The Musts & Shalls

Unlike his Dad, he is a big fan of discretion and dislikes one-size fits-all standards. Five years on, he's now reading Appendix N.

One of my hopes for the new planning rule was that it would require the writing of meaningful forest plans.  Here is what I wrote as part of last year’s science panel (Nie NFS planning rule science panel statement):

There is little value in writing expensive, time-consuming plans if such plans make no decisions and have no vision. 

Legally-binding and enforceable standards and guidelines should be included in the new planning rule.  NFMA was designed to reign in agency discretion by providing clearer standards and enforceable checks on the USFS.  Meeting such standards has proven difficult for the agency at times.  But the solution is not the removal of such standards, but rather to figure out ways to more effectively and efficiently meet them. 

While inherently difficult, especially at the front-end, setting standards will facilitate adaptive management and collaborative decision making over the long run.  Regarding the former, standards help define the purpose and boundaries of the process.  After all, adaptive management is a means to an end, and that end needs to be clearly articulated.  Without standards, adaptive management is too susceptible to political exploitation and the dodging of tough political choices.  As for collaboration, standards provide the necessary direction, legal sideboards, and additional certainty to those engaged in the process.

This recommendation was precipitated by the vacuous nature of the 2005/2008 planning regulations that were essentially non-decision making documents. 

So on this score, what should we make of the proposed regulations?  I think they are a more serious effort by the USFS to appropriately balance the need for planning adaptability with political accountability. 

The regulations are heavy on things the agency must consider when writing and amending forest plans.  So I don’t think the rule will streamline or expedite the planning process.  But the draft regulations require (with some wiggle room provided) plans to include some important things, like standards (AMEN! with explanation here and here), guidelines, the suitability of areas, and to situate the national forests within their larger context and landscape, among others.  Under this rule, forest plans would actually mean something and include some important decisions. 

The “Musts and Shalls:”  Here are some things the draft regulations require (not exhaustive nor includes preexisting MUSYA/NFMA requirements):

 *The responsible official shall engage the public—including Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations, other Federal agencies.

 *One or more assessments must be conducted for the development of a new plan or for a plan revision

 *The responsible official shall develop a unit monitoring program for the plan area,

 *The regional forester shall develop a broader-scale monitoring strategy for unit monitoring questions that can best be answered at a geographic scale broader than one unit.

 *Each regional forester shall ensure that the broader-scale monitoring strategy is within the financial and technical capabilities of the region and complements other ongoing monitoring efforts.

 *The responsible official shall conduct a biennial evaluation of new information gathered through the unit monitoring program and relevant information from the broader-scale strategy, and shall issue a written report of the evaluation and make it available to the public

 *While all plans must contain the required five plan components (desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, suitability of areas, and may contain goals), not every issue or resource plan would require all five plan components.

 *All plan amendments must comply with Forest Service NEPA procedures. The proposed rule provides that appropriate NEPA documentation for an amendment could be an EIS, an environmental assessment (EA), or a categorical exclusion (CE) depending upon the scope and scale of the amendment and its likely effects.  (more on this later)

 *This section would provide that projects and activities authorized after approval of a plan, plan revision, or plan amendment developed pursuant to this rule must be consistent with plan components as set forth in this section.

 *The proposed rule would allow for this to occur, and in § 219.7, would require identification of priority watersheds for restoration

 *The proposed rule would require the responsible official to document how the best available scientific information was taken into account in the assessment report, the plan decision document, and the monitoring evaluation reports.

 *Finally, plan components would be required to protect, maintain, and restore clean, abundant water supplies (both surface and groundwater sources), and soils, and productivity recognizing their importance as fundamental ecosystem resources and services.  (& as stated elsewhere “The proposed rule would require that plans include plan components to maintain, protect, and restore public water supplies, groundwater, sole source aquifers, and source water protection areas where they occur on NFS lands.”)

 *The proposed rule would highlight the importance of maintaining, protecting, or restoring riparian areas and the values such areas provide by requiring that plans include plan components to guide management with riparian areas. The proposed rule also requires that plans establish a default width within which those plan components apply.

 Not included on my list is the diversity provision, as that deserves a separate post.

Martin Nie, University of Montana

24 thoughts on “The Musts & Shalls”

  1. I think it is typically a lot easier to write rules that prevent some “bad” thing from happening than it is to write rules that compel “good” behavior. I know because I have tried to do it. There just aren’t enough words out there.

    All of Martin’s musts and shalls sound like good, reasonable things to do. We’ll find out if that is so if and when some new plans get written, tested in court, and ultimately implemented.

    As I pointed out in my recent post, there is nothing in the current rules that would prevent a forest from doing all these things. The surest way to get forests to do these good things is to have good line officers, smart planners, and sincerely engaged groups of stakeholders. The knowledge that there is always somebody out there willing to sue if “bad” things start occurring doesn’t hurt either and the current rules provide plenty of fertile ground for that.

    I agree that standards are necessary as long as they are applied at the appropriate scale. Range-wide standards for the red-cockaded woodpecker, for example, make it easier for national forests to do the things necessary to recover the bird and its ecosystems. In fact, it pretty much ensures that this is the main focus of management on the forests in the bird’s historic range and it satisfies the requirements of the sister agency (Fish and Wildlife Service) responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act. In this case, guidelines are not good enough, only musts and shalls.

    • Jim- your argument for range-wide standards for species could be a counterargument for the need for forest-level standards.

      I like the grizzly bear approach. Everyone gets together and figures out the best things for species and then everyone does it. FWS is happy, we are happy. People spend a great deal of time working on it, but then it’s done and every forest and district and ID team doesn’t have to reinvent/renegotiate.( Er.. at least it’s done until it gets to court.)

      Also, I think what you are saying about scale is really important and could be why sometimes we talk past each other.

      • I guess the most efficient mechanism was to amend the necessary forest plans rather than inventing a new document to cover the RCW work.

  2. Sorry for jumping in here and asking a tangential and naive question but my background isn’t policy. My question isn’t on if the rule is a good rule or not. After reading all the posts and reading through the draft rule, I can’t help but ask if this type of complex and comprehensive planning really makes sense at the Forest level? I’m wondering is this type of planning specified in the draft rule should be implemented at the Regional level rather than the Forest level. Then all Forests that fall within a region could develop shorter plans that provide management direction based on the overall Regional plan but specific to a particular Forest and could be revised on a much shorter time periods. This would also help in managing for and integrating terrestrial and aquatic species habitat and other factors, land allocations, etc – looking beyond Forest boundaries and within, as well as provide consistency for Forest management within the Region and help the Forests work together on issues and solutions. It also seems that the Forests do this anyway in Forest planning efforts since it seems to be more common than not that two to three forests work together in creating one overall plan and then provide a seperate document for each individual Forest. Also, it seems like much of the expertise needed to write these types of plans with all the “take into account” and “to consider” and “must” and “shalls” are at the Regional level rather than at the Forest level. To me it seems, staff at the Forest level are more interested in receiving management direction rather than developing it. So, I don’t know, but was thinking that maybe it isn’t that there are so many issues with the past rules or this rule but that maybe it’s being applied at the wrong scale, then again, I’m not a policy expert and I’m sure there are many reasons as to why it is implemented at the Forest level.

    Still waiting on an analysis of the diversity section though….

    Very, very, very, cute boy btw!!

    • Melissa,

      I agree and see no reason why some of these things couldn’t be done at larger, and perhaps regional, scales. There seems to be some agreement on the blog about this, with others like Dave, Jim, Sharon, and others seeing the benefits of doing some things like standards at larger scales.

      As far as I know there is nothing in the law from preventing such an approach. NFMA requires that the Secretary “shall develop, maintain, and, as appropriate revise land resource management plans for units of the National Forest Sytem.” But as Andy Stahl points out, there is nothing in NFMA requiring much else than timber suitability and diversity protection to be provided in a unit’s forest plan.

      Seems to me like some scale/efficiency lessons can be learned from larger scale planning processes, like the Northwest Forest Plan, Sierra Nevada Framework, and some neat watershed based planning/prioritization stuff on the Tongass by Alaska Audubon and TNC. Speaking of the latter, TNC has written a lot about “nested multi-scaled” planning and how it might work in the context of the national forests (see e.g., TNC’s NOI letter).

      The proposed regs note that “some members of the public suggested the FS undertake two additional scales of planning, one at a regional scale between national and unit scales and another at a finer scale such as a ranger district or watershed.” Instead of adding additional layers of planning, it seems that a lot of us agree that some regional planning (for some things, not all) will preclude the need to do it again at the forest (unit) level.

      I also recall John Sisk’s Science Panel discussion where he talked about the virtues of landscape-level planning and that analyses should be at the scale at which ecosystem processes operate—the minimum dynamic unit. This makes sense to me when I think about dealing with viability, restoration, exotic invasions, whatever. According to Sisk, “we need a bold embrace of multi-scaled planning.”

      No one, including the USFS, seems too excited about the old regional guides. So this layering of plans needs a new approach, and hopefully one where some tiering and efficiency can be gained. But one that cannot be easily exploited by the agency (e.g., planning shell games where the USFS promises that some analysis/requirement/consideration has already been completed or will soon be completed in another plan at another level—but one which never really happens). To avoid this, the USFS should provide a clear road map of how these plans are tiered and integrated and relate to one another.

      Thank you all for comments about the kid!

  3. Melissa- I think you have asked a really great question! I’ve divided my answer into two parts.

    I. What does NFMA say? Would it be legal?
    John is the NFMA expert but NFMA may require one for each forest.. others can take this up. Also, in my view if all the key groups could get together and agree, we could probably get minor tweaks to NFMA done. Of course, many of our forests have agglomerated since NFMA passed so size-wise a National Forest of 1976 may be very different from a National Forest of 2012.

    II. Would it Work Practically and Be Better, Potentially?

    1. We used to have “regional guides” for the 1982 Rule, and I know our region went so far as to have standard standards and management area numbers. So what you are thinking of is not so novel as it might seem given the discussions that go on today.

    2. This proposed rule has regional monitoring strategies. John has asked the question “if forest decisions require monitoring for adaptive management, then is there a disconnect if there is regional monitoring and not regional decisions?

    3. One of my colleagues has suggested that a state rather than a region would make sense. For example, I think States officially review BLM RMP’s. Under the 2005 Planning Rule I once had the unpleasant task of explaining to state officials why one FS region thought that using cooperating agencies with the 05 Rule was OK, but the other region in the state did not. What I’ve experienced from working with some states directly is that there is a natural socio-political coherence that makes collaboration seem to flow more easily. Except for its association with Darth the former undersecretary, Idaho roadless was a bit like a state-wide forest planning exercise (drawing lines on maps) for only the roadless parts of forests.

    4. Finally the question of “what forest people would really like to decide” is a great question, which I’ll leave to them to answer. The decentralized corporate story is “everything.” At the same time, I’ve talked to folks who are very very tired of planning and want to get on with doing. Hopefully some forest folks will speak up.

    Thanks, Melissa, again, I think it was a GREAT question.

  4. Yes! One size fits all!!

    Even a Regional approach is too complex. We need to plan from the Washington office!!!

    And given the global threats of climate change, maybe we should be planning at a global scale!!!!

    (written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, thus the exclamation points)

    This blog is fast becoming just another echo chamber. I want to hear an argument for a Forest-specific specific approach.


    • Brian- I don’t think anyone is saying one size fits all. I think people are saying that we should consciously decide what scale is the “best” for different kinds of decisions. One of my colleagues says he thinks the “right” scale for collaboration is more the old-sized forests before the onset of mega-forests, places that were really places and had some social cohesion.

      There are two reasons you wouldn’t want to decide everything at the forest level. One is having different groups of people decide different approaches to something that won’t work unless everyone works together (say species). The other is simple efficiency and convenience. Say climate adaptation strategies. Should forest x have a climate adaptation strategy and forest y which is next door have a different one (not to speak of Park Z and BLM unit A, which both adjoin)? Do we want all our talented, well-trained and paid employees spending their times in meetings editing language in plans and strategies, or actually working with people and the land to protect the land and improve conditions (and have nice recreation facilities, and. .)?

      In spiritual-land where I spend the rest of my re-creational time, they say each person needs to balance contemplation and action. I think the agency equivalent is planning and action. Or planning, action, and monitoring. Many people think our balance is out of whack. Part of that is certainly due to organizational silos or silage, where every program determines that it needs a separate plan or strategy at each organizational level. Still, I think the balance is important to keep in mind in considering NFMA plans and the other plans at spatial levels above and below them.

  5. Excellent discussion.

    The biggest reason for a forest-specific approach, and not a larger approach is essentially that “the bigger you are the harder you fall.” Large scale planning processes draw more attention, and one local issue can bring down or delay the entire regional plan.

    Another concern is that you lose the essence of “place based” planning.

    That said, I think there is lots of value for addressing wildlife questions at a larger scale, and there are efficiencies in developing regional best practices for wildlife species. I think things like gap analysis work especially well at larger scales. There is nothing in the planning rule that precludes regional approaches – or even regional specific planning manuals and handbooks. However, I’d think we want to keep these efforts fairly limited to specific topics, because it’s hard to pull these types of things off (while considering resource integration and the variations of adjacent land ownership patterns in “all lands” planning.)

    • John,

      In going through the DEIS for the 2011 rule it seems that Alternative D more explicitly recognizes the importance of scale and coordination for species viability. Unlike the proposed alternative, D has sections pertaining to management coordination across planning areas, interagency coordination, and even the development, “where appropriate and practicable,” of joint resource management plans.

  6. Brian: Early on in this blog, I wrote a proposed NFMA rule that does what you seek. You can read the K.I.S.S. rule here. The comments associated with each of the posts are particularly helpful in fleshing out the ideas.

  7. John, as you know we have a regional watershed practices handbook. If water, wildlife and air are the main things people worry about, conceivably a lot of the important sideboards could be located in a relatively few of those. Of course, since the states are highly involved in all those, perhaps they could be statewide sideboards instead of regional. That might take care of the accountability issue for most of the key environmental concerns. It could also lead to better state, regulatory agency, land management agency coordination to have some kind of joint process to determine those sideboards..

  8. One of the things often overlooked with the rules is budget. All of the must and shalls take time, and people. That takes away from the on the ground management. The forest that I work on has been through plan revision, they did it as an eco-group in conjunction with 2 other forests, one method of addressing the regional concerns. Of course the Plan has numerous standards and guidelines, many more than the previous Plan. They specify ideal range of conditions as determined by the “best science” for the properly functioning ecosystem. Supposedly the monitoring reports are a feedback mechanism to revise or adjust the self imposed standards and guidelines. My experience is they never are adjusted until the next plan. The monitoring reports become more complicated and I would only a few a special interest groups even read them. The budgets for the FS in general seem to be static or decreasing. So how will all of the shalls and musts be done, when Forests have trouble just doing every day business.

    It’s rather ironic that we put a lot of time and effort into the Plan, concentrating on those ideals and limiting man’s effects, only to have the biggest change be the effects of massive wildfires, primarily in roadless and wilderness, that don’t meet ideal conditions specified in the Plan. These weren’t really addressed or anticipated by planning.

  9. I don’t think a regional approach negates a Forest specific approach, rather I was thinking that it would give individual Forests more time to focus on specifics. Having a plan that addresses the larger sccale issues such as natural disturbance (fire bugs windstorms, etc) habitat connectivity and species movements and other factors would, in my mind, better serve the individual forests. The individual forests could then develop a plan on more of the specifics as well as develop strategies that identify high priority watersheds for focusing restoration on the forest for example. And it would allow more time for collaboration on each forest. The regional plan would just serve as an umbrella giving overall guidance for the entire region and providing consistent management, especially for factors such as fire, bugs that operate at a much larger scale than a national forest and a larger scale than a state.

    In thinking about a State-wide approach rather than a Region-wide approach, I would prefer to have this type of planning at the regional level. First, because the regions exist (which makes it easy for deliniation), Second, because the regions are more closely aligned with eco-reigons than State boundaries. The Regions can and should work with the States but States vary so much in size (NE compared to West) and have different socio-political factors.

    Also, developing an overarching plan for a region would require the coordination of the Forests to work together with the Region in developing the plan. It, also, would open up the option of including the staff at the research stations to develop such a plan. It would be great to see research stations used in this capacity where a large portion of their time would be dedicated towards planning rather than concentrating on only research. And they have the knowledge and expertise. It’d be a lot of coordination but doable.

    And, in thinking about legal challenges for a regional plan – the severeability clause specified in this rule could be adapted to avoid overall shut-down. And a region-wide planning effort may also help to decrease appeals, litigation, etc. Fewer plans to analyze and the coordination of the Region, Research Station and Forest staff would only develop a stronger plan.

    Just some quick thoughts of the top of my head…

    • In the early 80s our Intermountain Region Plan subdivided the Region into several “regions” according to important natural and biophysical considerations. I think this is the type region Melissa is talking about. Yes? No?

      I agree that Research Station folks (and FS administrative Region folks) ought to be more engaged in “planning” at larger scales, as they have been in the past.

      Now if only we can agree on what plans ought to do and say.

  10. Martin says:

    2005/2008 planning regulations … were essentially non-decision making documents.

    So on this score, what should we make of the proposed regulations? I think they are a more serious effort by the USFS to appropriately balance the need for planning adaptability with political accountability.

    Maybe? I still believe the proposed rule fails as adaptive management. I would like to see more on why you believe the proposed rule provides this “balance.” As you think through your answer, consider what I wrote last year:

    My guess is that any planning rule that is developed in the long tradition of “rules” dating back to 1979 will not be helpful in achieving the goals embedded in the questions. Why? Because the focus of each “rule” has always been on developing a “Forest Plan” as if there were wide discretion in that process and “as if” the forest administrative unit made sense as an overall “catchall” for decision-making. Neither is the case.

    One problem is that there can not be wide discretion in forest-level decision-making if only because the ecosystems embedded in each administrative unit of the national forest system are themselves part of broader ecosystem wholes, e.g. larger watersheds, larger “basin and range” systems, both, and more. This means that what works for sustainability (instead of against) re: “forest subsystem contributions” to ecosystems must be informed by the needs of broader wholes. So too with social systems. An “all lands approach” must be scaled, hierarchically, to guide development of plans at subscales. Maybe a NFMA “rule” can address such, but we haven’t seen one yet. Only with such an adaptive management assessment information system could forest-level decision-making begin to make any sense. And the ecosystems/social systems scale problem is but one of many problems that impede wide discretion in decision-making. Another is what I call the “wicked problem” problem.

    The Forest Service has never (to my knowledge) addressed “wicked problems” (Wikipedia link: Such problems were first introduced to the Forest Service in 1986 by Allen and Gould (Journal of Forestry) and to the world by Rittel and Webber in 1973 (Policy Sciences). Anyone who has studied forest management problems knows that they are indeed politically wicked and cry out for approaches much different from the “comprehensive rational planning” approach that the Forest Service always gravitates toward. Even when dressed up with terms like “adaptive” or “adaptive management” the reality of the approaches used always have rational-planning at their core.

    One thing is certain when dealing with wicked problems: You can only hope to accomplish anything when you are able to define the scope the problem (time, space, issues, etc.) into “decision containers” that people (stakeholders, administrators, etc) can get their minds around. It seems that traditional “forest plan” containers are hopelessly over-filled when land management zoning, land management goals and objectives, program goals and objectives, and related “standards and guidelines” are all in play — and “in play” in a spatial container that isn’t really relevant to many of the objectives at hand. I have long felt that rational planning approaches simply can’t work. Here is how I put it in my Epistle to the Clinton-era Committee of Scientists (link: , written when I was an employee of the Forest Service:

    … [W]e have failed to learn the lesson that there is a difference between complex problems and wicked problems (see: G.M. Allen’ and E.M. Gould. 1986. “Complexity, wickedness, and public forests.” J.For 84(4):20-23, also Henry Mintzberg. 1994. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning). According to Allen and Gould, politically wicked problems can not be solved by any multi-step planning process designed to “collect more data, build bigger models, and crunch more numbers … [expecting that] surely the right answer would be forthcoming.” Allen and Gould suggest that the Forest Service’s general operating norm for planning–more data, fancier analysis, more computing power, more scientists–reflects a “naive hope that science can eliminate politics.” This problem went unresolved–is still unresolved–because [Forest Service] ‘professional arrogance’ wouldn’t allow [the agency] to admit that national forest management and planning is ‘political’.

  11. Should a Forest which is substantially “saturated” with an Endangered Species, filling up the available habitat, have to follow those same strict “hands-off” rules that another Forest with truly rare animals and habitat? I would think that some “wiggle room” could be afforded to efforts to “improve and protect” those “saturated” habitats. (Of course, the same could be said for Forests with degraded ESA habitats, eh?)

  12. Dave Iverson :In the early 80s our Intermountain Region Plan subdivided the Region into several “regions” according to important natural and biophysical considerations. I think this is the type region Melissa is talking about. Yes? No?

    I haven’t seen these subregions and the basis on their delineation. But regions delineated by ecosystem similarities is what I was trying to get at. E.g. forest service land ins northern Idaho is in Region 1 and forest service lands inSouthern Idaho is in region 4 – in this case, they are grouped as they should be from an ecological point of view.

  13. Dave Iverson said:
    “Allen and Gould suggest that the Forest Service’s general operating norm for planning–more data, fancier analysis, more computing power, more scientists–reflects a “naive hope that science can eliminate politics.” This problem went unresolved–is still unresolved–because [Forest Service] ‘professional arrogance’ wouldn’t allow [the agency] to admit that national forest management and planning is ‘political’.”
    I agree with this statement, although I’d leave out the ‘professional arrogance’ bit as it debases the argument by resorting to name calling, which in my mind is unprofessional. After 30 years participation with NEPA and Forest Planning at the Forest level, I’ve come to realize that it is mostly politics parading as science. I think science has merged advocacy and politics, to the detriment of the science. It is a rather naïve hope that science can eliminate politics in Forest Planning. The new planning rule seems to continue that hope. I’ve been involved with ESA consultation at the project level, and believe it has a lot to do with politics and advocacy, and it just increases as the consultation moves up to higher levels.
    Regarding regional planning, I believe the Upper Columbia River Basin effort (UCRB and ICBEMP both acronyms for the planning effort) was a larger scale effort in the late 80’s early 90’s to do analysis that covered Forests in Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington, Idaho and Western Montana. If I remember right it dragged on for some time until it was finally cut after producing some documents.

    • Michael,

      I agree — I guess I’ve been so damn mad at FS bureaucratic behavior for so many years, that I don’t catch myself when I resort to “name calling.” Thanks for calling me on it.

    • As per “professional arrogance”, I guess I should have grabbed a bit longer quote from my 1999 Epistle to the Committee of Scientists. Maybe then I wouldn’t have needed to apologize for any name calling. Here is what else I said there:

      When Dale Bosworth (then Regional Forester, Intermountain Region) and I were talking about this last year, he told me that it had come to him only recently that what others labeled as ‘arrogance’ was simply our professionalism. In the Forest Service we were operating under the belief that we were trusted stewards of national forests’ land and resources. Surely we must have some answers. Surely the American people wood look to us to know what to do. Surely our RPA/NFMA/NEPA processes would help us shed light on the many problems we face and find ways to resolve them.

      Then I went on to talk about how we, the US Forest Service had lost the trust of the American people, in part because of our own defensiveness in thinking that the problems were our problems.

  14. The reason I like the collaboration part of the rule, is that it tends to put the politics on the table and up front.


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