Sunday, October 5, 2008

Finding a site and dealing with the USFS

In September, various people involved in Rainbow gatherings held a meeting with the United States Forest Service at a USFS office in New Mexico in an attempt to foster a spirit of co-operation for the 2009 gathering. I've included the report from that meeting with all names "x"d out.

The notes reference another meeting that was tentative scheduled for October 1. I haven't heard yet if that happened or not. I am posting these notes in an attempt to make sure we all remember how much work goes into a gathering and to help all of us learn about the process. To my family who participated thank you very much for doing this.

******BEGIN FORWARDED NOTES************

Here is my report on what occurred at the meeting Wednesday, September 3rd at the Regional Forester’s office in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Attending were XXX, XXX, XXX, XXX and XXX as gathering participants. Regional Forester XXX, Special Agent XXX, Carson N.F. Forest Supervisor XXX and her resource/admin associate XXX, Gila NF Forest Supervisor XXX and his resource/admin associate XXX, and Santa Fe NF Deputy Forest Supervisor XXX and her resource/admin associate XXX as representatives of the FS.

The people from the Gila, the Santa Fe and the Carson appeared by videoconference. So far as we know it was not taped or recorded.

First I want to summarize what was discussed in the order it was discussed; and then I’ll editorialize a bit at the end.

We got started about 2:10 pm with XXX leading introductions and everyone making agreeable statements about wanting this year’s Gathering to go smoothly, be harmonious with the land, have a cooperative process to select a site everyone likes, and have low incidence of any kind of problems.

XXX led off with a discussion of timelines for meeting with district resource people who may have suggestions for sites, scouting sites we find, scouting sites they find, finding sites that are agreeable to everyone and don’t have problems like archaeological or protected species or other identifiable issues.

XXX agreed with XXX’s analysis about working together early – beginning now – and continuing thru the process of finding alternative sites that everyone finds acceptable.

Then XXX spoke about needing ‘some sort of permit.’ He described the FS’s need to be accountable to the public. He explained that the permit process was the method that the regs provided for that. And users had to be held accountable also. The permit was the process for that to happen too. He said this was ‘critical’ and they were going to enforce all regulations.

I replied to XXX saying there needed to be much more talk about that. But I wanted to lead off on a positive note so I spoke with the folks from the three forests first.

My points were a) There were huge problems with the FS recommending poor-choice sites. I said I would leave them all copies of two scouting reports (all names deleted) describing going to look at FS recommended sites: industrial area, historically protected site, no water, no firewood, no parking, dangerous roads, etc. I explained how this lead to scouts spending huge time looking at lost causes and left the impression on others that the FS wanted to send us into impossible spots. And if we don’t look at all the sites they propose then we get accused of not being cooperative. So, they need to vet their own districts’ suggestions. b) Over the decades we have noted that sites come in clusters as arranged by nature. That is: there is likely to be several sites near each other as part of the same basin or river branch system, or valleys along a range, etc. c) If we can find several alternatives near each other that we like and they like, then come spring council the pueblo, the people can look these over and make its consensus. That’s ideal because it saves everyone effort and stress.

Then addressing XXX, I said I believed that the past two years we had used an Operating Plan as an ‘alternative manner’ to satisfy the conditions of the permit system. I said the Operating Plan went into much more detail than their permit system and as a result from a resource stand point this had worked well each year.

He replied that accountability was the issue. That someone needed to stand up and be accountable for what impacts there were – or might be – and the permit was their process for obtaining that.

I explained that the greatest problem with a permit was that it required us to organize ourselves into a structure. To the forest officers I noted that while we had plenty of organizational abilities (such as the process to feed thousands of people and provide all kinds of services) we had zero organizational structure and that part of the expressive nature of the gatherings was making an example that humans could live together without a hierarchy. To XXX I said that while we here can give you our assurance that we will work with you on cooperative selection of a site, we cannot give you any assurance that anyone will cooperate with the permit’s signature/agent/representative requirement.

He said that issuance of a permit was ‘crucial.’

I said that brought us back toward the places we were over a decade ago. But I didn’t have a problem with the FS issuing a permit – if the mutually agreed to processes in the Operating Plan were met, then the FS could sign off on, and issue a permit –unilaterally. That was what we had been suggesting in meetings since 1983. That was the process used by user groups on public spaces all over the country. It was only the FS that had this quirky requirement that we designate an agent.

XXX indicated that there had been problems with accountability in that process and how did we assure that the conditions in the Operating Plan would be carried out?

I described what we had planned for that process for last year and stated that for whatever reasons the FS and the Rainbows hadn’t met as planned to go over things enough. The planned process was – and should be – every morning the FS resource and Leo people meet with Rainbows at the front gate and discuss what is happening and what problems there are. Then that group hikes on in toward information (or cooperations lodge) and meets there with people inside the Gathering. Everybody works to resolve whatever difficulties there are that day. I noted that this had worked very well over many years and we ought to be doing this exact thing next year.

The FS supervisors agreed and I suggested that since the question about the permit and the signature were clearly a political football, that for the time being we let that football rest where it had rolled to on the playing field and go on with discussing whatever other topics we had.

XXX steered the direction around the table.

XXX said he would pass – for now – on the topic of the permit but he gave a vivid description of how scouts and family look at sites and how there is an undefinable spiritual calling that the land gives us that says, This Is The Place To Gather On, that speaks to people in terms that are not measured by criteria on paper but touches people in their hearts. XXX told several examples of people finding sites and what had to be gone thru to find them. He explained that so far, every year had been different.

XXX asked about the possibility of finding sites that were jointly FS and BLM.

XXX said that there had nothing against sites that spanned agencies. We have looked at BLM and State land sites but it was largely a matter of water. The FS had the lands with the water sources.

XXX spoke at length with several examples of Leo harassment of Gathering participants. He talked about how the harassment on the road into the Gatherings was so completely extreme. He gave descriptive eyewitness reports. He spoke about the attitudes and aggressive conduct of the officers and how this was by far the single biggest problem the Gatherings had. And that this was the root of so many other problems the FS has had with the Gatherings. XXX asked all the FS present to put themselves in the shoes of someone ordered from their car, pointed at with multiple weapons, watching their vehicle rummaged thru without any cause except maybe not using a turn signal! How would you feel toward the Forest Service after that? And when people do get inside they find that so many of their brothers and sisters have been put through the same thing! And for no crime of any account.

XXX asked XXX, the Leo present, how he intended to deal with this harassment issue this year.

XXX was brief. He indicated that XXX was going to set the policy and that XXX was his ‘mouth’ about these things. XXX responded that they would provide ‘adequate law enforcement’ and he wanted to avoid problems and avoid the controversy that came with the problems.

XXX talked about the law enforcement problem at length. He explained how people come into the Gathering to set up and do the work necessary to make it all happen and just about all of them are pulled over – generally except the nicely dressed older-looking folks in rental cars – and searched on the flimsiest premises – which is exactly what he witnessed this past year. Then a couple of days later the nice resource people from the district come in and they can’t figure out why no one from the Gathering wants to talk to them. XXX explained that this was exactly why the Operating Plan ran into communications problems this year. That it was just about entirely the FS Leo’s fault for setting the stage for endless problems with cooperation by bullying people with insane roadblocks on the way into a public peaceful event.

He proposed that if the FS wants to meet people coming in, that they do so with a smile and a welcome, hand them an FS map or other friendly welcoming information and greet people with decency. He urged XXX and all the FS supervisors to make sure that was what happened on their watch.

XXX also suggested that there were other ways that the ‘permit issue’ could get resolved such as what I had suggested, or some other alternative method of finding compliance with the regs.

XXX agreed that was possible – without commitment to any solution - and said we should come back to that topic and revisit it later.

XXX spoke about the idea of ‘pre-approved’ sites explaining that may times finding somewhere or agreeing on somewhere only actually happened at the last moment, so there was a difference between pre-approval and mutual approval – both of which meant that the site was good for use for a Gathering. The FS indicated they understood this.

XXX spoke about ‘mutual expectations and responsibilities’ that we and they both had these in regard to both the land and the public.

XXX spoke briefly in response to a question about young people’s participation. He indicated that as a young person he was very interested in all this and would have more to say as the years go by.

I spoke about how many Gathering participants have urged the FS to protect sites that have good potential for large and ‘extra-large’ group expressive uses. It was much harder to locate usable sites today than it was twenty or thirty-five years ago. This is because many sites have been logged or industrialized, or privatized; and because many sites have been (often by the co-ordinated actions of Rainbows and FS personnel) protected by being included in wilderness areas, or scenic river areas, or have had protected species habitat identified. I suggested that the FS should begin a system-wide effort to identify and protect sites useful for public assembly.

Carson supervisor XXX talked about the need to notify and work with local area people better than we did in ’95 when the Rainbows came to Tres Piedras. She was referring to the Northern Spanish families who have been on the land here 400 plus years. There was conflict – at least in the press – with them in ’95 and we should communicate in order to avoid that if we were going to be in the Carson again. She said problems of that sort are “bigger than the Forest Service’ can solve.

XXXX, who was District Ranger in ’95 and gave us high marks for the cleanup back then – and who testified very favorably to us during the trial last year of the arrestees from the 2007 regional – spoke to the other Forest Supervisors and their associates explaining that this was no three week affair. This was going to be an all-consuming series of tasks that would take far more time and staff attention than they could possibly guess.

I talked briefly about the Fourth of July Silent Circle Meditation for Peace and how the whole of the Gathering centers around that. I noted that the meditation had not been interrupted this past year by armed patrols or planes overhead and that this was a good thing that should be continued this year.

There was a general discussion about site criteria.

XXX talked about road closures and making sure horse patrols didn’t poop and pee in the kitchens and in the streams we are trying so hard to protect. There was agreement about that, and the non-use of horses. XXX spoke also about the problems of ATV’s riding thru the crowds carrying officers across meadows when there could be way less environmental damage if officers were on foot. There was not agreement about this.

There was a discussion about how to keep in touch. It was suggested that we choose an email or web address where the FS can post its proposed sites. I said I would bring this discussion to ‘others’ and get back to the FS.

There was discussion about some of the scouting taking place before snowfall with the caveat that often in New Mexico springs are running in the fall (because of what are called the afternoon Monsoon rains) which are not running during the spring and early summer.

There was discussion about when to meet again. And the tentative time (and place (clearly subject to change) was set for Wednesday October 1st at the Santa Fe NF Supervisors’ office in Santa Fe, 1 to 3 pm.

At 4:10 pm the meeting was over.

[My afterthoughts:

First, I thought the meeting was supposed to be much more about maps and places and ideas about sites. We were all knocked off course by the Regional Forester’s assertion that the permit signing was going to be an issue again.

I think this is because of dis-satisfaction with the legalization of the event by the Leo forces inside the FS, but also supported by the FS resource people who felt that the Operating Plan processes weren’t working for them in the way they wanted last year.

Given that, I think the discussion hit the nail on the head several times, as the above report indicates, with real thoughtful explanation of how things went and how they are for us.

The resource-based, ‘Let’s work together to find workable sites’ focus was entirely supportive, with no conflicts.

I don’t think XXX and his team – who voice all the kind hopes toward making things go smoothly – realize that the forces that are pushing for the permit signature are doing this partly with the hope of pushing the Gathering once again into the zone of illegality and that if they allow this, They will be finessed right out of any control whatsoever. I don’t think they understand that in the case of an illegal event the Regional Forester, the Forest Supervisor and all their administrative people and all their water, land and other resource people will be pushed right off the map: that they will not be allowed to talk with us; they will not be allowed to meet with us; they will not be allowed to work with us; the NIMT (National Incident Command Team) will be in charge and they will not so much as be able to enter the ‘illegal’ area without the Special Agent’s armed escorts, etc., etc.

So I’m hoping (remember in ’07 I got the “Delusional Faith and Everlasting Hope in the F.S.” award) that XXX and his staff (who seem extremely friendly and un-afraid of the event) will work with us to figure out a way to cooperate across the board, bridge the gap of legality with some method that supports their public obligations and honors our spiritual individualism.

In sum, I feel it was a very realistic meeting with no nicey, nicey nonsense. We got right to the disagreements we have and let those rest while we went ahead with plans for smooth operations in the field.

I am going to attach the two reports about site scouting (’05 and ’07) that I left for them. These are text-highlighted exactly as I handed them out.

Next time somebody else can take notes.

A question for anyone who has actually read this far is: should I suggest they post info to scoutingreports@yahoo or somewhereelse@website or where???

See you all in New Mexico for the 38th Annual Rainbow Peace and Healing Gathering….]


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