K.I.S.S. Maps

Maps are planning’s most ubiquitous and useful tool. Maps put place in the center of the planning conversation. It’s no surprise that all of the place-based collaborative processes use maps as their exclusive planning tool. No linear programming optimizing models; no ecological forecasting models; in fact, no complex models at all are used in collaborative, place-based planning (in a future post I will discuss why complex models create more trouble than they are worth).

In the days before GIS, maps and transparent overlays were used to avoid placing clearcuts next to campgrounds. Conventional NFMA plans use maps to zone land, showing where uses are permitted or prohibited.

The proposed K.I.S.S. planning rule eliminates this discretionary zoning function from NFMA plans. Without zoning, what information would K.I.S.S. maps illustrate?

A map of the 3-year vegetation management and timber harvest program would be useful. This map would show the metes and bounds of lands slated for vegetation treatments. Using Google Earth as a base, the vegetation treatment map would show where the land to be treated is located in relation to towns, homes, or natural resource features and what the current vegetation looks like from a bird’s eye view. During the forest planning process, Google Earth could be used interactively with the public allowing anyone to build a kml file to recommend treatment sites to the planning team or illustrate why a proposed treatment is unwise.

Google Earth maps can display inventory information used in the planning process, such as the location of endangered species critical habitat. Planners and the public can use Google Earth to overlay vegetation management maps onto resource inventory maps to see the intersection of vegetation actions with the places and things they care about.

So what happens to zoning? NFMA does not require that forest plans zone national forests by use or prescription. Of course, where zones have been imposed by law, e.g., wilderness, the Forest Service must conform its management to the zone’s requirements. But there is no compelling reason for the Forest Service to zone uses in the NFMA planning process. People want to know what the Forest Service will do and where, on-the-ground, in the immediate future. Speculative zoning does not serve that purpose.

6 Comments

  1. An Excellent resource to help understand
    state of the art GIS tools, available for
    Forest Planning, is GeoWorld Magazine (Digital
    issues, of course!) Geoplace.com is the home site.

  2. Andy, the fact is that people like general categories and they serve a purpose. For example, one of my colleagues said that “oil and gas leasing is the most important environmental decision a public land manager can make.” By having areas identified already for what is allowed, it makes overall management less random. I agree with you strongly that it may be difficult or impossible to adequately analyze environmental effects for all the things you “might could” do, and environmental analysis is best done at the transportation or oil and gas leasing decision stage (as per the 05 Rule), but people do seem to like to have a general idea of the kind of management envisioned.

    In my experience, that is what the people who use the forest care the most about; desired conditions and objectives, to some extent, are merely words on paper. Standards are about makin’ the zones real.

  3. Zoning is used to prevent nuisances between different property owners. In the early 1900s, homeowners asked city governments to zone residential areas to prevent factories from being built next to their homes. Other techniques that rely on voluntary agreements between property owners, e.g., covenants, were pioneered concurrently. Both techniques are still used today.

    The point is that zoning is used to solve problems that arise from different owners pursuing incompatible uses of their neighboring properties. But that’s not the basis for national forest zoning. National forests are owned and managed by one entity — the Forest Service. There is no a priori reason that the Forest Service has to zone land to avoid nuisances. If the Forest Service is worried that a clearcut poses a nuisance to campground recreationists, the Forest Service can simply not clearcut next to the campground. The Forest Service does not need a zone to control its own nuisance-creating behavior.

    So why have forest plans, since at least the 1960s (they were then called “Multiple-Use Plans”), zoned? The parsimonious answer is to calculate the allowable timber sale quantity, and, in particular, to assure that the timber sales level did not rise too high. The zones were a push-back by the Forest Service against political/economic interests who wanted more national forest logging.

    The first forest plans to zone land had basically two zones — land available for logging and land not available for logging (often called “backcountry” or “primitive areas”). These no-logging zones were usually steep, remote, or unproductive. Nonetheless, logging proponents urged that these lands be included in the “timber base,” even if everyone knew they would never be logged, to increase the rate of logging on the zoned-for-logging land. Old-time foresters know this as one variant of the “allowable cut effect.”

    The forest planning game beginning in the 1970s and continuing into the early 1990s (and still alive and well in some Lake State and southern national forests) was for planners to find increasingly creative ways to keep the cut up notwithstanding the land zoned out of the timber base.

    With logging levels today at 3 billion board feet, zoning to protect the Forest Service from overcutting is no longer necessary.

  4. Andy-

    It’s no longer about cutting trees (and it never was in some places). it’s about oil and gas development, and OHV trails powelines and special uses etc. that run the gamut from the minimal intrusion to backcountry feel (cell phone tower) to maximal (gas field). We are in reality having this discussion to some extent about “roadless,” and ROS hits the same continuum. But maybe we could generalize ROS in some other way than doing forest planning?

  5. Sharon – I agree that there are lots of non-NFMA issues on the Forest Service’s platter. Decisions about OHV trail systems are made in Access and Travel Management Plans. Decisions about oil and gas development are made by BLM, not the Forest Service, which does not issue leases. Decisions about cell phone towers are made in the special-use permitting process, which is initiated by private business applicants, not by the Forest Service. What do any of these have to do with what Congress required of the Forest Service in NFMA?

    Comprehensive, all-resource planning is hugely time-consuming, as your colleague John poignantly illustrated at the 3rd Roundtable as he reminisced about raising a family from crib to college in the time it took to write one forest plan (I was listening in!).

    Comprehensive, all-resource planning requires that everyone engage in a process most of which is of little or no interest to each participant. Do the Backcountry Horse folk care about how many snags are left after fuel treatments? Does the Snowmobile Club care if the XYZ trail is open to horse travel? Does anyone care that the “long-term sustained yield capacity” (i.e., the theoretical harvest level of a fully-regulated forest 100 years in the future) of the ABC forest is 200 million board feet when today’s logging level is 20 mmbf?

    In trying to be all things for all resources for all people, the NFMA planning process has been drowned by its own unrealistic expectations. That’s not what the pragmatic 94th Congress had in mind.

  6. Andy, the FS does not issue O&G leases, we do the analysis through oil and gas leasing decisions. I think the process from there on is that a proponent wants a parcel, the FS reviews it for consistency with regulations and forest plans, and then it is offered for lease. The O&G leasing decision is important because it determines key stipulations such as No Surface Occupancy or Controlled Surface Use that should coincide with the unit’s view of “desired degree of human impact” for that area. That’s why my colleague would say that it is bad news for the o&g leasing decision and the forest plan to be out of synch- as parcels could be forwarded for lease without following current thinking on appropriate lease stips (because the new plan was done but the o&g leasing decision not yet amended if you do them separately).

    On the other hand, in practice, we have several other wise people such as John Rupe who think that weighing a forest plan down with an O&G decision, including air quality modeling, is likely to weigh the plan down to the point it may sink under its own weight- conditions change faster than you can incorporate into a document.

    What I am saying with regards to your third paragraph is that I agree that current forest planning has taken on too much, and too much that is not relevant today (timber analysis). I think it is useful to have zoning, though, because it does help coordinate different uses in different places. So if plans only did one thing, that is what I think that they should do.

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