Citizen forest planners using GIS

This seems like a strange source for hearing about evolution in forest planning policy, but here is what the Region 6 regional forester is telling the world.  It’s not something I remember serious discussion about when the 2012 Rule was developed, nor have I heard of it being done anywhere.  Has anyone participated in something like this in forest planning?  (I’ve added the bold type.)

Connoughton: Public policy for each national forest is set by law. The national forest plan follows the procedures of the National Environment Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a few other pieces of legislation. The advantage of collaborating on a GIS platform is that people have data, tools, and maps that give them greater insight, and they can ask design questions. On the platform, you are in a spatial environment that allows you to display the problem, query one another’s ideas, and look at the logical outcome. This type of dialog becomes a mechanism for designing alternatives. Instead of forest service specialists putting together alternatives that are mandatory under the National Environmental Policy Act, they could collaboratively engage in setting public policy and ask design questions.

Boy, what an advance that is. Otherwise, we are drawing public policy from inside the government and the outcome does not capture people’s interest. Why not turn the ability to design public policy over to them. The foundation of policy is spatial. Its design is largely supported by sets of spatial information. This is very liberating to people who otherwise have had to depend on the government to create the forest plan.

Turning forest information over to people in a way they can understand is empowering. The responsibility of government is to be faithful and trusting to the people. The people then use tools for designing alternative solutions and public policies.

5 thoughts on “Citizen forest planners using GIS”

  1. “Why not turn the ability to design public policy over to them. ”

    Mr. Connoughton is a very smart guy, but this sounds like the makings of a mess. GIS as a tool to gather public input, yes, but you either have public policymakers (for better or worse) or you don’t.

  2. As one who justified, scoped, solicited and awarded bids, and managed the installation and ongoing operation of a GIS system on 500,000 acres, I would say:

    1) GIS is an incredible tool and, with the complexities of forest management today, it is indispensable in order to carry out integrated, sound forest management on a landscape level. Its info can even be submitted to optimization programs to find the “best” solution for forest management under varying and often conflicting requirements for sustainability of multiple forest ecosystem components, adjacency and proximity requirements for certification, and for social desires including aesthetics.

    2) If “a picture is worth a thousand words” then a tediously well maintained and managed GIS is worth a thousand pictures and a million words. Analysis, collaboration and understanding are made infinitely more comprehensible with a well designed physical or digital map used to visually communicate pertinent facts and scenarios over time.

    3) GIS is an excellent tool in a collaborative environment to illustrate everyone’s pet idea and the initially obvious overlapping agreements and disagreements between those ideas in a followup meeting after an initial meeting to collect those ideas. This process can occur on an iterative basis until all of the synergism possible has been wrung out of the involved collaborators.

    4) What GIS can’t do is eliminate the professionals who direct the GIS analyst in terms of what facts are pertinent and who define the requirements necessary to implement each appropriate scenario and who determine the myriad of interactions over time that determines the long term ramifications of those scenarios in order to illustrate (digitally or physically) the sustainability of those scenarios at various stages over time.

    5) What GIS can do is reveal the gap between wishful thinking and reality whether that reality is conflicting laws or scenarios that are ecologically self defeating in the long run. Then that can, in turn, lead to more iterations in terms of steps 3, 4 and 5.

    6) GIS is an invaluable tool to aid us in a long detailed, tedious process of coming up with sound long term policy that is logically consistent and integrated over the landscape over the long term. It is not a quick fix.

    7) A poorly maintained GIS with insufficient detail or detail that hasn’t been tediously kept up to date is worthless and only serves as a very large and expensive paper shredder connected to a toilet to flush the shredded money down without any access to the downstream sewer system.

  3. I’m okay with the public having information and the actions of a public agency being “transparent” or that an agency might solicit public comment. I’m okay with the public having access to GIS, etc. After all, it is their information and it deals with their interests.

    Where I’d differ with Connoughton is that the public can “collaboratively engage in setting public policy”. In my estimation, that is what our publicly elected officials are supposed to do, just as they set public policy for the US Treasury, foreign relations, etc. They are supposed to be extremely knowledgeable with these things – far more so than the general American public – and then set policy. That is their job! That they would want the public to “collaboratively engage in setting public policy” is just plain scarry!

    So, too with public policy regarding our publicly owned forest lands. These same elected officials are supposed to understand the wishes of the people they represent and then set policy according to those wishes. After that, they should turn that policy over to the people they’ve hired and entrust them to carry out that policy.

    At the national Soc. of American Foresters annual meeting in Spokane a couple years ago, there was a lot of discussion about collaboratives and how well they were working. After hearing Chief Tidwell speak, my impression was that this was avoidance through collaboration. [I.e., if there is a decision, appoint another committee.]

    That our officials would use the public to set policy seems like an abrogation of their duties.

    • Some GIS map layers would have to held back. Cultural site locations should remain controlled, and some wildlife folks want their nest and den sites to stay confidential. I do agree that the Forest Service should be as transparent as it can be. We cannot expect that collaboration, alone, will fix all the ills of the Forest Service. Right now, we have collaboration, without consensus. We can only achieve consensus through public education. After that, we can craft informed compromises, which would, hopefully, make it through the courts.


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