It’s starting to look like “A New Century of Forest Planning” may ultimately come to refer to the hundred years or so it takes to get a new planning rule implemented. Will the “Hundred Years War” come to signify the length of the timber wars?
Way back in the 1900’s, Chief Dale Robertson was convinced that a bold policy statement was necessary to address the big concern of the day– clearcutting of national forests. In a policy letter (not the best way to make policy, but a lot quicker than rule-making), Dale established that clearcuttting would no longer be the primary means of regeneration on national forest lands. There were howls of protest from silviculturists and tree-improvement specialists. There were exceptions for species like Jack Pine and Sand Pine. There certainly was no end to the timber wars, but it was a start down a path towards armistice.
Getting a new planning rule implemented will take more than just agreement about the wording of the rule. It’s going to require an environment that will insure the intent of that wording can be carried out. Perhaps now is an appropriate time for the current Chief to make some bold statements.
My suggestions are:
1. Declare that restoration of ecosystem resiliency is not just an important part of the mission; it’s the most important part.
Management actions would be all about producing desired ecological conditions in order to restore and maintain resilient ecosystems and help protect human communities from undesirable things like intense wildfires in the wrong places or downstream impacts from deteriorating road systems. There would be no need to calculate ASQ or argue about “lands unsuitable for timber production”. (There may still be a need to “zone” for other uses.) “Below-cost” timber sales would no longer be a meaningful calculation. And, if the South is any indication, a lot more timber would become available for local mills.
2. Declare that planning at all levels will be a truly open and collaborative process.
All phases of planning would be “open source” with draft documents and supporting information easily accessible on-line. Raw data from inventories and monitoring as well as interpreted data, maps, and models would be open to all. I can’t think of any other policy change that would do more to improve the level of trust among stakeholders. A side benefit would be a tremendous savings in responding to FOIA requests.
3. Declare that the Forest Service will commit to a process of establishing a shared vision for the entire agency.
With the National Forest System, Research, and State and Private Forestry all working towards shared goals, using an “all lands” approach, imagine what might be accomplished at landscape scales? This is the sort of partnership between managers and scientists that will be needed to truly ensure that “best science” is incorporated into decisions at all levels.
Are these declarations really all that bold? Not really, The Forest Service has been moving in these directions since before Dale Robertson penned his letter. A clear commitment to these principles might be what’s needed to finally move the National Forest System into the New Century.