Isn’t 30 Years Enough Forest Planning?

I smiled when I saw the title of this blog. Another century of forest planning? Another century of gridlock?

I think that Dick Behan said it first, and perhaps best in 1981:

… Idealized, perfect planning that is mandated in law [and Regulation], and constrained only by an agency’s budget, will exhaust that budget. … There will come a time when the Forest Service can do nothing but plan …

RPA/NFMA cannot be made to work. Its flaw is fundamental: it is a law, and it needs to be repealed. We failed, in our collective problem solving, by placing too much faith in planning and placing far too much faith in statute. It is time to punt.

As I suggested in 2007, maybe we ought to use the NFMA rulemaking process to begin the journey of changing to a new approach to planning wherein we use scenario planning (wikipedia link) simply to “rehash the past, and rehearse the future”. And to begin a journey to learn how to practice adaptive management (wikipedia link) as an agency. Note that management is not directly linked to planning. Note that there is no “desired future.” Instead, scenarios simply help guide strategic thinking as part of adaptive management, in part by keeping forest managers’ minds open to an emergent future.

Here is a link to my Adaptive Forest Management blog for more.

7 thoughts on “Isn’t 30 Years Enough Forest Planning?”

  1. I agree with Dave. I think the 2005/2008 planning rule’s focus on a single pre-determined desired condition was difficult to pull off. I think an approach using scenario thinking fits especially well in forest planning, given the high uncertainty about ecological processes that we can’t predict, and we can’t control, or can’t afford to control, or can’t agree on controlling.

    There are some good case studies on using scenario planning in natural resource management.

    Also, the National Park Service has begun using scenario planning to look at the uncertainties related to climate change when doing park planning.

  2. I am also are solidly in your camp on scenarios as I think are most of the current planners. For one thing, people are urging carbon assessments and climate model downscaling which are more of the upfront analysis stuff that is so timeconsuming (and these are not planners wanting more analysis). What if it gets hotter and drier? What if people increase greatly or come to the woods less? More on the potential for climate over-analysis in another post.

    So have we arrived at our base model plan?
    Scenarios to look at lines on maps
    Andy’s minimal timber stuff
    Some structured and accountable system for adaptive management (monitoring and public involvement in evaluation and changing).

  3. Scenario based planning would definitely be an improvement as it would hopefully change the dialogue around the issue. There are probably a variety of trust issues that will initially interfere with it being a success. Afterall how would folks know who is winning control and who is losing control? Until we are able to focus a discussion that is more outcome based I believe many stakeholders within the process are going to still want a “scorecard” to measure how they express their values. Idealogically there has to be a better way – however given the history what will it take to make the first steps successful? I’m sure most folks would agree that the traditional rational planning paradigm still has its place in the planning world but that it is probably limited to fairly simplistic systems. Forests and the values associated with forests tend to be very complex systems and thus require more dynamic and iterative planning models.

  4. David- I am thinking that scenarios don’t change the power or trust issues- they are just a way for the public and the agency to jointly explore the robustness of decisions made in plans to a variety of possible future conditions.
    It would replace say a deterministic downscaled climate model of what plants will grow where, with a discussion of “what should we do, and how should our plan be, if the climate gets x hotter and y drier?”

  5. so I like the basic model, except it excludes the social process. clearly the plan, scope, decide, defend model hasn’t worked so well. My mind gets pretty cluttered trying to think how we integrate Elinor Ostrom’s work which pretty much points to the need for place-based discussions among user groups. Is there a role here, maybe at the county level, for local governance to play a part? If so, then what ties the feds and the locals together. In my experience, adaptive learning is a social action.

  6. Lynn,

    Sorry for missing your response ’till now. Yes, adaptive learning — institutional and social AL — is key to a healthy society.

    Absolutely Local, State and National government all have important roles to play. So do non government organizations. So do concerned individuals.

    As to the model — Behan’s model — excluding the social process. Maybe. But mine never has. In one of my epistle’s to the Clinton era Committee of Scientists, here, I phrased it thus:

    Maybe it is time for us to rethink our stance on science, to reposition it to put science in dialogue with management and to put both in dialogue with the public. …

    Even if we did change our ways, and fixed our mission, planning, and science problems, the whole idea of our planning would still set a stage with too many arenas engaging too many actors to effectively work out collaborative stewardship. Take the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP) assessment/planning effort, for example. What prompted us, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to largely ignore good initial strides in collaborative planning that were ongoing in that arena, or if not ongoing at least so recently over that they could have been reopened when we began? Kai Lee’s book Compass and Gyroscope is a favorite in my library and details planning efforts already at work when be began our foray into the Columbia River Basin. But we either failed to read Lee’s book or failed to understand that Lee’s “working politics gyroscope” must accompany his “adaptive management compass” for large-scale and/or “wicked” problems.


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