Standards in Planning

The question of standards in forest planning has emerged as a central issue in the proposed NFMA regulations.  It seems that a common narrative by the press in covering the story thus far is the amount of discretion afforded in the proposed rule versus its lack of “musts and shalls.”

Here is the definition of standards in the proposed regulations: “A standard is a mandatory constraint on project and activity decisionmaking, established to help achieve or maintain the desired condition or conditions, to avoid or mitigate undesirable effects, or to meet applicable legal requirements.” (76 Fed. Reg. 8517).

I have made my pro-standards case in various places, hitting on the usual theme of accountability, while others like Professor Mark Squillace have thoughtfully criticized their use at the forest plan level.  I hear similar complaints about standards from others participating in the draft regulations as well. 

This is an important debate.  But my sense is that we might not all be that clear about the variety of ways in which standards are used in planning.  Maybe we all have different conceptions based on our interactions with forest planning in various parts of the country.  So before making an argument for standards, allow me to first explain what I mean by the term.

Types of Standards Used in Forest Planning 

Different types of standards are used in forest planning.  They can differ in scale, specificity, and complexity.  Some administrative regions of the USFS, for example, use standards cutting across multiple National Forests (this being very relevant to Melissa’s point about standards and scale–many of us agreeing that some standards might best be applied at larger spatial scales).

National Forest plans have also used forest-wide standards that vary in detail and complexity.  Take, for example, the forest-wide range standard in the 1986 Lolo National Forest Plan:

Conflicts between livestock and big game will be resolved so big game are allocated the forage required to meet their needs.  Domestic livestock will be allowed to utilize any forage surplus not conflicting with the planned expansion of big-game populations.  Reductions in livestock numbers will be avoided if possible, but will be acceptable to meet management goals. (II.9). 

To me, this seems more like a nudge than a clear unequivocal standard, but it still provides some direction. 

Forest-wide standards can also be more complicated, such as the Lolo’s forest-wide “snag standard.” This standard requires sufficient snags and dead material to be provided in order to maintain 80 percent of the population of snag-using species.  More detailed prescriptions are provided in this forest-wide standard, such as specifying the number of big snags needed per acre on different forest types on the Lolo.  (I get the sense that critics of standards are thinking about this sort of example). 

Standards are also used for particular management areas or zones as identified in a forest plan.  These sorts of standards can be very straightforward and basically state what is allowed to happen in a particular area. They specify allowed uses, prohibitions, and constraints.  The Lolo Plan, for example, divides the forest into 28 management areas, each with a different set of standards.  Consider the following examples:

Standards used for a municipal watershed area state that “livestock grazing permits will not be issued” and that “chemical herbicides and pesticides will not be used within the Ashley Creek Watershed.” 

A management area including significant historical, archeological, paleontological, and cultural sites uses a timber standard stating that “timber removal will be limited to that necessary to enhance historic values and provide for public safety” and that “timber removal will be under administrative use rather than commercial sale authority.”

A management area consisting of large roadless blocks of land contains standards that disallow most types of motorized access, the construction of developed recreation facilities, and commercial logging. 

These are straightforward, meaningful standards playing an important role in forest planning.  They are not hyper-complex nor do they require super-human analytical abilities to write and implement them.  Nor is there any evidence, that I’m aware of at least, showing that the writing of such standards is what bogs down the forest planning process. 

Why Standards?

The use of standards in a forest plan should be required under the NFMA regulations for several reasons.  We have discussed a few of these already on the blog, often in the context of what is required by NFMA and the importance of accountability.  I’d like to discuss a few issues that have not received as much attention but are very relevant to the proposed rule:

1.  Standards help differentiate one management (planning/zone) area from another.  The above example from the Lolo demonstrates the important relationship between standards and the designation of management areas/zones.  The former gives meaning to the latter.  Why would the Lolo National Forest designate a management area if that area had no different allowed uses or prohibitions than some other area? Or why would the proposed rule require the identification of priority watersheds for maintenance or restoration if those areas had no meaningful prohibitions?  If the agency is going to draw lines on a map, then those lines should mean something. 

2.  Standards facilitate the effective use of adaptive management—one of the principles of the proposed rule.  Standards help define the purpose and boundaries of adaptive management and planning.  After all, adaptive management is a means to an end, and that end needs to be clearly articulated.  Without standards, adaptive management is too susceptible to political exploitation and the dodging of tough political choices. 

A commonalty found in most adaptive management literature is the need for a structured decision making process and the identification of clear and measurable management objectives.  The Interior Department’s Technical Guide (as discussed at the Science Panel) emphasizes both as crucial to the success of adaptive management:

If the objectives are not clear and measurable, the adaptive framework is undermined…Objectives need to be measurable for two purposes: first, so progress toward their achievement can be assessed; second, so performance that deviates from objectives may trigger a change in management direction.  Explicit articulation of measurable objectives helps to separate adaptive management from trial and error, because the exploration of management options over time is directed and justified by the use of objectives.  U.S. Department of the Interior, Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Technical Guide (2009), at 11. 

Standards can be used to help define these objectives while providing a relevant metric in determining their achievement.  More basic is the fact that adaptive management projects will take place in particular management areas of a National Forest, as identified in a forest plan, and these zones/standards will guide the questions and purpose of any adaptive management project. 

3. Standards can help the USFS, and other federal agencies, meet the goals and mandates of other environmental laws. There are important interconnections between NFMA and other laws like NEPA and the ESA and CWA.  NFMA regulations should thus be considered as part of a larger regulatory framework.  And these environmental laws and regulations should be viewed as goals, not constraints. 

Consider, for example, the role standards play vis-à-vis the ESA.  The proposed planning regulations properly emphasize the agency’s obligation to conserve endangered and threatened species.  The proposed rule “would require the responsible official to explicitly recognize the recovery of T&E species as an important part of land management plans…” (76 Fed. Reg. 8494). 

Standards can play an important role in this regard.  Consider, for example, the unsuccessful delisting of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone region.  At issue in this case was the Grizzly Bear’s Conservation Strategy, which included the amending of multiple national forest plans.  The Court found the Conservation Strategy short of being an “adequate regulatory mechanism,” as required by the ESA, partly because the forest plan amendments included few meaningful standards and too many discretionary and unenforceable guidelines.  Cases like these demonstrate how meaningful standards can help the USFS meet all of its legal obligations, not just NFMA.(see Greater Yellowstone Coalition v. Servheen, 672 F. Supp. 2d. 1105, (D. Mont. 2009).

The Musts & Shalls

Unlike his Dad, he is a big fan of discretion and dislikes one-size fits-all standards. Five years on, he's now reading Appendix N.

One of my hopes for the new planning rule was that it would require the writing of meaningful forest plans.  Here is what I wrote as part of last year’s science panel (Nie NFS planning rule science panel statement):

There is little value in writing expensive, time-consuming plans if such plans make no decisions and have no vision. 

Legally-binding and enforceable standards and guidelines should be included in the new planning rule.  NFMA was designed to reign in agency discretion by providing clearer standards and enforceable checks on the USFS.  Meeting such standards has proven difficult for the agency at times.  But the solution is not the removal of such standards, but rather to figure out ways to more effectively and efficiently meet them. 

While inherently difficult, especially at the front-end, setting standards will facilitate adaptive management and collaborative decision making over the long run.  Regarding the former, standards help define the purpose and boundaries of the process.  After all, adaptive management is a means to an end, and that end needs to be clearly articulated.  Without standards, adaptive management is too susceptible to political exploitation and the dodging of tough political choices.  As for collaboration, standards provide the necessary direction, legal sideboards, and additional certainty to those engaged in the process.

This recommendation was precipitated by the vacuous nature of the 2005/2008 planning regulations that were essentially non-decision making documents. 

So on this score, what should we make of the proposed regulations?  I think they are a more serious effort by the USFS to appropriately balance the need for planning adaptability with political accountability. 

The regulations are heavy on things the agency must consider when writing and amending forest plans.  So I don’t think the rule will streamline or expedite the planning process.  But the draft regulations require (with some wiggle room provided) plans to include some important things, like standards (AMEN! with explanation here and here), guidelines, the suitability of areas, and to situate the national forests within their larger context and landscape, among others.  Under this rule, forest plans would actually mean something and include some important decisions. 

The “Musts and Shalls:”  Here are some things the draft regulations require (not exhaustive nor includes preexisting MUSYA/NFMA requirements):

 *The responsible official shall engage the public—including Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations, other Federal agencies.

 *One or more assessments must be conducted for the development of a new plan or for a plan revision

 *The responsible official shall develop a unit monitoring program for the plan area,

 *The regional forester shall develop a broader-scale monitoring strategy for unit monitoring questions that can best be answered at a geographic scale broader than one unit.

 *Each regional forester shall ensure that the broader-scale monitoring strategy is within the financial and technical capabilities of the region and complements other ongoing monitoring efforts.

 *The responsible official shall conduct a biennial evaluation of new information gathered through the unit monitoring program and relevant information from the broader-scale strategy, and shall issue a written report of the evaluation and make it available to the public

 *While all plans must contain the required five plan components (desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, suitability of areas, and may contain goals), not every issue or resource plan would require all five plan components.

 *All plan amendments must comply with Forest Service NEPA procedures. The proposed rule provides that appropriate NEPA documentation for an amendment could be an EIS, an environmental assessment (EA), or a categorical exclusion (CE) depending upon the scope and scale of the amendment and its likely effects.  (more on this later)

 *This section would provide that projects and activities authorized after approval of a plan, plan revision, or plan amendment developed pursuant to this rule must be consistent with plan components as set forth in this section.

 *The proposed rule would allow for this to occur, and in § 219.7, would require identification of priority watersheds for restoration

 *The proposed rule would require the responsible official to document how the best available scientific information was taken into account in the assessment report, the plan decision document, and the monitoring evaluation reports.

 *Finally, plan components would be required to protect, maintain, and restore clean, abundant water supplies (both surface and groundwater sources), and soils, and productivity recognizing their importance as fundamental ecosystem resources and services.  (& as stated elsewhere “The proposed rule would require that plans include plan components to maintain, protect, and restore public water supplies, groundwater, sole source aquifers, and source water protection areas where they occur on NFS lands.”)

 *The proposed rule would highlight the importance of maintaining, protecting, or restoring riparian areas and the values such areas provide by requiring that plans include plan components to guide management with riparian areas. The proposed rule also requires that plans establish a default width within which those plan components apply.

 Not included on my list is the diversity provision, as that deserves a separate post.

Martin Nie, University of Montana

We’ll Consider It…

Tongass NF, SE Alaska. The draft regs require that "the physical and biological integration of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within a landscape" be taken into account.

Instead of taking on the proposed forest planning regulations in one fell swoop, I’d like to use our blog to analyze it in sections, with a lot of debate and discussion along the way.  There are things in the proposed regulations that I really like.  And I’m planning on writing about those soon.  But I’d like to start with some connected questions that our readers might be able to help answer. 

1.  Do the regulations give too much discretion to National Forest Supervisors?  The USFS, like most bureaucracies, will go down swinging in order to protect their administrative discretion.  It’s part of the agency’s (and Sharon’s) DNA.  And there is a considerable amount of discretion provided in the proposed regulations, though nothing close to 2005 or 2008 versions.  It will be up to the discretion of each National Forest to determine what the specifics look like in every place (and how standards, guidelines, suitability, monitoring, and other plan components are used).  Discretion cuts both ways and the regulations could be used to draft very different forest plans in the future.  This is not necessarily a big change from the past. 

 2.  Do the regulations ask planners to do too many things?  Does the 2011 rule ask more things of the agency than does the 1982 or 2000 versions?  I read Andy Stahl’s insightful comments before I finished reading the regulations, so I was influenced by his argument that the proposed regs are a form of “ecological rationality.” 

So I made a note of how many times the regulations ask planners to “consider” or “take into account” X, Y, Z.  This is pretty standard in environmental law and planning, but I’m curious if these regulations take it up a notch? 

Instead of mandating that the agency shall do this or that, the regulations require all sorts of important things to be considered or taken into account.  I can’t complain because I asked the agency as part of its Science Panel to consider various things when planning, so I’m guilty too (like most groups whom asked the agency to consider something better in the future).    

Before skimming the list below, consider a few questions:  Are these required considerations a good thing? Will they impact agency decision making?   Is the agency capable of doing all this?  How do these required considerations simplify planning? Are the considerations nothing new, maybe already required or done as part of NEPA analysis? 

Here are some examples, with Fed. Reg. page numbers provided: 

The planning process would take into account other forms of knowledge, such as local information, national perspectives, and native knowledge. 8481.

In doing so, responsible officials would take into account the various stressors or impacts that could affect the presence of ecological resources and their functions on the unit.

This section of the proposed rule addresses the role of science in planning and would require that the responsible official take into account the best available scientific information.  8485.

Additionally, the proposed rule would require the responsible official to use collaborative processes when possible, to take into account the various roles and responsibilities of participants and the responsibilities of the Forest Service itself, and to create a process that is open and accessible. 8486.

 In designing plan components to maintain or restore ecosystems and watersheds, the proposed rule would require the responsible official to take into account the physical (including air quality) and biological integration of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems within a landscape.  8490

Agency proposes that the planning rule require responsible officials to take into account cultural conditions when developing plan components for social and economic sustainability.  8492.

 In developing these plan components, the responsible official would be required to take into account through the collaborative planning process and the results of the assessment the social, cultural, and economic conditions relevant to the area influenced by the plan; the distinctive roles and contributions of the unit within the broader landscape; sustainable recreational opportunities and uses; multiple uses, including ecosystem services, that contribute to local, regional, and national economies in a sustainable manner; and cultural and historic resources and uses.

Instead of adding a new aspect to sustainability, the Agency proposes that the planning rule require responsible officials to take into account cultural conditions when developing plan components for social and economic sustainability. 8492

The proposed rule would require responsible officials to consider opportunities to coordinate with neighboring landowners to link open spaces and take into account joint management objectives where feasible and appropriate. 8495

 The responsible official would also be required to consider the landscape-scale context for management as identified in the assessment and the land ownership and access patterns relative to the plan area. These requirements reflect the ‘‘all lands’’ approach the Agency is taking to resource management.  8495

 Paragraphs (a)(8) and (a)(9) would require that the responsible official take into account reasonably foreseeable risks to ecological, social, and economic sustainability and the potential impacts of climate and other system drivers, stressors, and disturbance regimes, such as wildland fire, invasive species, and human-induced stressors, on the unit’s resources. 8495

Plan components must also take into account cultural and historic resources and uses. 8513.

Section 219.4(a) requires that when developing opportunities for public participation, the responsible official shall take into account the discrete and diverse roles, jurisdictions, responsibilities, and skills of interested and affected parties as well as the accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information. 8513

When developing opportunities for public participation, the responsible official shall take into account the discrete and diverse roles, jurisdictions, responsibilities, and skills of interested and affected parties; the accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information; and the cost, time, and available staffing. 8515.

(a) Integrated resource management. When developing plan components for integrated resource management, to the extent relevant to the plan area and the public participation process and the requirements of §§ 219.7, 219.8, 219.9, and 219.11, the responsible official shall consider:

 (1) Aesthetic values, air quality, cultural and heritage resources, ecosystem services, fish and wildlife species, forage, geologic features, grazing and rangelands, habitat and habitat connectivity, recreational values and settings, riparian areas, scenery, soil, surface and subsurface water quality, timber, trails, vegetation, viewsheds, wilderness, and other relevant resources; (2) Renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources; (3) Sustainable management of infrastructure, such as recreational facilities and transportation and utility corridors; (4) Opportunities to coordinate with neighboring landowners to link open spaces and take into account joint management objectives where feasible and appropriate; (5) Habitat conditions, subject to the requirements of § 219.9, for wildlife, fish, and plants commonly enjoyed and used by the public, such as species that are hunted, fished, trapped, gathered, observed, or needed for subsistence; (6) The landscape-scale context for management as identified in the assessment; (7) Land ownership and access patterns relative to the plan area; (8) Reasonably foreseeable risks to ecological, social, and economic sustainability; and (9) Potential impacts of climate and other system drivers, stressors and disturbance regimes, such as wildland fire, invasive species, and human induced stressors, on the unit’s resources (§ 219.8).

 (5) To the extent practicable, appropriate, and relevant to the monitoring questions in the program, unit monitoring programs and broaderscale strategies must be designed to take into account: (i) Existing national and regional inventory, monitoring, and research programs of the Agency, including from the NFS, State and Private Forestry, and Research and Development, and of other governmental and non-governmental parties; (ii) Opportunities to design and carry out multi-party monitoring with other Forest Service units, Federal, State or local government agencies, scientists, partners, and members of the public; and (iii) Opportunities to design and carry out monitoring with federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations. 8521.


Mark Squillace Reviews Draft Rule

Mark Squillace, Director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is quick out of the gate with a review of the draft rule:

If filmed, the Squillace trailer/teaser would begin with the voice of James Earl Jones:  He sees “much to like about the new draft rules,” but notes that “there is also cause for concern.”

Defenders’ Planning Checklist

Here’s a new report from Defenders of Wildlife providing a checklist for evaluating the impending 2011 forest planning rule: Defenders’ Planning Checklist in PDF. 

This is sure to be the first of several upcoming evaluations and critiques, and we’ll post those here as well. 

I don’t see any big surprises here.  The group is obviously focused on a mandatory species viability standard, but it also calls for an “external factors” exception to the standard when necessary, such as when activities on private land threaten a species on an adjacent national forest.  This is something that Sharon has written about on the blog.  Also included in this section is a call for a “non-discretionary monitoring program to ensure that habitat is supporting viable populations.”

Lots more of course.  Including a section, close to my heart, calling for a strong framework of national standards, guidelines, and objectives.

And here’s the report on the Defenders’ blog:

County Payments, Jobs, & Forest Health

I thought some of our readers might be interested in a recent paper by Headwaters Economics examining ideas for reforming the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). 

Here is the PDF Reform_County_Payments_WhitePaper_LowRes

and the link

This outfit does some really neat work and this paper is no exception.  Both programs are about to expire and the paper explores eight options in how to possibly move forward.  Some of the most interesting ideas are to change the distribution formula to give proportionately higher payments to counties based on various things, such as:

A) giving preferential assistance to counties with the greatest need

B) Linking payments to a County’s willingness to control federal costs by reducing development in wildfire-prone areas

C) Linking payments to the value of ecosystem services provided by federal public lands

D) Distibute higher payments to counties with protected public lands

Also included in the paper is an interactive mapping tool with which you can mess around and see how the various options would impact a particular county, and in some cases a Congressional District.

Hammers, Carrots, and Olive Branches

The Ninth Circuit En Banc

This post is in response to Sharon’s recent writing about the role of litigation in federal lands management. 

Though I sometimes disagree with Sharon’s framing of issues and assessment of things, I appreciate her willingness to tackle tough issues.  But if we are going to take on such important questions, I’d like to help define the so-called “litigation problem.”  A few years ago I tried to organize my thoughts about the topic.  Here is the result, a rather long-winded and excessive essay/commentary (Nie_regulatory_enforcement in PDF)

 Here is the abstract:

This article analyzes the role of prescriptive regulation and citizen-suit litigation (regulatory enforcement) in natural resource conservation in the U.S.A.  It first briefly explains why the judiciary is so involved in resource management and why litigation is so often used as a conservation tool.  It then summarizes the extent to which regulatory enforcement is being threatened and/or undermined by Congress, the executive branch, and other interests.  The analysis shows how regulatory enforcement often facilitates the use of less adversarial conservation strategies and that there are important synergies between them.  Regulatory interactions with collaborative conservation, land and resource acquisitions/easements, and adaptive ecosystem management are analyzed. 


That is more boring than I remember, so here are a few comments made in the essay that might be of relevance to our readers:

Regulatory enforcement often facilitates the use of other, less adversarial, conservation strategies and shows that there are important synergies between them.  In many cases, a sort of “co-evolution” is apparent, with regulation and litigation playing an important role in the development and leveraging of other strategies. 

The most important lesson is that conservation tools are interconnected in significant ways, and when regulatory enforcement is weakened, so too are a host of less adversarial approaches to environmental protection.  Any political juxtaposition of regulatory and “non-regulatory” policy approaches should be viewed most skeptically.        

While the use of litigation by conservationists has been widely criticized and publicized, we should also recognize its widespread use by other interests.  Industry, commodity, and user-groups have initiated litigation over the 2001 roadless rule, snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, forest planning regulations, motorized access to multiple use lands, and dozens of other high-profile cases.  For further evidence, consider the wise use movement’s legal arm, the Mountain States Legal Foundation ( ), which publicizes a “litigation of the month” section on its webpage.  The private property rights-based takings movement provides another example, as this political agenda has been purposefully advanced via constitutional litigation. 

The “policy story” of environmental obstructionism is being told by numerous actors, with the remedy being as simple as the narrative: to either remove, weaken, and/or undermine environmental regulations.

And a few comments regarding the role of litigation vis-a-vis more collaborative approaches: 

The following analysis shows that while some exaggerate its virtues, the more serious studies of collaboration show why it is better to view it as supplementary to regulatory enforcement, and is not an adequate replacement.  I take it a step further and argue that the weakening of regulatory enforcement will potentially undermine the usefulness and spread of collaboration in the future. 

For all of the benefits collaboration can produce, it is imperative we view the tool in its appropriate context.  In many respects, the hammer of environmental laws, and the groups willing to enforce them, have created the conditions necessary for collaboration to emerge as a viable governing strategy.  Citizen suits can trigger negotiations that wouldn’t otherwise get started.  And would an interest be at the table if not for some particular regulation leveling the playing field? 

The Articles goes on to explore the role of litigation in leveraging other strategies like land acquisition and adaptive ecosystem management. 

And so I’ll end with this idea, as articulated by Judge Skelly Wright in the NEPA-empowering Calvert Cliffs decision, the judicial role is to ensure that the promise of legislation becomes reality:

Our duty, in short, is to see that important legislative purposes, heralded in the halls of Congress, are not lost or misdirected in the vast hallways of the federal bureaucracy.

40th Anniversary of Bolle Report

Next Thursday, Nov. 18, marks the 40th Anniversary of publication of the “Bolle Report” in the Congressional Record in 1970 (Bolle Report in pdf).  Our readers are likely familiar with the Bitterroot controversy and the importance of the Bolle Report in shaping contemporary National Forest law and management.  But here is some background I wrote a while back just in case: 

The Bitterroot controversy was a major flashpoint in American environmental history that engendered significant changes to national forest policy.  It served as an important reference during a larger national debate about public lands management.  The case brought into stark relief several issues that would come to characterize U.S forest politics and conflict, including the practice of clearcutting, forest economics, road building, federal budgetary pressures, and the role of public participation in natural resources management. 

Responding to increased demand, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) began to more aggressively harvest timber after World War Two.  This national change in management philosophy, from so-called custodian to timber production agency, was very apparent on the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF), located in the northern rocky mountain region of western Montana and Idaho.  Here, the USFS used clearcutting and terracing silvicultural techniques to meet its timber production goals.  Several citizens of the Bitterroot Valley, however, disliked this degree of intensive forest management and charged that it was environmentally and aesthetically harmful.  Among other complaints, citizens objected to the practice or intensity of clearcutting and/or terracing, stream siltation and watershed impacts, excessive road building, the level of timber harvesting, real estate effects, and the inadequate attention given to other multiple uses. 

In response, the BNF conducted its own task force appraisal acknowledging that land management could be improved and that communication between the agency and public had been “seriously inadequate.”  It found insufficient multiple use planning principally at fault for management problems on the Bitterroot.  It also observed an implicit attitude among personnel that “resource production goals come first and that land management considerations take second place.”  But in the agency’s defense, it noted how this pressure to meet production goals comes from the federal level, and that Congress and the Executive branches had shown great interest in making sure the BNF met its timber sale objectives.  While the Task Force admitted that mistakes had been made in the past, it defended the approved allowable cut on the forest, and found other criticisms regarding environmental impacts unwarranted. 

Shortly thereafter, Montana Senator Lee Metcalf, from the Bitterroot Valley himself, responded to widespread constituent complaints about forest management, especially about clearcutting and the dominant role of timber production in USFS policy, by requesting an independent study of the problem by Dean Arnold Bolle of the University of Montana’s School of Forestry.  Bolle appointed a select group of faculty members from the University of Montana to investigate, and this group went further in its critique of forest management on the Bitterroot and beyond. 

The Committee began its report with the startling statement that “[m]ultiple use management, in fact, does not exist as the governing principle on the Bitterroot National Forest.”  It viewed the controversy as substantial and legitimate, with local and national implications.  The Committee’s approach was to contrast the actions of the USFS with the written policies and laws governing forest management.  From there, the “Bolle Report,” as it became known, criticized the Bitterroot’s “overriding concern for sawtimber production” from an environmental, economic, organizational, and democratic standpoint.  Other multiple uses and resource values were not given enough serious consideration according to the Report: “In a federal agency which measures success primarily by the quantity of timber produced weekly, monthly and annually, the staff of the [BNF] finds itself unable to change its course, to give anything but token recognition to related values, or to involve most of the local public in any way but as antagonists.”  The subculture of forestry, it seemed to the Committee, was out of step with shifting American values and goals.  Though professional dogma was partly to blame, the Bolle Report also found that “[t]he heavy timber orientation is built in by legislative action and control, by executive direction and by budgetary restriction.” The Report also focused on the economic irrationality of clearcutting and terracing on the Bitterroot, and the serious lack of democratic participation in forest management.

Together with a parallel case on the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, the Bitterroot controversy helps explain the significant changes that were made to U.S. forest policy in the 1970s, including new guidelines on clearcutting in the National Forests, and passage of the National Forest Management Act in 1976.  Though its significance continues to be debated, the latter at least partly addressed some of the issues in the Bitterroot conflict, like by placing limits on clearcutting, and giving the public a more meaningful role to play in forest management and planning.  But these and other issues, like top-down federal budgetary pressures, road building, the economics of forestry, and the purpose of planning continue to cause controversy.”

A few years ago I spent a few days going through Dean Bolle’s files and correspondence that are archived here on campus.  I left pretty humbled and a few things struck me.  First, it made me really appreciate how controversial the Report actually was at the time.  Newspaper coverage and clippings galore.  And the Bolle Committee certainly took their lumps from disgruntled powers, from Montana’s timber industry to the Society of American Foresters.  But it was also neat to see letters from distinguished faculty members from all over the country that were so impressed with the mavericks at Montana, some asking Dean Bolle how they could come to Missoula and do work that matters. 

A lot has obviously changed since 1970.  Take the Bitterroot for starters, as one could make the case that motorized recreation and development in the wildland urban interface are now the big issues of the day.  When it comes to forest management, the general context is fundamentally different than it was back then, from new science and law to international trade deals.  

But some of the issues addressed in the Bolle Report have been stubbornly persistent.  Problematic Forest Service budgets, road building, the economics of forestry, and the purpose of planning and public participation continue to cause controversy.  Consider, for example, some of the debate on this blog about financial incentives and the USFS and the use of commercial timber sales.  And Some of our contributors still reference things said by some Bolle Committee members, like Dick Behan’s provocative argument that NFMA was a “solution to a non-existent problem.”  He wasn’t exactly enamored with the forest planning mandate that somehow came out of the Bitterroot/Monongahela controversies—what he considered to be place-based problems with place-based solutions. 

And so here we are, closing in on 2011, and we continue to ask about the purpose of planning, the adequacy of NFMA, and the meaning and future of multiple use. 

Martin Nie, University of Montana

Secretary Vilsack Letter

photo by Nick Gevock, Montana Standard

Not exactly breaking news, but this is mid-semester, misery-index at 8.5,  so I get a pass:

Excerpts from a letter recently sent to Senator Tester from the Secretary of Agriculture. 


As with any new program or pilot, providing sufficient funding will be critical to allowing the Forest Service to prepare and implement mechanical treatments using stewardship contracts, timber sales contracts, and other means, Since there are many high-priority programs throughout the National Forest System, we cannot shift funding from other regions to fund these treatments. Thus, I support the inclusion of language in this proposed legislation that states it will not impact funds from other regions.

I’m curious as to what such legislative language would/could look like?  Any relevant examples?  Did these provisions matter?

No matter which approach is taken, I understand the legislation would establish performance standards for 70,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres on the Kootenai National Forest over the next 15 years. I believe these goals are ambitious, but sustainable and achievable.

Contrast this to the Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman’s testimony last December 2009:

 S. 1470 in particular includes levels of mechanical treatment that are likely unachievable and perhaps unsustainable. The levels of mechanical treatment called for in the bill far exceed historic treatment levels on these forests, and would require an enormous shift in resources from other forests in Montana and other states to accomplish the treatment levels specified in the bill.

Of national significance, perhaps the most important question related to Tester’s bill is the precedent that would be established in legislating timber treatment mandates on national forests.  So even if the Secretary finds such timber treatment mandates in Tester’s bill “sustainable and achievable,” what might those treatment mandates look like in other proposals if such legislation is now politically acceptable. 

I also remain convinced that if such mandates become law, timber interests engaged in various collaboratives will use them as leverage in their bargaining positions.  Why wouldn’t timber interests strike the same posture? And ask for the same things as provided for in Tester’s bill?

Back to the Secretary’s letter: 

 However, the holistic package of mechanical treatments, wilderness designations, and job creation, along with the collaborative approach and hard work of the stakeholders in Montana, and your work directly with the Forest Service, ensure that this legislation can serve as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.

A model to be replicated?  So does this mean that the USFS will now support place-based forest legislation in principle?

If the agency supports the Senator’s place-based legislative approach to National Forest management, what does this mean for other place-based proposals in the pipeline, like Senator Wyden’s Oregon forest Bill (S. 2595)?