The RPA/NFMA/NFMA: Solution to a Nonexistent Problem- R.W Behan

A wise colleague suggested that it might be time again to take a look at this article from the May 1990 Journal of Forestry. Here are some quotes from the paper:

Planning has literally become an end in itself, with a large…interest group.. dedicated to its continuation

The National Forest Management Act is indeed an elegant solution to a nonexistent problem.

Thanks again to the Society of American Foresters for allowing us to post this paper on our blog.
Also note that it was originally published in Western Wildlands, a publication of our friends at the University of Montana.

7 thoughts on “The RPA/NFMA/NFMA: Solution to a Nonexistent Problem- R.W Behan”

  1. Behan’s argument is as relevant today as it was then. I re-read that essay a short time ago as well, in the context of the place-based bills and agreements discussion.

    In a nutshell, Behan argues that the controversies leading up to NFMA (Bitterroot and Monongahela) had nothing to do with planning, so why “solve” these localized problems with elaborate planning requirements? In subsequent work (see e.g., the Plundered Promise, published by Island) he places a lot of blame on Washington D.C. arrogance and corporate power. In conversation, he is quite critical of legislative fixes–and argues that localized controversies can be resolved through more decentralized collaborative decision making.

    So all of this is very relevant to our place-based discussions as well.

  2. The key question is perhaps.. what would the “floor” of environmental protection legislation look like, above which national groups would be willing to let local people and other interests have their decentralized collaborative decision making?

  3. Sharon’s “key question” might be a good topic of conversation. My answer is that we have a good bunch of environmental policy legislation on the books right now. And most of it comes hand in glove with collaboration/consultation requirements or “prods.”

    That is why I have been advocating for a repeal of RPA/NFMA. I don’t see that RPA/NFMA adds anything much that can’t be had via another route re: environmental protections. And the planning culture mess has been a royal pain in the ass otherwise.

    P.S. I just dug out my copy of Mintzberg’s Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning–that has been boxed up since retirement. Now I’ll be able to bring a few quotes into our conversations from time to time. But that reminds me that I was also looking for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass and didn’t yet find it. I thought that I’d need some good Mad Hatter quotes to compliment future posts about upcoming planning rule meetings.

  4. Richard W. Behan also wrote (in 2001) a book he titled, “Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands.”

    It’s available here:

    I’ve read Plundered Promise, but haven’t read Behan’s 1990 article, which is linked to here. It would be interesting to see if Behan’s thinking on these topics changed or evolved in the 11 years between article and book.

    Suffice to say, the answer to that question might be found in the title to Beham’s book: “Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands”

  5. I am an ex student of Dick Behan(University of Montana), and last heard from him three years ago. He and his wife Ann were planning to move to Portland. Does anybody have his contact details? Many thanks, Chris Yarrow.


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