More about Operating Plans - some history

Carla wrote:

Chuck wrote:

Let me see what I have here; "An Operating Plan as an alternative to a
permit is an improvement in some respects", emphasis on the word
"some" perhaps "somewhere other than here", "especially in terms of
the signature requirement; "but it is by no means a cure-all.", or
anything close to it. Cures nothing! One step in "their" chosen
direction, it would seem.

I don't know with certainty whether you're just being cynical or
blatantly crude.
Neither. This was spoken from a neutral point of view. I really do believe an Operating Plan without permit is an improvement in some respects but that the regs themselves still need to be changed. The questions remain: Is there any way to influence "them" to change their chosen direction? And if so, how?

One other question: If somehow "they" could be prevailed to listen to reason, what exactly would be a reasonable direction? No way they are going to decide on no regulation whatsoever. While I long for the days in which they kept their regulatory paws off of the gathering and there was no Incident Management Team full of aggressive cops, I don't think it is realistic to expect a return to those days. So it would seem that gatherings and gatherers are put in a position of trying to prevail upon them for a more reasonable approach than the one they are taking now.

Since you raised a question that I think needs answering, I'll do my best to address it. Not that I think my perspective is necessarily the "right" one, and it is certainly not the only one. But a bit more contemplation of past and present might be helpful. So here goes.

Implicit in your apparent condemnation of an Operating Plan is the question of why it is better than the permit. I have far more reasons for my position than questions of liability, which in any case has never been my main focus. This will be a two-part post, This one will be about the history of Operating Plans as they apply to the gathering.

I don't know for certain if there were permits in the earliest days of the gathering, as I was not there and I do not have anything previous to 1976 in my files. I do know that permits were signed from 1976 through 1980. Operating Plans were also worked on.

In the files that I have, in 1976 the permit included some operational stuff. The family drew up an "outline plan" to address safety and resource issues, and presumably this was submitted along with the application. I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure. The permit was signed by three individuals. The outline plan was not.

In the files I have, in 1977 the permit was accompanied by an Operating Plan. The permit was signed by six people. The copy of the Operating Plan, which appears to be drawn up by the FS with some input from gatherers, had a space for signatures on the cover page, but in the copy I have, no signatures are present. So I don't know the details on this either, as I wasn't there.

In the files I have, in 1978 there was a nicely bound booklet entitled "Operations Plan."It included a signage and travel plan (signs and roads), a development plan (camp layout, sanitation, medical plans), and site rehab plan including who would do what. For example, gatherers would be responsible for trash and site rehab, while the FS would be responsible for dust abatement. This was all done in a cooperative manner, apparently without an adversarial approach on either side. I don't know for sure, as I was not there. The Operating Plan was signed by one person, and mentioned that this was contingent on the issuance of a permit. I can't find any copy of the permit, so I don't know how many signatures are on it. I have seen it in the past, and my impression is that there are three signatures on it, but I don't remember for sure. Sorry, neither my memory nor my files are in as good order as they could be.

In the files I have, in 1979 there was a packet very similar to the 1978 booklet, the difference being that the signatures on it are all from FS employees, without any mention of individual gatherers. Because it is fairly detailed, presumably there was substantial input from gatherers, but I don't know for sure. I wasn't there during these conversations, but was at the gathering (my first). I can't find any copy of the permit, but I have seen it. I have no memory of how many signatures were on it.

In the files I have, in 1980 there was an Operating Plan that was a contingency of a permit being granted. There were the same five signatures on both the Operating Plan and the Permit, both of which were signed on July 2. The name of the permittee was "Rainbow Family Tribal Council." The Operating Plan seems identical to the ones that existed in 1979 and 1978, but I don't know for sure, as I have not gone through them with a fine-tooth comb. I was at that gathering, but not involved in any of the conversations about permits.

In 1981 there was no permit applied for. In the files I have, there is one that was issued after the fact, signed by the FS, and mailed to the only P.O. Box extant at that time for gathering communications (Yes, Virginia, there was communication before the Internet!). There was an Operating Plan "agreed to by the Tribal Council, Rainbow Family of Living Light" on June 12, which was signed by three dozen people. It appears to have been developed and written withing council process on the land, without perhaps some FS consult. My name is not on it. (I thought I was there, but I guess I was wrong!)

In the files I have, in 1982 there is no permit applied for or granted. There is, instead, and Operating Plan that was exhaustively worked out between gatherers and the FS "Coordinator"-- a local forester Gene Benedict. It is signed by him and, quite simply, "Rainbow Family Tribal Council" on 6/24. There were no individual names on the document, and the form and manner of signing was also exhaustively discussed in full council. I know I was there, and I remember.

Operating Plans worked out by gatherers on the land have been done in this manner ever since, although in some years the FS have simply "issued" their own version of the Operating Plan, over the objections of gatherers at having this process co-opted--especially because in these instances thay have basically used the form and structure of the Operating Plan developed in 1982, without any real consideration of site-specific needs or cooperative discussion of current issues.

My personal experience with Operating Plans leads me to believe that when they are not co-opted by the FS, are developed within council process, and are indeed living documents--to be adjusted and revised throughout a specific gathering according to the demands of the site--they are very good things.

There is no question in my mind that the USDA/FS could use the Operating Plan system--if imposed by them rather than cooperatively developed in council process--to mess with the gathering process.

In spite of this danger, I think it is well worth going forward with proposals that the USDA/FS accept Operating Plans as an alternative to Permits. My next post will explain why. Hopefully, I will get it done before I go out of town for a bit. I promise I will get to it within the next couple of weeks, however.