As our readers know, there has been a considerable amount of debate on this blog regarding place-based national forest legislation (e.g., the Tester and Wyden bills).
A while back I put together some tables comparing various bills and formalized agreements, to see how they approach things such as NEPA, restoration, and other matters. [Here it is, Appendix (comparison tables)].
Along with the National Forest Foundation, I also co-organized and hosted a symposium focused on the subject last June, with 80 people attending the event from across the country. (here is a link with background reading).
I’ve done some further analysis since then. The purpose of the Report is to (1) describe and analyze the recent emergence of place-based forest bills and the use of formalized agreements in the management of national forests; and (2) present alternatives to the USFS in how it can improve place-based legislation or provide alternatives to such legislation.
Here is my draft report in its entirety (USFS Cost Share Report). Below are my key findings and recommendations:
- Place-based bills and agreements are a significant trend in national forest management.
- Several place-based initiatives share a number of common characteristics and related provisions, including: (a) a frustration with the status quo, (b) the search for more certainty in forest management, (c) a focus on landscape-scale restoration and its relationship to rural communities, and (d) an emphasis on conflict resolution and the desire for more public participation in national forest management.
- Several place-based initiatives share similar frustrations with national forest management. Forest planning processes, funding and budgets, organizational culture, personnel turnover, and a small-scale approach to forest restoration are commonly identified sources of dismay.
- A defining characteristic of every place-based initiative is the search for more certainty in forest management. The goal is pursued in numerous ways, including recommended land designations, the resolution of intractable conflicts, the use of stewardship contracting, and legislated timber supply/treatment mandates.
- The need for landscape-scale restoration is a commonly identified area of agreement by these initiatives. This is most pronounced in places where historically low-severity fire regimes have turned into high-severity or mixed-severity regimes (e.g., dry-site forests of ponderosa pine). Areas in need of restoration work are often identified and prioritized, with associated sideboards such as large-tree retention and road building prohibitions included.
- Several initiatives emphasize that a viable wood products industry is necessary for the attainment and financing of various restoration goals, and that industry needs a more certain supply of timber to be competitive and/or to make long-term investments.
- Several place-based initiatives are seeking more secure and structured forms of public participation in USFS decision making, such as through the use of memorandums-of-understanding (MOUs) and additional advisory committees.
- There are politically viable alternatives to place-based forest legislation, including formalized agreements (MOUs) and long-term stewardship contracts that provide interested parties greater certainty about forest management.
- Congress and the USFS should oppose forest-specific (non-wilderness) legislation until a number of fundamental and systemic concerns are addressed, including how such laws would fit into the preexisting statutory/planning framework and how they would be financed.
- Most of the challenges faced by the selected cases are systemic, not place-based. Questions presented by such things as landscape-level restoration and NEPA, stewardship contracting, and funding, among others, deserve a national-level response—not a series of ad hoc remedies and site-specific exemptions.
- Long-term stewardship contracts can provide as much or more certainty to the timber industry than a legislated timber supply mandate. Though imperfect, stewardship contracts are preferable to the dangerous precedent of legislating timber supply on particular national forests. Congress and the USFS should consider a number of issues related to certainty upon the reauthorization of stewardship contracting authority.
- The selected place-based agreements, such as that operating on the Colville National Forest, demonstrate viable alternatives to securing greater certainty than through a legislated timber supply mandate. The Colville framework is exemplary and deserves study for possible replication or adaptation elsewhere.
- Several place-based initiatives are frustrated by forest planning processes that provide little certainty and commitments by the agency. As the USFS moves forward with its new planning regulations (to be finalized in 2011), it should consider how relevant these place-based initiatives find the zoning of national forests into basic management areas, including those areas prioritized for restoration.
- The best way for the agency to proceed with these place-based initiatives and their focus on restoration is to embrace a collaborative, competitive, and experimental approach. There are at least two exemplary processes and frameworks that should be fully supported, and possibly enlarged and replicated in the future: the Montana Forests Restoration Committee and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act. These preexisting frameworks offer a possible substitute for place-based legislation.