Reading this article by Marc Heller of E&E News on Chris French’s testimony (well worthy reading in its entirety), I had flashbacks to many previous discussions, including my all-time favorite The Smokey Wire post.. Andy Stahl’s KISS Rule, from 2009.
I’d like to express two caveats here. One is that I’m assuming Marc got it right; and that if I watched the hearing, I would get the same impression. As much as I like this stuff, I do not want to watch the whole thing, so if someone would like to do that, I encourage you to do so and report back. The other is that French’s testimony has been cleared by the Administration (as is the standard process), so that determines the FS position. It would not be unduly political to suggest that what I might call “plan-olatry” derives more from external groups than inside the Forest Service.
Basically the “can-do” Forest Service was saying that “we can’t”, at least, they can’t without plan revisions and there’s no way to hurry them up. I’ve never really heard the FS have a can’t do attitude, no matter how strange or difficult the request from the powers that be.
Of the 154 land management plans the Forest Service follows nationally, more than half are at least 15 years old, French said in response to questions from committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
And while the Forest Service has updated 35 plans and is in the process of updating 19 more, it doesn’t have enough staff or money to catch up on the others, even with the help of contractors, French said.
“We just can’t pay for those positions anymore,” French said, adding that the Forest Service has recently seen a decline of about 40 percent in natural resources professionals who work on the management plans.
The delay in forest plans has on-the-ground implications for wildfire and other issues, as the documents shape policies on forest thinning, prescribed fire, timber harvests and other measures that have fire implications, especially in the fire-prone West.
In an era of wildfires and other challenges driven in part by climate change, land management plans may not embrace new solutions, although they can be amended from time to time. French said a full land management plan update typically takes from six to eight years.
Manchin, appearing frustrated at the logjam, asked French whether the agency could seek help from contractors — which the deputy chief said it already does — and whether the Senate could do more to help.
“Everybody, Democrat and Republican, is all for this, so all we need is your-all’s cooperation,” Manchin said.
Congress has appropriated $540 million to the Forest Service for land management plans in the past three years, Manchin said. But much of that money goes to efforts like environmental reviews, leaving just $40 million to $50 million for actual land management planning, French said.
To address the backlog, French said, the agency is taking a new approach — beginning this week — that’s based on regional, rather than forest-by-forest, analysis.
My bold. I can see why the regional approach is being considered, but it’s one more step away from the residents and stakeholders on the ground. And I can imagine that some forests might get shorter shrift than others (imagine east side versus west side in Oregon, say.) Are we repeating the errors of the past? And if it’s not really “forest” planning, what is it?
Earlier I posted this “Fire Planning Amendments with EISs” approach that would seem to satisfy most ENGO’s. So the FS could do what needs to be done fire planning wise, and wait for a better solution to the revision problem, by doing a stand-down on plan revisions for now.
After all, it’s an emergency, and a unique window in which the FS has the bipartisan attention of Congress. The Admin could develop a FACA committee, with public comment, built on “do plans do anything useful to anyone?” (not “how to tweak the 2012 Rule?”) and starting there on revisions to NFMA. The Biden Administration has at least three years to do it and make it through the window.
Talk about an opportunity for the Administration to leave the government in a better place than they found it, and to do something with bipartisan support!
The election is in 2024 and in 2026 NFMA will be 50 years old. It’s not the latest planning science…plus conditions have also changed greatly. Perhaps it’s time to put it out to pasture.
The whole article is here.