The Incredible World of Sustainability Definitions in Planning Rules

2000 rule 2

I want to talk about “Sustainable Recreation” in the planning directives. But first we need to lay the groundwork, so we need to go back to the Rule. Clearly everything has to be (plans must promote) sustainable, as in every rule since the 2000.

Sustainability is defined in the 2012 Rule as:

Sustainability. The capability to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. For purposes of this part, ‘‘ecological sustainability’’ refers to the capability of ecosystems to maintain ecological integrity; ‘‘economic sustainability’’ refers to the capability of society to produce and consume or otherwise benefit from goods and services including contributions to jobs and market and nonmarket benefits; and ‘‘social sustainability’’ refers to the capability of society to support the network of relationships, traditions, culture, and activities that connect people to the land and to one another, and support vibrant communities.

One might wonder.. gosh, the concept of sustainability has been around for a long time (since the Brundtland report).. how did EI get into the definition?

So you might ask, how did they define ecological sustainability in 2005?

(b) Sustaining ecological systems. The overall goal of the ecological element of sustainability is to provide a framework to contribute to sustaining native ecological systems by providing ecological conditions to support diversity of native plant and animal species in the plan area. This will satisfy the statutory requirement to provide for diversity of plant and animal communities based on the suitability and capability of the specific land area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(B)).

So we went from diversity of native plants and animals, to “its dominant ecological characteristics (for example, composition, structure, function, connectivity, and species composition and diversity).” I have called it “everything” before, because I can’t think of anything that isn’t covered, being within NRV AND resilient.

I use the ticks standard.. could lawyers argue that a project changes the compositions of species of ticks on elk (or the genetic composition of species of ticks on elk, or viruses..) ? And we see “no” in 2005, and yes in 2012. Because ticks are not plants or animals.

But in 2012, you would have to know what the species composition was during the reference period. Except like so many things, you never could know. Maybe we need historic tick ecologists and modelers? You may say, that’s silly. But it’s composition, which is listed as a “dominant ecological characteristic.”

So what does the 2000 Rule say (remember the COS gave input on that rule, and thus the Sedjo discussion and point of view, we described previously here)?

So I looked at 2000

Similarly, the Forest Service and scientific community have developed the concepts of ecosystem management and adaptive management. Scientific advances and improved ecological understanding support an approach under which forests and rasslands are managed as ecosystems rather than focusing solely on single species or commodity output. Indeed, ecosystem management places greater emphasis on assessing and managing broad landscapes and sustaining ecological processes. Ecosystem management
focuses on the cumulative effects of activities over time and over larger parts of the landscape. Planning and management under ecosystem management also acknowledge the dynamic nature of ecological systems, the significance of natural processes, and the uncertainty and inherent variability of natural systems.
Ecosystem management calls for more effective monitoring of management actions and their effects to facilitate adaptive management, which encourages changes in management emphasis and direction as new, scientific information is developed. In accord with ecosystem management, regional ecosystem assessments have become the foundation for more comprehensive planning, sometimes involving multiple forests and other public land management units. The Northwest Forest Plan, for example, affects 17 national forests and 6 BLM districts in a three-state region. The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Project encompasses 25 percent of the entire National Forest System and ten percent of the public lands administered by the BLM nationwide.

(As an aside, our appetite for these giant projects seems to have dissipated in the last 13 years. Does this have to do with the apparent lack of capacity to do any adaptation? Why is that? Would like to hear opinions of folks experiences with NW Forest Plan and ICBEP).

And what was ecological sustainability then?

Ecological sustainability: The maintenance or restoration of the composition, structure, and processes of ecosystems including the diversity of plant and animal communities and the productive capacity of ecological systems.

Maintenance OR restoration of composition, structure and processes.

Capability of ecosystems to maintain ecological integrity

Which is, again:
The quality or condition of an ecosystem when its dominant ecological characteristics (for example, composition, structure, function, connectivity, and species composition and diversity) occur within the natural range of variation and can withstand and recover from most perturbations imposed by natural environmental dynamics or human influence.”

So if we use my ticks example, under the 2000 Rule, we would be able to argue that our project was not changing (maintaining) the same tick species as on the current elk.

According to 2012, though, we would have to figure out what the reference period was and see if our project “promoted” the species composition which occurred during the “reference period.” Unless I’m missing something?

What on Earth have we gotten ourselves into?

For those who claim that this is all “science” take a gander at SY_CallicottMumford1997paper (which you can get for free through this link, but not from Wiley..)

Ideas that scientists and philosophers exchange about the world and how things should be are not “science” in the sense of hypotheses that can be verified. This paper also brings up another normative science idea, health, but lends an interesting view of how the different disciplines see what’s important (I’ll give you a hint, it’s what they spend their time studying ;))

I tried to copy out the salient paragraphs but it doesn’t let me, nor could I extract the page. Check out the left hand column on page 37. Note that this discussion is clearly normative, and argues that “ecosystem health” is good for managed landscapes(sustainable) and “ecosystem integrity” for preserves. Just to be clear, I think it’s fine for academic philosophers and scientists of all stripes to talk about concepts…but putting vague normative science ones into regulation is quite questionable. Indeed, then stating that it is “science” to value the “reference period” is pretty clearly.. well.. not “science”, despite the fact that some scientists espouse it.

3 thoughts on “The Incredible World of Sustainability Definitions in Planning Rules”

  1. As a member of the kingdom Animalia, is not a tick an animal?

    Or is there a special limited definition somewhere in the context?

    Maybe you’d like to use a fungus for your gedanken experiment. Some great rare lichens can be found here in the temperate rainforest.

  2. Good point, Kevin, because I originally thought that the 2005 Rule was referring to the NFMA statute, which was about “plant and animal communities”.. we don’t usually think of the “scorpion community” or the “protozoan community” so I was thinking of vertebrates.
    1604 g3B

    provide for diversity of plant and animal communities based on the suitability and
    capability of the specific land area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives, and
    within the multiple-use objectives of a land management plan adopted pursuant to this section, provide, where appropriate, to the degree practicable, for steps to be taken to preserve the diversity of tree species similar to that existing in the region controlled by the plan.

    However, the 2005 Rule defined animal as:

    Species: Any member of the currently accepted and scientifically defined plant or animal kingdoms of organisms.

    So you’re right, none of the planning rules pass the “tick test”. Maybe Andy’s KISS Rule would..

    Wow, as the commercial used to say “You’ve come a long way baby!” from 1604g3b to “ecological integrity” and “NRV”.

    And if you are older, like me, and want to know what people currently think are in the kingdoms, check out Wikipedia.. there might be 5 or 6

    Currently, textbooks from the United States use a system of six kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea, and Bacteria) while British, Australian and Latin American textbooks may describe five kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protoctista, and Prokaryota or Monera). Some recent classifications have explicitly abandoned the term “kingdom”, noting that the traditional kingdoms are not monophyletic, i.e., do not consist of all the descendants of a common ancestor.


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