Friday, July 18, 2008

On the Operating Plan

In the fall of 1995, the United States Forest Service (USFS) amended their regulations to require a permit for use of National Forests when 74 or more people are involved. This regulation is an administrative regulation, in other words, Congress did not pass this is a law, it's just part of the Forest Service bureaucratic regulations.

Starting in 1996, the Rainbow Gathering has been on a collision course with the regulations. Some years a person has signed a permit, other years no one has. Many attempts have been made to change the regulation to accommodate non-hierarchical assemblies of people without success.

Finally in 2007, the USFS agreed to accept an unsigned operating plan in lieu of a signed permit. So with this very brief introduction, I'll jump into my report of the operating plan discussions on the land in Wyoming.

Due to the confusion about the boy scouts (to be covered in a separate post), we waited for days before the USFS was ready to discuss operating plans with gathering participants. In fact many gatherers contacts LEOs to ask them to pass a message to the USFS that we wanted to work on the operating plan. This went on for a few days before Tom showed up. As dates are hard to keep track of at the gathering, I'm guessing it wasn't until June 25th that we started this process. (Tom had been notified on June 10 that we selected the Big Sandy site).

Tom Florich of the USFS prepared a draft Operating Plan based on copies of operating plans used for Rainbow gatherings in years past. Unfortunately, the words "DRAFT" were not preprinted on the copies Tom passed out. I hand wrote "draft" on the copies that passed through my hands. We met three days with Tom to discuss the draft operating plan. I had requested numerous times that this council take place in Main Meadow or adjacent to INFO in the site, but Tom was insistent that he was short staffed and did not have time to go up there, so the councils were held at Welcome Home. Tom mentioned many times that the resource had a very small budget this year and was understaffed (too bad the same couldn't be said about law enforcement).

Our first day of counciling with the USFS started poorly with lots of shouting and yelling and energy directed towards past problems between the USFS and gathering participants. After an hour or two of this, we settled into working through the operating plan from front to back. Someone would read a paragraph and then gathering participants would discuss issues and concerns. We had 25 to 35 people in the council.

The second day of counciling went better as we jumped directly into our system and picked up where we had left off the day before. Day three, Tom delivered his latest version (unfortunately he neglected to date the copies he was handing out so there are many copies floating around without dates on them) but because that day was supposed to be his day off, he dropped them off and returned the next day. On the second day, I again asked Tom if we could move this council to Main Meadow or adjacent to INFO, but was given the same reasons for not doing so. As time was going on, more and more people were moving into the gathering and the hike back down to Main Meadow was 2.5 miles (the short hilly way) or 4 miles (the flat way) and we were losing participation.

By the third time we met, the council had shrunk to half a dozen people and as far as I was concerned, we never finished discussing the operating plan. Tom however felt like the discussions were finished. We discussed bringing the operating plan to main council. One person promised to block any attempt by main council to "approve" the operating plan. As I had to be in court on July 1, I do not know what if anything happened with main council and the operating plan.

There are a few things in the June 30th (next to last ) version of the operating plan that were left unfinished or that can be clarified so I'll attempt to answer them. Any copy of the operating plan that does not have page numbering in the lower right hand corner of the date of "30 June 2008" printed on the cover is not the last version.

Under Health and Safety, #2 - CALM will identify vehicles.....
There was a lot of discussion over the lack of need to identify vehicles since no road closures were in effect and in fact, the jeep trail through the gathering was open to all travel. I do not know if anyone ever identified any vehicles or not.

#5 - Trash will ... - despite the mention of burning wood and paper trash, I know of at least one person who received a citation for having paper trash in a fire pit.

Under Resource Protection, #1 - the original version of this paragraph made some reference to security being provided for parking areas only and seemed to indicate that LEOs would be responsible for security in other parts of the gathering. We discussed the fact that we provide our own security and the way it got written up was very confusing. My understanding of what the council who met with Tom wanted was gatherers will organize parking and Shanti Sena will provide security for the gathering. Because we never really finished the operating plan discussions the final version has very awkward wording that I don't feel represents what people in council had intended. On another bizarre note, I heard a brother focalizing parking at one of the upper lots was told by the LEOs to cease immediately.

# 10 - size of fire pits - the two giant pits that had been built by Early Bird and Oji prior to the first discussion of the operating plan. When the USFS expressed their horror at the amount of top soil destroyed in the creation of these pits. Gatherers discussed the importance of grandfathering in these two pits, preventing the creation of additional over engineered fire pits and restoring the areas impacted by these pits. At the time, Tom Florich agreed that we could leave this pits in place until after July 4th, but in subsequent days, the USFS tried to get the pits removed early and they became a huge point of conflict. The pit at Early Bird was shrunk a bit and that seemed to make the USFS happy. The district ranger, Tom Peters(son) flipped out when he saw the pit by Oji, and refused to discuss an cleanup strategy to minimize any long term environmental damage. PLEASE PEOPLE - LESS IS MORE - NO MORE HOOVER DAM FIRE PITS!

# 11 - discussions of fire danger were never finished. There was a difference of opinion between gatherers on what should be mentioned here - I wanted something to the effect if the fire danger escalates, the USFS and gathering participants should rediscuss fire safety instead of a blanket if A then B statement. This was another section that I felt never was worked on.

Under Animals, #1 - "Animals must be under control at all times. Verbal controls are not considered "under control" if the animal does not respond to verbal commands" - this was what we worked out, but unfortunately, I heard reports that law enforcement was enforcing leash laws.

On a good note, nudity was allowed everywhere except within view of Road 850 :)

Under Site Rehabilitation, #9 and 10 - the site specific needs and rehab plan were not complete per the operating plan because the USFS failed to show up. I left the morning of July 8 so they could have shown up late, but in our operating plan discussions Tom had said this had to be done no later than July 6 as that was his last date at the gathering. Also in the June 30th version, there was a reference to "rainbow volunteer representatives" and people objected to the word representatives and it was requested that the word be dropped.

Under Communication, #1, I was opposed to even having this section in the operating plan because the only person I know who brings communication gear that would fall under the scope of this section doesn't want his personal equipment to be mentioned in the operating plan. Tom Florich said someone on one of the conference calls earlier in the year had requested this be part of the operating plan. Some gatherers in the councils on the land also said there was nothing in there specifying anything specific. I asked a number of times if this section could be removed, but because gatherers were not united behind this idea, the USFS didn't take it out.

I never saw the final, final version, but have requested an electronic copy from Tom Florich who was our liaison with the USFS on this process. Once I get that I will distribute it widely.

No comments: