL's "profits."

Return to top

& Return to the Concept Zero Homepage