What Good is a Plan Without Implementation?

eis photo Photo courtesy of Mac McConnell.

Note from Sharon: I am reposting this as I don’t think it got the attention it deserved yesterday because of a plethora of fire posts. It reminds me of something Chris Iverson once said about the Tongass and Chugach plans..along the lines of “if you’re not doing much (I think he meant in terms of vegetation changing work) you shouldn’t analyze much.” Is the Forest Service over”planning” and under”doing”?

Guest Post by Christopher Brong
Skamania County Commissioner, District 1

Here in Skamania County, WA, it is a big problem because there is very little active management for sustainable harvest and forest health on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (80% of the County). The 1993 Pacific NW Forest Plan brokered by President Clinton, has not been implemented in 20 years. Individual Forest Plans were formulated, but, little of the plans have been implemented since the environmental groups continued their “file-a-lawsuit” process against the Forest Service. There is also a tremendous fire hazardous on this forest since little timber has been harvested. We are well overdue for a catastrophic fire predicted by several USFS researchers for the “wet” side of the Cascade Mountains. We receive nearly 100 inches of rain/year. Now, it seems the Forest Service would prefer to spend most of their yearly budget on fire suppression, instead of prevention. Since early European settlers arrived until the 1980’s, this region has produced billions of board feet of timber. This region is known as “*….the most productive natural temperate forests in the world.” The Forest provided significant timber harvest receipts to our County from the 1940’s up to the mid-1980’s.

The County encompasses Mt. St. Helens National Monument, 3 Wilderness Areas, 4 federal fish hatcheries, and 2 state fish hatcheries. 59% of the County is Critical Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, which continues to decline. 10% of the County is heavily regulated by the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Act.

Another 8% of the County is in WA state timber trust and WA Parks lands. 10% is in very large private timber company lands. Fortunately the state trust lands provide a sustainable harvest of timber and the private timber provides a renewable harvest. These provide periodic timber harvest taxes that are minimally predictable.

Which leaves only 2% of the County that is taxed for private property taxes. Since we have depleted our Reserve funding, the County Government budget has been cut in half in the past three years, besides laying off 100 permanent and temporary employees. We are planning for “Secure Rural Schools” reauthorization to not occur, which will require laying off another 25 employees, and, 3 of 4 schools will be closed.

Recreation opportunities are abundant in the County and the region, and we do our best with the tax receipts to provide advertising and events from the customers primarily located in the Portland/Vancouver Region. However these receipts are primarily tourism directed funding, and the tourism job opportunities are below “living-wage” level. The service job wages for bussing tables, tending bars, and cleaning rooms are in the lower end… Federal Government jobs is the largest employer. Followed by the Service sector. Voters, and many urban folks, may believe public lands support the economy in a big way, but that is merely a perception based on lack of knowledge. Which brings me back to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Forest Service is unable to implement their plans, due to funding and lack of manpower, continual NEPA and ESA lawsuits, and environmental opposition to virtually any type of timber management project. So other than law requiring plans, why bother if you can’t implement the plan?

Note from Sharon: Mr. Brong is our guest, so I ask all commenters to keep hospitality in mind as we agree or disagree. As Benedict of Nursia recommended (for whom the Benedict’s Corner sidebar is named), I ask that we also “listen with the ears of the heart.”

4 thoughts on “What Good is a Plan Without Implementation?”

  1. “Increasing the size of government” is a poison pill, for some. Implementing plans requires “boots on the ground”, and the Forest Service uses a revolving door to fill temporary positions with people who think working for the Forest Service “would be fun”. These are GS-3’s who don’t know the difference between a white fir and a Douglas-fir. These are people who will never understand the concept of “basal area” or shade intolerance. Sure, a few of them will work for two seasons, learning as they go, until they learn there are no permanent jobs, falling one hour short, in their 1039 hour per year appointment. No retirement, no health plan and a forced 6 month “furlough”, with no guarantee of a job next year. So, the good ones see the writing on the wall and find a new career.

    I really DO think there will be jobs doing ground-truthing. Measuring stream buffers and unit boundary locations take skills but, progressive eco-groups might want to raid the ranks of former Forest Service temporaries, to find those with the skills to do the jobs. Chances are, they can offer better wages and longer work seasons than the Forest Service.

    Isn’t it time that the Forest Service makes things right for temps?!? They have abused them for decades, now, and this “dirty little secret” continues to be perpetuated by all involved. As plans, laws, rules, policies and prescriptions get more and more complicated, implementation becomes almost impossible to stand up to scrutiny. Pennywise and pound foolish!

  2. I think this a problem faced by every rural community in the Northwest. All we have really are our forests to create a economy with, and these are some of most beautiful and productive forest in the world. There are some who say we should diversify, I say we would like to diversify from welfare and methamphetamines to wood products manufacturing. Even if it is only the guy with a pickup and chainsaw cutting arrowood bolts.
    There is not a watershed in the Northwest that could not support several small sawmill. These sawmill could harvest salvage timber, dead, burnt, windblown, from our federal lands on small scale and would produce specialty products. These sawmill could produce more revenue and economy for both government and local rural communities. More so than thinning sales of small timber every will. I could never understand why the environmental community is so oppose to salvage logging. Its could be accomplished with the current Northwest Forest plan, if there was a will to do it.
    Currently who is really locked out of National Forests? Its the local population.

  3. Sharon: I’m not sure if the USFS is “over-planning” or not, but they are certainly “under-doing” compared to what they did 30 years ago. Have any of these plans actually been implemented since then? I got tired of all of the wasted committee meetings I attended in the 1980s to bother following any of this stuff too closely since then. Certainly the Clinton Plan for NW Forests would have been a real mess if it had ever been implemented, but now we have an even worse mess than anyone predicted or could have realized w/o implementation. Yet we keep listening to Norm n’ Jerry like they know what they are talking about, and sacrificing our forests and rural communities as if everything is going to plan. No one planned this mess, no one predicted the extent of it, and no one seems to be doing much about it.

    Maybe we should go back to the old planning methods, which were based on goals and objectives rather than rules and regulations.

  4. The key to understanding planning is to recognize that ‘rules and regulations’ (and plan standards) that prevent people from doing undesirable things are enforceable. “Goals and objectives” for doing desirable things are aspirational, often depend on other things (like funding), and may never be achieved. In the ‘good old days,’ there was lots of money and no rules. Today it’s more the opposite. In this environment, I would agree that trying to make plans yield bigger timber numbers (which will trigger the kind of scrutiny that will require more analysis) is not worth the trouble.


Leave a Comment