What Have We Learned Since the COS Report?

Thanks to the generosity of the Society of American Foresters, we can post articles from the Journal of Forestry May 99 edition on this blog. This edition of the journal focused on the COS Report. Today I’ll post the Norm Johnson article here.

Since 1999, we have tried many of the ideas that the COS brought forward. I would be interested in how you all think these ideas have worked.

I will post later this week on my experience with trying out some of these concepts.

9 thoughts on “What Have We Learned Since the COS Report?”

  1. Thanks for posting that article. It had been a while since I had considered it, and it is clearly relevant for this discussion.

    For your consideration and comment:

    What have we learned?
    1)The presumption in the COS article is that ecological sustainability is more equal than economic or social sustainability. They try to finesse this point, but I find it disingenuous. I am hopeful that we have learned all three need to be truly equals (among other potential values).

    2) COS suggests the need to take into consideration the larger landscape. Agreed, but we need the right governance structure that can accommodate larger spatial scales. In the report there is the absence of considering different spatial scales and the appropriate types of governance (or planning) structures that can accommodate these levels. In other words, the appropriate governance structure for a project might be very different for what is needed at the bioregion. Figuring out what will work at each scale and how to link them for effective learning is worth greater thought this time around.

    Toddi Steelman

  2. One thing I’ve learned from politicians and clever students is how to answer a different question than the one asked. So how about instead: what can we learn since the last COS?

    If another group (of whatever composition) is formed, I’d like the analysis and the recommendations to be informed as much as possible from the bottom-up. So much has happened in the last 10 years—we have several cases where divergent groups have come up with specific plans (and in some cases, introduced legislation) for how particular national forests ought to be managed. These initiatives go beyond the abstract, conceptual, and ideological. They offer real lessons that should instruct the new planning rule. If I wrote the next group’s charter, I’d ask the group to carefully study these initiatives, hear supportive and oppositional testimony, and see where planning helps and hinders their progress.


  3. Toddi- We have discussed various ideas for how to generate one or more adaptive governance structures that can deal with planning at a variety of scales..
    You have put your finger on the planning billion dollar question:

    “Figuring out what will work at each scale and how to link them for effective learning.”

    Hoping that there are ideas out there and experiences that will provide clues.

  4. I agree with Sharon and Toddi re: The billion dollar question: “Figuring out what work at each scale and how to link them for effective learning”, but in the context of “wicked problems”, dealing with what is ripe for consideration at any point in time/space, relative to what has been considered before and what is being deferred for later.

    I also agree with Martin as expanded: that we need to learn from what has happened since the COS, as well as from the COS, as well as from earlier inquiry.

    When I scanned the COS article, I wondered why the COS placed emphasis on “user fees”. I’m fine with the limited use of fees that is now in play: campground fees, special use fees (although I’d rather get rid of most of the outfitter and guide fees — fat chance), boat launch fees, hunting fees (e.g. waterfowl stamps and Pittman Robertson fees on guns, bows, and ammunition), etc. But I don’t want our national forests turned into Disneyland-type experiences.

    The other major departure in my thinking deals with “desired future condition.” I see such as playing some role in small-scale endeavors, but I find it a distraction in dealing with broad-scale temporal and spatial considerations except to the extent that the desire be “sustainabilty”. We could probably spend years discussing “sustainability”. We already have. Consider just this 1995 snapshot of a bit of the discussion. With luck we will repeat some of the discussion again in the context of developing Adaptive Management as per the COS, or better stated Adaptive Governance following Ron Brunner and Coauthors.

    Finally, Toddi, I think that ecology, and ecological considerations re: sustainability in some ways trump economic considerations. Let us figure out how to live more in tune with nature, and amend our economics (through time) to fulfill Leopold’s dreams, in short “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” Here are a few quotable quotes of Leopold’s dreams.

  5. I was always puzzled by the internal inconsistencies of the 1999 report. On one hand, it calls for a science-driven process to provide for ecological sustainability as the guiding star of the Forest Service, shifting the emphasis away from sustained yield of uses and services, to sustaining the forest itself. On the other hand, it calls for a broadly-accessible collaborative approach, leading to development of cooperatively developed landscape goals. The plan itself is merely a “loose leaf notebook”, implying that it merely is a repository of decisions made elsewhere by other people. I guess this tension is inherent in forest planning, and each planning team needs to muddle through it all. But the 1999 report also calls for science advisory boards and independent science reviews, which could interfere with the balance.

    The lofty soaring language of the recommendations could never be effectively translated into tangible direction. But I think the one area where the report succeeded was in the very specific arena of conserving habitat for native species. Much of that direction is still in use today, translated into the planning manual and handbook.

  6. John- exactly what direction are you talking about in terms of “conserving habitat.” I thought they liked focal species..not sure we are doing that. Could you elaborate?

  7. Sharon – I was referring to the two stage approach to planning for species, where you first look at the integrity of the ecosystem (the composition, structure, and disturbance processes), then you determine if there are additional special requirements for certain species. Of course, at the time of the COS report, we were just beginning to understand how to apply an understanding of the historic range of variation of ecosystems – today we use it as a way to figure out how an ecosystem functions, and historical conditions are rarely applied as a goal.

    As far as focal species, chapter 3 of the report (p. 38) explains that this is just a generic term. In addition to “species of concern”, it encompasses categories of species that we currently think of as “species of interest”, including indicator species, keystone species, ecological engineers, umbrella species, and a category known as “link species” (species like prairie dogs that provide a critical link in the food chain.) All of these considerations were in use in the manual and handbooks associated with the 2005/2008 planning rules.

    For those who are interested, here is a link to chapter 3:

    and here is a link to the full report:

  8. My problems with the two stage approach include :

    1. Ecosystem “integrity” seems to be a compendium of different characteristics weighted by perceived importance. I am against any analytical tools that take value decisions out of the public sphere and scientize them (a la Forplan).

    2. Composition, structure and disturbance processes change through time- in some ways “good” for people and certain other organisms, in other ways “bad.” There is no one correct set of composition, structure and disturbance processes.

    3. I think the two stage process led us to many layers of unnecessary analysis, including stochastic disturbance veg models, fire prediction models, etc. I would prefer simply picking species, being clear on why we want them (rare, keystone, whatever) and assessing the possibilities for managing them and their habitat over time- correcting our course where necessary. Keep it simple.


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