All-Lands & Planning

Plum Creek/Lolo NF checkerboard

Without further details and language, I’m unsure of what to make of the USFS’s draft planning rule framework.  I’m anxious to see the draft language and learn more next week at the 4th Roundtable.  But I can’t help feeling somewhat positive about the agency’s apparent willingness to adopt an “all-lands approach” to planning. 

It’s impossible to fully exorcize the cynic out of me, so I realize that this might amount to nothing more than some recasting of ecosystem management.  But the Stuart Smalley in me says that this could be an important turn for the agency. (yes, I need my daily affirmation). 

Just a few years ago, during the 2005/08 regulations, several national forests revised plans without even acknowledging their broader landscape and ecological context.  

I found this incredibly frustrating.  How, for example, could national forests in western Montana not even mention the word “Plum Creek” in a revised plan?  How could the agency simply ignore the largest private landowner in the state and its real estate subdivision plans on adjacent checkerboard sections?  Such context would be provided during NEPA-analyzed projects supposedly, but I remain unconvinced, and still think a forest plan should situate a national forest in its broader landscape.   

In was within this context that Char Miller and I wrote the following essay (NIE Miller article (2)) (a few years ago actually, with the essay “in press” forever).  I lied, bribed, harassed, cajoled asked Char to provide the historical context and to set the stage for a few pretty general observations of my own.  Here is our abstract:

 The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) identified the loss of open space as a core threat to the health of national forests.  Widely acknowledged are the ecological interconnections between public and private lands.  But there is also an important historical and political relationship between national forest management and private land development.  There is ample historical precedent for the USFS to consider what is happening outside its jurisdiction and respond accordingly on national forests.  We expect national forests to become more politically contested in the future, as a result of the fragmentation taking place on private lands.  If the agency fails to consider the larger landscape when making decisions, we also expect a growing number of interests to challenge it politically and legally.  There are several policy tools and strategies that can be used to deal with the private land development problem, and we focus on a few approaches that have not received as much attention. 

I expect federal lands to become more politically contested in the future, as more private lands get developed.  A compensation principle will be hard to miss.  But an all-lands mindset might cut in numerous political directions.  Take grazing-lease decisions, for instance, and the debate over “cows versus condos.”  Will the demise of public-lands ranching lead to further land fragmentation as ranchers are forced to sell and subdivide their adjacent private property?  Debate notwithstanding, it is reasonable to ask the Forest Service to consider the environmental impacts of their leasing decisions at a landscape level, with possible threats to private land included. 

My take is that the USFS is on solid historical footing; and that embracing an all-lands approach will pay political dividends in the future as well.

2 thoughts on “All-Lands & Planning”

  1. Martin..

    Ecosystem management actually included many of the concepts in the new rule…it didn’t specifically call out “all lands” but it did talk about a variety of scales. Thanks to Greg Aplet of The Wilderness Society for keeping a copy of the Chief’s June 4th 1992 memo around. My take: there is not a lot that is new under the sun…

    Climate is not there but resilience is; many spatial scales, and the language (Caplan’s?) is powerful and non-bureaucratic.

    There are some great quotes in this document, but I was unsuccessful at lifting them out. Anyone with a non-scanned copy?

  2. Back when the 2005 planning rule was being developed, I argued for a section of Forest Plans called “roles and contributions”, or the niche that a National Forest serves. At the time, many planners were enamored with the concept of “desired condition” as the central focus of the plan (for that matter many planners unfortunately still think this way), but I explained that plans were being developed with no apparent motivation as to why those conditions were desired. Ultimately the motivation for those conditions are the roles that a National Forest plays in the larger setting, and the contributions that a National Forest makes to multiple uses and ecosystem services.

    I guess I just had to wait for another attempt to rewrite the planning rule to come around again. Now, the idea of roles and contributions is gaining traction because of the “all lands” theme and I’m happy that it might end up in the rule. We’ve tested the idea in development of the San Juan plan, and most participants found the concept very useful. The idea is that roles and contributions are defined in the forest plan, and they serve as the motivation for the other sections of the document. These tend to be qualitative statements, because you won’t always be able to quantify things like market shares or specific benefits. But they potentially can help a line officer determine if public lands are best suited for an activity.

    I don’t think you necessarily need complete knowledge on what’s happening on other ownerships, but you do need an understanding of the relationships of National Forests with those other lands. Those relationships will likely change, so you need to do some scenario thinking and some futuring. I’m hoping that the all-lands idea doesn’t lead us to endless broad-scale assessments that try to quantify all ecosystem services, but instead focus on the basic idea of public-private land relationships.


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