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.