Special Interests Want Special Uses

Contributed by Andy Stahl

There are two kinds of Forest Service land use actions. No, I don’t mean “ones I like” and “all the others.” First are those the Forest Service wants to do. Second are actions that someone else puts forward. This second category is called “special uses.”

I have argued previously that NFMA plans must include the planned timber sale program; in fact, that’s all the law requires of forest plans. The timber sale program is an example of the first category of decisions – those proposed by the Forest Service.

So what about special uses? Should NFMA plans zone land or prescribe rules regarding the myriad of uses someone else might propose. The range of special uses is broad. They include every use except noncommercial recreational activities, such as camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, boating, hunting, and horseback riding. If you want to build a ski area, put a driveway into your in-holding, run a commercial guiding business, film a movie, or bury a natural gas pipeline, yours is a “special use” and requires a Forest Service permit.

Big-league commercial interests have long sought to require that NFMA plans make allowance for their special uses. Energy companies ensured that previous incarnations of the NFMA rules require forest plans to identify corridors along which the companies could string their power lines or bury their fiber optic cables. Ski corporations have worked hard to persuade the Forest Service to zone land to accommodate future ski area expansion. These special interests want first dibs on national forest land by getting their nose under the Forest Service’s planning tent.

If the purpose of NFMA is to comprehensively forecast possible futures, then, by all means, forest planners should anticipate who might want each national forest acre for their own special use, and plan accordingly. I suggest that’s a fool’s errand, and certainly not the mission Congress directed in NFMA.

Science Lessons from the Climate Discourse-Ravetz Speaks

From time to time I have questioned how different groups have characterized the need for “science” as the basis for planning or for a planning rule. I have argued that we cannot just dive in and make pronouncements about the role of science, without talking about the findings of the academic discipline of science and technology studies. Jerry Ravetz is one of the folks who has articulated the concept of “post-normal science.”
From Wikipedia:

Post-Normal Science is a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome Ravetz, attempting to characterise a methodology of inquiry that is appropriate for cases where “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent”. It is primarily seen in the context of the debate over global warming and other similar, long-term issues where we possess less information than we would like.

This is an interesting piece by Mr. Ravetz on some of the current climate science quandaries. We don’t talk much about “post-normal science” and the role of extended peer communities in our day to day FS world. I’d be interested in what you think of this piece and his closing statement on the democratization of knowledge and power, and the role of the extended peer community and the blogosphere:

The new technologies of communications are revolutionising knowledge and power in many areas. The extended peer community of science on the blogosphere will be playing its part in that process. Let dialogue commence!

Accountability in Plans so Adaptive Management Can Work

So we want a simplier, more adaptive management structure for forest planning and implementation?   This won’t work until we first address the questions  of public accountability and success in court.

In his law review article “Regulation by Adaptive Management – Is it Possible?”,  Florida State Law Professor J.B. Ruhl argues that environmental regulation (which can also be applied to forest planning) needs to move away from “prescriptive regulation” to adaptive management, but there are barriers.

 If we were to apply an adaptive management approach in forest planning, the Forest Service needs to consider the battles that Ruhl says will come from three fronts:  legislative, the public, and the courts.  He gives a case study of a Fish and Wildlife Service adaptive management approach to the Endangered Species Act. He observes that over time, agencies find that interest groups and the courts peck away at adaptive agency behavior, and that under conventional administrative law, agencies adopt adaptive management at their own peril.

Ruhl suggests a model of regulation (which we could embed in our forest plans) that sets boundaries that can be monitored and enforced in courts. There are two elements that we could put into plans. First, a decision shouldn’t be altered too soon after being made – what Ruhl calls “volatility.” A radical departure made quickly after the initial position suggests that the agency’s operational model is faulty, its monitoring is defective, or something else is fundamentally flawed. The other problem is the concern that an accumulation of small adjustments over time may put the agency too far from its initial position – what Ruhl calls “drift.” So a forest plan could establish the boundary of acceptable volatility (narrow at first which can broaden over time), and a broader boundary of acceptable drift.  What would such a plan look like? 

Milepost 3 on the Diversity Trail- Coming into the Legal Country

One of the reasons I gently encouraged Martin to co-administer this blog was for us to have discussion among practitioners, the public, interest groups, scientists, academics at natural resource schools and environment schools, and lawyers and academics at law schools.

The incident that led directly to the inception of this blog was a discussion on the 05 Rule in our office in Golden, Colorado. We invited Fred Cheever and Mark Squillace and their students from University of Denver Law and University of Colorado Law. Fred Norbury from the Washington Office of the Forest Service was live on video, telling us the story of his conception of the 05 Rule and the reasons behind it and answering questions. Our Regional Forester was there with his cowboy boots up on a table, sharing and questioning, and I and some folks from my staff. For me, it was just about as much fun as you can have at work, without being out of doors. At the end of the discussion, Mark said something along the lines of “I can agree with you to some extent on the problem, but I just don’t agree with you on the solution.” Which triggered in my mind..of course.. next time, let’s all work together on defining the problems and proposing solutions. It also made me want to open up this practitioner – academic dialogue to others who don’t happen to be located conveniently to FS offices where people like to discuss and debate these kinds of things.

There are many interesting cultural differences that I hope we explore among scientists, FS employees, interested publics and lawyers. Since we are on the NFMA trail, though, I’ll start with a couple. The first is accessibility of information to those outside the community. Fortunately, our local library is part of Prospector, a service by which you can order books across Colorado. So I could obtain “Land and Resource Planning in the National Forests” by Wilkinson and Anderson (which I’ll take up next week) through them.
But many of the papers in journals are not accessible to the public. For example. Let’s pick a paper.. I ran across this one.
“Eliminating the National Forest Management Act’s diversity requirement as a substantive standard.” by Julie A. Weis
Unfortunately it requires a subscription to read the whole thing.. I could probably get access, somehow, but not as easily as clicking a key. Then, of course, practitioners don’t necessarily have time to read entire papers. That’s why I appreciate when people on this blog summarize, or just say what they think are key points and how they apply to the discussion at hand.

The last point I’ll make in this entry is that the attitude toward what constitutes the rationale for a knowledge claim seems different, at least between scientists and lawyers. For example, the author states “Recently, however, the Forest Service proposed a rule change for land and resource management planning that would allow the agency unbridled discretion in managing the national forests.” As a scientist, I would not perceive that statement to be accurate, since there appear to be plenty of bridles, not the least of which are the statutes ESA, NEPA and CWA. It seems to have sacrificed precision for polemics. The difference in style of writing may cause us to consider the implications of possible underlying differences among scientists’, practitioners’, and lawyers’ epistemic models.

Building Public Decisions

In the early 1990s a few of us — Hanna Cortner, Maggie Shannon, Larry Davis and a couple of us in the Intermountain Region — nudged the Forest Service toward an approach we called “Building Public Decisions”. Today we might call such adaptive co-management or collaborative stewardship, or ??.

In 1993 I ran a little thing by my Eco-Watch network titled Leadership and a Sustainable Future. In my intro to the post, I said, “Jeff Sirmon’s philosophy might be summarized as ‘building public decisions and public trust.’ It certainly seems like the right thing to do.”

In another Eco-Watch post that year — a book review of Dan Kemmis Community and the Politics of Place — I highlighted additional readings from contemporary ‘policy analysis’ arguing as Kemmis had for a return to the Jeffersonian engagement. These were:

The Power of Public Ideas, edited by Robert B. Reich, Harvard University Press, 1990.

Evidence, Argument, and Persuasion in the Policy Process, by Giandomenico Majone, Yale University Press, 1989. (Related to, and pushing forward, some of the ideas in The Power of Public Ideas.)

I said, “They are my personal favorites in policy analysis, synthesis, and governmental choice. It will be interesting to see what some of you think about these and the whole idea of shifting from federalism to more engaging, and participative, forms of government. To embrace Jeffersonian engagement (or public deliberation, as Robert Reich calls it) would transform ‘public involvement in decision making’ into ‘building public decisions.'”

Would that the Forest Service had embraced that future. But it didn’t. As usual there was (and is) a catch, Catch-22. (see also Catch-22 and Maladaptive Organizations).

For all its chatter about collaboration and collaborative stewardship or whatever buzz phrase of the moment, the Forest Service in its bureaucratic center simply doesn’t want to share enough power to collaborate. Look at the NFMA rule rewrite, for example. There is much discussion as to how the agency will collaborate to implement the “rule”, but when it comes to the rule itself, well that is another story.

On the Offical Planning Rule Website, the FS has thrown out a wee bit of material and said “comment by Feb. 16”. Then it has said that the comments are open to public inspection, but essentially blocked that effort by packing them into individual pdf files, rather than into a more easily accessible format. Finally it initiated a blog that isn’t really any more helpful than the comment gatherer.

Let me predict what will happen next. The FS will convene a few scattered meetings to gather yet more comments. Then it will issue a draft “rule.” Then it will defend that rule — a tweak on the 1982 rule — until Hell freezes over. 20 years from now, if any of us are still alive, we will be rehashing this once again—unless we’ve found better amusements.

I hope I’m wrong.

Should Forest Plans Establish Management Areas?

For some people, the essence of a Forest Plan is the establishment of “management areas”.  But do they work?  Does it make sense to equate a Forest Plan to a zoning document?

Under the 1982 planning rule, management area prescriptions are one of the Forest Plan content requirements (along with a summary of the management situation, multiple-use goals and objectives, and monitoring/evaluation requirements.)  A management area prescription addresses multiple-uses with “associated standards and guidelines for each management area including proposed and probable management practices such as the planned timber sale program.”  (36 CFR 219.11(c) – 1982 version)

The weakness of this approach is that management areas are often viewed as single resource by single resource emphasis areas.

In their book Designing Sustainability Forest Landscapes, Simon Bell and Dean Apostol observe:

“NFMA led to development of complicated zoning maps for each national forest.  In essence, the attempt was (and still is) to resolve competing uses by creating overlays and associated standards, very similar to what one finds in local land use planning.  The Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, for example, identified over 40 separate zones, including such designations as timber emphasis, developed winter sports, scenic viewsheds, a big-game winter range, and late successional reserves.  Each zone has a set of standards that specify whether logging can occur, and if so at what rotation, the size of clearcuts, the allowable density of roads and so forth.

 The level of zoning typical on US national forests today demonstrates the limits of what can be accomplished through zoning-based plans.  At its worst, it represents an absurd division of the forest to a point where it cannot even be understood, let alone competently managed.  The managers are tied in knots, and neither they nor the public who owns these forests can effectively visualize what the forest will look like or be.”  p. 25

 The requirement to identify management areas was absent in the 2005/2008 planning rule.  Rather than “prescriptions”, the intent was to identify “desired conditions” at multiple scales, and “overlays” of specific suitable use maps at broad scales with approximate lines.  There are many advantages to this approach – plans are more adaptable, maps are consistent with the unique role and scales of contributions that a particular Forest may serve, and plans don’t seem more prescriptive than they really are.  Still, it seems like planning teams couldn’t get away from the concept of management areas.   In some cases, some teams used the identification of “special areas” as a replacement for management areas.  While it certainly makes intuitive sense that you don’t need zones to cover every inch of a National Forest, it also makes sense to limit the types of special areas to a consistent National set (recommended Wilderness, research natural areas, botanical areas, National Recreation Areas, etc.)

Should management areas still be a component of Forest Plans in a new planning rule?    Are Forest Plans really zoning documents, and how can they represent themes rather than specific actions?

The Blame Game

Whether we are talking about planning, assessments, monitoring, or any other managerial function it is good practice to also talk about what I like to call the “p” words, psychology and politics. Here is a little tidbit I’ve been thinking about again recently.

How often do we resort to blaming others for our own problems/failings? Think first of international relations and war. Think second of our own families. Think third of the organizations we work for and with. Admittedly, everything depends on everything and relationships are a two-way street. But I still believe that much of our undiscussed, and often undiscussable conflict derives from our own inability to see ourselves as others see us. This too, is a two-way street. Anyone or any groups we are in conflict with usually have the same problem, which we might think of as a special case of “frame blindness.”

(See generally Chris Argyris’ Action Science ideas. For the Forest Service specifically, see my Catch-22 and Maladaptive Organizations, and on “frame blindness” and other decision traps, see How to Avoid Harebrained, Cockamamie Schemes.)

Not only do we too-often think of ourselves as victims, but usually “frame” ourselves as well-meaning heroes — hardworking, fair and sensitive heroes — stopped in our tracks by those who we vilify as enemies, or malcontents, who we to-often view as lazy, inconsiderate, unappreciative, and insensitive. The problem gets worse as each side digs in, nurturing a co-dependency. In organizations the problem spreads as more and more people buy into the blame game, setting up a contagion that afflicts entire organizations.

I just finished a little book, Leadership and Self-Deception (2000, Second edition 2010, Amazon.com link) that captures the organizational “blame game” well. Importantly, the authors give hints on how to move beyond victim/blame both in interpersonal relations, management and leadership, and organizational effectiveness measures.

One key toward organizational betterment is to learn to appreciate people as people, not as cogs in organizational machinery. Another key is to learn how to accept and share responsibility for organizational problems. In an afterword, the authors describe how in applying lessons learned from the book a CEO instituted a new way of tracking and dealing with problems in a company:

Whereas before, he would go to the person he thought was causing the problem and demand that the person fix it, the CEO began to consider how he himself might have contributed to the problem. He then convened a meeting including each person in the chain of command down to the level where the problem was manifest. He began the meeting by identifying the problem. He laid out all the ways he thought he had negatively contributed to the culture that had produced the problem and proposed a plan to rectify his contributions to the problem. He invited the person directly below him to do the same thing. And so on down the line. By the time it got to the person most immediately responsible for the problem, that person publicly took responsibility for his contributions to the problem and the proposed a plan for what he would do about it. In this way, a problem that had gone on literally for years was solved nearly overnight when the leaders stopped simply assigning responsibility and began holding themselves strictly accountable.

See too: Difficult Conversations (1999) (Amazon.com link) (Google Books preview)

None of this is new, of course, both the aforementioned books were written around 2000. In a 2006 Forest Policy-Forest Practice post titled Perplexed by Principles for Process Improvement , I alluded to the “power-over” v. “power-with” dilemma, and reiterated my 2003 suggestion to get us beyond gridlock by beginning the journey toward true collaboration.

Maybe I was planting seeds of thought, maybe I was whistling in the wind. Maybe the time is right now, or is yet to come. But maybe it will never come!

Why ? Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Capital P “Politics” is a power-over game, and US government agency administration is “political”. It used to be that the Timber Barons and their Congressional and Administration lackeys were never far from earshot of anything that the Forest Service did (remember especially the 1950s through 1970s or 80s). Now the game has shifted, and Fire Money (and assoicated power) has more sway, as increasingly does Recreation Money. Maybe we will get a chance for better collaboration, even adaptive co-management as the Resilience Alliance folks call it.

But I won’t be surprised if we don’t. I have been hoping for a “collaborative future” for a very long time, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve not fallen into the insanity trap: doing (saying) the same things over and over, and expecting different results.

Returning to more optimistic thoughts, Leadership and Self-Deception got me to thinking about other books like Argyris and Schön’s Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning, (1990) and Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations (2002). (See my 2005 Forest Policy-Practice Fierce Conversations post). Only after learning to own up to and defeat the victim/blame game do we have any chance at other important organizational learning opportunities.

A key question: Is it really possible, or remotely likely that the US Forest Service (or any other large government bureau) will ever be able to move beyond the blame game?

The New Energy Economy and Forest Plans

The process that we determine whether public or private land for transmission lines or a combination, is environmentally, socially and economically “best” for new powerlines is critical in our new energy economy is a key policy question. See today’s story about Governor Freudenthal’s concerns. One thing that’s for sure is that forest plans in and of themselves can’t keep up with these requests, although management areas or themes or suitability (lines on maps) may be helpful concepts when these questions come up.

Timber Wars Over.. Role of Forest Planning Process??

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (center) expresses his appreciation for being given the opportunity to tour and learn more about Arizona’s groundbreaking effort to restore forest health and protect fire-threatened communities. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (left) and various local and forest officials accompanied Vilsack on the tour.

Please see story on Four Forests Initiative in Arizona.

It would seem to support the ideas of landscape scale decisions and collaboration, and the forest plan as a compilation of decisions made, rather than the instrument of decision making. Also, as Andy maintains, if NFMA is about timber, and if timber wars are over, then should forest plans be simply a large loose-leaf notebook of decisions made at different scales? Is there any “there” there?

Also it brings up Martin’s question of large scale NEPA- will ask around how they are handling it and report back.