Development, Forest Planning and an All Lands Approach

In the news over the weekend,  we have seen stories on the the move toward community forests in the Oregonian, and an article in the New York Times entitled “Housing Boom Near Preserves Hamstrings Conservation” on a study of the housing boom near forests and other conservation areas.

Given the pressure of development, and the desire for forest planning to take an “all lands” approach, what kinds of things should a planning rule or a forest plan contain?

Should a precursor to a forest plan be a mapping of wildlife corridors and linkages?

3 thoughts on “Development, Forest Planning and an All Lands Approach”

  1. Due Consideration to Adjacent Private Lands as First Step

    I would simply ask that the USFS give “due consideration” to what is happening on adjacent lands. Such consideration is important when we consider the rampant development of private lands, which the agency has comprehensively studied as one of the core threats facing the National Forest System.

    At the very least, a plan should place a particular forest in a larger landscape and ecological context. What has happened, or is happening, on adjacent private lands and how might this impact various resources and management on a National Forest?

    Consider two examples:

    Here in western Montana, Plum Creek Timber Co. is divesting much of its checkerboarded timberlands to real estate. Much of this subdivision is taking place in ecologically significant areas, like grizzly bear and bull trout habitat. Land acquisition projects notwithstanding, this divestment of timberlands poses enormous challenges to the agency. It is certainly reasonable for a National Forest to consider this situation in its forest plan and situate the forest in this larger landscape and context. At some point, this bigger picture needs to be painted.

    Or consider the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Intermixed within it are units of private timberlands that have been liquidated and severely degraded. Most of the old growth is gone. The Tongass, however, did not consider these cut-over private lands in its forest plan revision until the Ninth Circuit required it to do so. In this case, the 9th Circuit held that the

    “EIS fails adequately to consider the cumulative effects of disproportionate high-volume logging on non-federal land because ‘there is no catalog of past projects and no discussion of how those projects…have harmed the environment..Moreover, there is no discussion of the connection between individual [non-federal, high-volume] harvests and the prior environmental harms from those harvests.” NRDC v. USFS, 421 F. 3d 797 (2005).

    The Tongass responded by “cataloging” these harvests on private lands.

    Maybe these two cases provide useful reference points for this “all lands planning” discussion?

    Of course, I’m dodging the tough questions at this point, as I’m unsure of how much “cataloging” and how much “analysis” should be provided at the plan as opposed to project level. But ignoring the situation on private lands is certainly not the answer.

    Martin Nie

  2. I agree with the “due consideration” idea. I am thinking something simple like “if all those lands are developed, then it is more important that FS land provide additional protection,corridors, etc.” Not a record of all past and potentially future subdivisions, gas wells, etc. Not much cataloging or analysis. Just the fact that the FS and the public considered scenarios of a variety of current and future conditions.

  3. Martin & Sharon,

    I can’t find any suggestion in NFMA that the Forest Service should be in the business of accommodating (and certainly not regulating) what happens on private land. NFMA requires plans for national forest system lands only.

    Since the environmental effects of forest plans must be disclosed in an EIS, NEPA’s cumulative impacts requirement are relevant. That’s the Tongass case Martin cites. But only because of NEPA; not as a result of NFMA.

    Thus, the extent to which forest plans should consider private lands is limited to meeting NEPA’s environmental disclosure demands. And because NEPA imposes no substantive duties (only procedural) upon the Forest Service, NEPA creates no requirement that the Forest Service adjust its management of national forests based upon what’s happening on private lands.

    Are there other circumstances under which national forest management might be constrained by private land actions? Yes, e.g., the Endangered Species Act. But that’s a subject for another blog.


Leave a Comment