It’s National Forest Week – so let’s think about forest planning for tribal areas

But we all knew that, right?  Here’s the National Forest Foundation link.

But here’s the rest of the story:

It’s National Forest Week, and members of the Crow Tribe are celebrating recognition of a special place in Montana.

In the U.S. Forest Service’s final draft of its Custer Gallatin National Forest plan released last week, the agency recognized the cultural and spiritual significance of the Crazy Mountains, designating it an “Area of Tribal Interest.”

The Custer Gallatin plan recognizes only the southern part of the Crazies. The Forest Service did not include the cultural significance of the northern part in its Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest plan from May.

Ideally, Doyle (a Crow tribal member) said, the tribe would like to see both sections recognized, but he noted that the region in the Custer Gallatin National Forest is most significant.

Why?  If there was one thing that everyone involved in developing planning regulations agreed on, it was that management direction should not change just because of an administrative boundary with a different staff member in charge.  And now this.  Two adjacent forest plan revisions, on roughly the same schedule, and different ideas about what?  Maybe there’s some legitimate resource reasons, but here’s the extent of the plan components for this area (and they don’t require much):

Desired Conditions (BC-DC-TRIBAL)

01 The Crazy Mountains embody a tribal cultural landscape significant to ongoing traditional cultural practices of the Crow Tribe.

02 Research, education, and interpretation of the Crazy Mountain tribal cultural landscape provides public benefits and enhances the understanding and appreciation of Crazy Mountain’s natural environment, precontact, contact, and Crow traditional cultural values.


01 The Custer Gallatin National Forest protects and honors Crow treaty obligations, sacred land and traditional use in the Crazy Mountains through continued consultation with the Crow Tribe.

This is not the only “area of tribal interest” on the Custer-Gallatin.  The Helena-Lewis and Clark plan has plan components for “areas of tribal importance,” but does not identify them (other than the Badger-Two Medicine area).  The plan dedicates one descriptive sentence to the tribal history in the Crazy Mountains.  So, again, how does the Forest Service explain the line they have drawn here?

(Related to the consistency idea, there was a lot of debate about whether plan decisions should be made by forest supervisors or regional foresters.  The Forest Service went with the former (I was told so the Chief wouldn’t be involved in objections), and this is the kind of problem they created.)

13 thoughts on “It’s National Forest Week – so let’s think about forest planning for tribal areas”

  1. So much for the Responsible Official looking broadly at the context their particular unit sits in. I wonder if the Helena-Lewis and Clark revision effort heard from the Crow tribe and if they did, how did the Forest come to the conclusion to not designate the Crazies similar to what the Custer NF did?

    • I suspect lack of communication is part of the reason, but that’s not an acceptable excuse for the FS since they are obligated to proactively consult with tribes.

      • Playing devil’s advocate here, since they are required to actively consult, does it make any difference if it’s a DC in a forest plan? How many people are going to read through all the DC’s?

  2. But Jon, “Why? If there was one thing that everyone involved in developing planning regulations agreed on, it was that management direction should not change just because of an administrative boundary with a different staff member in charge. And now this. Two adjacent forest plan revisions, on roughly the same schedule, and different ideas about what? ”

    Perhaps that’s a problem with the statute of forest planning and not the regs, that are about “forest planning.” Maybe the problem is that the concept of forest plans is outdated and no amount of writing regulations will fix it. I don’t think any of the rule efforts (I was only paying attention since the 2000 Rule) engaged directly with this question.

    I’d really like to see an open-multiparty 10 year review of the 2012 regulations, how they were intended to work, how they did work, and hear from practitioners and stakeholders involved with planning processes, and suggestions for improvement.

  3. I think a review would be appropriate once there are enough completed plans with implemented projects to look at (including all regions).

    “Forest” planning under the 1982 planning regulations was the responsibility of the regional foresters. In practice, it looked like the forests were doing it. I would say there was more regional oversight, but the degree of consistency among forests varied by region. The biggest difference, though, was the administrative appeals workload for forest plans in the Washington Office, which dragged on for years and resulted in some major national policy decisions. I think the WO didn’t like the former aspect, and the field didn’t like the latter.

    This is from the response to comments on the draft 2012 Planning Rule:
    Comment: Level of responsible official
    and consistency with regional or
    national programs. Some respondents
    felt the proposed change from regional
    forester to forest supervisor for the level
    of responsible official would make the
    plan more responsive to local situations.
    Others felt this change would result in
    inconsistencies across unit boundaries,
    limit collaborators, and reduce the
    accountability provided by a higher
    level responsible official. Several
    respondents felt the discretion given to
    local responsible officials in the
    proposed rule could lead to individual
    forest and grassland level plans that are
    inconsistent with neighboring unit
    plans and with regional or national

    • Yep…it was noted as a possibility back in 2012. But who is still sitting in a leadership seat (line or staff) that would be providing the oversight that plan content inconsistencies between adjacent units would be addressed? Answer: very few. Plus, the Chief (ie, WO) under 36 CFR 219.2 is to “Establish and administer a national oversight process for accountability and consistency of NFS land management planning under this part.” So, it is not surprising that an inconsistency has been discovered because this oversight role is not well-established or executed.

      • I think regional office planning staff would be very capable of oversight/monitoring inconsistencies. In R-2 culture when I worked there, though, it was considered bad form to attempt to tell forests what they should do in general. It could be done but required much support and probably direct DRF intervention, which DRF’s would use judiciously. Did the Chief establish a “national oversight process”? Seems like the same folks that drafted the reg were still running the shop, so you might expect them to have followed the reg.

    • But if we waited to meet your criteria that could be 30 years again.. 🙁 during which the FS may have wasted time and money, annoyed stakeholders and possibly wasted their time and money.. and so on.

      Again, as I’ve pointed out the Supes actually work for the RF’s. So the RF planning staff could monitor inconsistencies and opportunities for cross-boundary planning.
      Having experience in both places (WO EMC staff and regional staff), I’d have to say any administrative reviews would find more knowledgeable folks in the RO than in the WO. It could also be argued that they might not be as independent. But you could have a different region do the review, like other appeals and objections. But then you’d still be reviewed by someone who’d have to get up to speed starting from scratch.

  4. When I was in the R1 RO I was always supportive of regional oversight (but the Region’s position on that had a little to do with why I retired). But here’s what the “book” (that I helped write) says about that:

    In accordance with the Forest Service Manual, it is the responsibility of the Regional Forester to, among other things (FSM 1921.04a):
    • Coordinate planning efforts among adjoining units and Regions.
    • Maintain quality control throughout the planning process
    • Identify, in coordination with the Responsible Official, the species of conservation concern (36 CFR 219.7(c)(3)) to be used by Responsible Officials for meeting the requirements of diversity of plant and animal communities (36 CFR 219.9(c)).
    • Coordinate monitoring among multiple units to address broader geographic scale questions and to maintain a broader-scale monitoring strategy that supports these needs.
    • Follow policy direction stated in FSH 1909.12 for land management planning.

    The Regional Forester is also responsible for “providing oversight throughout the planning process to support consistency and accountability among planning efforts” (FSM 1921.11), including (FSM 1921.12):
    • Each land management plan or amendment complies with laws, regulations, and policy, including 36 CFR part 219, FSM 1920, and FSH 1909.12, and including requirements for threatened and endangered species.
    • Oversight supports the identification and use of best practices, and facilitates consistent approaches and outcomes among comparable planning efforts.

    Note that the Planning Rule has a specific requirement of coordination across multiple units where species occur in order to meet NFMA’s diversity requirement (36 CFR 219.9(b)(2)(ii)).

    I also know that the national oversight process that Tony referred to was part of the resolution of the decision level question. The WO wasn’t going to handle objections to RF plan decisions, but it would provide oversight on the front end. There is not much evidence that this is happening, but here is what is required (FSM 1921.14):

    “The Director of Ecosystem Management Coordination (EMC) shall conduct reviews of the Regional oversight for NFS land management planning including for consistency and compliance within and across Regions with 36 CFR 219, FSM 1920 and FSH 1909.12. The Director of EMC should conduct at least one Regional review annually.”

    Incidentally, the Planning Rule FACA Committee made this recommendation: “The Forest Service should establish a National Oversight Council on Forest Planning and should work with those members to develop an effective and efficient process to maximize the utility of the Council.”

    • Hmm…I wonder if the WO has even thought about the possibility of establishing this oversight council. It would be worth an inquiry.

  5. I guess I don’t understand what the fuss is about. The language used in the plan looks like “motherhood” statements to reflect what is already agreed to–respecting treaty obligations, sacred land and traditional uses, the latter two likely already considered under separate consultation and study. The Helena’s gotta deal with the facts on the ground and with tribal governments. Maybe someone just didn’t want to put it in writing? And the problem is where the appeal goes to? I guess I’ve been retired too long. Seems like bureaucrats tying themselves and everyone else up in knots. Obviously the tribe took what they could get where they could get it. Small steps.

    • Maybe someone doesn’t see these plan components as worth a fuss, but I think it’s safe to say the Tribe did. Maybe someone just didn’t want to put it in writing – and someone else did. Why is that ok? I think this is a specially pointed example of too much discretion because there is supposed to be a “government to government” relationship between each tribe and the U. S. government – not between each tribe and different bureaucrats with different opinions about that relationship.

  6. Tony –

    Yes, the WO thought about establishing this oversight council; but then an election happened, and collaborative conservation and citizen oversight took a back seat to Energy Dominance and Flagship Targets. I would say that there is a lot of interest from career staff in using councils and FACA committees to assist the Forest Service in delivering mission-critical programs to the public; but they need permission – and more than that, encouragement and performance measures that track it – from leadership to undertake these efforts.

    Let’s hope 2021 provides that leadership.


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