The Algebra of Reconveyance, part two
THE ALGEBRA OF RECONVEYANCE, part two: In his exhaustive essay On Bullshit, Princeton philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt distills its essence: “While liars need to know the truth to better conceal it, bullshitters, interested solely in advancing their own agendas, have no use for the truth…. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are—that is the essence of bullshit.”
We’ll submit that bullshit opposition is opposition similarly indifferent to facts or remedy. Objections addressed, solutions offered merely invite additional ginned up objections.
A parks plan along the South Fork of the Nooksack River had languished since 1968 until a slim majority of Whatcom Council Council pushed past decades of opposition to finally pass the plan, 4-3, earlier this month. For laying aside the theoretical in pursuit of the tangible, council deserves praise.
Council deserves orders of magnitude more praise for their broader, much more far-reaching decision to move ahead on a plan to acquire more than 8,700 steep, forested acres bordering Lake Whatcom and remove them from logging activities. Council approved a letter this week, 5-2, signaling the county’s interest in reconveyance to the state Board of Natural Resources.
Council President Kathy Kershner and Sam Crawford joined the majority in their vote.
Nearly a century ago, lands acquired by the county in the financial upheavals of private timber companies were transferred to the state to be managed for trust beneficiaries—notably, school districts. The public lands were transferred, with a provision in the law dating back to the ’20s that allows a county to acquire these lands back, with the added restriction they must remain in public ownership and access as a park.
The process stalled in the heat of last fall’s political rhetoric when the state Board of Natural Resources requested additional confirmation the county remained interested in the exchange.
The single largest looming objection to such a transfer was the matter of making the trust beneficiaries—notably, school districts—financially whole. This was more a matter of the appearance of fairness, as state law provides that districts that do not receive direct operating revenues from timber harvests receive balancing revenues through other means. The estimate of forgone revenue, important mostly for the calculation of a district’s future bonding capacity, is estimated at less than a quarter of a million dollars over the planning lifetime of the logging proposal for Lake Whatcom. However, even that amount was balanced earlier this year when anonymous benefactors of Whatcom Land Trust created a $500,000 trust to make the school district financially whole.
The Mount Baker School District’s board hailed the gift.
“As a result of that agreement, the district will be fairly compensated,” board members wrote in February. “The district ceases all opposition and now supports the intertrust exchange and reconveyance.”
Resolving this appearance of fairness is a tremendous victory for public policy and collective problem-solving, but in the risible nature of bullshit opposition, additional outrage continued to cook up.
The objection that removing these lands from commercial logging endangers the viability of the industry mashes together two claims, where the weaker claim sneakily borrows support from the stronger, but less relevant, one: Logged or unlogged, Lake Whatcom forest lands will not cure what ails the timber industry.
Only about half of these lands could be logged under a challenged landscape plan. The intertrust exchange clarifies and consolidates the halves, reducing the amount of road building required to reach those lands. Since the reconveyance settles many long-standing disputes between state and local jurisdictions, timber harvests on the available half may begin immediately, a great gift to underemployed loggers.
A second persistent objection posits that increasing the value in these lands as a park increases the value of bordering resource lands, placing additional pressure on their conversion to other uses. It’s a slippery slope argument that predicts doing the right thing today increases the likelihood of doing the wrong thing in the future. Inverting the reasoning—that we should make poor policy decisions today to guarantee good policy outcomes in the future—exposes its fallacy.
Somewhat a mixture of slippery false equivalence is a third objection, that the state is better equipped to manage these lands than county Parks, a bullshit claim for which there is no evidence and a list of counterfactuals.
The reconveyance removes forever thousands of forested acres from the impacts of commercial logging in the watershed. The forest preserve park creates immense public value at minimal, manageable cost, which is why council’s fiscal conservatives like Sam Crawford and Kathy Kershner could consider those merits of reconveyance without confessing any deleterious effects of logging or landslides, or acknowledging its capacity for water quality benefit in the reservoir. Their concerns reside wholly within the matter at hand, and therefore represent responsible policymaking. This, frankly, distinguishes them from perennial bullshitters like Bill Knutzen and Barbara Brenner, for whom facts and evidence are sequestered from their loudly expressed distastes. For Pete Kremen, reconveyance is a triumph for his administration and now a finished set piece he ran for council to help shepherd to completion.
Decades of terrible policy have wounded Lake Whatcom by a thousand cuts. And while the transfer and reconveyance does little to directly reverse that decay, it sets a policy model for the future. It is singly the most forward-thinking policy enacted for watershed protection in 20 years.
blog comments powered by Disqus