Nantahala-Pisgah forest plan comments

The third of three articles on the results of a Carolina Public Press Freedom of Information Act request for the more than 6,000 comments focuses on governmental emails.

Hmmm … maybe this is one of those articles where we should debate the author’s approach, especially his choice of who to interview (somewhat tongue-in-cheek).  Here is one thing a “retired Forest Service bureaucrat” had to say …

Mostly absent from the collaborative groups are elected officials. While elected officials represent residents, Friedman said, they are seldom effective members of stakeholders groups that strive for collaborative solutions.

“They may not share the level of passion and knowledge of individuals, experts and special interest groups that participate in stakeholders groups,” she said.

An interesting theory.  Friedman had quite a few things to say.  (Maybe she can explain why the locals insist on calling this the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest.)

(The article includes links to a number of articles on this Forest’s plan revision process.)

8 thoughts on “Nantahala-Pisgah forest plan comments”

  1. The reason I didn’t post this when it came out was that I was waiting for the FS folks to get back.

    I think I was an OK person to interview because I have a great deal of experience with forest planning. That’s different from picking an academic from say, UNLV.

    A couple of things about this.. maybe it was just the way the piece was written, but it sounds like Sam Evans and I agree quite a bit about the general process, role of collaborative groups and so on.

    I actually thought I’d provoke some interesting discussion here by my statement that content analysis is more of an art than a science.

    I also had nice things to say about forest planning, which doesn’t usually come out in our discussions here.

    One of my goals is to support local media, and talking to local reporters is something I do. I think he has done one of the best jobs I’ve seen at delving into how this plan revision is going, and what people think, including talking to a variety of people and reading public comments.

    • Sharon, I’m sure we could disagree if we try hard enough 😉

      Actually, wrt local governments “seldom” being effective members of collaboratives, there’s a great counterexample from the NPNF plan revision. Perhaps it’s the exception that proves the rule, but Graham County has given incredibly useful input to the Forest Service and has steered the collaborative toward more socially sustainable recommendations. This is because of their very capable professional staff, whom they’ve entrusted with the nuts and bolts of collaboration. The county organized a public meeting first, to see what common themes emerged and which specific areas were most important for which local uses. Then they brought that information to the collaborative group and worked hard for compromise. When the surrounding counties were (literally) passing resolutions saying that they opposed the plan revision, Graham has ensured that they’re actually going to get a great deal of what they want, where they want it.

      I think it’s a great example for other local governments. I hope the Forest Service is wise enough to document how the process has worked and share it with other units, with some up front outreach to local governments about how to participate effectively in collaboratives.

      • Sam, we must not be trying hard enough 😉 !! Note that I did not say local governments, I said “elected officials” as individuals participating in collaborative groups. Thank you for sharing this example, and thanks to the staff who did all this hard work!

        It would be kind for someone (not the Forest coming back from furlough and up to its eyeballs in plan revision) to write that up, and we could post here and brainstorm about outlets like the American Planning Association (for county planners) and NACO. I think learning might work better peer to peer with counties than from the FS.

  2. They call it that because the Pisgah was first – you people should know the story, i.e. George Vanderbilt, Carl Schenk, Cradle of Forestry. Literally where it all started for our profession in this country!

  3. I think Sharon was an ok person to interview, too.

    I agree with her that content analysis is an art, and would add that there are few good artists. The institutionalized “content analysis” teams mostly compile information, rather than analyze it. The art part really requires a complete understanding of the project, which someone hired at the end of the process is not going to have. I’m not sure I’ve seen a good example of a report on “what it all means.”

    I have been impressed with the Vanderbilt National Forest’s willingness to take the time it needs instead of towing the agency deadline line. There’s downsides to that, but it sounds like their public is staying with them.

  4. Collaboration without all interests and stakeholders represented in the ‘collaboration process’ would lack the information necessary to make a fully informed decision. A planning Decision that fails to consider all relevant variables, interests, and stakeholders would result in an arbitrary and capricious planning decision. Not unlike a mathematical equation, any solution that fails to consider all relevant variables will likely results in a ‘sub-optimal’ solution.
    The Nantahala Forest Service outsourced the stakeholders process to an insular group, that held “public meetings” on behalf of the Forest Service, and now the F.S. has hired a local P.R. firm to continue to keep all public discourse at arms length from the agency. The Forest Service have essentially abdicated their statutory obligation to conduct an objective and transparent planning process, and have failed to take a ‘hard look’ at issues raised, by allowing an outsourced organization to hijack the process, and interfere access for the majority of the public. A small group claiming to represent the “public” at large has been allowed to influence the planning process at the exclusion of, and to the detriment of, all other interests not aligned with a parochial “stakeholders” group.

  5. Mike, could you give us more info? I heard that there were two different stakeholder groups involving some of the same players.. what is the outsourced organization and what do they do to interfere with access by the public.. who is the “local PR firm”?


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