Proposed text for a new Forest Service planning rule was shown to the public at a Fourth National Roundtable last Thursday and Friday in Washington D.C. Approximately 90 public participants and about 35 Forest Service employees discussed the specifics on how the rule might guide Forest Plan revisions and amendments. About 20 people also watched the proceedings online and participated in a “virtual” discussion forum.
The meeting began with the Forest Service rule-writing team discussing what they had heard at previous meetings, and what concepts they were proposing. They focused on five key areas: collaboration, monitoring, recreation and other multiple uses, plant and animal diversity, and ecosystem restoration and resilience. Then participants were broken into smaller groups for further discussion. On the second day, the Forest Service planning team talked about the overall planning framework (assessments, revisions, monitoring) and addressed additional questions about climate change, water, social considerations, fire, roads, and the objections process.
Several key issues emerged from the discussions.
There is considerable confusion about how a planning process will address multiple uses given several ecological concepts that are embedded in the rule, such as restoration, ecosystem resilience, ecosystem services, and sustainability. For some, those ecological concepts are too fuzzy and are confusing.
There is general agreement with the principles of collaborating with the public and other governments, but many felt there isn’t much in the proposed language about how collaboration will be conducted. There are questions about basic requirements, how all views will be considered, and how it will be related to decision making.
There is also agreement about the increased emphasis on monitoring, especially the requirement to include broad-scale monitoring larger than a specific National Forest. However, there is confusion about how monitoring data will be used, and what role monitoring will play in triggering plan revisions and amendments, or changes to projects. There are questions about how to respond fast enough once a problem is identified through monitoring. There are also questions about how monitoring data will be available to the public.
A complete report of the discussion is available on the planning rule website and blog.
The development of the planning rule is moving quickly. Using feedback from the Fourth roundtable, the planning rule blog, a National Tribal Roundtable, and internal Forest Service discussions, the Planning Rule Team will finish a draft of the proposed rule and write a Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The draft proposed rule will go through clearance in the Forest Service and Department of Agriculture throughout August and September. In October, the Department will submit the proposed rule and DEIS to the Office of Management and Budget and for review by other federal agencies. The proposed rule and DEIS will be published in December 2010, with public comment from January to March 2011.