We Got This!

New Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke announced today that the Forest Service is unrolling “bold moves we will make throughout the agency to help our employees improve our ability to do more work on the ground, deliver more results and live up to our responsibility for sound land stewardship.” The new planning and analysis tactics will be announced next week at a Phoenix workshop attended by over 200 Forest Service leaders. These “innovations [will] demonstrate ways to significantly reduce costs and the time it takes for us to do this work, while delivering safe, high quality outcomes—with meaningful results that honor our stewardship responsibilities.”

The Forest Service’s Phoenix workshop comes at a time when some members of Congress believe that changes in environmental laws are needed. It appears Chief Tooke and his leadership team believe that the Forest Service already has the tools needed to get the job done.

Here is the complete text of Chief Tooke’s all-employees email:’

From: FS-Office of the Chief
Sent: Thursday, September 21, 2017 5:03 AM
To: FS-All FS
Subject: ***MESSAGE FROM THE CHIEF***Employees Invited to Participate via Live Stream in National Workshop on Environmental Analysis and Decision-making

Next week more than 200 leaders from around the country will convene in Phoenix, AZ, for a national workshop aimed at initiating Forest Service-wide reform of our environmental analysis and decision-making processes.

We invite you to join us via live streaming for the opening and closing sessions of the Environmental Analysis and Decision Making workshop, which brings together professionals from every level of the organization. It will result in bold moves we will make throughout the agency to help our employees improve our ability to do more work on the ground, deliver more results and live up to our responsibility for sound land stewardship.

The Workshop takes place Monday-Thursday, September 26-28. You can join 8 a.m.-noon Pacific Time Tuesday, September 26, for the opening session and 2:15-4:15 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday, September 28, for the closing session. (See instructions below)

The National Leadership Council and I will participate in portions of the session. Participants will draw on more than 30 years of experience of completing environmental analyses and making sound decisions. This includes learning from innovative efforts taking place in various units of these agency. These innovations demonstrate ways to significantly reduce costs and the time it takes for us to do this work, while delivering safe, high quality outcomes—with meaningful results that honor our stewardship responsibilities. Now is the time to apply these innovations nation-wide.

This gathering serves as a critical next step toward a collective shift for the Forest Service. The timing is right: A confluence of factors—including a back log of needed mission critical work, a need for increased employee capacity, land conditions calling for extensive forest restoration, and increased expectations for the agency to deliver services—have come together to create an urgency for change. To be successful, we will need support and commitment from all employees. I am asking you to participate in this change that will advance our commitment to citizens we serve and lands we steward.

I am personally committed to keeping this effort moving forward; I am working right alongside you to get it done. We look forward to your workshop participation—in person or live stream–and thank you for the commitment to our work ahead to improve results to sustain healthy, resilient and productive forests.

Live Steam Broadcasts:

Opening Session: 8 a.m-12 Noon, Pacific Time, Tuesday September 26
Closing Session: 2:15-4:15 pm. Pacific Thursday, September 28.

To connect to the live stream, please click on the link below:

http://fsweb.wo.fs.fed.us/nfs/live.html

Helpful advice:
· Because of bandwidth limitations, every unit should attend from a central location if at all possible.

· Confirm your system has the most recent version of Adobe Flash player appropriate for your computer.

Chief Tony Tooke

9 Comments

  1. Looks promising but, only time will tell

    Promising nuggets from the Chief’s all-employees email:

    “aimed at initiating Forest Service-wide reform of our environmental analysis and decision-making processes.”

    “bold moves we will make throughout the agency to help our employees improve our ability to do more work on the ground, deliver more results and live up to our responsibility for sound land stewardship.”

    “draw on more than 30 years of experience of completing environmental analyses and making sound decisions. This includes learning from innovative efforts taking place in various units of these agency. These innovations demonstrate ways to significantly reduce costs and the time it takes for us to do this work, while delivering safe, high quality outcomes—with meaningful results that honor our stewardship responsibilities.”

    “The timing is right: A confluence of factors—including a back log of needed mission critical work, a need for increased employee capacity, land conditions calling for extensive forest restoration, and increased expectations for the agency to deliver services—have come together to create an urgency for change.”

    –> I read this as a proactive USFS commitment to better fulfill their responsibilities, improve the quality of outcomes and do so with a sense of urgency. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”

  2. What are the odds of reaching some sort of litigious stability, in the face of everything that will be newly-proposed, for the rest of Trump’s term? Call me jaded but, all I see are barriers, until after the next Presidential election. We have to let people actually discover those barriers, before they can deal with them. The Forest Service is having trouble meeting today’s timber targets, with their minimal timber staffs.

  3. The premise for this workshop is a good one, but I have seen many of these types of initiatives with NEPA in the FS before, and it is the on-the-ground resistance that sinks them time after time. It can be very difficult for some folks to let go of their beliefs about how NEPA should be done. And, it can be very threatening to some folks when they learn that they no longer need to do a 100 page report on resource area X. They feel invalidated and left out. I worked on a really good ID Team for years that practiced the types of things that they are trying to get folks to do – we were very good at it, and we were never appealed or taken to court because we did a lot of work prior to developing the proposed action (the left side of the triangle). This saves a lot of time on the right side of the triangle (the NEPA analysis). Some of the things they are considering not doing anymore are a little silly to me – one of them is to not require scoping because NEPA does not require it – part of the rationale for this is that we need to use collaborative processes and be more transparent, but for me, scoping was a huge part of the left side of the triangle – our team thought very hard about who the “interested and affected parties” were and, depending on the project, that led to some innovative approaches to contact people that weren’t on our standard district mailing list (and may not be represented on local collaboratives).

  4. Scoping is required for an EIS (40 CFR §1501.7), which must be prepared when environmental impacts may be significant. Maybe you don’t have to do scoping when you have decided there are no significant impacts (an EA/FONSI), but if you’re going to litigate that issue wouldn’t you want to scope it out beforehand? If the FS is not thoughtful about it, things that may look like shortcuts will turn out to be dead ends.

  5. I, like M of T, have seen these efforts come and go, and I agree that there tends to be pushback from folks to new ways, and a variety of other cultural factors, as she points out. I was the WO NEPA person during the effort to reduce “Analysis Paralysis” ..many will remember those times..

    I’m thinking we have a variety of experienced people, with a variety of perspectives on this blog and if we could get hold of the recommendations out of the workshop, we could comment on those to our mutual enjoyment and edification. Current employees, please forward when they come out, or perhaps they will be posted on the web..

    Finally, I would not agree with Andy that Tony Tooke and the FS think that no legislation is needed- I don’t think it’s either/or. Here’s how the FS used to think when I worked there-

    “The “environmental analysis/litigation” situation can be problematic.
    But there are plenty of things the FS does which are suboptimal.. so instead of standing around complaining about something we can’t help, we will try to optimize what we can do- by learning from people’s successes and so on.
    So we should go on about working on what we can work on, and not focus on things that are unlikely to change.”

    As M of T says, sometimes these efforts founder on the shoals of FS culture.. so it will be interesting to see how this new effort deals with it. The new Chief was the Director of EMC (planning, NEPA, appeals litigation and so on) in the WO, so he didn’t just fall off the “project planning and analysis” turnip truck. He held that position when I was Planning Director in R-2, and I observed that myself. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

  6. I watched the Tuesday morning livestream. It started off with Chief Tooke talking about the “training deficit” in NEPA, planning, and many other topics in the FS. He also mentioned that we are not going to be getting more money, and we are not going to start cutting corners on meeting the law, etc. He seemed to have a very good grasp of the hurdles involved in getting the agency to do a more effective job of analysis – most of those are human issues and he articulated the resistance that is likely to occur. He also noted that this will not be an initiative that starts off and then sits on a shelf and that he will be holding Regional Foresters accountable for the actions of their region.
    The next and longest talk was by Chris French, Director of Ecosystem Management Coordination (aka Planning). Chris presented a lot of data and information to make the point that we are over-doing the analysis in the NEPA process, there is a lack of training and consistency across the agency, and the way the FS implements NEPA is out of step with other agencies in USDA and across the government. We spend a lot of money on planning, particularly on EAs where we sign a Finding of No Significant Impact. He also showed that the vast majority of NEPA decisions signed by the FS were not for vegetation projects – Special Uses occupy that place of honor. Our inability to get those Special Uses decisions signed promptly is impacting businesses, jobs, and income. He also showed data to refute the argument that we have to overanalyze because of litigation. He made some powerful and convincing arguments that are hard to deny. One of the final points is that by bringing our NEPA processes in line with other agencies can free up time (and money) – the light at the end of the tunnel – and get more acres treated faster. He definitely recognized that there is a need to “custom fit” our NEPA processes in some parts of the FS – regions/topics on which there is more litigation, etc.
    One thing that did not seem to be well recognized or articulated is that employees time is split among lots of different competing tasks and this also makes NEPA inefficient. And, as Russ Vaagen points out so well, when the agency allows ID Team members to go off on fire assignments instead of work on planning or on project implementation, that belies the agency’s commitment to getting that type of work done. Each time we have to “restart” on something, that eats up time, and that generally doesn’t show up in the thickness of the document, but it definitely shows up in the length of time that it takes to complete something.

    • Well, it sounds like more active management won’t be a priority for this Administration. There will probably be plenty of upheaval and change but, ultimately, there will be no significant increases in timber volumes. When the Forest Service talks about jobs, it never means Forest Service jobs. The problems are as much political and red tape as they are regarding budgets. If the goal was to reduce wildfire spending, I’m sure we’d see some progress in budgets but, the leadership appears to choose other priorities. The public never criticizes the Government for throwing money at wildfires.

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