Some New Ideas For Forest (and BLM) Planning: Mark Squillace

Does this sound like something I might write (if I were a better writer?):

“The public land use planning process is broken. The land use plans of the principal multiple-use agencies—the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”)—are unnecessarily complex, take too long to complete, monopolize the time and resources of public land management agency staffs, and fail to engage the general public in any meaningful way. Moreover, the end result is too often a plan that is not sufficiently nimble to respond to changing conditions on the ground, a problem that appears to be accelerating due to climate change.

It might seem easy to chalk up these problems to the inherent complexity of public land management. But what if public land management were not so complicated? What if the relevant agencies could rethink their current planning models and break down their decisions into more accessible and more manageable chunks?

In this article, I suggest a new public land use planning framework with the potential to make planning more logical, more efficient, and more effective at achieving the goal of the smart management of our public lands that everyone wants. Moreover, this new approach can be carried out in a way that makes planning more accessible to interested members of the general public, thereby enhancing opportunities for meaningful engagement with public land decision-makers.

The ideas proposed here should not be viewed as final or inviolate. Rather, they are offered as an opening bid worthy of testing and debate. We cannot address the crisis facing the current land use planning program if we are unwilling to try new things. Perhaps the ideas presented in this article, even if tried, will be found wanting. But it is my hope and belief that we can and will learn much from rethinking the current public.”

What’s interesting to me is that the problem as framed could lead to completely different solutions as in the 2005 Rule, the 2012 Rule, and Andy Stahl’s KISS Rule. It also reminds me of when planners talked about forest plans as a “loose-leaf notebook” due to the need to deal with changing conditions. We’ve been talking about the same problems for at least 30 years (1992 OTA Report).

But the article was actually written by Mark Squillace, Professor at U of Colorado Law School, so we can assume that he might come up with something quite different. For those of you have been with TSW since the beginning, you might remember that Mark and his students participated in many stimulating practitioner/academic discussions of forest planning with me, John Rupe (forest planner extraordinaire) and Rick Cables. This paper is 65 pages (in the Harvard Environmental Law Review!) and it’s possible you might not want to read the whole thing, so you might want to focus on the proposed solution Squillace begins to describe on page 437, or applying that to the White River National Forest on page 463. Or you might want to start and see if you agree with his “problems with the public planning process” on page 433. I’ll pull out ideas that strike me to highlight in one or more subsequent posts, but if you want to support or take issue with something in the paper, you are invited to provide a post or post a comment as well. Just send any posts to me at terraveritas at gmail.

Let’s take Squillace at his word, as an “opening bid worthy of testing and debate.” I always thought that (since the 2000 Rule) that the Committee of Scientists should have been charged with with “how can we design a process that minimizes the burden and maximizes the utility of filling statutory responsibilities for NFMA and in addition helps build supportive relationships for plan implementation?” In dealings with the legal folks though I’ve generally found them to operate from the presumption that planning is useful. Perhaps it was all that reading on strategic planning when I worked in RPA that led me to be questioning… e.g. what exactly about it it useful or necessary? Are there simpler ways to achieve the same outcome? Do approaches adequately consider uncertainties (known unknowns and unknown unknowns)? And how does Squillace’s proposed solution fit in with your own forest planning (and landscape planning) experiences?

1 thought on “Some New Ideas For Forest (and BLM) Planning: Mark Squillace”

  1. This isn’t fresh in my mind, but when I read it my reaction was that there isn’t much “new” here that wasn’t considered in developing the 2012 Planning Rule (or the 2000 Rule), and that it would require a change in NFMA to implement some of the recommendations. In particular:

    “Abandoning specific standards and guidelines at the unit-level could greatly simplify plans, and allow appropriate standards to be developed at either the activity or project level where more information will be available about the specific resource or project involved.”

    This ignores NFMA requirements that plans must integrate functional programs and demonstrate diversity compliance at the plan level. His approach would shift the responsibility from standards to monitoring, and we know that provides no accountability (unless maybe the agencies would agree to really hard triggers as standards). You could call this adaptive management, but it wouldn’t be planning (as envisioned by NFMA). (Interestingly, this seems to be what the Forest Service is actually trying to do with forest plan revisions.)


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