From time to time, The Smokey Wire community is called on to support journalists in their work. I think the best way we can do that is to add our voices of experience and tell our stories. Even the simplest question has a variety of outcomes depending on where in the country we are (social, economic, biological and physical environment), who the people and groups involved are (academics would probably say “actors”), the kind of project or plan and so on. This question is about collaborative groups.
Suppose a forest plan revision has a functioning collaborative group with broad representation that provides smart recommendations that are incorporated into the plan.
(1) Is there any evidence that it prevents future litigation around projects?
(2) Does it guarantee that forests will use the recommendations from collaborative groups to inform the best projects?
Since I don’t have any experience with forest plan revision collaborative groups, I’ll defer to other in the community.
(3) I’d also add a question: what has been your experience with collaborative groups post-revision giving feedback through time on projects?
Based on external observations, I would say that having a collaborative group doesn’t even prevent future litigation around the plan itself, let alone projects. What I have seen is that the litigators are often members of groups not involved in the collaborative process (I have even seen disagreements about national and local chapters of the same organization). The law is a tool used to obtain certain objectives that a group has chosen to pursue. This is true of those on both “sides” of the issue, although it seems the most common litigation is by Certain Legally Inclined Environmental Groups (CLIEGS). I don’t know how groups decide to litigate, but there are certainly those in our community who do. Some judges may tip their hats to collaboration in their decisions and others not.
As to 2) I think that forests would use recommendations from collaborative groups to prioritize and design projects, if the FS put them in the forest plan, the plan being the guiding document. However, the FS operates under other constraints, such as budget line items (or whatever they’re called nowadays), or getting $ from partners, or “all lands” state/federal projects, that may impact priorities. Conceivably, if the forest plans have standards and guidelines, they will be followed. I have heard from some partners that they are discouraged about the follow through, though, that what can be in the project planning documents may not show up on the ground.
Anyway, I’d like to hear from you and your own experiences, good and bad, and what about them made them good or bad, in your opinion. Think of this as a virtual campfire with a brewski or two. Collaborators, Forest Service employees, retirees, collaborators, litigators, academics and observers are welcome to weigh in.