Blue Mountain Forest Plan Objection Meetings

This photo is from an earlier planning meeting for the Blue Mountains.

Trouble shooting request: this shows up as upside down on my phone but right side up on my computer. If yours shows up upside down, please let me know what device you are using in the comments. Thanks!

I came across this letter to the editor in the Capital Press. I’m interested in how this is working. What was it like to be involved for objectors? For the FS folks? What is the role of the “team from D.C.?”. I hope that some readers can add their impressions in the comments below.

To every one of you who attend the first set of meetings on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision: Thank you. It was great to see everyone who had traveled from around the West to have their objections heard or to support those who were speaking out about the plan.

I was impressed with the care each of you took to present your objections, but even more, I was awe struck at the control each of you showed in a matter that is very dear to each of our hearts and that impacts our ability to sustain our families in Northeastern Oregon. While open access to our mountains seems to be such a simple concept when it comes to subsistence use, it eludes those that make decisions who have never had to worry about heating their homes with firewood or had to extract food that supplements our families through the winter.

While we saw a solid turn out of objectors in the meetings from Nov. 27th to Dec. 1st, I fear a great deal of those who objected missed out on these first meetings and did not have their voices heard. The team from D.C. stated we would hear back from them sometime at the end of January and we should expect additional meetings sometime in March to see what the next steps would be.

If the meetings are held in March it will be paramount that every objector attend the meetings and participate in the process. I ask each of you that know you are an objector to follow Forest Access For All on Facebook to get current information on the process and how to participate.

These meetings sounded very interesting. Here is the link with the information about them, and here is the link to the reading room for objections. There seem to 353, which would be quite a few objectors to meet with.

Resolution meetings between objectors, interested persons, and Forest Service Reviewing Officers have been scheduled between November 27 and December 1, in five different cities in Eastern Oregon. Meeting locations were identified based on where the majority of Objectors and Interested Persons reside. Invitation letters and meeting agendas were sent to all eligible objectors and interested persons (Review Resolution Meetings Invitation to Objectors and Interested Persons.) Although the meetings are open for public observation, only Objectors and Interested Persons will be invited to actively participate in the resolution meetings.

There is potential for a large number of objectors and interested persons to attend the resolution meetings. To help facilitate productive dialogue between objectors, interested persons, and Reviewing Officials on the main objections issues, there will be multiple, two-hour discussion sessions during each meeting. (See agenda for each meeting, attached to Resolutions Meeting Invitation.) Up to 20 Objectors or Interested Persons will participate with the Reviewing Officers in each discussion session.

16 thoughts on “Blue Mountain Forest Plan Objection Meetings”

  1. Although I wasn’t able to attend the objection resolution meetings, I am very familiar with them and many of the attendees, as well as some of the key players. The questions you posit, Sharon, aren’t easy to answer concisely, but here’s a shot at it.

    The Forest Service has been revising the three forest plans for the Iron Triangle forests (Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla) since 2002, and it has been a crummy process from the start. The revision effort is being done under the 1982 NFMA planning rule, but because the revision has spanned so many years and so much agency turn-over, the FEIS and plans are a very hot, steaming mess. All of the key stakeholders hate the plans, and there is no cohesive vision in the plans, regardless of whether you are a conservationist, rancher, logger, or elected official.

    Underlying that are some perennial sticky wickets like travel management (the Wallowa-Whitman and Malheur are the only two forests in the system that have yet to complete [or start] the travel management process), anti-government sentiment, and changing views of the best available science to guide land management decisions.

    Because the plans are such a mess, the Forest Service has a pickle on its hands in terms of its decision space to resolve the objections. The “team from Washington” include the Objection Resolution Officer (Chris French), as well as others in the WO leadership: they spent a week in eastern Oregon attending the meetings and hearing from objectors. They are very far from making a decision about how to proceed, but it is possible that there will be another round of meetings with objectors to attempt to come to some sort of agreement.

    As an objector, I’m skeptical that an agreement can be made that works for the myriad of objectors and the Forest Service.

    As a litigator and political realist, I think the ultimate decisions are going to be made by federal judges, and perhaps, by Congress.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your observations, Susan! Since you are a litigator and a political realist and know what laws the FS processes need to follow, what would you do if you were the Blue Mountains folks? Start over? Approach the myriad of related decisions differently? Do you think there’s a way to avoid having these decisions made by federal judges or Congress? (Which are both suboptimal in my experience.)

      Reply
      • Honestly, if I were the Forest Service, I would pull the RODs, split the three forests apart, and restart revision under the 2012 Planning Rule. Another alternative would be to undertake a substantial *amendment* process to cure the highest priority inadequacies of the current plans. A third alternative (which I know makes some uncomfortable), is to invest heavily in local collaborative efforts that have the juice to assist the agency in planning.

        All of those options require more time, money, personnel, and planning; and I am skeptical that the the agency has the appetite for such an undertaking.

        Reply
  2. Susan, what is it about the 2012 Planning Rule that you think would help? I was peripherally involved in its development before I retired, but my general concept was that the first forests operating under a new rule were, to some extent, involved in bushwhacking rather than following a well-worn trail in terms of effort. So I am curious as to why you think it might help. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Well! I have many thoughts about the value and potential of the 2012 planning rule, having served for 6 years on the Forest Service’s FACA committee for the rule (not to mention being involved in the rulemaking and litigation around the 2000, 2003, 2005/2008 rules, and defense of the 2012 rule).

      As opposed to the 1982 rule, the 2012 rule puts best available science, public engagement, monitoring, and ecological integrity front and center in forest planning and management. Climate change and other stressors are supposed to drive alternative analysis and restoration objectives. Wildlife protections are robust, and intended to recover listed species.

      Of course, that’s the dream. In reality, implementation of the new rule has been rocky, to be charitable. The agency failed to train, staff, and fund revision teams, to the frustration of planners and the public alike. Turnover (my favorite pet peeve) makes revising plans in 3 years a laughable task. Coupled with PTSD from prior planning efforts, agency personnel often either revert to planning habits learned under the 1982 rule, or become paralyzed by the complexity of the 2012 rule. There’s not a lot of interest in working with partners to wade through the challenges together.

      There are some bright spots: the El Yunque did some amazing work with youth, and I’ve seen some decent attempts at operationalizing adaptive management; our final FACA recommendations capture many of these success stories. But we have a long way to go before we realize the 2012 rule’s full potential, and dozens and dozens of plans to revise.

      Reply
      • Turnover is a tough one – any proposals for how to deal with that, especially from a Forest Plan Revision perspective? Only hire/assign the most experienced folks to planning teams who are near the end of their careers? Some way to track issues/major items so there is a smooth transition/institutional memory is not lost?

        Reply
          • Lots of collaborative groups have mentioned this over the years (the turnover problem) and I heard it at the EADM Stakeholder meeting I attended, plus many of the Regional groups and notes from those meetings had the same observation.
            I wonder if there are “best practices” ideas that came out of the EADM effort? Do others know of some best practices that are written and can be shared? Or your own practices that you think are pretty good in dealing with the problem?

            Reply
            • Regrettably, EADM is beginning to look like a major disappointment, and has produced nothing I know of that is helpful for plan revision.

              In my experience in working on three different planning teams over the past 15 years, there is one thing I have noticed that is common to all – we (myself included) are not good at documenting the small decisions in the process, and most importantly, documenting the rationale for those decisions that mark key points in the process. This is extremely important when there is turnover. It is also important when there is not turnover – so many times I and other team members have wondered what decisions were made and when, and WHY.

              Reply
  3. I’ve always been skeptical of the benefits of the objection process. I think it was envisioned as something more “collaborative” than the old appeal process because, “This process gives an individual or entity an opportunity for an independent Forest Service review and resolution of issues before the approval of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision” (36 CFR ยง219.50). In reality, the ability of the Forest Service to “resolve” any issues is limited by the range of alternatives it has already considered, the scope of the analysis it has done, and the likelihood that it would conflict with the resolution of someone else’s issue. Especially with so many objectors (imagine 352 intervenors in the lawsuit you’d like to settle).

    Objection meetings are entirely optional, at the request of the agency or the objector (but there is no obligation for either to agree to them). That means the Forest Service can do pretty much what it wants with them. I can’t imagine they have high expectations. Like any collaborative process, they would be biased towards local interests that can participate regularly in person.

    I have had experience with three forest plan objections (but not directly in the meetings), which led to some additional analysis and very few and very minor changes in the final plans. As Susan Jane said, there’s no reason to think that this process would dispense with issues that are important enough to litigate.

    Reply
    • I participated in one of the first forest plan objection processes (as a key revision team member) and I was impressed by the process and the outcome. The WO team we worked with was great, and we had a very effective objection reviewing officer. The conversations we had during the two resolution meetings were very productive – there were a number of small issues that we were able to resolve immediately. On the larger issues, I heard things from some of the objectors that I had not heard stated previously, though we had numerous previous conversations with them. My impression was that the objection process got us to the heart of the matter in some cases. Full agreement on resolution was not reached on all issues, but all in all, I thought it was very worthwhile process.

      Reply
    • When I look at the photo in the post/with the text, it is right-side up on my Windows PC. However, when I click on the photo to look just at the photo, it is upside down…wierd!

      Reply

Leave a Comment