2 thoughts on “Science Review Posted for Proposed Rule”

  1. I’m starting to wonder if the differences across the country in how forest ecosystems behave is a reason to take a more regional approach in developing planning direction. Specifically, some of us familiar with the disturbance-driven ecosystems of the interior West have been questioning the appropriateness of a coarse filter approach to try to maintain a narrowly fixed structure, composition, and connectivity of ecosystems. These are fire dominated ecosystems with long fire return intervals, and it’s hard for people to wrap their brains around that concept. I’m wondering if ecosystems on the east and west coasts are a little easier to understand and plan for.

    This regional variability shows up in this RESOLVE report. Dr. John Hayes from the University of Florida who has done substantial work in Oregon, observes on page 11 of the report that the coarse/fine filter approach is “consistent with current scientific understanding of the most practical and effective approaches to managing for the diversity of plan and animal communities.” But Dr. Barry Noon from Colorado State provides a more nuanced response on page 61 and observes that the coarse filter approach has significant limitations and will not be sufficient for many species. He points to research that show the observed error rates in coarse-filter models were high enough to call into question any management decisions based on these models. Coarse filter models oversimplify how animals use habitats and the dynamic nature of animal populations. He also points out on page 65 that habitat is dynamic and changes through times.

    When I talk to wildlife biologists, they understand the nuances of a coarse filter/fine filter approach. But I’m a little more concerned with how this approach is being generalized as a simple way to manage wildlife populations in National Forests.

  2. I glanced through the “Science Review” and am glad that at least John was able to draw some preliminary insights from the Review. As for me, my biggest question was whether on the official blog there will be a “lessons learned from the Review” from the Forest Service. That is, What insights does the Forest Service draw from the Review? Once that is unveiled, then maybe blog commentators can begin to make better sense of the Review.

    Sharon’s comment about the geographical distribution of reviews poses a good question about potential bias in the design of the Review. I wondered a bit when I glanced through the Review just which science disciplines were present and which were absent, and why. I see forestry, wildlife biology (and conservation biology), plant science, ecology, and one social science practitioner. But maybe my quibble ought not to be over which sciences are missing, or under-represented, but rather what else the FS ought to be looking into.

    This Review was about whether or not the FS used the “best available science” in addressing what is really a policy question: “What policy frame ought to be used to guide implementation of the NFMA.” Yes there are “environmental impact” and “science” questions embedded in any departure from “status quo” policy, but the whole notion of “best available science” may be a red herring in any case, particularly if that is the only question formally asked.

    Let’s look at the “framing questions”

    1. Does the information accurately reflect the current peer-reviewed scientific literature and understanding? If not, what is missing or incorrectly presented?

    2. Based on the current peer-reviewed scientific literature and understanding: does the documentation on environmental effects adequately respond to levels of uncertainty and limitations? If not, please describe what is missing or incorrect, and how the documentation can be improved.

    3. What, if any, differing viewpoints should be included that are not mentioned in the DEIS regarding the effects of alternatives on climate change, restoration and resilience, watershed and water protection, diversity of plants and animal communities, sustainable use of public lands to support vibrant communities, forest threats, and monitoring.

    After considering the framing questions and the whole notion of an EIS on the Rule and alternatives to it, I decided that I was very glad not to have been a reviewer, neither an author of the EIS. Both tasks seem overwhelming, given the broad scope and scale of the NFMA endeavor. So it goes. I did find a few interesting comments in the Review, and admit that there may be more, I’m just too lazy to look further.

    Here is an interesting comment from reviewer Jessica Leahy: “In many cases, however, I found statements to be written so broadly or generally that it was impossible to be incorrect. [p. 46]” That may be by design, but I suspect it is by default. If by design, we might explain the nature of the “statements” this way: When faced with an impossible task, better to over-generalize and avoid criticism.

    I found another interesting tidbit from reviewer William Keeton:

    Given the heavy reliance of the preferred management alternative on adaptive management approaches, the reader expects this chapter to provide a more substantial review of the full range of adaptive approaches, discussing pros, cons, and uncertainties. There is a substantial literature also on the social dimensions of this issue, including participatory processes. One specific model that I did not see reviewed is the Adaptive Management Area approach pioneered in the Pacific Northwest under the Northwest Forest Plan. This is unique, to my knowledge, in that it relies on “bottom-up” stakeholder processes to development management plans for the respective AMAs. It is a novel approach to public involvement, but has only worked well in some AMAs, not so well in others. Consequently, this case study could be used to highlight some of advantages and well as potential pitfalls/challenges associated with reliance on collaborative adaptive management.

    In the past decade other interesting adaptive approaches have been developed, with much of the innovation happening through public-private partnerships, such as Massachusetts’s citizen- based coastal zone monitoring program. The USFS might consider incorporating elements of citizen based initiatives such as this. Also, I could find little mention here or later in the document of structuring adaptive management explicitly as experimentation, and the utility of wilderness, RNAs, and other special management areas as experimental controls in this context. [pp.32-33]

    Keeton’s comments seem to support my hypothesis that the Forest Service has not taken a thorough look at what I call an Adaptive Governance approach to public land and resource management, as contrasted to traditional planning approaches.


Leave a Comment