Mark Squillace in New West on Proposed Planning Rule

Here’s the link .

Here are a couple of quotes:

Decades of land use litigation have crippled the Forest Service’s planning process, causing the agency to become over-cautious and vague, according to environmental lawyer and scholar Mark Squillace. A proposed national planning rule, for which public comments close on May 16, is too complex, time-consuming, and fraught with unnecessary choices that invite litigation, says Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder.

“I really think the forest planning process is broken, and one of the reasons is they spend so much time revising the plan and they don’t really improve it, because it becomes static over time.” he says. “It’s really about monitoring, not assessment. What you want is a monitoring program that’s constantly looking at what’s happening in the forest.”

Squillace, who has worked in the Department of the Interior and was director of litigation for the Environmental Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., says monitoring of many conditions, such as the population status of species, soil moisture, and pathogens, should all feed back into the assessment reports of national forests that are compiled every two years, which in turn would be used to alter the national plan. “If it’s done right, you’ll virtually never have to do another plan at all, because it’s constantly changing.”

Squillace applauds the public input. “I think the process they’ve used has been exemplary. They’ve really tried to involve people in a meaningful way.”

But at the national forum, he asked a Forest Service panel if they had considered options to make the plan development process simpler, such as resource-use plans at the level of the individual forest that would avoid the complicated standards and guidelines built into the national plan. “I think right now the public often loses the forest for the trees because of the detail, the complexity, of the plan,” he said.

On science,

In terms of the role science would play in resource management, Squillace worries that the language of the draft plan requires only that officials “take into account the best scientific information throughout the planning process.” Such weak wording could turn the rule’s scientific standards into a paper tiger, he claims.

He cites a comment made by a member of the public during the national forum that there is no “best science,” only competing views. He disagrees vehemently. There may be a level of uncertainty, as with climate science, he says, but the agency cannot avoid a preponderance of scientific opinion simply by noting that scientists may take different views.

“The Forest Service is increasingly careful about not setting standards that will tie their hands,” he says. “To me, that’s the essence of planning: making choices.”

Even so, Squillace says the Forest Service has trouble making such site-specific analyses, because the resources required for the national planning process detract from resources needed for project-level studies. “I can say with confidence that this kind of thing has happened in many forests.”

One of his answers to the problem is to use more maps, to help visualize resource questions or threats. From the many meetings he has attended over the years, he says his sense is that the public mainly wants to know what uses of national forests will and will not be allowed. Maps that show such uses, or zonings, already are made by the Forest Service, he says. This should be extended to maps that designate the suitability of tracts of land for particular uses. Other maps could display watersheds, wildlife habitats, ecosystems, and ecological conditions. They could be designed as overlays, so the public could see how such resources interplay with the suitability of a given tract of land for various uses.

“Maps provide a really transparent way, I think, to engage the agency in what the public would like to see,” he says. This would help everyone to analyze use options. “We fight it out, if you will, in the decision-making phase.”

I agree with most of his points, especially about the public’s interest in lines on maps.

However, it is interesting that his views of science seem to be different than Toddi’s below. Maybe we are talking past each other, but I have noticed that people in the law profession (this is my current hypothesis) seem to have the idea that decisions can be hardwired to some “science.” Following Toddi’s post, it will be interesting for us to note who makes these claims about science and see if those claimants fall into any kind of pattern. In the past, I’ve noticed this coming from NGO’s with many lawyers on their boards and staffs. Scientists themselves tend to be more cautious. And of course, people who study this kind of thing academically (STS or science policy studies) sound like Toddi’s lecture.

Also, Squillace said:

“They make it impossible to challenge monitoring,” Squillace charges, “because monitoring reports every two years are not decisional documents, so they’re not reviewable.”

I don’t know the utility of legal challenges of monitoring per se… I’m sure something got missed in the interview here. Based on other conversations, I think he means challenging legally decisions made or not made on the basis of that monitoring.. but the NEPA of the decisions themselves could be challenged..??

And finally..

Squillace thinks the agency should look to legal precedents that argue in favor of analysis of individual ecosystems rather than concentrating on the “bird’s eye view.” He points to a 1987 case in Wyoming concerning oil and gas leases on more than 10,000 acres of the Shoshone National Forest. In dismissing a suit brought by the Park County Resource Council that contended the Environmental Impact Statement was inadequate, a court of appeals ruled that a comprehensive EIS is not required at the leasing stage. Nine out of ten leases do not result in exploratory drilling, the court noted, concluding that site-specific environmental assessments should be made before a particular drilling project actually occurs.

This finding was strengthened the following year, when another court of appeals ruled that federal agencies did not violate law in selling oil and gas leases on 1.3 million acres of the Flathead and Gallatin National Forests in Montana without preparing an EIS.

Is he arguing that forest plan EIS’s are not particularly useful? I seem to remember others who thought this…during the 2005 (Mark would probably call it the “Bush” ;)) Rule.

3 thoughts on “Mark Squillace in New West on Proposed Planning Rule”

  1. Useful sets of maps should be made available that shows which lands are off limits to any timber management, or have restrictions. These would include wildlife PACs, streamside buffers, Research Natural Areas, designated Wilderness, designated Roadless and all other “zones” that either limit or exclude active management. I think the public would be surprised at how much land already has “protections” against beneficial projects. The maps don’t have to spell out why the land is “protected” but, it is enough that the public knows how much of it there is, and where.

    Regarding science, anonymous peer review must be rejected for use, both in projects and in court. If you are going to review science, you need to put your name on it. This would help to limit studies that are one-sided and designed to produce a specific slant, from either side.

    I am all for site-specific science to shape and mold the kinds of projects our forests and communities need.

  2. Squillace concludes:

    “My feeling is the Forest Service was fishing with the draft rules,” … “They weren’t complete. And with all the comments and feedback, they should know that.”

    AMEN! Problem is, I’ve never seen a Draft NFMA Rule that didn’t have so much momentum behind it that the Final Rule is but a tweak of the Draft. Will this time prove different? Why?

    • Seems that the best organized opposition is to the viability language. Seems like it will take more than tweaking to address the concerns of the Defenders of Wildlife et al.


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