Forest Service “Takes Control” or “Flexible Plans for Resilient Forests”

This one from the Huffington Post

In its first sentence this article asserts that the point of the planning rule was to “take more control over the forests”; “hoping to break a legal logjam that has stymied logging”.

I would assert that that we are doing just fine, thank you, with the natural process of coevolution of litigation and agency response. I would argue that the reason for a new rule is:

That the case law around the 1982 rule has become obtuse and unworkable; that timber is no longer a big deal and should be treated as such; that a new rule should take into account the success of place- based collaboration and advisory committees; form a structure for adaptive management; and be cognizant that with the plethora of assessments (state assessments, vulnerability assessments, species assessments) that there is little that is going unassessed and that assessments have a shelf-life. I also agree with Andy that we have plenty of other layers of decisions now, such as oil and gas leasing decisions and travel management, that a forest plan no longer needs to be the comprehensive as it used to be. Monitoring and changing through a formal power-sharing arrangement with an advisory committee of some kind would be so much more 21st century.

As regular readers know, I am a biologist by education and most of my career, and so this quote was interesting:

“This flies in the face of the principal that has been in place, that the Forest Service’s job is to keep common species common,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

If a species is common, it is hard for me to imagine that any project that crosses my desk, or the sum of all these projects, could actually have an impact.

Forest Service Revising Rules In Bid For More Control

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Hoping to break a legal logjam that has stymied logging as well as ecosystem restoration, the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday it was revising its planning rules to take more control over national forests and find more common ground between industry and conservation groups.

The old rules, dating back to the Reagan administration, designated certain animal species that must be protected to assure ecosystems are healthy. However, the system became the basis of numerous lawsuits that sharply cut back logging to protect habitat for fish and wildlife.

The new rules call for monitoring a broader range of species, including plants, while giving forest supervisors greater discretion to decide what science to apply and which species to protect, depending on local conditions.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said from Washington, D.C., that it’s in everyone’s best interest to have forests that stay healthy amid climate change and economic demands.

“Rather than responding to the political pressure of the time, it would be much better to say to the scientists, ‘What is the best way to make this forest the most resilient it can be,'” Vilsack told The Associated Press.

The conservation group that forced the revision by persuading a federal judge to throw out the last one said the proposal represents a dangerous rollback of mandatory protections and gives too much discretion to forest supervisors.

“This flies in the face of the principal that has been in place, that the Forest Service’s job is to keep common species common,” said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

The 155 national forests and grasslands managed by the agency cover 193 million acres in 42 states and Puerto Rico. Balance between industry and conservation in those areas has been tough to find since the existing rules went into effect in 1982.

One revision of the rules by the Clinton administration and two by the Bush administration were thrown out by federal courts.

Here’s a piece from

Feds Propose Flexible Plans for Resilient Forests

Feds Propose Flexible Plans for Resilient Forests

With climate change posing new threats—more frequent forest fires, for example, and plagues of tree-killing beetles—the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to change the way it makes its management plans for national forests. The goal is to dramatically speed up the 5- to 8-year process, which is currently governed by a 1982 rule that officials describe as expensive and inefficient. The proposed draft, released yesterday, emphasizes the use of scientific evidence in creating management plans, as well as restoring forests so that they are resilient to pests and other stresses. “It’s very important that we get this [natural] system into a healthy state as quickly as possible,” says forest ecologist William Wallace Covington of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, who thinks the changes would be a positive step.

Not all environmental groups agree. Some do not like the latitude given to local supervisors of forests. But Covington says what’s important is allowing supervisors to take actions, such as thinning forests, that will make the overall habitat more healthy. The Forest Service is taking public comments for 90 days.

4 thoughts on “Forest Service “Takes Control” or “Flexible Plans for Resilient Forests””

  1. It is pretty clear, so far, that the “serial litigators” don’t want to deal with the “site-specific science” of the new millenium. They fear that “local factors” will trump the viability of a species 500 miles away. What good is “potential habitat”, when that piece of forest is dying, rotting and burning?

    Fear not, preservationists, for this new political solution will yield fresh, new loopoholes to sue over. Those who have power will not relinquish such power willingly.

  2. Regarding common species, I think this is a case of “trust, and verify.” The proposal is premised on the assumption that “healthy and resilient” ecosystems will maintain species diversity. However, none of these terms are well enough defined to be operationalized; species diversity is ignored in operational terms, and “health” and “resiliency” obligations are difficult to decipher given the highly subjective nature of the terms and the complexity found in the definitions. Talk about jargon. Recall that the 2000 Rule provided reference conditions for evaluating and setting objectives for characteristics of ecosystem diversity (historic range of variability); in this case it appears that the individual forest plan will be given quite a bit of leeway to define and therefore measure an ecosystem’s health and resilience. However, the assumption that characteristics of healthy and resilient ecosystems leads to species diversity is verifiable via evaluting the condition and likely persistence of the primary components of ecosystems, i.e. species. Monitoring the status and trends of focal species, using measurable viability parameters, is a defensible approach of assessing ecosystem condition and a well established metric for estimating species diversity. Using focal species explicitly in this way would be the best means of verifying that these systems are in fact meeting species diversity objectives. As written, it is unclear from the propsal how focal species information will be used. Perhaps this was the intent of the authors, in which case forgive my ignorance. The Committee of Scientists involved in the development of the 2000 rule considered all of these complexities in a fairly rational manner; it’s not at all clear to me what has changed that justifies deviating from their approach. I’m sure there are many interpretations of how this all would be implemented and I look forward to hearing them; one of the downsides to this proposal is that it is terribly unclear (to me at least) how the diversity assessment, management and monitoring process would all work together.

  3. It might be useful to go back to the final report from the Planning Rule Science Forum and look at how well the proposed rule deals with some of the over-arching questions raised by panelists and audience members:

    Q.How can science be effectively applied to the development of a
    planning rule in the absence of a clearly shared vision for the future of
    national forests?
    A. I’m not sure that we are any closer to sharing such a vision at the National level. Perhaps, as Andy says, only local approaches will work.

    Q How should the new rule address the role of science? and
    Q. Are there new approaches to planning and monitoring biological
    diversity that would be more effective than current approaches and
    have broad support?
    A. Apparently the Defenders doesn’t think the proposed rule does an adequate job at this.

    Q. Are there additional important principles not addressed in the NOI that
    should receive more attention?
    A. It certainly looks like the Forest Service got the message about recreation this time around.
    I’ll admit to not having read the proposed rule (I’m waiting for someone to accept Sharon’s challenge to prepare an executive summary), but I’m guessing that the relationship of fire management policy to land management planning is not addressed. Land management planning for resilient ecosystems must address the role of disturbance, and fire is the most important disturbance in our terrestrial systems. Outside of the large prescribed fire program in the Southern Coastal Plains and a few other places, no Forest Service management is having much of an effect on ecosystems at the landscape scale other than how the agency fights fires. To ignore this reality in the planning rule seems nuts, I mean illogical.

  4. more pertinent and frank question might be… Can US Forest Service “Ologists” be trusted to protect their own “turf”, so to speak? Are these scientists “tainted” due to their employment with the Forest Service? If the responsibilty of a final greenlight on a timber project was up to the “Ologists”, would the big eco-groups be satisfied that those issues were settled?

    The big eco-fear is that the “site-specific science” could, indeed, point towards what foresters are predicting, observing and prescribing. The big eco-groups could face losing court battles if projects are based on the “best available science” that is based on the actual site.

    Claerly, certain issues have been excluded from this set of new rules, as they are too contentious to be allowed to drag down the entire effort. As it is, it is looking like we will have a lot of court dates ahead of us.


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