We are entering a peaceful period for the next couple of weeks while people are on vacation. This is a season where Peace is celebrated in many spiritual traditions. Which reminds me of honoring and thanking the environmental conflict resolution professionals we deal with in our daily work. So here’s a shout out to all of you-wherever you are. I’d particularly like to thank the folks at the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (and their subcontractors) for their excellent work on the Planning Rule.
In the spirit of the season, here’s a quote on their homepage:
“ Politics and issues come and go, but in the end, we’ll all be remembered for the way we treat other people. ”
Morris K. Udall
Here’s a link to a blog post from Craig Zelizer of the international conflict resolution community on “10 Actions for a More Peaceful 2011.”
Happy Holidays to all, and I’ll be back the 3rd of January or thereabouts.
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
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.
His first day in office President Obama issued his Memorandum on Transparency and Open Governent . He explained the need for the memorandum as follows:
Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And, that’s why as of today I’m directing members of my Administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans.
To further these ends, the General Services Administration (GSA) is soliciting comments through its Open Government Initiative wiki. The GSA describes the project as:
. . .a concept for next generation citizen consultation, namely a government-wide software tool and process to elicit expert public participation (working title “ExpertNet”). ExpertNet could:
1. Enable government officials to circulate notice of opportunities to participate in public consultations to members of the public with expertise on a topic.
2. Provide those volunteer experts with a mechanism to provide useful, relevant, and manageable feedback back to government officials.
Will this be the new model for public participation in rule-making?
How should it supplement or relate to the NEPA process?
Jim Fenwood is a retired wildlife biologist living in Atlanta, GA. An eternal optimist, he believes in world peace, Ivory-billed woodpeckers, and Planning Rule revisions.
Here’s a story on the settlement to the four California forest plan litigation.
It sounds interesting:
Under the agreement, federal and state agencies, conservationists and off-roaders will work together to improve roadless areas. The Forest Service will reconsider protecting several of the areas permanently as wilderness.
In addition, parties will identify roads and trails that are degrading designated roadless areas, and the Forest Service will prioritize them for decommissioning and restoration. The agency also will protect all roadless areas from harmful activities, including those that could prevent them from being recommended as wilderness.
The compromise includes $250,000 to cover attorney’s fees and other costs incurred by environmentalists, who praised the deal as a step toward protecting natural resources on federal property.
“As the Southern California population pushes past 15 million, wild lands are even more critical to the region because they provide drinking water, clean air and outdoor recreation,” said Annette Kondo, spokeswoman for The Wilderness Society’s California office.
The Blue Ribbon Coalition and the California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs were among the user groups who signed the deal. They could not be reached immediately on Thursday.
What strikes me about the agreement is how much it’s about roadless. I have to wonder if this agreement might have been reached without litigation.
Here’s the settlement agreement.
Twelve environmental groups have started an ad campaign calling for a new Forest Service planning rule “to protect all creatures great and small.” A press release from the Pew Environment Group and 11 other organizations mentions that 10,000 post cards and a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture will advocate that the planning rule considers strong standards for water quality and wildlife protection, and a commitment to scientific review.
The draft or proposed planning rule is in the administrative clearance process in the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Management and Budget. The Forest Service’s planning rule blog explains that the clearance draft’s proposed treatment of species diversity has been changed from the concepts presented at the last public meeting on the rule in July.
Some of you may be interested in this piece I wrote for Roger Pielke, Jr.’s blog on the GAO report on FS R&D, and the comments. Roger also put in links to some key work including this article by Sarewitz and Pielke which is well worth a read. If you are not familiar with this literature, which examines how scientific processes work, I recommend this piece as an introduction. In the FS, one of our leaders once described self-awareness as a key component for her selection of individuals for leadership positions. In my view, science policy studies is a field that is key to self-awareness of the scientific community.
Here’s a quote from the Sarewitz/Pielke paper:
The idea that the creation of scientific knowledge is a process largely independent from the application of that knowledge within society has had enormous political value for scientists, because it allows them to make the dual claims that (1) fundamental research divorced from any consideration of application is the most important type of research (Weinberg, 1971) and (2) such research can best contribute to society if it is insulated from such practical considerations, thus ensuring that scientists not only have putative freedom of inquiry, but also that they have control over public resources devoted to science. The continued influence of this perspective was recently asserted by Leshner (2005), Chief Executive Office of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: ‘‘. . . historically science and technology have changed society, society now is likely to want to change science and technology,
or at least to help shape their course. For many scientists, any such overlay of values on the conduct of science is anathema to our core principles and our historic success.’’
I know that many in the natural resource/forestry/public lands community are not aware of, or do not have time to keep up with, the science policy literature. I am curious as to what readers think of my post on the conveyor belt model and the Sarewitz/Pielke paper.
The fine print of most Forest Service Plans contains terms from a recreation zoning scheme that is essentially the same as when it was developed in the 1980s. The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) is a means to subdivide a forest by desired physical, social, and managerial features to provide a setting for compatible recreational activities. Although the basic framework has been in place for nearly 30 years, it may be lost in the discussions about a new forest service planning rule, and the system is showing some wear. The system was never fully integrated across resources. Forests and Regions have developed processes independently, leading to inconsistencies within and across Regional boundaries. Naming conventions vary, and there are differences in how wilderness areas are mapped, and how seasonal distinctions are addressed. Now, the importance of ROS maps in Forest Plans may be even greater than previously thought, after at least one court ruling saying these maps are constraints on recreational activities.
The 1979 ROS Users Guide, the 1990 ROS Primer and Field Guide, and the 2003 National ROS inventory mapping protocol describe the six distinct settings that are mapped in a Forest Plan: urban, rural, roaded natural, semi-primitive motorized, semi-primitive non-motorized, and primitive. Used in conjunction with Sense of Place (SOP) mapping, the Scenery Management System (SMS), and Benefits Based Management (BBM), ROS is an approach to display human values, meanings and attachment to the landscape.
The ROS system was at the heart of a sixth circuit decision discussed here a couple of months ago which struck down the revision of the Huron-Manistee Forest Plan. In that decision, the court addressed the concern about providing “quality recreation opportunities for hikers, backpackers, and cross-country skiiers” by upholding the ROS system as a “thoughtful methodology for matching settings and activities, among other planning purposes.” However, the court then went further and said that the Plan should not allow activities such as gun hunting and snowmobiling that are inconsistent with ROS descriptions like semi-primitive non-motorized. The court said: ”The [Forest] Service cannot expect us to defer to its ROS descriptions when they support its decision (which we have done above), but then to disregard those same descriptions when they conflict with its decision.” …. “the [Forest] Service’s decision not to balance these competing uses, and to disregard its own ROS descriptions, is what fell outside the relevant standards.”
One of the esoteric debates among forest planners these days is where exactly an ROS map fits in a forest plan. Often, ROS maps don’t match management area maps, and treatment of ROS zones varies from plan to plan. Some plans contain ROS elements as part of an aspirational “desired condition” while other plans list the identification of an ROS class as a “standard” that all projects must meet. Although ROS is very similar to the idea of a suitability map, like timber suitability or grazing suitability, ROS is not specific to a particular activity. It merely describes a setting for recreation activities, and only suggests certain recreational activities that might be compatible in that setting. Because the actual conditions of the recreation setting need to be validated on the ground, it’s difficult for a forest plan to specifically identify recreational opportunities.
Arguably the most important element of the ROS mapping process is the separation of semi-primitive non-motorized areas from other motorized or roaded settings. Essentially, a SPNM area is a contiguous unroaded area of at least 2,500 acres. A plan should have consistent direction for ROS, scenery management, travel management, road construction, and other developments. This part of a forest plan can be very important, because it can limit road building and other development on parcels smaller than the 5,000 acre threshold for potential wilderness areas, or areas previously mapped as roadless and controlled by roadless policies. While a “roadless” area by definition is larger than 5,000 acres, backcountry recreation activities are certainly possible in areas as small as the 2,500 acre threshold.
ROS needs to be featured as a central part of the forest planning rule. But it needs to be updated. Here are some considerations:
- The terms need to be simplified. Many people don’t understand the concept of “semi-primitive.” In some forest plans, management areas adopted a simpler concept known as “backcountry.”
- New categories may be necessary, to address distinctions between summer non-motorized and winter non-motorized, variations within Wilderness areas, or roaded-natural areas that may be roaded but generally non-motorized.
- The ROS concept should be expanded to incorporate other activities and resources. This might best work by requiring ROS zones to be integrated into the forest plan management area process.
- ROS classifications probably shouldn’t be treated as forest plan standards. There are too many variables that influence what recreational activities can occur in an area. However, the planning rule should treat the ROS idea as an important feature of forest plans and plan objectives, standards, and guidelines should be consistent with the ROS classifications.
- The designation of ROS zones needs to be made at multiple scales. ROS zoning is subject to the same pitfalls as general management area zoning – it can tend to fragment a forest, and doesn’t lend itself to the larger question of regional recreational experiences. One report suggests that the inability to “think and act regionally” leads to a homogenization of recreation experiences which suboptimizes and reduces the flow of recreational experiences in the region.
The ROS system is a sophisticated tool that has been adopted by other agencies and even extended to nonfederal lands. It’s time to dust it off, and make sure it’s a key element of the new planning rule.
Senator Majority Leader Reid released today a draft of the 2011 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which he hopes to navigate through the last days of this Congress. The 1,924-page bill includes Senator Tester’s Montana Forest Jobs and Restoration Act (beginning on page 893), but does not include Senator Wyden’s Eastside Oregon counterpart. Tester sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, from which this bill originates; Wyden does not.
This omnibus appropriations bill should not be confused with an omnibus public lands bill that has also been released in draft. The public lands omnibus includes bills passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including three designating wilderness in Oregon (Devil’s Staircase), Washington (Alpine Lakes additions) and New Mexico (Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks).
A group of scientists published a study earlier this month in the Nature journal, citing mounting evidence that biodiversity loss frequently increases infectious disease transmission.
One of the primary authors, Felicia Keesing from Bard College, explained the general pattern to Science Daily: “biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission across a wide range of infectious disease systems.” Keesing has been following the ecology of Lyme disease in northeastern forests for several years, and she said that evidence is mounting about biodiversity and disease. For instance, an opossum can serve as a biological buffer between the Lyme bacterium and humans by picking and killing off ticks. Opossums are poor hosts for ticks, but mice are good hosts. As biodiversity is lost, opossums move away and mice remain.
The authors also cite the relationship of the mosquito-transmitted West Nile disease and low bird diversity, as well as the relationship of hantavirus and lower diversity of small mammals. There are three reasons the loss of biodiversity can affect the transmission of infectious diseases:
- The more diverse the number of intermediate hosts, the less likely that a specific host will be present that are dangerous to humans.
- In a more diverse community, it’s more likely that the disease will end up in an unsuitable intermediate host.
- Genetically diverse hosts are generally in better condition and more resistent to disease.
The authors conclude: ”despite remaining questions, connections between biodiversity and disease are now sufficiently clear to increase the urgency of local, regional, and global efforts to preserve natural ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain.”
At the very least, the relationship of biodiversity and epidemiology is a very direct example of a principle the Forest Service has been using during the development of a new forest planning rule: that people and the environment are inseparable and interdependent. The idea that forests are actually a safety net is a compelling argument for the maintenance and restoration of functioning and diverse ecosystems.
Due to the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act, stories such as this in the Republican American are floating around the New England press.
Char Miller contributes Weeks Act Forest Planningessay called “Wild by Law.” Longer than a blog post, but well worth the read, and a gentle reminder that public lands ideas, ideals and controversy are not just a western concern.