For some people, the essence of a Forest Plan is the establishment of “management areas”. But do they work? Does it make sense to equate a Forest Plan to a zoning document?
Under the 1982 planning rule, management area prescriptions are one of the Forest Plan content requirements (along with a summary of the management situation, multiple-use goals and objectives, and monitoring/evaluation requirements.) A management area prescription addresses multiple-uses with “associated standards and guidelines for each management area including proposed and probable management practices such as the planned timber sale program.” (36 CFR 219.11(c) – 1982 version)
The weakness of this approach is that management areas are often viewed as single resource by single resource emphasis areas.
In their book Designing Sustainability Forest Landscapes, Simon Bell and Dean Apostol observe:
“NFMA led to development of complicated zoning maps for each national forest. In essence, the attempt was (and still is) to resolve competing uses by creating overlays and associated standards, very similar to what one finds in local land use planning. The Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, for example, identified over 40 separate zones, including such designations as timber emphasis, developed winter sports, scenic viewsheds, a big-game winter range, and late successional reserves. Each zone has a set of standards that specify whether logging can occur, and if so at what rotation, the size of clearcuts, the allowable density of roads and so forth.
The level of zoning typical on US national forests today demonstrates the limits of what can be accomplished through zoning-based plans. At its worst, it represents an absurd division of the forest to a point where it cannot even be understood, let alone competently managed. The managers are tied in knots, and neither they nor the public who owns these forests can effectively visualize what the forest will look like or be.” p. 25
The requirement to identify management areas was absent in the 2005/2008 planning rule. Rather than “prescriptions”, the intent was to identify “desired conditions” at multiple scales, and “overlays” of specific suitable use maps at broad scales with approximate lines. There are many advantages to this approach – plans are more adaptable, maps are consistent with the unique role and scales of contributions that a particular Forest may serve, and plans don’t seem more prescriptive than they really are. Still, it seems like planning teams couldn’t get away from the concept of management areas. In some cases, some teams used the identification of “special areas” as a replacement for management areas. While it certainly makes intuitive sense that you don’t need zones to cover every inch of a National Forest, it also makes sense to limit the types of special areas to a consistent National set (recommended Wilderness, research natural areas, botanical areas, National Recreation Areas, etc.)
Should management areas still be a component of Forest Plans in a new planning rule? Are Forest Plans really zoning documents, and how can they represent themes rather than specific actions?