Well, when I posted the book club piece on Chapter 4 here on NCFP, I had the comments go to the Book Club blog here as usual. However, Jon Haber had a thoughtful comment there about the current Planning Rule that I thought deserved its own thread on this blog. So if you want to talk about the Planning Rule part of the Chapter 4 post, please do it here.. I’ll put a note to that effect there.
Here is the relevant piece of the Chapter 4 writeup:
I just ran across one this morning, that policies need to address “fire’s role in forest ecosystems.” My first question would be “fire’s role as to what aspect of plants, animals, water, soil and air?” Fire’s role, like climate or anything else, is not a constant. I like this quote from the book (The Moon in the Nautilus Shell):
P 85. ..
we find that nature undisturbed is not constant in form, structure or proportion but change at every scale of time and space. The old idea of a static landscape, like a single musical chord sounded foresver, must be abandoned, for such a landscape never existed except in our imagination. Nature undisturbed by human influence seems more like a symphony whose harmonies arise from variation and change over many scales of time and space, changing with individual births and deaths, local disruptions and recoveries, larger-scale responses to climate from one glacial age to another, and to the slower alterations of soils and yet larger variations between glacial ages.
If you have been a reader and writer of Forest Service regulations lately, the “form, structure or proportion” will call back to your memory perhaps “ecosystem composition, structure and function”:
2012 Planning Rule: Alternative A would require plan components to provide for the maintenance or restoration of the structure, function, composition, and connectivity of healthy and resilient aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area.
2001 and Colorado Roadless Rule: Tree cutting, sale, or removal is needed to maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition, structure and processes.
These statements, in regulation, imply that certain characteristics should be “maintained or restored”; that is, maintained as they are today, or restored to what they used to be (yes, I realize that some in the FS is talking that “restoration” doesn’t mean that, it really means “resilience to change”, but English is English, and if you mean that you should put in in regulation, IMHO.)
Now, scientists reviewed all these regulations and did not say “hey, that doesn’t take into account current scientific thought, because there is no one unchanging way that composition structure and function is “supposed to be” and that “needs to be” maintained or restored.” I think in Botkin’s book, he is again asking the question “if science tells us that everything is changing, why do scientists (including ecologists, I assume) review and accept regulations and other policies that seem to say the opposite?
I have three hypotheses. One is that the ecosystem idea has fuzzed everyone’s thinking. The second is that so much “science” is based on these ideas that scientists can’t imagine a world without them. Third is that scientists don’t study the “appeal to nature” idea in philosophy nor the history of its use (see Wikipedia here), so they don’t see that using it has conceptual problems way beyond the scientific community.
Here is Jon’s comment:
I have two other hypotheses. One is that the scientists were not in charge of the planning rule, so while they may have brought up these points, such nuances were not considered especially important by those who were in charge. The other is that ‘historic range of of variation’ became a mantra for active management over the last quarter century. This provided a convenient point of reference for ‘restoration.’ (I think there was a PR component to this – who could argue with ‘restoration?’) To a large degree the new planning rule has just captured the current practice of the agency. In a nod to global warming, the term used in the rule is ‘natural’ instead of ‘historic’ variation (which, while it has its own problems, at least acknowledges that ‘historic’ may not be the best point of reference).
There were some voices raised against including the phrase ‘maintain or restore’ as a universal planning. I suggest now that the best way to read this language is to focus on the fact that what will be maintained or restored is ‘ecological integrity,’ which is defined in terms of natural range of variability. This allows more of a moving target to ‘restore’ to.
I think the regulations mean what they say, but you have to read them pretty carefully. ‘Ecological integrity’ (and NRV) applies to ‘ecological characteristics,’ but not all ‘ecological conditions.’ The former is limited (by example) to ‘composition, structure, function, connectivity, and species composition and diversity.’ The latter includes roads and ski areas. You can add new roads and expand ski areas if you can still meet the ecological integrity requirement.
So I’ll go ahead and start commenting on Jon’s comment, as a comment below. Whew, I hope you are not confused by all that!