Sunday, March 30, 2014

Robert Goodland

I'm sorry to learn -- belatedly; he passed on late last year -- that Robert Goodland has left us behind.

Goodland was the World Bank's environmental conscience, serving as a consultant to the Bank back in the '70s and then as its full-time environmental expert.  He was instrumental in establishing policies and procedures that tipped the Bank toward supporting projects that were environmentally sensible and sensitive to social and cultural costs.  In recent years the Bank seems to be backsliding, and the world is likely to be the worse for its lack of a Goodland as the environment's advocate.

How Can Good Things Possibly Do Any Harm?

In the latest issue of Cultural Survival, Mililani Trask has a good – well, I think it’s good – article called “UNESCO: (Dis)honoring Indigenous Rights” ( Focusing on Hawai’i’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, but generalizing to World Heritage Sites all over the world, Trask points out that such sites tend to be listed, or “inscribed,” with little or no effort at pre-decisional consultation with the indigenous groups that live in them or use them in their traditional cultural, spiritual, and economic pursuits.  Understandably and rightly, I think, she deplores this.

Alert readers may not be surprised that I think the issue Trask raises is essentially the same one I wrote about a couple of days ago with reference to H.R. 1459, the bill to require review of Antiquities Act withdrawals from the public domain under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Fans of World Heritage Listing and Antiquities Act withdrawals alike don’t think such actions need environmental impact assessment because, hell, what impacts could they possibly have?  They’re GOOD!  For the same reason, proponents of listing and withdrawal tend not to feel compelled to talk with those affected by the actions, because after all, the actions are GOOD, so anybody who has qualms about them must be a rotter.

I’m not opposed to World Heritage Listing, or to Antiquities Act withdrawals, but dammit, the fact that an action seems good to us – ANY of us – doesn’t mean it doesn’t have downsides that ought to be considered, thought through, and maybe mitigated somehow.  Nor does it mean that nobody’s innocent ox gets gored by such actions, and a decent sensitivity to the interests of fellow-occupants of the planet ought to require that we talk with those affected, consult them, and look for ways to respect their values. 

I recommend Mililani Trask’s article, and suggest that readers give thought to its broad implications.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Clovis Carpetbaggers:Law, Ethics and Machiavelli -- Guest Post by Larry Lahren

An 11,000 Year Old Burial in Park County, Montana: Law, Ethics and Respect
By Larry A. Lahren, Ph.D

“ It is not their intrinsic value as evidence that makes these bones newsworthy; rather the spin applied in disclosing that evidence.” (Roger Downey, Riddle of the Bones: Politics, Science, Race and the Story of Kennewick Man -2000).
 In May 1968, while removing fill material with a front-end loader on Mel and Helen Anzick’s property near Wilsall, Montana, equipment operator Ben Hargis saw a prehistoric stone tool fall out of the bucket. Along the edge of a prominent outcrop, where Flathead Creek and the Shields River join, Ben found the gravesite of a one to two year old male child, interred with about 115 red-ochre covered tools.
This burial is the most significant Paleoindian site in North America – representing the earliest evidence of religion in the Western Hemisphere and the oldest, most complete, assemblage of grave goods (funerary items) left by the Clovis culture that lived here at least 11,000 years ago.
From 1968 to 2001, I tried to ensure that this burial site received the archaeological, legal and ethical respect it deserved.
Recently, an international research team led by Professor Eske Willersev, Director of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, implied in the media, that they followed, respectful, legal and ethical guidelines during the course of their genetic studies.
But did this happen?
House Bill Number 165, the Montana Repatriation (Reburial) Act states:
“…both common law and legal decisions have consistently recognized that human skeletal remains are not property abandoned when interred. Discoverers, therefore, have no right of ownership, and they cannot confer a right of ownership to another. Neither a private nor public person, other than a descendant of a culturally affiliated group, can legally claim ownership of human skeletal remains or funerary objects.”
More than a year ago, I was advised that genetic studies of the Clovis child were complete. Professor Willersev asked me to give the project my after-the-fact blessing and to be one of 42 co-authors on an article to appear in Nature magazine (February 13, 2014). Another request was to "grease the wheels" and  arrange for Native contact in Montana. I declined on legal and ethical grounds and suggested the researchers follow the legal process and formally contact, the State Archaeologist, the Montana Burial Board and Montana Tribal Leaders. In fact, in the forty-six years since the site was found, no attempt has been made to follow this legally mandated process.
At a pre-publication meeting in Montana, on September 21, 2013, Professor Willersev had a problem. Studies were already complete and he had skirted the State Archaeologist, the Montana Burial Board and the Tribes. So how could he show that he had followed the legal and ethical guidelines to conduct destructive tests on the skeletal remains before publication?  To partially reduce Professor Willersev’s angst, I invited Shane Doyle, Crow tribal member and adjunct professor in Native American studies at Montana State University, along with a teacher and students from Crow Agency to visit the site the next day. This would have been the first time any Native Americans had been to the site, and to me,  and would have been an introductory way of introducing the site into Montana Native American education programs. 
Shane had no knowledge of the genetic studies, or the legal and ethical issues.  Thus, I made it clear to Professor Willersev that Shane was an independent visitor — not a representative of the Tribes, the University or any other entity.
After I explained the burial context, Professor Willersev then stated that the Clovis child shared 80 % of the same genetics (cultural affiliation) with contemporary Native Americans.  When asked what he thought should be done, Shane replied, “Speaking from the heart, I think you should put him back now [repatriation].”  To implement the process, Shane then agreed to be an unofficial liaison with the Montana Tribes. During a whirlwind tour to various Montana reservations, Montana Tribal leaders asked the Crow to pursue repatriation of the child's   remains. The present plan is for Crow Sundance Priest, Larson Medicine Horse, to oversee the ceremony at the site in June, 2014.
But look at the duplicity, spin and misrepresentation of Shane's role which appeared in Rex Dalton’s article in the February 20, 2014, issue of Spiegel Online:
“…Shane Doyle of the Crow Nation gave permission for the DNA analysis of the 12,600 year old bones.” 
For nearly 50 years, various “Clovis Carpetbaggers” have denied the burial associations, claimed various types of “ownership”, tried to buy the artifacts and used the site for institutional and individual opportunism.  I see the same pattern in the current genetic study-which raises the question- do scientific ends justify illegal and unethical means? And, can Native Americans ever trust and respect the people that “study” them and their ancestors- without feeling duped?
 Larry A. Lahren, North American Archaeologist, resides in Livingston, Montana and owns Anthro Research, Inc., an independent archaeology firm created in 1971. He is author of “Homeland: An archaeologist’s view of Yellowstone Country’s past.

Larry A. Lahren Ph.D
North American Archaeologist
Box 1218
Livingston, Mt. 59047
406 222 3168 223 3168

Help! Help! Save the Antiquities Act!

There is much hand wringing in U.s. conservation and preservation circles about H.R. 1459, just passed by the House of Representatives.  To hear organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation tell it, H.R. 1459, if adopted by the Senate and signed by the president (neither being very likely) will ring the death knell for the Antiquities Act of 1906, America’s first “cultural resource” statute.


First off, archaeologists can breathe easy; H.R. 1459 does nothing to the thin protections given antiquities on federal and Indian lands by the Antiquities Act.  What it does affect is the president’s authority to designate national monuments.

And what does it do to that authority? 

1.       It says the president can’t designate more than one monument per state per presidential term.
2.       It says that a monument can’t include private property without the owner’s consent.
3.       It requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) if the designation “affects” more than 5,000 acres, but declares such a designation automatically categorically excluded from review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) if it “affects” 5,000 acres or less; and
4.       It requires that a feasibility study be done AFTER the designation, reporting on its costs.
Rather less than a gut-shot to the Antiquities Act, I’d say.

Now, I don’t think H.R. 1459 is a particularly good bill.  Item 1 above strikes me as arbitrary and capricious.  Item 2 is irrelevant, since the Antiquities Act authorizes withdrawals only of public land (with provision for accepting voluntarily given private rights).  But item 4 seems like a prudent enough measure, and the first part of item 3 strikes me as simple good government.

Environmentalists are thundering about how absurd it is to require an EIS on a monument designation; after all, monument designation is a GOOD THING that can’t possibly have environmental impacts.

Right, just like all those good green energy projects now screwing up the western deserts can’t have any impacts because they're GOOD for the environment.  And tell the local residents whose lifeways and economies have been substantially altered by the establishment of parks and monuments that such things have no impacts.  Are they “good” on balance?  Maybe so, but they aren’t necessarily devoid of adversities, and those adversities ought to be considered before a designation decision is made.  That’s the fundamental rationale underlying NEPA.

The second part of item 3 above – the automatic categorical exclusion for designations of 5,000 acres or less – is foolish but typical of a Congress that doesn’t really understand NEPA.   Congress shouldn’t go around deciding what’s categorically excluded; that (ostensibly substantive) decision should be made on the merits, by agencies with the expertise to do so.  But the idea of considering the environmental impacts of a federal government action – including (maybe especially) one that looks like a slam-dunk good thing – is simply good sense and prudent government.

There may be occasions when the president ought to be able to designate something without thinking about its impacts first – maybe where some utterly dreadful land use is pending that can’t be stopped without such a designation.  Seemingly to address such occasions, according to “”

Before final passage, the House passed a manager's amendment clarifying that monument  designations of 5,000 acres or less could still be made by the President temporarily to protect sensitive land, after which a formal NEPA process would have to be followed within three years. This passed in a voice vote.

This amendment seems a bit pointless, since 5,000-acre or smaller designations had already been categorically excluded, but oh well….

The notion that the president shouldn’t have to consider the environmental impacts of a proposed action seems like a strange one for conservationists and preservationists to espouse, but this sort of simpleminded inability to achieve balance or think through logical inconsistencies seems typical of our times.  Our leaders can’t sit down and work things out – whether the things are health care, social security, doing something about international crises, or even things as minor as implementing the Antiquities Act.  Instead the Right spends its time attacking shadows and the Left spends its time viewing with alarm.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Giving Up on Washington

Robert Kaiser, long-time reporter, columnist, editor and most recently managing editor of the Washington Post, has a brilliant, elegant opinion piece in today’s (Sunday, March 2) paper --  It’s his swan song; he retired last month and moved to New York.  It’s entitled “How Republicans Lost Their Mind, Democrats Lost Their Soul, and Washington Lost Its Appeal.”  It sums up a great deal of what’s gone wrong in what passes for our government over the last half-century.

Kaiser is just a year younger than I am, and though he came to DC a decade or so before I did and has obviously been much more a part of its life than I could even imagine being, much of what he says (everything, actually, except his fondness for our baseball team the Nats) goes for me too.  I came to DC in 1975, and returned in 1979, with high hopes of accomplishing things.  At the time, this was a place where things COULD be accomplished.  For all the reasons Kaiser articulates, it no longer seems that way.

I’ve recently been corresponding with a number of people about what might be done, as its fiftieth anniversary approaches, to reform the National Historic Preservation Act, and with a somewhat smaller group about improving the National Environmental Policy Act.  As readers of this blog and my recent books know, I think it’s painfully obvious that the implementation of both laws has become thoroughly lost in the weeds of bureaucratic process and been corrupted by self-interest.  The first set of discussions has recently resulted in the sad conclusion that there’s nothing to do but write or edit another book to be ignored; the second set hasn’t gotten beyond sharing horror stories and wishing for solutions that remain beyond realistic conception. 

There was a time – as recently as the 1990s – when there were people in Congress who were interested enough in good government to give the time of day to ideas for reform and improvement, and there were people in government agencies who were interested in something beyond survival to retirement.  There were people in the non-governmental sector who could perceive value in doing things beyond  desperately defending the status quo.  There were people willing to think, work, and take risks.  As far as I can see, those times are gone.

Kaiser predicts that things will change.  “I think,” he says, “America is in for discontinuity.  Something is going to happen to change this awful game we are playing.”  I hope he’s right, and I hope the discontinuity isn’t too damaging to the nation and the world.   But I see no way to hasten its coming or nudge it in any particular direction.  And unlike Kaiser, I can’t even gin up any enthusiasm for the Nats.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

What I Sent the State Department about the Keystone Pipeline

It's the last week for public comment on whether it's in the national interest to approve or deny the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Though I have no illusions whatever about the efficacy of such public comments, I feel an obligation to heave them into the churning blades of the government windmill, so below is what I just filed with the State Department via

March 7 is the deadline for comments; you might want to make your views known.

Here's what I sent:

My views of the proposed Keystone Pipeline project are based on 50 years' experience in and out of government working with federal land use planning and environmental impact assessment (EIA) -- sometimes on behalf of project proponents, sometimes on behalf of opponents, often working for and with ostensibly objective federal and state regulators.  I have learned to my great regret that as our EIA system is organized, the only thing one can be confident of is that any assessment is likely to be biased in favor of whatever project is under consideration.  The notion of an objective assessment of environmental impacts to inform decision-making has long since become archaic.  As far as I can tell, the assessment of the Keystone Pipeline's impacts is consistent with what has become our standard model -- an apologia for the project masquerading as an objective analysis.

Clearly the pipeline will have impacts on the environment, as does any such large project, both in its construction and in its operation.  Clearly too, it will facilitate the continued exploitation of Canada's tar sands, with all its immediate and long-term impacts.  By doing so it will contribute to our continuing dependence on fossil fuels with all the impacts on air, water, climate and other aspects of the environment that this dependence entails.

The key question seems to be whether Canada will continue to exploit the tar sands if the U.S. does not permit the pipeline.  If one assumes that it will, then it may be reasonable to argue that the pipeline is the lesser of two evils in that it may (a big MAY) be less damaging to the immediate environment of the U.S. than trucking the stuff or shipping it by rail.  But more and more forces are gathering in Canada and elsewhere to oppose the taking of the tar sands, with all the close-in and world-wide impacts that taking has.  Notable among the opposition are Canada's First Nations, with the support of their sister tribes south of the border, and those Nations control a good deal of the land across which an alternative route to the ocean would cross.  The tide MAY be turning -- or, of course, it may not.  The question is, which side is the United States going to be on?  Which side of history has our bet?

In the interests of its own citizens and everyone on earth who breathes and enjoys living here, I believe the U.S. should support the First Nations and their supporters in Canada and say no to the Keystone Pipeline.  Is this in our national interest?  Since as a nation we're part of the world, since we pontificate a great deal about being responsible world citizens and about taking care of the global environment, since ALL nations would be well advised to do what they can to protect that environment and reduce our contribution to climate change, I think the answer is obvious.  Yes, it's in the national interests of the U.S. to deny the permit for the Keystone Pipeline.

Thomas F. King