Planning: The View from Plato’s Cave

A “forest planner” friend called me the other night to chide me for missing one of the best powder skiing days ever. As our conversation progressed I shared my frustration with the Forest Service’s thirty years failed national forest planning efforts. My friend said that I ought not to expect forest planning types, including those charged with writing “new rules,” to do anything other than minor tweaking of older rules. After all, that’s what they know and where they find comfort. My friend has a point! Sometimes, however, there is Danger in the Comfort Zone.

Keep in mind that most people, both managers and employees prefer bondage in bureaucratic power-play organizations, “psychic prisons,” to the freedom and responsibility of adaptive management learning organizations (shorter verson, longer verson (pdf)). I prefer the empowerment of the latter.

Digging deeper into the FS comfort zone, I believe the Forest Service’s “comfort” is much like that Plato talked about in his Allegory of the Cave (Wikipedia). In short, Forest Service top brass are too often like the inhabitants of Plato’s cave, chained in some way to see only the shadows of outside reality flickering on the cave walls, but unable to encounter that reality themselves.

I admit that I too am blinded by ideology/methodology, taking too much comfort, for example, in adaptive co-management. None of us is immune to this failing. Still, questions linger: Which frame serves best, planning or adaptive management? Or are both bankrupt? If not these, then what? And if an adaptive co-management frame is better, how can the Forest Service ever get there? In answering the last question, remember what Kristen Blann and Stephen Light told us a decade ago, Adaptive ecosystem assessment and management will be The Path of Last Resort (doc)! Perhaps the “path” will never be taken at all. That would indeed be unfortunate.

Links, for those unfamiliar with Plato’s Allegory:
Allegory of the Cave, Wikipedia
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: A short summary (Warning: Not for those offended by the “f-bomb” and other “street talk”)
The Cave: 9 min. audio (with text), that explains Plato’s allegory well in contemporary context

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