K.I.S.S. in Rule Form, Part 3

In an agency beset with feelings of process predicament and analysis paralysis, it would be cruel punishment indeed to suggest NFMA rules that add more analysis and process to the mix. The new rules should also be durable; that is, not chase after every cause de jour (e.g., climate change) or impose inflexible, one-size-fits-all analysis processes.

The following “Assessment of New Information and Changed Circumstances” is based on the fact that forest plans exist now that cover every acre of the National Forest System. Congress directed that these plans “be revised from time to time” when “conditions in a unit have significantly changed, but at least every fifteen years.” It makes sense that only those parts of a forest plan affected by changed conditions require revision.

It is with these principles in mind that I put forward Part 3 of the keep-it-simple-sweet NFMA rules:

36 CFR 219.3: Assessment of New Information and Changed Circumstances

The revision shall assess new information and changed circumstances and conditions in the unit that are relevant to the decisions made in the land management plan. If the new information or changed circumstances and conditions warrant amendments to the land management plan, the land management plan amendments shall be assessed as a part of the vegetation management and timber harvest program’s NEPA document. If the land management plan amendments, singly or in combination with the vegetation management and timber harvest program, require an environmental impact statement pursuant to Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., an environmental impact statement shall be prepared.

3 thoughts on “K.I.S.S. in Rule Form, Part 3”

  1. Here are a couple of considerations.

    First, thank you for recognizing the analysis paralysis that can happen in forest planning. I would add that we can also experience “assessment paralysis”, which I think the 2000 rule would have created, especially considering some of the science interface questions that Sharon has mentioned on earlier posts. When you think of the definitions of the words “analysis”, “assessment”, and “evaluation”, as used by the 1982, 2000, and 2008 rules, I prefer “evaluation” of monitoring data and new information. The evaluation can be focused on the specific question regarding the need to change the plan. Of course NFMA is unclear (as usual) when it says the rule should “insure research on and (based on continuous monitoring and assessment in the field) evaluation of the effects of each management system.”

    Also, regarding your observation that “forest plans exist now that cover every acre of the National Forest System,” that’s true, but some of these plans are very old. One forest plan in Region 2 was done in 1984 and hasn’t been revised. Quoting the Federal Register NOI: out of 127 plans “currently 68 plans are past due for plan revision. Most plans were developed between 1983 and 1993 and should have been revised between 1998 and 2008.” There is likely to be a huge “changed condition” over a 26 year period. One solution to this problem might be a special “transitional” amendment in the rule that updates all the old plans, hopefully something that can be done simply and focused on just the aspects of your new design of plans.

  2. Congress has been quite lenient when it comes to tardy revisions of forest plans. For the past several years, the Interior appropriations bill has included a provision that bars litigation based on a forest plan’s ancient age, effectively repealing NFMA’s “at least every fifteen years” plan revision requirement.

    I’m agnostic regarding just how out-of-date are existing plans. Age alone is unlikely a reliable criterion. The Northwest Forest Plan, at 16 years old, appears still quite durable as it continues to be the basis for FWS recovery plans in the region.

    Forest plan land allocations are likely the least sensitive to changing conditions. Most land allocations are fixed by Congress (e.g., wilderness), fixed by geophysical reality (e.g., rock-and-ice, unstable soils), fixed by past use (e.g., campgrounds), or fixed by other agency’s prerogatives (e.g., endangered species recovery plans). Also, all of these old plans have been amended over the years to accommodate various otherwise non-conforming projects, new congressional land use decisions, or new recovery plans. It’s not like the plans have remained static without change since first promulgated.

    It’s precisely that sort of flexibility that adaptive governance will require if it is to be effective.

  3. We have a couple of forests that were working on their revisions and got stopped by permutations of planning rules. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a problem for their continued success. They have done important amendments, e.g. fire use, probably the most important decisions with regard to environmental impacts are travel management and oil and gas leasing decisions. Which would be helped, in my view, by updating land allocations. However, many little course corrections may be more meaningful than one big gulp. In working on the 05 Rule, we had the analogy of decisions as a flotilla of project boats guides by a strategic beacon, compared to a large cargo ship that can never leave port because so many decisions have been placed on it.

    If the future requires adaptability and flexibility, the boats have to be better than the ship.

    I have a hypothesis that to most people who use the forest, for recreation, grazing, special uses, oil and gas, or timber, the age of the forest plan is not a concern. There might be particular things about the way the forest is managed that they want changed or not, but the idea of opening everything to a colossal analysis and debate may be seen to be more trouble than it’s worth.

    Some of our best functioning forests (to the public, and in meeting Congressional and agency goals and targets) may have the oldest plans. What does that tell us?


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