PNW Forest Plan Revision Process

As one of the many folks who attended a “listening session” last year, I’m on the mailing list. Just received this pre-assessment phase update. I give the USFS a lot of credit for inviting and considering input from the public. But the process takes SO long — the agency says it will be “approaching the Assessment phase of plan revision in late 2017 or early 2018.” If the pre-assessment phase takes almost 3 years, and if the assessment phase takes 3 more years, and then maybe there’s a plan revision phase that takes a few years…. This process may not be completed until 2025. 2030 anyone?

 

Joint R5 & R6 Forest Plan Revision Status within the Northwest Forest Plan Amendment Area

Status:

The Forest Service has evaluated what we heard from our partners and the public during the 19 listening sessions held last year as well as to other feedback received since then. We have several work groups in place that are designing an analytical framework and public engagement approach with the goal to provide regional consistency while fostering and maintaining local ownership. Regional and forest level specialists from both Regions are assigned to the work groups. This work is being completed in what is called the pre-assessment phase. The tasks done by these work groups will inform and support the first phase of the revision process called the Assessment phase. Based on lessons learned, the information collected during pre-assessment will also help us to better engage with the public and stakeholders as the 2012 Planning Rule describes. In late 2016 we will evaluate the integrated products that the work groups are developing. That evaluation will shape our next steps, with the aim of approaching the Assessment phase of plan revision in late 2017 or early 2018.

 

Key Points and Next Steps:

We are taking the necessary time to compile work group products and information in a thorough, thoughtful, consistent way to ensure success in the Assessment phase, in how we approach public engagement, and in the overall implementation of plan revision. Our current focus is completing pre-assessment work group products and the Northwest Forest Plan science synthesis being led by the Pacific Northwest Research Station and Pacific Southwest Research Station.

 

Ø We have not made a decision about the sequencing, i.e., order/combination of forests revising their plans, or the timing of the plan revision process. We will not make that decision until we have more and better information gleaned from our on-going pre-assessment work groups and engagement process.

Ø There is agreement that we must engage in:

  • Building relationships both internally and externally,
  • Developing a contemporary and relevant engagement and communications approach,
  • Adopting the lessons learned from the early adopters,
  • Finding appropriate and effective ways to engage with the public around priority issues that can be addressed in the pre-assessment phase of the 2012 Planning Rule.

Ø Here are initial topics that work groups are focused on:

  • Aquatic Riparian Conservation Strategy, eastside old forest conditions, Species of Conservation Concern, socio and economic conditions/values-attitudes-beliefs, and sustainable recreation.

Ø   Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) topics will be informed by the Station-led science synthesis for the NWFP area.

 

Forest plan revision remains a high priority for both Regions. We believe this timeline and approach will allow the Regions to prepare for revisions in the most effective way while continuing our focus on restoration objectives, fire management, and employee safety and wellness.

 

For more information please visit:

Region 6: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/landmanagement/?cid=stelprd3831710

Region 5: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/landmanagement/planning/?cid=STELPRD3830167

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. I’m tracking this as well, and am on the listserv and am interested in what others have to say.

    I attended both the Seattle listening session and the NWFP 20th year progress report in Portland last spring; I am a layperson – I have better than an average person’s knowledge about this issue, but probably well below average knowledge than the experts here. Nonetheless, here’s my thoughts.

    I think this is a daunting project; 20 years later, they’re still untangling what a reasonable baseline is for everything from soils to birds to how to replace the economy in logging communities.

    I see that the logging communities are still embittered by the NWFP, and in some cases resent recreation and restoration. Many simply sit with their arms folded repeating over and over, “bring logging back.” Many in these communities are not business entrepreneurs, and those who have tried some business effort – aren’t marketing experts, and perhaps aren’t good at running a business. Does anyone know, in the NWFP, if the USFS was required to provide re-education for these communities? 20 years is a short timeline for turning around an entire generation or 2 of those who have logged their entire lives, and their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before them.

    Too, east side dry forests and west side wet forests may need different management requirements in order to restore and thrive. In the NWFP update session, biologists said they started out with no baseline to monitor wildlife, water quality, vegetation and soils. Neighboring lands, whether a public agency or private landowners, may or may not be interested in restoration, which in turn affects what’s going on in USFS lands.

    Is 20 years long enough to have developed a healthy relationship with logging communities, obtain wildlife, vegetation and soils baselines, and restore local economies? I don’t know. I do know what the USFS should have been doing in the years before 1994 – they should have already had good relationships, and wildlife, soils and vegetation baselines. But they didn’t.

    So where are we now? In a long, drawn-out mess – and the relationship with local communities is receiving another blow by the forest road reduction process. Many local communities don’t like it and refuse to listen to any alternatives; they want all the roads to remain open, period. They want logging back, period.

    It’s a very tough issue. I don’t have the answers, and I don’t know what a reasonable time-line should look like.

    • Kim, it’s not simply “bring logging back.” The issue is that the annual harvest that was promised under the NWFP, about 1 billion board feet per year (down from ~4 bbf before the NWFP), has never been met. At best, half of that 1 bbf has been harvested in any one year, but it’s been less than that in most years.

      On the west side of the Cascades, the Mt. Hood National Forest is know as “the green wall” — because there’s so little harvesting., and some wildlife species are suffering from that. Which is why Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin, two NWFP architects, have proposed to increase the harvest via “ecological forestry,” which is aimed at both harvests and habitat.

      Naturally, it’s not all about timber, but that’s a huge issue in rural Oregon — where I live.

      Steve

  2. thanks Steve.

    Further question: Looking at things since the promise of 1 billion board feet per year,should it still be a goal? I think everyone, including the USFS, has learned a lot about how the ecosystem works in the last 20 years; things that we didn’t know in 1994. Knowing what we know now, perhaps promising wasn’t the right thing to do, rather it should have been a “maybe we can do this” kind of statement. Is it still reasonable to hold them to this promise? From what I understand (from what logging friends tell me) the mills aren’t set up for the smaller trees suitable for thinning, and that the environmental policies make thinning too expensive – so that when a sale comes up, no one bid on it. This is just what I’ve been told by locals; I am not an expert.

    I understand Franklin’s recent proposal was not well received (or am I wrong?).

    Finally – I read Jim Furnish’s book, and am a big foggy on how, directly after the NWFP was signed, a logging community seemingly immediately embraced restoration of a watershed. Furnish’s book made it seem as if it were a seamless transition; given what I have experienced in various meetings about the NWFP and road’s projects, I just can’t imagine that happening; it’s a miracle indeed, and I wish Mr. Furnish’s recipe worked everywhere.

  3. For better or worse, it appears forest planning has no starting nor ending point. Planning is perpetual. That’s good for planners’ job security. Also consistent with the FS’s notion that plans are not final decisions, but an intermediate step along the path to doing something on the ground. Insofar as today’s nouveau forest plans include fewer (no?) enforceable standards of performance, I wonder why anyone cares anymore.

    That’s not to say that if NFMA plans dried up and blew away, the Forest Service would be bereft of guidance or environmentalists defenseless in the face of logging mania. Each logging decision would have to comply with NFMA’s limits on clearcutting, the ESA’s conservation of protected species, NEPA’s full disclosure of environmental effects, and the like. Would the policy and/or on-the-ground-reality landscape look much different? I doubt it.

  4. It’s nice to see us talking about planning. Not to start a new debate about “what should forest plans do,” but I’ll just point out that NEPA is strictly procedural, ESA only protects species through radical surgery rather than prevention, and the planning regulations substantially reduce (beyond NFMA) the ability of the Forest Service to act with reckless (in)discretion. Whether future forest plans have enforceable standards is up to you who get involved in the planning process; I think (and the planning rule says) standards are necessary to provide certainty of meeting “applicable legal requirements” (like wildlife viability).

    If the Forest Service ever “promised” long-term timber outputs, it was mistake that I don’t think they will make again. If the public ever believed the Forest Service made an output commitment it could deliver on, well, now they should know better. They should have especially learned that pushing the Forest Service to give them higher timber numbers probably just means that the on-the-ground results will fall short by larger amounts.

    I’ve wondered why there can’t more realistic discussion at the beginning of the planning process about the real decision space for producing timber. Maybe that will be part of this longer front-end process the Forest Service is using for Northwest Forest Plan revisions. (The “minimum management requirement” (MMR) process under the 1982 regulations was the right concept, but was short on science and obviously over-optimistic.)

  5. Kim: about the Siuslaw transition — it was neither seamless, nor easy. It was relatively swift and embraced by many (not all) timber operators. We STOPPED clearcutting big trees; we STARTED “single entry” thinning to accelerate old-growth character. But we had to wade through doubt, cynicism, and some ridicule (yes, from within FS). Over a period of 3-4 years of concerted effort the change was “accepted” because we had demonstrable results. We also had the good fortune of being “written off” in terms of importance by the NWFP, thus the freedom to explore boldly.

    I’m going back to re-read my book. I certainly didn’t mean to convey that it was easy or seamless. I do think it was “successful” in terms of results and durability, lack of contention.

  6. Jim, to me and what I have seen in the Puget Sound area, 3-4 years, even with demonstrable results, is fast for a community steeped in the logging industry to accept.

    In my working with the logging communities here, I see that logging is in their blood, their daddy’s blood, and grand-daddy’s blood. The NWFP, to them, is more than change, they consider it an affront to their families. When I helped facilitate an outreach session re: road closures surrounding a logging community, I listened rather than just “heard” what the locals were saying – I realized that the roads aren’t just roads; to them those roads are their blood veins. They were born on those roads, played and worked on those roads. Those road belong to THEM, and outsiders have no right to come in and close them. One gentleman actually said, “people not from around here can’t do that, can they?” I already knew it’d be difficult to get these fine people to agree about road closures, but it wasn’t until I sat down and listened where I realized what these roads mean to them. It’s very hard on these communities. I have empathy for them, but on the other hand, they have had since 1994 to understand what’s going on around them and there’s no going back.

    To them, the forest recovers on its own after logging; paying for restoration and costs for studies for restoration are ridiculous to them. They say logging is good for wildlife, logging is good for hiking because the money fixes roads and keeps them open. 26 years after the NWFP was signed, this is what it’s like here and they are not budging. Nothing, not even restoration, has replaced the local economies.

    You’re a rare man indeed, to have accomplished all you have in your career, even changing your basic ideals; which takes ‘nads! I admire the heck out of that. and THANK YOU for all you have gone through (not easy to deal with naysayers in your own agency!) all you have done and continue to do!

    I wish we had the same success in working with our communities as you had in yours. I wonder if the red tape within the agency is an issue – surely it is. I don’t know.

  7. Thank you for the thoughtful, wrenching reply. I wonder if TR and GP knew what they unleashed? I’ve seen and heard the same sentiments many times, many places. What’s hard for the logging community to accept is that their voice carries no more weight than a hardened enviro from Olympia. Dare I say familiarity breeds contempt? Locals often develop that possession/attachment to landscapes they work in. So do FS people! Hard as it is, FS officials need to bring the “national” perspective to the table. Roads don’t maintain themselves, and lands don’t always heal properly. Another issue I predict makes no sense to locals is forest carbon/ climate change. But it is profoundly important, and FS must make the case.

    And to be clear, many loggers and mills walked away and stayed away. But there were brave souls who needed work and found that restoration forestry can also be profitable, and importantly, quite fulfilling. Scott Stouder, now with TU in ID, is my personal hero.

  8. This is a thought-provoking discussion, and I’d like it to continue. However, my original post aimed at the time it apparently will take to arrive at some future plan. The revision process also casts a shadow over the planning and management of each of the federal units covered by the NWFP: 19 national forests, seven BLM districts, six national parks, and the handful of national wildlife refuges and lands managed by the Department of Defense. Does it make sense to attempt a re-drawing of a plan for all of those units, something like 24 million acres? Or might the units proceed with planning on their own, given a simpler set of guidelines, rather than a complete NWFP rewrite? “My” national forest’s plan, the Mt. Hood, was written in 1990 (and amended many times). The Siuslaw’s LRMP was completed the same year. I suggest that the focus ought to be on updating these and other unit plans, without spending years trying to revise the NWFP.

  9. The irony is that the orig NWFP was done FAST and “relatively” cheaply as compared to aggregate cost of all indiv plans and YEARS (Siuslaw Plan in 1990 took almost 10 years!). FS has lost ability to swiftly accomplish big jobs like NWFP and Roadless Rule. I think it’s very unfair and unreasonable to ask planning “partners” who sign up for the ride to endure the tedium of any planning effort years in the making. It’s much more efficient to do a big effort like NWFP revision all at once, but the FS culture doesn’t like it.

  10. I think it is a good idea for the Forest Service to approach revising forest plans subject to the Northwest Forest Plan like it is defusing a bomb.

    I don’t think it is necessary for all plans to be revised at once through one massive process. I do think it is necessary for a regional entity to put sideboards on these processes and outcomes. I think recovery plans for listed species should be the foundation of these sideboards, supported by the requirements for ecological integrity and species viability (since these are legal requirements). I don’t see a justification or benefit from divergent (and potentially arbitrary) interpretations of what the best available scientific information says that vulnerable species need.

    This is what the minimum management requirements of the 1982 planning regulations accomplished (which the Northwest Forest Plan essentially updated). There seems to be some concern (real or disingenuous) that this approach necessarily requires massive NEPA paperwork. In fact, “preliminary planning steps” that interpret legal requirements have been upheld in court as not being “actions” for the purpose of NEPA, and decisions to prevent environmental degradation do not trigger NEPA at all.

  11. From what I understand, they’re asking for public input on what components of the NWFP to keep, revise, or eliminate from forest plans going forward. So it’s not just revising the actual NWFP, which was an amendment; new plans won’t have a standalone NWFP amendment, the components will be incorporated into the plans. So they need to figure that out before proceeding with new plans. Mt Baker Snoqualmie’s is a 1990 plan as well.

    Okanogan-Wenatchee NF spent years and a LOT of money on a new plan (I think theirs is 1990 too). The public felt that the new plan wasn’t keeping enough of the NWFP as it should, so OKWEN stopped the planning process. It wasn’t that OKWEN wasn’t doing a good job on their plan – maybe they were, maybe they weren’t – but the NWFP doesn’t seem to differentiate between the dryer, more fire-prone, managed forests from the wet side forests where there’s not a lot of vegetation management going on, and it was creating a nightmare of a process.

    So to me, it makes sense to figure out what of the NWFP to incorporate into the plans, and what components can be tweaked to better accommodate the differences in the ecosystems of each forest, and the differences in how they are managed while retaining the integrity of the NWFP.

  12. They are asking the right question. (It is required as part of the plan revision process, and there is no reason it can’t be done in a regional setting for part and a forest setting for the rest.) My point is just that the answer should be framed in terms of what changes would be consistent with substantive legal requirements. It’s easier for the Forest Service to say “yes” to everyone, without truly integrating and reconciling the perceived “needs.” This may lead to considering alternatives that aren’t viable, and merely postponing the pain (what must be an unwritten job qualification for successful bureaucrats.)

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