A New Year of Forest Planning under the 2012 Rule

The Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo national forests have released their first ‘decisions’ in their plan revision process as early adopters under the 2012 planning rule.  Their ‘Preliminary Need for Change’ can be found here:

Click to access stelprdb5444578.pdf

Some things I found interesting:

“Under current plan revision timeline, it is possible to address only a few emphasis areas.”  I wonder what role collaboration played in setting deadlines, or how well collaboration can work if there are deadlines (especially if not collaboratively agreed upon).

“Not all changes must be addressed now.”  Have you revised a plan if you put off revising parts of it?

“Single species management approaches in the current plans limit landscape approaches that are critical to address dense forests and uncharacteristic fire.”  I’ll be looking for facts that support this statement, since viability of species of conservation concern is a key provision of the 2012 planning rule (and isn’t much different from the viability requirement of current plans).

“We are designing a programmatic plan. Most roads issues are more appropriately dealt with at the project level.”   Shouldn’t forest plans provide guidance for transportation systems and their use for both travel management planning and projects – excluding roads in some places or encouraging them in others?  Can a transportation network be designed project by project?  Hasn’t the FS said these kinds of questions are outside the scope of projects?

“Current forest plans emphasize fuel hazard reduction in the immediate area around WUI. This has led to less treatment in the surrounding wildland landscape.  … Increased pace and scale of restoration of resilience in the surrounding, larger landscape would have a substantial effect on fire threat in the WUI.”  From numerous posts here, this seems debatable.  Does this mean the plan needs to emphasize fuel hazard reduction beyond the WUI and less treatment in the WUI?

9 thoughts on “A New Year of Forest Planning under the 2012 Rule”

  1. Jon – your excerpts are difficult to understand without reading the entire document for context. Still, the statements you highlight do raise my eyebrows in wondering, “what do they mean by that?” I still think that people in general have a difficult time in separating their interests/concerns between large-scale topics (ie, revising a management plan for an entire national forest) and site-specific projects (ie, what should be done with this specific road?). While collaboration is an effective tool to help people address their interests/concerns, the “time” issue is a precarious one. Does the Responsible Official leave collaboration open-ended so interests/concerns can be thoroughly debated? Or should there be an endpoint established to help focus the debate? There is no good answer to these questions, nor should anyone advocate that there is a “right” answer. Each situation deserves its own discretionary space to determine what will produce an effective and accepted outcome.

  2. Actually, I’m encouraged by the excerpts.
    Single species management not working? In other words, the ESA driven template is dysfunctional? Nice to see that recognized.
    Resilience in the surrounding larger landscape? No kidding? Ya mean WUI work that fails to address the miles long crown runs we’re seeing might not be the cat’s meow?
    Expect those responsible for putting such blasphemy on paper to be transferred and demoted shortly.

  3. As Tony commented, almost every sentence in this document leaves me wondering “What do they mean by that?” If this was a grant proposal, it would get hammered; reason: completely lacking in specifics, while overflowing with platitudes (platitude: a trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, generally directed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease). For example, “Pace and scale of restoration is vastly insufficient to change trends.” One might ask, where is restoration defined? (elsewhere the FS seems to use it synonymously with harvest, though presumably there’s a better definition out there somewhere). “Lack of integrated desired conditions, and clear, quantitative objectives limit effective management (e.g. invasive species, species of conservation concern, recreation, grazing).” Fair enough, but what are some examples of “clear, quantitative objectives”? “Integrated” is a nice word though, they use it a lot. “Efforts to reduce the impacts efficiently are hampered with current plans. Single species management approaches in the current plans limit landscape approaches that are critical to address problem.” Something seems missing here, what are “the impacts” that are referred to, one can guess but shouldn’t have to. What is “problem”? Grammatical weakness aside, it would be useful to define the problem, then explain what “landscape approaches” are and why they are critical to address it. Landscape approach sounds a lot like multiple-use, but that term obviously is much too last century. “Adaptive management” continues to be a theme, but as usual there’s a continuing disconnect, in that a cornerstone of adaptive management is ongoing system monitoring, and the FS continues to be very resistant to implementing sustained monitoring of wildlife, habitat etc. (and admittedly underfunded to do so). Without details, the new planning paradigm seems to be: we can’t give you any specifics, but we’ve got the vision thing (as George H.W. Bush famously said), so don’t worry, just trust us.

  4. Guy, if you want monitoring, cut some trees to pay for it. Really….when Kate Kendall had her bear DNA thing lined up, the two million it required was hammered as useless pork by Candidate McSame.
    Monitoring is all great and good, but there is such a thing as endless process, including “monitoring” that prevents whatever data from ever being actually applied.
    As for integration, that’s a pretty simple concept — integration in manufacturing means that both ends of the supply chain know what the other is doing. And that goes to the heart of single-species focus at the expense of everything else.
    Finally, as to the aspect of specificity and detail, there is that old saw about not seeing the forest for the trees.

    • well sure, a few negative-revenue timber sales (e.g., http://www.ti.org/tspirs.html) will generate additional negative dollars to pay for monitoring… since I’m quoting Geo Bush Sr. in this thread, I recall he once had a famous quote about “voodoo economics”, seems appropriate. I realize that not everyone agrees with the financial loss aspect of FS timber sales, but for those who do, this isn’t confidence-inspiring.

      For monitoring, something less than expensive DNA studies would still be useful. For example, a current Idaho timber sale project in ESA-listed species habitat (bull trout), where FS acknowledges they have not actually bothered to count a single fish in the project area streams… ever. Again, not confidence-inspiring. Many more examples out there (e.g., don’t know if there’s lynx in the project area, haven’t really looked, ranger reported one but it might have been a bobcat, etc. etc.)

      Integration in manufacturing, fine, but not clear how that’s relevant here. I find 21 references to integration, integral, etc., in the ‘Preliminary Need for Change’ document, but don’t see that particular interpretation. I did find an online FS article about “Integrated Research in Natural Resources: The Key Role of Problem Framing” though, which seems relevant (http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr678.pdf). Not a bad paper, it starts out, “Integrated research is about achieving holistic understanding of complex biophysical and social issues and problems,” which is a bit too touchy-feely for me, but at least the authors go on to explain what they’re talking about. Which our current FS document does not do.

  5. I was speaking conceptually about conceptual integration — putting the puzzle together to get the picture.
    And, I’m going to have to call BS on below cost sales — that Randall O Toole thing is sort of stale for these days — and I heard Bob WOlf speak plenty of times. The guy really didn’t like cutting trees anyway.
    The entire agency is a below-cost kind of deal. The nadir for the Flathead National Forest was in 2002 or 3 under Cathy Barbouletos — I ran into Cathy at Costco or someplace and asked her offhand what the FNF budget was, she answered something like 12 million bucks for a forest half wilderness half THEORETICALLY multiple use. Wilderness should cost nothing, NOTHING to manage, right?
    About that time, FNF cranked out two million feet, about 200 grand worth of wood on the stump. And had a couple of multimillion dollar fires. Can you say below cost?
    On the other hand, John Sessions, and a few others, have been doing cost per acre per thousand feet studies of the various ownerships: Fed/state/local/private/tribal. IFMAT is the secret word, I think. Nonfed gov, private and tribes all were in the ballpark, with admin running between 110 per thousand for some states and tribes at 92 bucks. The feds in R6 were like eight times the overhead per stick.
    Never mind the deintegration of the commercial land base by REITs, which/whom I hate with a passion. The model is to mow it off and buy more land with trees. Hmmm. Must make money somehow — besides the “conservation buyer” scams like the Montana Legacy Project and Blixeth’s Lolo swap. The recreational real estate is one thing, but not all private commercial forest is highest and best as trophy castle compounds. In fact, most of it is best for, yep, growing and mowing trees.
    And there are lots of noncommercial forests that make a decent dollar for their NIFOs when the time comes while providing plenty of environmental amenity and habitat function in between harvests.
    The state of Montana makes money (not much, but some) for the education trusts. My evil landlord did a couple of high-visibility sales for the state in the last four years and he’s got a lot to be proud of, those spots are still attractive to wildlife and recreationists. It was a matter of good foresters with a good prescription, and skilled operators.
    So I’m sorry, Guy, but it is possible to cut wood and make money without wrecking the planet.

    • I’ve never been impressed with the “destruction” of anything caused by logging — just some ignorant value statements from agenda-based perspectives that don’t understand the resilient opportunistic nature of life, including forest vegetation. These people grew up on movies showing abandoned cities sprouting trees through the asphalt with bands of marauding wild dogs and frightened deer running everywhere — yet want everyone to someone share their horror at photographs of clearcut logging units. And somehow our politicians and media take them seriously and cause our international corporations to plead guilty and act shame-faced all the way to the bank. This is mostly new in our lifetimes.

      Same with “below cost timber sales.” I’m an historian and I never heard of such a thing until the USFS practically invented them. My perspective has always been that these events should rightfully be termed “incompetent forest management.” What an artificial crock, and it doesn’t look like the charade is going to end anytime soon. I’m guessing someone else will do much better managing our resources if we don’t get our act together one of these days. In my opinion.

      • When salvage loggers have to fly out the limbs and tops, with helicopters, that makes “below cost” into “added value”, here in the fire-prone Sierra Nevada. Most of our projects include multiple non-commercial treatments, paid for with logs.

      • Bob, I hear what you’re saying, I get to lecture a lot (in my microbiology and plant pathology classes) about the “resilient opportunists” in nature (pretty much using your exact words), though of course sometimes those organisms aren’t the ones we’re happy to see. Agreed that logging doesn’t necessarily involve devastation, just like farming doesn’t necessarily result in a dust bowl, but when both you and (I think) Dave are characterizing USFS as “incompetent forest management”, for some of their duties anyway, that’s what I was trying to get at by not confidence-inspiring. A new forest plan seems like a good place to start building public confidence in the agency, e.g. with more meat and less fluff in the plan. And if an integrated, holistic approach really is the new paradigm, then more public involvement is going to be necessary anyway, because that really isn’t the agency’s strength or tradition or management style. By the way, although “below-cost harvest” is probably a hot-button issue, realistically I would expect that a careful and conscientious project (with due consideration of wildlife habitat, cumulative effects etc.) is going to cost more to implement, so profitability isn’t the only measure of success.


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