Critics of the #GreenNewDeal rail against socialism. We’ve seen this before. In the 1930s, nationalizing forests was labeled ‘socialist.’ — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

National forests and grasslands

From The High Country News (Adam M. Sowards):

Reckoning with History is an ongoing series that seeks to understand the legacies of the past and to put the West’s present moment in perspective.

The Green New Deal and its proponents aim to tackle the intertwined issues of social and environmental justice in our age of anthropogenic climate change. To accomplish this, they believe they must deploy the federal government, since it is the only institution large enough to coordinate and invest in the necessary policies. But the idea of expanding the role of government has attracted critics, who rail against socialism. To historians, this sounds familiar.

This is not the first time socialism, new deals and the environment have intersected. During the catastrophe of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal government similarly attempted to ameliorate social and environmental harms by investing in people and places through the New Deal. Then, as now, critics dismissed it as socialism.

The “socialist” sobriquet stokes ideological fires but douses historical understanding. One prominent example — Bob Marshall’s argument for nationalizing forests during the 1930s — reveals how socialist solutions emerge from specific contexts and problems, not ideological bunkers. In Marshall’s case, the dire state of private timberlands in the early 20th century prompted his call for reform. When massive problems develop, cross jurisdictional lines and are associated with market failures, big government responses can seem like the only possible solution.

BY THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY, hundreds of years of unregulated cutting had ravaged the nation’s forests, and Americans faced a crisis that demanded intervention. “Rocks and mountains may be ageless, but men and society are emphatically of the present, and they cannot wait for the slow process of nature to retrieve the catastrophe caused by their unthinking destructiveness,” wrote Marshall, a forester for federal agencies throughout his career, a co-founder of The Wilderness Society and the person for whom Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area is named.

A massive evaluation of American forestry conducted by the Forest Service in 1932 both shaped and reflected Marshall’s views. Appearing the next year, A National Plan for American Forestry, known as the Copeland Report, showed that private forests were failing. (The majority of the nation’s timber came from privately held forests, just as it does today.) They burned more often, were not harvested to provide a “continual crop of timber,” failed to protect watersheds and offered few recreational opportunities compared to public forests. They caused social problems, too, with lumber workers doing dangerous, transient jobs that resulted in mangled bodies and left hollowed-out towns behind. As Marshall saw it, “The private owner is thus responsible for almost every serious forest problem.”

So, Marshall argued that American timberlands should be publicly owned. In 1933, four years into the Depression and during the first year of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, Marshall published The People’s Forests, his own radical extension of the Copeland Report, which advocated for public ownership of practically all commercial forests in America. He was writing amid an economic catastrophe mirrored in the nation’s wild and rural landscapes, where bankrupted farmers, out-of-work loggers and drought-driven refugees were common, not unlike today.

Throughout The People’s Forests, Marshall showed how private ownership, even when tempered by public regulation, fell short; only full public ownership could keep forests and communities healthy. He united a biological and social vision for forestry, one where human happiness and decent livelihoods might sprout from robust forests. In articulating that vision, he made his socialist case plain: “The fundamental advantage of public ownership of forests over private ownership is that in the former social welfare is substituted for private gain as the major objective of management.” Much the way today’s Green New Deal seeks to redress both economic and environmental impoverishment, Marshall sought to replace private profit with a broader public spiritedness that aimed for long-term stability, ending cut-and-run practices and ultimately strengthening communities.

Marshall’s call for reforms reflected an accelerating trend of expanding public lands in the 1930s, when the federal government acquired millions of acres for national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges. Newly passed laws, like the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act (1934) and the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (1937), helped the government fund refuges, acquire property for conservation and bail out private owners who lived on wrecked lands. Starting around the same time and lasting until the 1950s, Forest Service administrators advocated for public regulation of logging on private land, principally citing concerns about declining timber production and the threat of fire on poorly managed parcels. Though ultimately unsuccessful, those efforts illustrated a push to establish stability amid unsettling crisis, a goal Marshall shared.

When capitalism stumbles badly, producing degraded lands and gaping inequalities, socialistic solutions rise in popularity, because their incentives are not tied to profits. Marshall’s closing line argues for that perspective: “The time has come when we must discard the unsocial view that our woods are the lumbermen’s and substitute the broader ideal that every acre of woodland in the country is rightly a part of the people’s forests.” Shouting “socialist” as an epithet is a tired strategy, a failure to reckon with specific contexts and problems, whether it’s damaged timberlands in the 1930s or rising sea levels today. The People’s Forests and the Green New Deal highlight the ways social and environmental harms are woven together, a reminder that real solutions require a mutual untangling, and that — despite American history and politics’ suspicion of true socialism — government necessarily holds many of the threads.

Adam M. Sowards is an environmental historian, professor and writer. He lives in Pullman, Washington. Email High Country News at

@USBR to release 2019 Annual Operating Plan for Rio Grande

The drying riverbed of the Middle Rio Grande near the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge on April 4, 2018. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

The Bureau of Reclamation invites the public to a presentation explaining plans for Rio Grande water operations in 2019. Snowpack is close to average in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico and a good spring runoff on the Rio Grande is expected.

The presentation will cover the process for determining the plan for water operations; a review of 2018 water predictions, as compared to actual storage and releases; and explanation of the 2019 water forecast and potential for storage and releases.

What: Release of Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande

When and Where:

  • Middle Rio Grande AOP: Thursday, April 18, 2019, at 1:30 p.m.
    Bureau of Reclamation, 555 Broadway NE, Suite 100, Albuquerque, NM 87102. Webex available for the Albuquerque meeting, e-mail Mary Carlson at to participate.
  • Rio Grande AOP: Thursday, April 25, 2019, at 1:30 p.m.
    El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, 13247 Alameda Ave, Clint, TX 79836.
  • Why: To learn more about the process used for determining this year’s operating plan, water forecast, water storage and potential for water storage and release.

    How: Please contact Ms. Carlson at 505-462-3576 with any questions. If you are interested in the presentation and unable to attend either meeting, following the meeting it will be posted at

    Feel free to e-mail Ms. Carlson at for more information.

    #Drought/#Snowpack/#Runoff news: Gunnison County is now out of drought

    Colorado precipitation as a percent of normal March 2019 via the High Plains Regional Climate Center.

    From The Crested Butte News (Cayla Vidmar):

    Miracle March, local reservoirs expected to be near full this summer

    The heavy March storm cycles helped push the area out of a long-standing drought.

    …Frank Kugel, general manager for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), stated Tuesday that Gunnison County is officially no longer in a drought, according to the Colorado drought monitor.

    “The March storms were definitely very significant and in certain areas, in the first eight days of March we had a full month’s worth of precipitation,” said Kugel. “It was a great storm system for us, and has been very encouraging.”

    The UGRWCD averages the five SNOTEL (Snowpack Telemetry) sites, which measures snowpack across the Upper Gunnison Basin. Kugel says, “We’re currently showing 150 percent of normal [snowpack] for this time of year.”

    With the extended drought, some were concerned about the prospect of Blue Mesa refilling, even after a good snow year. But Kugel says they’re expecting the reservoir to fill to approximately seven-eighths of capacity, which, he says “is great considering it’s currently at 30 percent capacity.”

    Kugel says Taylor Reservoir is expected to fill this year…

    …being out of the drought is great news to go into the off-season. Look for a spectacular wildflower season this summer.

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1200 (Reclaimed Domestic Wastewater Point Of Compliance)

    Graywater system schematic.

    Click here to go to the Colorado Legislature website to read the bill:

    Concerning the point of compliance related to the treatment process involved in treating reclaimed domestic wastewater for indoor nonpotable uses within a building where the general public can access plumbing fixtures that are used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater.

    SESSION: 2019 Regular Session
    SUBJECTS: Natural Resources & Environment Water

    In 2018, the general assembly authorized the use of reclaimed domestic wastewater for irrigation of food crops and industrial hemp and for toilet flushing if, at the point of compliance in the water treatment process, the reclaimed domestic wastewater met certain water quality standards.

    The bill authorizes the water quality control commission (commission) to adopt rules requiring a point of compliance for disinfection residual related to the treatment process for reclaimed domestic wastewater used for toilet flushing within a building where the general public can access the plumbing fixtures used to deliver the reclaimed domestic wastewater. If the commission adopts the rules, the rules must establish a point of compliance for disinfection residual at a single location between where reclaimed domestic wastewater is delivered to the occupied premises and before the water is distributed for use in the occupied premises.