Forest planning could promote efficiency by “standard work”

The Colorado Department of Transportation and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have developed a new process for protecting federally listed species. “When fully implemented, the improvements made through SWIFT will also save CDOT hundreds of hours of report writing and tens of thousands of dollars of consulting fees every year.”

“SWIFT is a programmatic statewide review that assesses impacts to these protected federal species and implements pre-determined standardized conservation measures to avoid or minimize impacts to the species and associated habitat – a great example of using the Lean principle of “standard work”. SWIFT provides these standardized impact assessments and mitigation measures for 92 common CDOT construction activities for all threatened or endangered species in the state as well as candidates for future listings. SWIFT is a tool to expedite project delivery by providing project teams with consistent impact determinations for similar work and predictable conservation measures.”  (“Lean” is a management principle that means creating more value for customers using fewer resources.)

The Forest Service has completed similar programmatic consultations on land management activities that may affect listed species. The result is to streamline consultation on projects that fit the pre-determined conditions.   However, individual managers can choose not to follow them and incur higher consultation costs.  Forest planning should consider the costa and benefits of allowing this discretion, and consider incorporating plan components that promote standardization of conservation measures for projects in the plan area.

The Forest Service has also worked with the consulting agencies to adopt uniform conservation and mitigation measures across the range of certain species in its forest plans (such as for Canada lynx). However, in general, the Forest Service resists the idea of adopting “standard work” principles in its forest plans, preferring to characterize this in derogatory terms as “one size fits all.”   It seems to prefer to allow local managers to invent their own wheels, as indicated by proposing changes in range-wide conservation strategies during individual plan revisions, and avoiding the use of mandatory standards that all projects would have to comply with.

Most managers (like those with CDOT) would recognize this as a costly and inefficient process. What does it buy? Comparing the costs and benefits of Forest Service decentralized decision-making would be a good exercise for the GAO on behalf of federal taxpayers.


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