Post Interview on Planning Rule

With an Interior West flavor..

New national forest rule to focus on restoration of damaged ecosystems
Posted: 03/09/2012 01:00:00 AM MST

By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_20134895/new-national-forest-rule-focus-restoration-damaged-ecosystems

Obama administration officials are emphasizing restoration of degraded ecosystems as they roll out a final new rule for managing the nation’s 193 million acres of forests and grasslands.
Thirty years in the making, the rule to be officially issued this month will direct regional foresters to use science and more monitoring to improve conditions, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in an interview Thursday.
“If we don’t restore our forests and grasslands, we’re going to continue to see more loss of the benefits,” Tidwell said. “More loss of the clean water that is produced on healthy forests. More loss of wildlife habitat. More soil erosion.”
The congressionally required rule sets a framework for regional plans that govern all activities on national forests — from tree-cutting to oil-and-gas drilling to hiking on trails.
It replaces a 1982 rule that was meant to protect forests but failed to prevent widespread damage from intensifying wildfires, insect epidemics, climate change and human population growth.
That Reagan-era rule “focused on restricting activities,” Tidwell said.
Now, regional foresters’ focus on wildlife “management indicator species” as a basis for assessing forest health is to be replaced with a focus on broad habitat needs for a diversity of species.
“If there is scientific evidence that a species is at risk of starting to lose population, to the point where we maybe would have to list it as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered,’ then we would take additional steps” to ensure survival, he said. “It all has to be based on scientific evidence.”
Conservationists commenting on drafts of the rule have said it leaves too much discretion to individual forest managers. The final version, Tidwell said, “strikes a very good balance between providing national consistency … and allowing that local discretion.”
National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul said success likely will depend on Congress making sure forest studies and monitoring can be done.
“If the Forest Service has sufficient staff and resources to implement the final rule as intended, then I think, on balance, it will result in more science-based and better management of watersheds and wildlife habitat,” Saul said.
The forest management planning process itself consumes Forest Service staff. Legal challenges and politics repeatedly have frustrated prior efforts to revise the 1982 plan. Federal courts since 2000 have rejected multiple attempted revisions, including a Bush administration rule in 2009.
Meanwhile, the regional plans governing 68 of 127 forests and grasslands have not been updated as required.
The final rule is expected to spur updating of those plans through a speedier process of assessment, revision and monitoring.
Colorado contains 13.8 million acres of national forest, much of it fragmented by roads. Traditional uses such as timber-harvesting have declined. New uses such as motorized off-road vehicle recreation are on the rise. Forest plans still must balance multiple uses.
Restrictions on activities need not increase, Tidwell said. For example, more trees, not less, may be cut to deal with the ravaging of millions of acres of western forests by bark beetles.
And even with population growth driving more recreationists into the woods seeking solace, “there are lots of things we can do to address the impacts,” he said, especially if forest users are sensitive to the environment and stay on trails. “We can do things to harden trails so that they can handle more use.”

5 Comments

  1. “National Wildlife Federation attorney Michael Saul said success likely will depend on Congress making sure forest studies and monitoring can be done.
    “If the Forest Service has sufficient staff and resources to implement the final rule as intended, then I think, on balance, it will result in more science-based and better management of watersheds and wildlife habitat,” Saul said.”

    This statement by Saul is 100 percent on, and it is the big IF. This sadly will not happen. The FS has not had the staff/funds for the past decade to monitor or manage properly, and there is no indication that this will change. Look at the current budget numbers. Not even keeping up with inflation. A realistic budget should be double these numbers. Monitoring of the old plans was a joke, and without a real, substantial increase in budget/staff, this simply will not happen.

    As I repeated have said, it is not about science, it is about politics and budgets and adequate trained staff on the ground. The 82 Plans were not bad; but Plans put on the shelf, not funded or manned or monitored were sure to fail.

    • Ed,

      As part of my “other duties as assigned” I worked as forest plan monitoring coordinator for the Intermountain Region, USFS. The whole thing was a “joke” and not just because of budget shortfalls. As I pointed out many times the ‘monitoring thing’ was a joke in part because the Forest Service never took a serious look at what to monitor, and why. Where is the Forest Service policy analysis on this—or on anything else for that matter?

      [Note: I remember being only mildly amused when the Forest Service closed it's Policy Analysis arm many years ago. I was amused, BTW, because the Policy Analysis bunch used to run big computer programs to maximize "the cut," i.e. timber harvests. Does the Forest Service have a Policy Analysis group these days? If so, when did it re-appear?]

      Budgets have been tight, but that is life in the US now, in the recent past, and into the far future. I want to see a realistic proposal to run the FS, so that monitoring and evaluation make sense in a Deming sense, so that the Forest Service begins to have a clue about what to monitor and why. This latest incarnation of a “planning rule” again fails to fill the bill. That is what I’ve been harping about in just about all many of my posts on this blog.

      When I say I want to see monitoring and evaluation done in a Deming way, I mean:

      To explore the Deming Opportunity, organizations need to build cultures that seek continuous improvement (as an adventure and as fulfillment), cultures that routinely and enthusiastically monitor and evaluate what they do as individuals, as teams, as divisions, and so on. Such organizations somehow instill a passion for improvement.

      Part of the magic of the Deming Method is that it allows each individual and team to build and “own” their measures. It also encourages and empowers each individual and team to share a bit across the boundaries—to ensure that they are indeed part of the organization, keeping organizational betterment in whole and in part as an integral part of their thoughts and actions.

      See also: A Simpler Way (Monitoring and Evaluation Edition)

      • Dave- I don’t think Policy Analysis ever closed down. It did move from the Programs and Legislation deputy area (now defunct) to Research and Development. The current director is Bill Lange.

        • Maybe my memory has failed me. It wouldn’t be the first time. In any case, do they—Policy Analysis—now deal with “policy” matters in any real sense? I’ve never heard of anything useful that came from them. I’m not ‘in the loop’, but am eager to hear of useful things they have done. Or maybe they are super secretive and only help Chief and Staff hatch the ever-brilliant “initiatives of the week, or month, or year” that the Forest Service is famous for.

  2. When the personnel folks take over a year to fill an open position, you know that the system is broken. As more time goes by, with less and less qualified applicants. the Forest Service will do what they have done in the past. They will hire “temporary employees” for 6 months at a time, with few benefits, to do the all-important field work. The government won’t allow itself to get bigger, hiring people into full time permanent jobs. Sadly, the government spend tens of millions of dollars on all sorts of Forest Service projects but, then chooses to not invest in quality employees. I think we can forget about the monitoring issues, until the Forest Service actually is able to attract the best young candidates with REAL jobs. Sadly, they cling to the idea that they can teach any Schmo off the street to do top-level forestry work. I call this “Federal McForestry”, where there is a revolving door of people who are ill-prepared to make the life and death decisions on so very many individual trees. Indeed, the mistakes of these “greenhorns” can doom large projects in court. With the advent of “groundtruthing”, it will be extremely important that on-the-ground work match the environmental documents.

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