Science Forum Introductory Remarks

The two-day science forum began this morning with introductory remarks from Harris Sherman,  Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment.  Sherman will be the responsible official for the planning rule.   Sherman began his remarks by saying that the planning rule must be rooted in integrity – it must be based on sound science. 

He mentioned how the Secretary of Agriculture has focused on restoration – 115 million acres of NFS lands nationwide are in need of restoration.  For the remainder of the lands, we need to maintain forest health.  We need to address these challenges through landscape approaches.  We also sometimes overlook the importance of forests for water.  Over 60 million people get their water from forests.   We need to think about climate change, and we might mitigate the effects, or adapt to the changes.  We need to be concerned about the diversity of species.  Also, job creation is an important part of this – jobs in restoration or biofuels. 

Sherman said that collaboration is important, and it’s exciting to see the way that people are coming together.  He said that there is common recognition that we have serious problems.  He said that good science underpins each of these areas.  Without good science we’ll have a flawed rule that people will not buy into.  Sherman concluded by emphasizing vision, integrity, and support: developing a rule that will survive legal challenges.

Other introductory speakers included Ann Bartuska, FS deputy chief of Research and Development.   Bartuska pointed to the concept of best available science, and the challenge to answer what it is, when it is, and how we should use it.  She said that science should be the underpinning of the discussions.  She said that the Forest Service tries to make science-based decisions, and has built a science organization to support that, and many scientists from the organizations are present at this conference.  She pointed out challenges such as uncertainty, variability, scale, and complexity.  She also asked what happens if science changes – is it still best science?

Hank Kashdan, associate chief, said that the science forum is an indicator of the collaborative rulemaking effort.  He said there is a clear intent to involve people across the country.  He also said that we can’t overstate the importance of science in this process. 

The director of Ecosystem Management Coordinator, Tony Tooke, finished the introductory remarks by mentioning the target to complete the rule by November 2011.  He defined success as having a rule that is grounded in science and robust collaboration, with plans that can respond to current needs and improve management.

5 thoughts on “Science Forum Introductory Remarks”

  1. Political scientist Dan Sarewitz suggests that “environmental controversies must be fully articulated and adjudicated through political means before science can play an effective role in resolving environmental problems.”

    Perhaps Baby Boomer skeptics of forest planning (e.g., Dave and I) haven’t woken up to smell the roses. Perhaps we don’t realize that the major environmental controversies regarding national forests have been “fully articulated and adjudicated through political means.” If so, Sarewitz’s pre-condition for constructive scientific involvement in policy making has been met.

  2. NFMA was Congress’ political solution to logging disputes. Logging practices and policies have since been fully adjudicated. That resolution, which has become the status quo for at least 15 years, has reduced logging levels to 25% of pre-NFMA levels.

    The previously-dominant science disciplines are now almost extinct from public forest policy. Econometrics (e.g., the Timber Assessment Market Model) — vanished. Biometrics (the measurement and prediction of timber stand volume) — relegated to the private sector. Operations research (e.g., FORPLAN and its offspring) — dead, awaiting burial.

    Today’s science panel’s make-up tells us that ecology has replaced economics as the science discipline the Forest Service thinks is relevant. In Sarewitz’s terms, the political process has resolved the forest policy dispute of the 20th century — it has eliminated timber production as a dominant national forest use.

    • But controversy still exists.. A couple of scientists at the meeting suggested the new rule incorporate the precautionary principle. I think the question is whether it’s worth it to retread nfma for today’s issues. Or whether we must retread because there is no other alternative.

  3. NFMA served Congress’ purpose well, so I don’t expect its repeal anytime soon. The place-based bills pending in Congress (with little chance of passage) do not amend NFMA nor eliminate its planning mandate.


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