Comments on Federal Projects: Values vs. Technical Info

This article from The Conversation isn’t aimed at the USFS, but at federal agencies in general: “Want to change federal policies? Here’s how.”

An excerpt:

“Federal agencies need the expert information that scientists and professionals can provide. An analysis by the U.S. Forest Service found that the majority of public input was value-based. While these comments provided agency employees with critical information on public opinion, value-based comments were not as helpful to the planning staff as detailed comments that provided technical feedback. Only 9 percent of the comments sampled were classified as having a high level of detail.”

 

2 Comments

  1. I’ve probably got kind of cynical view of this, but I’ve observed (from inside and outside the Forest Service) that raising legal issues is more likely to get the attention of an agency, and there is “no law to apply” with regard to opinions and values. However, an agency can be found arbitrary and capricious for the way it treats science, so it must handle it more carefully. In particular, the 2012 Planning Rule has a requirement for the Forest Service to “identify what information was determined to be the best available scientific information.” If the public submits scientific information, the agency must decide whether and how to use it and explain why or why not.

  2. I think that that is an artificial dichotomy.. both kinds of input are useful. What is not helpful are things like “don’t destroy the environment” in a form letter.
    Something like “don’t close road FS363A because my family and I use it to go berrypicking” is a value but also a specific value tied to a specific place.

    In my experience, it was the specificity and the relevance, more than the question of technical comment that made comments useful. One thing about the technical comment is that more often than not people will point to the research that supports their value position. And as we see all the time, on anything complicated, researchers come from different perspectives and study different areas and don’t agree.

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