Is A New Rule Worth It?

I went back and looked at the 2009 Notice of Intent today to refresh my memory regarding why implementing a new rule is so important to the Forest Service. From the NOI:

Developing a new rule will allow the Agency to integrate forest restoration, watershed protection, climate resilience, wildlife conservation, the need to support vibrant local economies, and collaboration into how the Agency manages national forests and grasslands, with the goals of protecting our water, climate, and wildlife while enhancing ecosystem services and creating economic opportunity.

I’m wondering, what is it about the existing rule that doesn’t allow the national forests to do this?  While the current language might not be very good at requiring some of these things, it certainly doesn’t prohibit them.  Any national forest is free to write a plan that attempts to do all of these things.

Sure, current requirements for things like designating and monitoring management indicator species (MIS) don’t work as originally envisioned and probably are largely as waste of time and money.  But most forests have figured out apporaches that can survive a legal challenge.

Some forests such as the National Forests in Mississippi are developing plans right now that meet the existing rule requirements while incorporating new approaches such as a framework for ecosystem diversity. The rule doesn’t require it, but it makes sense and has widespread support.

What challenges will a forest developing a plan under the new rule face?  How about legal challenges to the list of items in Martin’s post “We’ll Consider It” ?

Does the forest plan appropriately consider “various stressors or impacts?” How about “the physical (including air quality) and biological integration of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within a landscape.” How well does the plan take into account “other forms of knowledge”, and so on down the list?

All of these points will be debated in the courts, just as MIS, viability, and monitoring have been since NFMA was signed into law. We won’t know what they really mean until the judges tell us.

Dave commented on Martin’s post  that:

In talking with two FS planning directors earlier this week, both seemed more intent on fixing “planning” via rule implementation than in fixing the “rule.” This is unfortunate in my estimation.

The “rule” ought to have framed things up for whatever follows re: national forest management. Instead, it appears that the rule development process is now largely viewed by many in the FS as a “throwaway,” so that they can get on with “God’s work” whatever the flavor of that might be this year.

I agree that it is unfortunate. It really is time for a new rule.  From where I sit, I would like to see a rule that goes  further in terms of establishing the kind of adaptive management approach that Dave talks about. I would like to see a rule that speeds up the process and eliminates some of the requirements that most of us agree don’t make sense anymore. I would like to see a rule that requires all of the considerations in Martin’s list and perhaps a few more.

But if I were a beleaguered forest planner, I might prefer to take my chances with the devil I know rather than one I don’t.

9 thoughts on “Is A New Rule Worth It?”

  1. Excellent post! The new Rule sometimes seems like it is litigation reform in the Wrong direction. The ample vague wordings have been well-documented here. Did DOJ really sign off on this?!?!? Once again, does anyone have a summary of the survey sent to all Forest Service employees? I think us citizens would be very interested to see the responses from the people who will have to implement it.

    I would also like to see the Forest Service defend their desire to have that “discretion” and “wiggle room”. Their critics are almost universal in blasting this part of the new Rule. Most of these critics have an irrational fear that the Forest Service will suddenly act like it’s the 80’s again. Yes, be vigilant but, don’t block beneficial projects from happening.

  2. I personally feel the new planning rule is more about being politically correct than helping out on the ground management. The last one probably was as well. After all they were done by professional politicians. Using the politcally correct words and concepts seems to be the emphasis. I don’t see it improving management and giving clear direction. There are parts that seem to be improvement such as emphasizing collaboration with all parties. Forest planning and NEPA are evolving processes, and they have evolved into complicated bureaucratic process, probably not what was envisioned by the old planning rule. So will the new rule make any improvements? Or will it just further complicate the process?

  3. It looks to me like the Forest Service was clearly intent on removing perceived constraints to operational freedom, but in my opinion the proposal overreaches and will actually lead to more implementation constraints as a result of too much ambiguity and a lack of “structure”. Structured decision-making theory holds that groups are more able to solve problems when there is strong understanding of the problem, as well as the means to solve it and measure success. I don’t think this proposal provides enough structure for local groups to solve thorny national forest problems, and actually places an unfair burden on collaboration and local decision makers, as has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog. For example, there an incredible amount of discussion and energy will need to be expended over the interpretation of the rule – unpacking the jargon and defining the obligations and objectives alone will take a considerable amount of collaborative capacity. I think the Forest Service missed the ball by assuming that the absence of structure would actually lead to optimal planning outcomes, but this is fools gold in my opinion. The absence of structure simply defers controversy and confusion to smaller planning scales and local planning groups. As an anecdote, I was part of a collaborative working group on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in the latter 90’s, working to implement the Northwest Forest Plan. As you all know, the NWFP designated adaptive management areas as laboratories to encourage innovation in achieving forest plan objectives, and we were working in the Cispus AMA. The group was successful in putting together several collaborative timber sales, using innovative prescriptions and multi-party monitoring. I think a large measure of our success, along with willing to work together to solve problems, was that the collaboration enjoyed the “structure” of the NWFP. Because we didn’t have to reinvent THAT wheel, we could focus on the business at hand, which in this case was the restoration of degraded forest stands. The example illustrates that innovation and local problem solving can occur, and I would argue is actually more likely to be successful, when it is undertaken within the confines of a well understood playing field. On the upside, folks who earn a living facilitating collaborative problem solving may be staying busy.

    • Maybe what you describe is one of the reasons that management of the southern national forests has such widespread support. All of the plans for the forests in the range of the red-cockaded woodpecker were amended following the completion of the RCW EIS which set the sideboards for management. Subsequent local collaborative discussions had some boundaries already set. In the Appalachians where no such sideboards exist, agreement has proven to be more elusive.

      • But aren’t there other species out there of interest in the southern nfs? Why would RCW alone lead to “enough” sideboards?

  4. Peter, that is an interesting example. Can you be more specific as to what aspects of the structure of NWFP were helpful to the collaborative group? That would help me understand and relate it to forest planning.

    • The framework and content of the NWFP, the overall socio-ecological objectives, as well as the standards and guidelines, and the aquatic conservation strategy (watershed analysis, key watersheds, riparian reserves) set clear goals and sideboards for effective collective action. Our collaborative group wanted to marry social and ecological objectives, and the standards and the ACS served to screen out proposals that would clearly stimulate controversy and beleaguer collective action. In some ways, standards and sideboards effectively narrow the collaborative space to the “low hanging fruit” – all parties have an interest in avoiding well defined areas of conflict and moving towards common objectives. In our case, it was restoration of diversity in previously logged stands, generation of wood products and local jobs, and maintenance of watershed health within a Tier 2 key watershed.

  5. Sharon :

    But aren’t there other species out there of interest in the southern nfs? Why would RCW alone lead to “enough” sideboards?


    You need to pay a visit to Region 8 to see what I’m talking about. The RCW got in trouble because its ecosystem was in trouble. Fix that and you address the needs of a long list of at risk plants and animals as well as deer, turkey, quail, many songbirds, reptiles and small mammals, etc. Sure, there are some habitat specialists that this coarse filter doesn’t cover. You need some specific fine filter measures for them. And as I said, it doesn’t work in the Mountains.


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