Forest Planning: Opening Pandora’s Box?

Opened_up_a_Pandora's_box

Surprise, surprise.. forest plans don’t please anyone.. because people disagree about things. or perhaps.. everything. This reminds me of one Region 2 Forest Supervisor who did not want to get engaged in forest planning. He felt the funding never covers the real costs, plus it’s like reopening discussions on everything about a forest.. so that people can refight all the fights that were previously settled one way or another, and people were generally OK with the way the forest is going.

One forest actually had standards that were outdated but felt it was better to amend and fix the problem children in the plan, than to open Pandora’s Box (their plan is probably 40 years or so old now).

Here’s a link to a Rob Chaney story in the Missoulian.

47 Comments

  1. Sharon: I once tried to get a bill through the Oregon Legislature that would make, for workers comp “experience rating” purposes, traffic accident injuries “no fault” as the employer has no “control of the workplace” for traffic accidents, especially ones that are third party involved. “Experience rating” is a formula multiplier to an industry average for determining worker’s comp rates paid by employers, based on their accident costs per 100,000 hours of wages. It never got a hearing or to the floor of the House for a vote because the Chairman of the Commerce Committee told me that it was a worker’s comp bill, and if it were to get out of committee, there would be “no end to the Christmas tree of ornamental amendments the other side of the aisle would hang on the bill,” and he was not willing to allow any worker’s comp bill to have a hearing while he was chairman. The committee had addressed worker’s comp in the last session. Case closed. Which is the very same reason the USFS SO did not want to open the “Pandora’s Box” of new Forest Planning: Politics.!

  2. When I saw this post title I decided to look up exactly what opening a Pandora’s box means. Here is what I found: “a process that generates many complicated problems as the result of unwise interference in something.”

    While I do think NF planning generates many complicated problems, I don’t think updating our NF plans is an unwise interference in something. In a weird kind of way, it was actually kind of fun to read the article to which Sharon referred. As I read through the descriptions of objections filed in response to the proposed plans from the IPNF and KNF, I kept feeling a sense of gratitude that we have such an inclusive process for public lands planning. Isn’t this exactly why we have an open planning process, to hear from “the people” and get a sense of what they are thinking? With regard to the tough job of decision-making within the Forest Service, I believe Albert Schweitzer said it best when he said “Great leadership requires having the skin of a rhino and the soul of an angel.” In response to Sharon’s posting, if folks within the agency don’t want to engage in these processes, for whatever reason, then (IMHO) it may be time for them to consider a different career. Most NF plans are ridiculously our of date and in desperate need up updating. Doing what is right often isn’t the same as doing what is easy.

    I would also add that, in my view, the greatest threat to our NF system is not the vehement disagreements, it is apathy and ignorance, so before we start thinking we should avoid these complicated issues and processes, let’s remember to be thankful that people even care enough to stay involved….And isn’t it awesome that we have something worth arguing about? 🙂

    • Mike: I completely agree with your sentiments here. Thank you so much for sharing them with the entire blog.

      I’ll also mention that part of the sub-context here is the Forest Service moving from an appeal process to a pre-decisional objection process. We’ve been told time and again (including on this blog) as various entities tried to sell the public on the idea of a pre-decision objection process that such a move would result in less paperwork and less “objections” vs the old appeal process. I always questioned such claims. I also wasn’t around in the mid-80s when these forests last updated their forests plans. However, I doubt they received 60 separate appeals at that time.

    • For real amusement, you should go ahead and hit the KNF/IPNF website, they have posted all the objections, and some are absolute doozies. I know many of the objectors and/or their track records and backgrounds. But it shows there are deep divisions — I don’t know whether to be optimistic or depressed but the best sentence I read so far was from one Green, Dave Hadden: He’s so shocked, he says “I thought the timber wars were over.”
      I guess not all the bayoneted died.

      • I looked at just one document produced by an eco-group about the new Sequoia National Forest Plan, and it was dozens of pages. Much of it was in support of 200,000 acres of new Wilderness. Is this really the place and process for adding new Wilderness? While I don’t think that much of that is really Wilderness-worthy, it really isn’t suitable for timber production, either, due to its steepness. I’m quite sure that some still would like to see all 300,000 acres of the Sequoia National Monument (administered by the Forest Service) made into a quasi-Wilderness Area, complete with plantations, roads and other human improvements.

        • Is this really the place and process for adding new Wilderness?

          It’s always been my understanding that, yes, the forest plan revision process is the place and the process for the public at large and the Forest Service to make proposed recommendations for Wilderness.

          • I was around the first time. There were some appeals (and some big ones), but not this many (but they were all handled by the Washington Office and many took years, leading to the idea in the 2012 rule that plan decisions should be made by forest supervisors so that the reviewing level is the regions). I think there were fewer because appeals had not become the popular tool that they are today, and also because nobody had much of an idea how important (or long-lasting) the forest plan decisions would turn out to be. Now they know.

            Wilderness recommendations are not an NFMA requirement, but (as I remember it) they were added to the regulations to address the court decision on RARE II roadless areas that the FS lost; if they didn’t do a wilderness evaluation at the plan level, they would have to do it for every project. The requirement was in the 1982 regulations (governing these two plans) in 36 CFR 219.17, and is now in the 2012 planning rule in 36 CFR 219.7(c).

            • It sure seems like a waste of time and effort to go through the motions, with the public recommending Wilderness that might, or might not meet the specifications of the Wilderness Act. It also seems like the House of Representatives is unwilling to designate more Wilderness, especially when eco-groups recommend it in the Forest Plan process. I think that the House will only do it in exchange for concessions on conservative issues opposed by Democrats. I would hope that the Forest Service would analyze whether such recommendations meet the definitions and specifications of the Wilderness Act, to help decide whether such lands would have any chance of making it through Congress (or even being proposed). I assume that there already are many recommendations waiting in line for Congress to craft a “quid pro quo” bill, which would include concessions that the Senate would allow. Democrats would have to make sure that such a deal would eliminate any chance of a bait and switch, or a conditional situation. Otherwise, those Forest Plan Wilderness recommendations are dead in the water.

              • Larry, around here we have wilderness bills that are outside the forest plan. It turns out that a group (self-selected, and maybe not collaborative) can develop an idea. Then they do political deals (at least in a state with both parties represented), say to continue to allow grazing, cherry stem mountain bike trails or roads, existing dams or ditches, or whatever. At the end of the day, it’s pretty much outside the forest planning cycle, and yet, wilderness and roadless designations are the really critical zoning going on.

                I think as long as there are Wilderness Societies, people will push for more wilderness as there is no reason to say there is “enough.” When we worked on Colorado Roadless, we noticed that some roadless restrictions were more restrictive than wilderness (this is a particularly complex area of wonkhood).

                Therefore, if we agree with the point “we should open everything up that has been decided and hear from the public ” we should do the same for roadless and wilderness designations. If our argument is, instead, “we gotta do NFMA planning because it’s a legal requirement” we should design it to be practical and useful (or at least practical, if it is unlikely to be useful, as Andy’s KISS is).

                • My point is that ANY new Wilderness proposal will require something substantive in trade, to get it through the House. It isn’t likely that a single State’s political deal could cancel out the “un-partisanship” of the House. Republicans seem to have made that pretty clear in the last several years. The Republicans will resist anything that the eco-groups want, simply because it is what the opposition wants. The House holds the veto power, and until the Democrats control it, the Republicans will not be open to new Wilderness, unless they gain some certainty regarding forest management.

                  • There wasn’t supposed to be a zillion years of review. One and done. But no, not enough was evaluated, or it was evaluated wrongly, so RARE 2, and then the politicians on the left said, oh, we need more WSA’s and once those happened they became wilderness in the minds of the wilderness people to be defended at all costs, all at the same time Citizen Proposed Wilderness Areas became the new capitalization, and THEN you had the Roadless Rule with the appendix language that if a road was removed the area became unroaded and therefore eligible to become an Inventoried Roadless Area to be Citizen Proposed Wilderness No Study Any More, We’ll Arm This Through Congress!

      • “I don’t know whether to be optimistic or depressed”

        A colleague and I scanned the objections today “for amusement”, as you put it and all he could say was “ugh, what’s the point?”. While I’m not quite there, I’m also not at Mike’s “sense of gratitude” level either. I’ve been involved with appeals/objections long enough to understand the skin of a rhino part, but soul of an angel…..well…….I’d offer a good leader needs to be stronger than that. Judging by the objections in this situation I’d think a good leader better have a heck of a lot of good political skills as well. Perhaps that’s covered under skin of a rhino?

        Recently there have been a few posts about “exclusive ‘collaborative’ groups” and inopportune public meetings regarding plan revisons or land management – the contention being (I summarize) that the FS is giving unfair deference to the “collaborators”. My read on the objections here is that it’s obvious that this isn’t the case.

        I do not know how many/where/when/with whom meetings the IPNF/KNF had with “stakeholders” (I’ll leave that to the “fact checkers”), but it’s pretty clear that a number of them are not pleased with the final product and have even cited that the FS didn’t listen to their concerns or consider their input.

        So at the end of the day, the FS produces a plan that tries to satisfy all needs, but falls short of satisfying the left and right, their needs being mutually exclusive, and now is relegated A) back to the drawing board or; B) into the courtroom. At the end of the day there’s a winner and a loser and the debate goes on in every project analyzed under that plan. Mike – what’s “right” about that???

        My question is – Did the meetings, collaborative recommendations, etc really have that much influence or was it a bunch of pageantry to make people feel heard, knowing full well that the plan would be settled in a courtroom??? I’m not sure what’s awesome about that, especially if I took the time to drive thru rain/snow/dark of night to be “heard”.

        Sorry if that sounds apathetic, it’s not at all…personally, I’d like to see the FS and Congress square up the Agency(s) mission and adopt more of the “big stick” approach.

        • JZ.. I’m beginning to think that Place Based Bills are the only way. People will be mad, but they can be mad at their Congressperson and the FS can get on with doing their work.

          Mark Rey said in his interview with Martin Nie (don’t remember the exact quote) that a GS-15 Forest Supervisor doesn’t have the political clout to settle things, so hence the need for roadless rules (move the decision up a level).

          You could make the same argument for pretty much anything. I think we need “good” PBBs..because that is the only solution to the litigation problem that is likely to be politically palatable. Plus think of all the bucks we’d save by not revisiting everything but only the parts that weren’t working..

              • Dave, some have argued that the national timber industry folks were all into that. I don’t know. Still it is kind of ironic that some Oregon rhetoric talks about “big” timber corporations having all the power when it’s the tiny ones who seem to be suffering. The natural question “if they’re so big, why aren’t they doing better at public influence?” leads to possible thoughts of 1) they aren’t really interested in US public timber because of their ownerships or ?, or 2) they’re just really bad at getting their way.

                I’m also inclined to explanation 1. Communities have the worst of it, as they don’t have these large corporations protecting their interests, but others behave as if they are the minions of these mythical entities.

                • Sharon, I’m with you and Dave. After about 10 years of one failed lawsuit after another it started to become obvious that big timber had little, if any, interest in opposing federal forest shutdowns. Actions speak louder than words, even when lawyers and publicists speak them. I thought I was working with Mark Rey and others for more than a year on the Healthy Forest Initiative, but it turned out to be mostly a charade. I’m not (quite) as cynical as Dave, but I think he’s mostly right. Mark Rey was a very good friend to the “environmental” movement and was clever enough to disguise that fact and his true motivations. What a waste of my time that turned out to be. Just another politician with a black hat and a fat wallet.

            • But what does the planning cover (in terms of comprehensiveness) and what is it allowed to do in terms of making more rules?

              It seems to me that the value of the PBB is to get the key things on the table and make a decision that sticks. If the planning revisits all that.. well then, what’s the point?

    • Mike, I know you work in leadership, so to me “leadership” is complex and made up of many different components. Also it’s also a term that tends to be used within the FS (as you probably know) loosely.

      Now, national forest management is one of the few institutions that are required to do “plans” that really change “rules of how things are done” not “what we might do in the future.” And what I was trying to get at was not that the supes I spoke of were dissing the public… in fact, I consider them to be excellent leaders.

      Rather, they thought “quality time of FS folks is finite. Therefore we should work on the things the public really cares about that aren’t working and are controversial, rather than opening back up topics that were settled in the last revision, and people seem OK with, based on what we hear from them.” There’s an old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I’d rather forests focused on what was “broke” and had money for monitoring or campgrounds, or a variety of other things.

      Imagine if Congress had to look at all their laws every 15 years and renegotiate them (not just the ones that people currently have problems with).

      I hope I have been clear. It’s not that these Supes didn’t want to engage the public; they were in fact, very good with their engagement on controversial issues. Maybe one of the reasons they were popular with their folks (another way of measuring leadership) is that they could articulate priorities and stick to them. Including not attempting to fix things that were not broke.

  3. I was just going to grouse about the (career-enhancing?) approach used by this R2 forest supervisor (and others) of putting off making hard decisions (sometimes deferring them to individual projects, where they can say it’s ‘outside the scope’ of project decisions). Congress thought that ‘reopening discussions on everything about a forest’ – periodic public participation in the strategic direction – is a good thing, and so it’s required. And hard decisions should be what ‘responsible officials’ get paid their big bucks for. (If the public is ‘generally ok’ with the plan, the decision won’t be that hard.) A good manager will find a way to make it work.

    But Mike said it much better.

    • Like I said to Mike, it’s not that this is a “hard decision.” It’s that the world is full of hard decisions and when your plan is working basically OK, is it worth it? As anyone who has seen the national budget and scheduling knows, there really isn’t enough money to redo them all in real time and it’s got to be the local line officer’s call if they have the capacity and need to do one.

      That’s one of the reasons I liked Andy’s KISS rule..

  4. Amen to fixing what’s broken and leaving what is working alone. However, with a land management plan being integrated and intertwined among so many resources and values, it’s possible that addressing the one or two things that are “broken” could affect/change those aspects of the plan you were trying to hold as unchanged. But, until someone tries to limit the scope of discussion to what really needs to change, we won’t know if the “ripple effect” really exists or not. Wiping the whiteboard clean and starting all over disrespects all the learning achieved in managing our public lands. That learning has got to account for something.

    • Thanks, Tony.. and one more thing..
      We used to talk about whether forest plans were based on a “need for change”. Which would make sense. But folks have ideas like “stopping other people from doing things” or “more wilderness” that open up all the previous agreements. People want to renegotiate things to get a better advantage to their point of view. So that’s why it’s hard to stick to a narrow sense of the “need to change”, in my experience.

  5. 36 CFR 219.7(c)(2)(i): “Review relevant information from the assessment and monitoring to identify a preliminary need to change the existing plan …”

    There was a lot of emphasis on getting away from ‘zero-based’ planning during the decade or so that the new planning rule was being developed. This provision offers a good manager an opportunity to take things off the table when they start the planning process. If some things are truly ‘working well,’ this is where those should be dealt with. Some may come back in as issues in the NEPA process and may warrant alternatives, but the hope is that narrower scope allowed by the requirement above will focus planning on the ‘live’ issues. Notice that I called it a ‘hope.’ (The KIPZ plans were started over a decade ago and used the 1982 regulations which were less clear on the ‘need for change’ premise.)

    The argument for legislated plans is 180 degrees from the dynamic and adaptable plans that I think all sides argued for during the development of the planning rule. I think it may be appropriate to take some issues off the table nationally (that are too ‘political’ to handle locally), like roadless areas.

    • I’m responding to Jon because I think he has hit the nail on the head with the citation from the regs above, and I’ll come back around to that point. But first, I wanted to say thank you to Sharon for your clarification regarding the Forest Supes in R2 to which you were referring in your earlier post. I do understand and know many Forest Supes that have the same sort of “git’rdun” perspective toward their work, and I agree with you and that taking a “practical approach” can be beneficial in some circumstances. I also respect those Forest Supes that are willing to take risks in order to serve the public well, for there is far too much hand wringing with the agency these days.

      While I am entirely sympathetic to the frustrations around NF planning in the agency, I don’t believe the “ends justify the means” if we are talking about narrowing the questions we ask in planning processes such that we know the answers we receive will align with what we already think if the “right direction” to take things (this was my shorthand interpretation of what you were describing above Sharon). Instead, I believe it is the duty of all public servants to serve as much of the public as is possible (this is the “soul of the angel part of my quote from above), while still making decisions and moving forward (this is the “skin of the rhino”part).

      To be clear, I am NOT suggesting that the FS should fundamentally change its management choices simply because some people are in opposition to your choice. but to hide from opposition by narrowing the scope of the planning process is (IMHO) to evade one’s duties as a leader and public servant. We talk a great deal in the leadership program I run about the notion that leadership is not for everyone, and this is certainly even more the case in the public sector where you will ALWAYS be required to live with opposition to every decision you make.

      Here I think its important to come back around to Jon’s citation from the regs. The real question is, I believe, whether a Forest has sufficient “relevant information from the assessment and monitoring” of the Forest to make informed decisions as to the “need for change”. Based upon my experiences with the agency over the years, my sense is that insufficient monitoring and assessment information constitutes the “underbelly” of the agency, and virtually every ‘ologist I’ve asked about this “off the record” agrees with this assertion. I believe much of the “angst” around possible litigation that could flow from full-fledged NF planning can be attributed to the lack of a comprehensive and highly institutionalized monitoring and assessment program within the agency. This is a systemic issue the agency has faced for decades, and yet, this “can do” agency keeps pretending that this dynamic doesn’t exist, even though this is exactly the grounds for many if not most successful lawsuits involving active management prescriptions (outside procedural challenges, which would be much more temporary in nature if the monitoring program were in place).

      One of my favorite org development texts is called “Crucial Conversations”, and one of the concepts discussed in this text and the accompanying program deals with the “undiscussables” of organizations. I believe if one were to trace many NF planning issues back to their source, “insufficient funding for motioning and assessment of forest conditions” would come to light as a major contributing factor to the problems the agency faces form the environmentalist side of things. Yet, this systemic problem is, as far as I can tell, and “undiscussable” within the agency. Maybe I’m missing something, but…I do understand that agency personnel are not authorized to “lobby”, but there many others ways the agency as a whole can make it known that continuing to underfund these legal requirements will continue to result in successful litigation against the agency. In many ways, addressing this very real systemic issue is the difference between preventative healthcare and dealing with a disease after you’re already sick.

      Lastly, I also want to give great credit to the many many hard working agency ‘ologists doing everything they can to piece together information that serves their line officers as best they can. Most of these good folks have very high levels of integrity, notwithstanding accusations to the contrary in some cases.

      • I’ve heard the refrain about lack of monitoring a few times, too. There does appear to be a systemic problem in having the monitoring budget not tied to the actions requiring the monitoring. Or put another way, future actions do not depend on at least checking on past actions. I don’t know if the Forest Service lacks the ability to change this, or just doesn’t want to put future actions at risk. I do know that they could include standards in forest plans that would prohibit certain actions unless other actions or effects have been monitored. I am not aware that this has ever been done.

        • Monitoring of T&E and (sometimes) sensitive/MIS species frequently shows up in forest plans (as I know you know) as an apparent standard (and ostensibly enforceable), but that doesn’t always have traction in the courts. For example, the Forest Service typically goes to great lengths to disavow the “obsolete” 1982 planning standards (re: any need to maintain and demonstrate ongoing species viability) even when those requirements seem to be invoked in the plan, absent extremely specific language to that effect. The other common FS approach is to claim that monitoring is (pretty much always) a forest-wide requirement, and that it’s never actually required at the project level. Thus, by cutting the forest into a mosaic of bite-sized “project pieces”, none of which individually require monitoring, any requirement to actually monitor anything at all is successfully evaded, pretty much forever.

          • Thanks Jon and Guy. So let me ask the obvious questions. If this is all true, why do you think the FS would want to avoid gathering information through monitoring? Also, would you agree with my sense that many if not most lawsuits involving project level decisions (or even For Plans) contain one or more claims that the agency lacks sufficient information to do an appropriate cumulative effects analysis which, in turn, is the result of insufficient monitoring investment? If so, how would you reconcile these seemingly contradicting interests? Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this. I am truly curious how others have made sense of this dynamic…

          • Monitoring of management indicator species (MIS) was required by the 1982 planning regulations. But the contents of the monitoring plan have never been regarded as mandatory the way forest plan standards are. Monitoring does not apply to specific projects the way the NFMA consistency requirement intends, and monitoring ‘requirements’ are subject to funding and other things that make them inherently discretionary.

            Courts in some project litigation have held that failure to monitor MIS species can preclude making project decisions that affect those species. That interpretation was based on application of the 1982 forest planning requirements to projects. However, the 2012 planning rule broke this connection by vacating the prior planning rule and explicitly not applying its requirements to projects (including viability).

            • Thanks Jon. Would you mind helping me understand where this leaves us with the 2012 planning rule in terms of monitoring and assessment? Is it purely a discretionary activity? I’d also be really interested in learning from Jon or anyone whether there is any comprehensive information gathering program currently within the FS, or whether monitoring and assessment is more of an ad hoc activity at this point. I am genuinely interested in learning more about the practical realities of the agency in this arena. Sharon, I’d be interested in your experience and understanding of this topic too. I know this is a bit of a digression from the original posting, but I still think it is related to NF planning and the move toward PBBs or other legislative “remedies”.

              For me, I always come back to the notion that NEPA by itself does not require a particular result from FS decisions, only that these decisions be fully informed in terms of the impacts. I don’t personally assume that gathering more information in a more systematic way will necessarily undermine FS decisions, even when ESA constraints are implicated in these decisions (although I wonder sometimes if this is a belief within the agency). Thus, and maybe I’m just off base (please let me know if this just doesn’t make sense) but I continue to believe that investing in a comprehensive monitoring and assessment program would be a good step toward bolstering the integrity of FS decisions.

              Ironically, in my view, targeted and thorough information regarding the effects of agency decisions could actually enhance the discretion (I believe) provided from the courts. This may have been the case in the recent decision from the Little Slate project on the Nez Perce posted on this blog (But I don’t know the particulars of that case). In any case, one would think that the “best available” theoretical science ought to be combined with extensive “on the ground” information such that cumulative effects can be accurately assessed. I know there are others on this blog tracking this stuff much more closely than me, though, and I’d be really interested to learn more. Thanks!

                • I really do think that the Forest Service should do more monitoring, especially in your area, Matt. With more wildlife people in the woods, there are better chances of documenting presence, nesting and populations. Such data would be useful for both sides, getting a clearer view of what is out there, what wasn’t seen and what the trends are. Maybe I am wrong in thinking that some people might not want to know that information but, surely such people would probably never admit it.

                  • Thanks Larry. I completely agree with everything you have said here, including the fact that “some people might not want to know that information.” For the record, I’ve never heard anyone in the Montana or Idaho environmental/forest watch community say they didn’t want monitoring or didn’t want to know more information, etc.

                    • Thank Mike, but I wasn’t too sure. Sometimes I think some people actually believe that the conservation community doesn’t want more science or more monitoring. So, figured best to just state that fact. I do recall, when you worked for the Lolo National Forest, that everyone pretty much agreed that monitoring was a joke, for a variety of reasons.

                    • Matt: I’m also in full agreement with Larry’s comments here. I have long been concerned about the lack of monitoring on USFS lands, and particularly projects that are implemented quickly under the BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) program. There seems to be a real lack of accountability for much of this work, and a resistance to conduct regular monitoring as one result.

                      When I asked the designated ecologist on one Ranger District about this problem following a major wildfire 10 years ago, I was told that, “the Forest Service does not have enough money to perform monitoring. If you want to change that, you should write your Congressman and ask them to increase the size of our budget.” wow. That sounds like a solution, all right!

                      In this age of cell phones that can take photographs and videos and record their GPS coordinates, Internet communications, Google, and dispersed recreationists, it would seem a fairly simple task to involve interested citizens in this process — maybe particularly when monitoring non-game wildlife populations.

              • I haven’t had time to reply to your and Jon’s previous posts here as I am behind on holiday tasks… but if you wait until after January 1 I’m willing to start another thread about it..

                It seems to me that we had previous discussions about it, but I couldn’t easily locate them. It might have been before I was retired, and I can say more things now more directly than I might have then.

              • For me, I always come back to the notion that NEPA by itself does not require a particular result from FS decisions, only that these decisions be fully informed in terms of the impacts. I don’t personally assume that gathering more information in a more systematic way will necessarily undermine FS decisions, even when ESA constraints are implicated in these decisions (although I wonder sometimes if this is a belief within the agency).

                True, Mike. But if you start with an arguable NFMA violation (and with monitoring, as Jon notes, the cases aren’t especially consistent), and/or an ESA violation (lack of “best available science”), then a NEPA violation flows from there via “hard look” doctrine (NEPA imposes a duty on Federal agencies to take a “hard look at environmental consequences” (NRDC v. Morton, 458 F.2d 827, 838 (D.C. Cir., 1972)). But, like monitoring, “best available science” can be a slippery thing. I know of at least one case where the FS had an obligation to monitor populations of an ESA-listed animal species which was acknowledged to be present in the project area. They never tried to monitor nor ever counted a single animal, but successfully argued that since nobody else had ever monitored the animal there either, there was no “better available science”. Alice in Wonderland must be required reading…

                • Thanks Guy, and good shorthand on how how NEPA is related to NFMA and ESA. Yes, the “hard look” requirements under NEPA are facilitated by requirements under NFMA and ESA. Given this, why is it that we have an agency that gets into arguments over long-term monitoring? (I’m obviously begging the questions here, and my last comment under the “Little Slate” posting gets to some of this same idea…).

                  What political realities is the agency facing that would move it toward resisting long-term monitoring? How might these realities shape and perpetuate a cultural bias within the agency? And what sort of consequences flow from this dynamic? Is the angst in the agency around NF planning related to political realities that force it into short-term “production” emphasis instead of long-term planning?

              • Sharon (and at least one other occasional contributor) probably has a better grasp of the bigger picture of monitoring than I do, but I’ll give my perspective as a planner (that is, I got funded from the planning pot rather than the monitoring pot).

                While monitoring was a hot topic during its development, the 2012 planning rule does nothing to change the amount of monitoring done by the Forest Service. It requires a monitoring plan (just like the old rule, but with some changes in focus), but monitoring gets carried out only to the extent it gets funded. In general, courts have said that failure to monitor is not judicially reviewable, and there is usually no legal requirement to obtain additional information.

                The agency has an assessment and monitoring program, but it is in its own budget silo, so as near as I could tell, it sets its own priorities. Some are related to the planning rule, but there are others that I don’t know much about (which sometimes appeared ‘ad hoc’ to me).

                I don’t think anyone is afraid of new information. My personal observation is that 1) a lot of the scientists in the agency like doing monitoring, and 2) some of the managers in the agency don’t think monitoring ‘produces’ anything (in the way of meeting real targets). There may also be a perception that calls for more monitoring are a delaying tactic by opponents. I think the possible long-term benefits you suggest are discounted (if they are perceived at all).

                My comment about putting future actions at risk was not about the new information that might be obtained. It was because if a plan made projects expressly contingent upon doing the monitoring, failure to do the monitoring would put projects at risk.

  6. How many locals have attented BLM and FS planning meeting with the results being, zero.
    I have spend 15 year asking for small timber sales at any meeting I can, small or large, and the result is zero. No one really gives a darn what the locals think, unless they are enviromental groups who can sue or timber interests large enough to have a lobbyists.
    Either way the locals always lose. Of course the large land owners don’t want to compete against government timber. So the feds make their sales so convoluted that they are no competition at all. The remaining large mills are seeing the handwriting on the wall, they are going to need federal timber, so someone(like Wyden) will come up with a plan where the big timber guys get some more federal timber and the environmental interests get the rest. Locals, zero again.

  7. The conflicting arguments and opinions expressed in the 26 (to date) comments make it quite clear why the FS is cutting only 7% of the annual timber growth. How could any effective management take place in such a welter of confusion, and all this is just over the planning process! Having observed the decline of the system over a period of 70 years, this curmudgeon says with great assurance that the public land management system is broken irreparably and the only solution is to remove lands best suited for commodity-production from federal ownership and to restore them to productive husbandry under non-federal management.

  8. I think a process for figuring out which lands are ‘best suited for commodity-production’ should look a lot like forest planning. But the stakes would be even higher since it would permanent.

  9. Nothing is really permanent. (I hope some of our current federal forest pratices aren’t permanent). As we have learned the natural world is always changing. Seems like we should be able to change along with it. I never did like all the different land disagnations, thinking that we should use our intellingence to try and keep all forests green and healthy. If the land grows trees at some point it might make sense to honor the intrinsic value of some of those trees and create something useful and lasting for society, and yes, not destroy what is there. (and no I don’t think it should all look like our private industrial forests, nor the other extreme of a burnt out “wilderness”. I like Sharons current post about fracking. We could all learn something if we could only communicate.
    There is alot of push for the change of ownership of our forests, and I can understand that, I myself being totally frustrated at huge amount of waste and poor decisions I see taking place with our current forests policies with the resulting destruction of our rural communities.
    But I also believe these public lands are our greatest legacy, and it is our responsibility as citizens to “make it work”. (am I dreaming or what).
    I think it is time for a whole new dialogue, not what, where we get to harvest, not where, what we get as wilderness. But to look at forests lands over the entire landscape. I like to think of it as all wilderness, where tree harvesting can take place.

  10. Thanks, stump, for your reminder of “permanence.” I was a young adult when Wildernesses were invented. And I was well on my way to becoming the curmudgeon I am today when LSR’s, WUI’s, RA’s and other government zoning regulations began being invented. I think the land and its resources — whether “public” or not — really is our true legacy. I am not a religious person, but I do think we have a responsibility to manage our resources as best as possible. In that regard, I am in full agreement with the Australian idea that we don’t inherit the land from our ancestors; rather we borrow it from our children. I have really disliked the idea of artificial Wilderness zoning for our nation’s elite, but it is such a popular concept (despite its blatantly racist underpinnings) that I have never spent much time discussing it. I prefer not to think of the land as a “wilderness” at all, but as “home” for as long as I am here. And that we’re all responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.

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