More News Stories on the Planning Rule

Here’s one from the Washington Post.

Here’s one from the Denver Post.

New federal management plan focuses on forest health

Obama administration officials on Thursday unveiled a sweeping new framework for managing national forests, saying “multiple uses” can continue but the priority must be improving forest health and resilience.

In Colorado, for example, they want fewer forests dominated by same-species, same-age trees. These are more vulnerable to the beetles that in recent years have ravaged more than 4 million acres in the Rocky Mountain region. The officials say they are aiming for greater diversity.

The nationwide “planning rules” announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack replace rules developed 30 years ago that became cumbersome as forest managers tried to balance extractive industry interests with recreation and protection of water resources.

“This is a recognition that all of these uses are important,” Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters.

Forest managers now must figure out “how they can work together, not only to improve the resilience and health of the forests but the economies of the communities that surround the forests,” he said.

Conservationists were scrutinizing a 97-page draft document that lays out the administration’s approach.

Forest Service overseers seem to be “heading in the right direction,” said Mike Francis, director of forest programs for the Wilderness Society, a national advocacy group. “We are encouraged.”

Some are concerned that the national rules leave too much discretion in the hands of regional bureaucrats. The Wilderness Society will be working “to set some definitive standards that would lock in the direction they are going,” Francis said.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat whose Colorado district includes forest land between Boulder and Aspen, said the new rules provide a better framework for local forest management planning. “Each individual forest will need to make informed and sometimes hard decisions,” he said.

The new planning rules guide the regulation of all activities on 193 million acres across 44 states, divided into 155 forest and grassland management units.

U.S. Forest Service land serves as the source of drinking water for 124 million Americans, including residents of Denver and other cities. Forests also are crucial for wildlife.

But pressures from climate change and energy development have presented challenges.

“Our natural ecosystems are only going to provide for us to the extent that they are healthy. National forest management, more than anything else, determines whether our forests are healthy,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group that successfully sued the Bush administration for failing to protect forests as required.

Courts ruled against the Bush administration’s approach. Obama administration officials decided not to appeal those rulings, which pleased environmental groups. Over the past two years, Obama officials have been developing their own rules.

In Colorado, the Forest Service owns 11.3 million acres, about 47 percent of the federally managed land that covers much of the western half of the state.

Rapidly growing communities are encroaching on those forests. This complicates the job of regional foresters as they develop local management plans that protect wildlife and water.

It’s interesting to compare the perspectives and the people quoted, given in that amount of time since posted it is difficult to assimilate exactly what it all means.

Does anyone know what is meant by:

Some are concerned that the national rules leave too much discretion in the hands of regional bureaucrats. The Wilderness Society will be working “to set some definitive standards that would lock in the direction they are going,” Francis said.

Just so it’s clear, as a “regional bureaucrat”, I would be thrilled to get more discretion.

And, in the Washington Post story

“They give too much discretion to individual forest supervisors” without specific directions, said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. “We don’t know that they’re going to protect species or not. There is no question that this is a rollback to required protection to wildlife habitat.”

Planning rules are pretty complicated. In the spirit of the Common Interest, I propose a contest for a five page briefing paper that most fairly and accurately compares the 1982 and proposed Rules (since “rolling back” seems a characterization in these stories). This might be a good class project. All entries will be posted on the blog and judging will be done by a “fair and balanced” panel. Let’s think about a suitable prize, and due date is March 11- a month from now to be able to share publicly to help inform public comment. The contest is open to individuals and groups.

5 thoughts on “More News Stories on the Planning Rule”

  1. The big difference between the old (1982) rule and the new proposal is that the new eschews any pretense of “rational” economic planning. The old rule regarded the national forests as factories of goods and services from which planners could divine, with the help of linear programming models, an optimum allocation and schedule of harvests. Each output was assigned a value; each input was assigned a cost. When the model didn’t give the desired answer, planners tweaked the numbers. When the tweaks didn’t work, planners made-up the numbers.

    The edifice came crashing down in the late 1980s. A quarter-century later, the Forest Service is still digging itself out from under the rubble.

    The new rule replaces economic rationality with ecological rationality. The old gurus (e.g., Krutilla, Hyde, Clawson and Teeguarden) have been deposed by Soule, Ehrlich, MacArthur and Wilson. Leopold is the new God (is it coincidence that the Forest Service released this month a new Leopold biopic); Pinchot is history.

    Perhaps ecologically rational planning will be more successful. But I doubt it. The new forest planning process still pits bitter ideological enemies against each other with the Forest Service serving as self-interested arbiter. The modern-day critic will turn from deconstructing FORPLAN to deciphering HexSim. Every plan will be appealed and most will be litigated.

    Perhaps in another quarter-century the FS will abandon any pretense of rational comprehensive planning and consider the incremental, on-the-ground approach I suggested. I should live so long.

  2. For once, I agree with Andy’s prediction. These new rules are just a start for finding the right balance between all parties and all issues. Forcing people to collaborate brings facts to the light, and shows who is willing to make concessions. Sadly, there are forces entrenched who will never even agree on assessments, much less consensus and compromise. We can intervene and try to protect forests through active management, or we can let whatever happens, happen, and attempt to call it “natural” (despite it being so very far from how the pioneers found it).

    It definitely looks like the “Right to Recreate” set will be major players in future forest planning. Once they discover that dead forests aren’t nice to recreate in, they will join the active management sect.


    I strongly object to the Denver Post’s characterization of National Forest System lands as “U.S. Forest Service land” that “the Forest Service owns” in this article.

    With very few exceptions (e.g., non-national forest land acquired by the Forest Service for use as administrative sites, communications sites, etc.), and despite what ignorant persons including some inarticulate agency personnel and many real estate salesmen (the latter trying to sell you a lot that “backs up on Forest Service land” so you’ll think a guarantee of privacy and serenity comes with it) say, there’s no such thing as “Forest Service land.”

    It’s “national forest land” that belongs to the people of the United States–the citizen-owners of the National Forest System–and is administered for them by the Forest Service as prescribed by law, not “Forest Service land.”

    A small point? A nitpick? Not at all!

    It’s an all-important distinction that informs–or should inform–the perceptions (and, thus, the operational realities) of the politicians, the public servants, and the publics they serve of their respective roles, responsibilities , and prerogatives vis-a-vis the national forests and each other.

    Les Joslin
    Commander, U.S. Navy, Retired
    Supervisory Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Resigned
    Adjunct Instructor, College of Forestry, Oregon State University
    Bend, Oregon

  4. Les,

    You are absolutely right, of course. The unfortunate reality, though, is that most people don’t even know the difference between a national park and a national forest and don’t care. That reality doesn’t bode well for the prospects for meaningful involvement of a wide spectrum of the public in National Forest planning.

    I object to the usage too but am resigned to finding some solace that at least they didn’t call the agency the US Forestry Service!


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