An assessment is the gathering and integrating of information relevant to the planning area from many sources and the analysis of that information to identify a need to change a plan or to inform how a new plan should be proposed. – section 219.5(a)(1) of the proposed Forest Service planning rule
It is a synthesis of information in support of land management planning to determine whether a change to the plan is needed. Assessments are not decisionmaking documents but provide current information on select issue. – section 219.19 of the proposed Forest Service planning rule
This is the first of a series of posts about possible approaches to preparing an assessment for a National Forest/Grassland Plan revision under the proposed Forest Service planning rule. (It is based on some informal conversations that Peter Williams and I have had with folks inside and outside the Forest Service, but nothing here reflects official Forest Service policy or the deliberations of the team working on the planning rule.)
The proposed rule expects a process that integrates both science and collaboration: “the objective of this part is to guide the collaborative and science-based development, amendment, and revision of land management plans.” (219.1(c)). Under the rule, an assessment must be collaborative and science-based, just as the overall plan revision process, because it brings together many sources of information, including social, economic, and ecological, whether qualitative or quantitative. Moreover, the subsequent process must rely on information from an assessment if the process is to be collaborative and science-based.
Although one immediate purpose of an assessment is to identify whether a need for change exists, the second, equally important purpose of an assessment is to inform design of the subsequent forest planning process that will propose specific changes to the plan if a determination is made that a need for change does exist.
Under this definition, an assessment is both a product and a process.
The product is a report similar to an “Analysis of the Management Situation” or other scoping documents under the 1982 planning rule. It documents “existing and potential future conditions and stressors” that subsequently will be the foundation for the revision’s Environmental Impact Statement. It describes the Forest in the context of the broader ecosystem, and what’s going on in the States and counties within and surrounding the Forest.
The process involves convening multiple parties at multiple scales to determine if the current Forest Plan is working by answering a set of assessment questions derived from the rule.
This rather long list of questions has the potential to be quite lengthy, so they need to first be screened to determine if they are relevant to the particular forest. Screening questions would include:
|Coarse Screening Question|
Need for change in plan components or monitoring program
|Is the information needed to inform and develop plan components (i.e., Is this a Forest Plan issue, not a program planning issue or a project issue)? 219.6(b)(1)|
|Is the resource present? 219.7(b)(2)(ii)|
|Is the resource important? 219.7(b)(2)(ii)|
|Is addressing the resource within the authority of the Forest Service? 219.8, 219.9, 219.10, 219.11|
|Is addressing the resource within the capability of the plan area? 219.8, 219.9, 219.10, 219.11|
|Is addressing the resource within the fiscal capability of the unit? 219.10|
|Is there an emerging public issue that needs be addressed? 219.6|
Design of process for revising a plan or monitoring program
|Is the information needed to understand the discrete roles, jurisdictions, responsibilities, and skills of interested and affected parties? 219.4(a)|
|Is the information needed to understand the expectations regarding the accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information? 219.4(a)|
|Is the information needed to determine the scope, methods, forum, and timing of public participation opportunities? 219.4(a)(1)|
|Is the information needed to develop required plan components (219.6(b)(1)), including information needed to inform design of the public notification and participation process? 219.7(c)(1)|
In answering the questions, technical information is essential, but an assessment under the rule should not merely be a technical process – it is fundamentally participatory, drawing on information and knowledge from multiple sources and multiple participants. During an assessment, the most accurate, reliable, and relevant scientific information is synthesized from governmental and non-governmental sources. But the process is also about clarifying values, because an important step is to identify why a particular National Forest/Grassland is important to the participants. One reason for clarifying values is that the knowledge being sought includes how a new plan should be proposed. That is a process-oriented goal. To meet such a goal in a way that is appropriate for the local situation, the assessment must seek to understand procedural preferences—values—of stakeholders, including but not limited to those of Forest Service personnel. The second specific assessment purpose is worth highlighting again: the goal of an assessment under the proposed planning rule is to gather and integrate information that informs design of a participatory and collaborative process should one be needed to change the plan.
Part 2 will describe how an assessment might be conducted.