Public Meetings on Planning Rule: What Did You Hear?

Photo of bear at Golden Colorado forum on planning rule by Kirk Siegler

I didn’t see too much in the press about the meetings so far. There is this one from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Forest Service Updating Framework For Long-Term Planning

Rob Manning | March 25, 2011 | Portland, OR

Top federal forest officials visited Portland Friday. And a new constitution for the country’s national forests was on the table, as Rob Manning reports.

The Forest Service is updating a federal framework that local forest managers have to use to draft long-term plans, whether for grasslands in the Southeast or the Mount Hood National Forest.

Assistant director, Ric Rine is on a national tour explaining the draft rule – and why it should change.

Ric Rine: “The 1982 regulation reflected the science and the planning processes of the ’70s, when timber management was a dominant use. The science has changed, public values have changed, the rule hasn’t changed.”

Environmentalists, loggers, and snowmobilers asked Rine skeptical questions – mostly asking for details. They wanted to know how science would be used.

Several people suggested that a proposal for a narrow-window to file objections would marginalize the public.

Rine said the intent is to rely on a more collaborative process to better include the public, and avoid objections in the first place.

And this one from KUNC, Greeley Colorado.

Like any bureaucratic planning document, the proposed rule isn’t exactly bedtime reading. But there are several clear themes; such as directives that the Forest Service consider the best possible peer-reviewed science before issuing local management decisions and a push for more forest restoration and habitat protection jobs.

“The proposed forest rule has some promising ambitions,” says Caitlin Balch-Burnett, Colorado outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “However, we feel like these ambitions really do not translate into meaningful and binding standards.”

Defenders of Wildlife is one of the groups that sued the Bush Administration during its attempt to revise the 1982 planning rule. Courts threw that out twice in 2005 and 2008. Balch-Burnett says the Obama Administration’s plan gives too much discretion to the Forest Service and its local forest managers when making decisions on watershed or wildlife habitat protection.

“Our concern is with so much flexibility and not enough guidance given, that’s when you know, critters can fall through the cracks in terms of management and protection,” she says.

But by giving more flexibility to local forest managers in its proposed rule, the Forest Service also seems to be trying to address complaints from critics of litigious-minded conservation groups who argue current planning gets too bogged down in administrative appeals.

Tom Troxel, executive director of the Intermountain Forest Association which represents timber companies in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota, says in this era of budget deficits, the planning process is too long and costly.

“I live in Rapid City,” Troxel says. “The Black Hills National Forest I think has the world record for forest plan revision, it took them 16 years to finish a 10-15 year plan.”

In other words, Troxel says, forest plans are supposed to get updated every 10-15 years. On average, local forests take about six years just to revise a plan.

That was about how long it took Colorado’s most visited forest, the White River N.F., to issue its latest version in 2002, according to a forest spokesman. And much has changed there since then. Just think about all those beetle-killed trees dotting the hillsides of Summit County, for instance.

Troxel says the current national proposal does little to address the costs and complexity embedded in the existing rule which he says has made it difficult for timber businesses to operate under.

“Whatever your interest in the national forest is, it’s better to have them managing forests and maintaining trails and improving wildlife habitat than it is in this endless planning process,” Troxel says.

At a public meeting earlier this month in Golden, Forest Service officials fielded criticisms similar to those of Troxel and conservationists. The agency’s Ric Rine says that’s why the proposed national rule is a draft, not a done deal.

I attended four public meetings, and one with state government folks and elected officials. As with the story above, “best available science” and objections were also topics in our area. I plan to post more on those later this week. What did you all hear? Did you hear anything that surprised you? If so, what?

One Comment

  1. I have attended none of the meetings, and won’t. The Forest Service talks a good line about collaboration, yet fails continually to engage in meaningful collaboration. It’s as if they don’t understand the meaning of the word.

    Instead we always get “jack in the box” public involvement, wherein the agency solicits input, then runs off into the isolation booth (the “box”) to craft a proposal (draft), then gets input pretty much only on that proposal, tweaks it (again in the isolation booth), then jumps out of the box with a “final,” only to be amazed that so many hate it.

    An alternative, which might be titled “public engagement,” opens decision containers wide, allowing for even the “frame” of decisions to be part of the engagement. See, The Frame Game.

    I’m saddened that that Forest Service once again failed to allow to public engagement in the NFMA rule development. I asked, but they refused. Yes, the Forest Service staged up were many meetings, with more to come, but always tightly “frame controlled,” and always squarely positioned in the realm of “planning,” the only game they know.

    Time for adaptive governance, stuff I’ve been pitching since 1999. We almost made it back then, even had our own agency approved “forum” for discussion of the NFMA rule, Here is a rollout of discussion threads, which read as if they were written yesterday. Other discussion forums rollouts are available on a reworked Eco-Watch home page, (under construction, but working). Amazingly the original Eco-Watch stuff still lives on the Forest Service’s webspace.

    To learn about collaboration as public-engagement, see Collaboration Reading for Reflective Practitioners.

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