Late last fall, I started a category on the blog for “2012 Planning Rule.” As I typed those words, I realized that the original purpose of the blog will have been fulfilled with the publication of the 2012 Rule- expected soon. Martin and I had set sail on this blog into uncharted waters- a blog as a 21st century method of education and extension (in the land grant model) for policy practitioners and academics. We actually started in November 2009. So here we are, two years later, sailing into port. We may have somewhat different crew, but the ship is still in one piece, thanks to the excellence of WordPress. We can celebrate with a few brewskis at the virtual pub, and then, after some reflection, ask ourselves where we’d like to go next.
People have also asked me why I have never updated the Contributors or other parts of the blog. These conversations and thoughts have led me to the need to have a reflection period on “whither this blog?” We can then discuss and consciously, organically, redesign for that next voyage.
Martin’s relections on the journey are posted in the next post. All are encouraged to comment, or to provide a guest post. Reflection has its own natural time and rhythm, so we needn’t be in a hurry..I’ll be administering the blog as usual until we transition. Just sit back and read what Martin and I have written and let your own thoughts take form.
Here are mine:
Originally, my thought was (based on Roger Pielke Jrs.’ blog- I liked what Roger was doing- he is my blogger role model) it would be handy to have all the key information about the Planning Rule and the process in one place. It would save people time if they wanted to follow it. Also, I thought that Martin and I could have informative and entertaining (at least to us) discussions across the practitioner- academic divide. One thing I do have to say is that Martin and the folks at University of Montana were very brave about stepping out into unknown terrain.
As so many things in life, the blog did not work out exactly as planned. For one thing, an official blog on the planning rule was established so that there could have been confusion, and two locations for possible discussions. Second, the carefully thought- out pieces I intended to write were the victims of a lack of time. I was hoping that academics would have more time (based on the Pielkean model), but in this era of doing more with less, all of us would have had to spend what amounts to personal time on this effort. I discovered that the other folks who wanted to spend more time discussing current events were not academics, so it became more often a practitioner/practitioner dialogue. I have also dragged other academics, for example, Todd Morgan, in when I think they have relevant information. Academics have a variety of venues for getting their ideas out- journal articles, classes, so perhaps the need to express and debate their views is already satisfied in the academic world. And one of my original ideas was to expose students to practitioner viewpoints that they might not otherwise hear. But I have no idea how many, or if any, regular readers are students.
My goal was to hear from practitioners- people who wouldn’t be writing news stories nor press releases nor academic papers, but know the issues from what they see on the ground in their work. People whose voices are not generally heard in these discussion. I wanted to lead interested people from the superficiality of news stories into a deeper understanding of complex issues.
What we have now that I didn’t expect, but hoped for, is a core group of people with suitably diverse perspectives and physical locations who are actually fairly civil; and generally restrict themselves from the personal or partisanal (if that’s a word) attacks that make other blogs such depressing windows on the behavior of our species. I learned how to use WordPress, peel photos out of Adobe Acrobat documents, and generally have a heckuva swell time with today’s cool tools.
In addition, as the conversations developed over the years, it also became clearer to me that recent changes in the business of journalism have meant that perhaps journalists can’t always provide the public education on topics that they did when there were more of them, and they had more time. These conditions may require a forum for news stories to be questioned or clarified by groups of knowledgeable people. I still have that passion for truth seeking and listening to different voices.
For those adventuring into the post-50 life stage, I recommend the book “The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 years after 50”. As I read the book, this quote resonated with me about what I feel about what the blog could move toward, at its (our) best. In this part of the book the author, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot talks about a man named Luther.
“As a faculty trainer working for an international pacifist organization, he leads workshops and seminars designed to bring people from polarized sides together for dialogue, conflict resolution and peace building. This evolving, difficult process requires patience and courage, empathy and attentiveness. But first it requires that everyone recognize that “conflict is not bad”; it can be “productive and creative.” Luther describes the process when groups come together who have a history of distrust and violence. First they begin by “mapping the conflict”- acknowledging it, naming it, establishing its scope and boundaries, and finding the points of greatest resistance and discord. Identifying the conflict is the first “way out of the growing circle of revenge.” The conflict , Luther says, is like “the tip of the iceberg, but there is lots going on underneath.” To begin to excavate the subterranean layers, the group members must engage in “deep dialogue” Each one must be courageous enough to tell his or her personal truths and “listen without denying.” This is very hard. Emotions flare; people get defensive; they project their pain onto others . There are advances in understanding, moments of reconciliation, even epiphanies followed by retreats and accusations as people slide back into their comfortable and familiar stances. The learning that goes on in the group is both individual and collective, personal and public.”
Yes, I do feel a bit guilty that we just started blogging without considering the Best Available Science on conflict resolution .
As we discern a future course for the blog, it would be helpful if I could hear from you, our readers, commenters and contributors.. feel free to write, call, or otherwise communicate your thoughts to me. In this expanding (and yet civil) internet community, there are many courses we could set… ships were not designed to stay in port.
If you need tickler questions, pick any below that suit your fancy. For the more right-brained among us, feel free to share your dreams, art, symbols or images to add to our joint reflection.
Why do you read this blog?
What do you like about it ?
What surprised you?
What do you dislike about it?
What niche do you think it fills?
What do you think about the topics?
If you don’t comment, why not?
What do you think about continuing/discontinuing/changing /repurposing the blog?
Are there particular features you would like to see?
As I said, I’d like to make this more reflective than usual and so don’t be in a hurry- I’ll round up what I’ve heard every couple of weeks and do more reflection, then we can play with different experiments and see how they work.
Some readers might recall that when Sharon and I began this blog, we somehow managed to get the USFS and UM logos on our Masthead—proof of a true and perhaps significant collaboration focused on the new USFS planning rule. I really liked the idea of a blog specifically focused on an important and forthcoming rule—a very neat opportunity. The USFS made sure the logo didn’t last long, and I eventually requested the UM/Bolle Center logos be removed because of the decreasing amount of time that I was contributing to the blog. While that was happening, NCFP started to slowly morph into something different, with a more general focus on all issues pertaining to forest law, policy, and management.
There were highs and lows on the blog for me. There were some posts and comment threads that were so fun and enlightening that I printed and filed them away for future reference. Sharon, John Rupe, Andy Stahl, and other contributors forced me to think about several issues in new ways. So many gems—those always made the time devoted to the blog well worth it. The discussions also generated new ideas and questions for me, ones that I have used in the classroom and plan on pursuing in the future.
I also enjoyed writing some of my own blog posts. Some of them forced me to clarify my thinking about certain matters, such as the role of standards in forest planning. Others eventually led me down more serious paths of research and writing. I was so intrigued by the idea of triggers in planning and adaptive management, for example, that I ended up writing about the topic in pretty serious fashion last year. It was also rewarding to see, on occasion, 300 or so people reading some wonky post about forest policy and planning. And it was always so nice to be stopped at some meeting and be told about how someone always reads or appreciates the blog. And it was really, really nice when that appreciation was demonstrated through free beer.
Of course, not all were smiles and sunshine. I often got frustrated by some of the comments on the blog, from their substance to tone. And so many times I just didn’t feel like reading the same old recycled arguments and positions that I’ve heard a thousand times before. On those days, instead of reading about forest planning at lunch, I would instead watch Hockey Night in Canada or Stephen Colbert highlights.
The boring truth of the matter is that I simply couldn’t find the time to participate enough on the blog. Sharon was always so gracious about the matter and everyone always knew that she was the heart and soul of this thing. My teaching, research, and administrative duties increased significantly since we started the endeavor (enter the violins). Something had to go, so the blog took the initial hit. I still read it all the time, but choose to do so quietly and without any contribution on my part. The classic free rider—that’s me. I’m sorry to Sharon and National Public Radio.
I’m not sure if my work situation will change in the near future so that I can again participate more seriously. I am now Chair of my Department, teach two classes, and try to maintain an active research agenda. So it is time to sign off and become a reader and perhaps occasional contributor. I hope the blog continues to flourish, as I feel strongly that it provides a very valuable service.
Sharon, a very special thank you—for your vision, leadership, patience, and all the hard work you’ve given to this blog. You have done so much to foster an engaging and respectful dialogue about National Forest management. I wish we could find a real way to compensate you for this important but time-consuming service—the investment would be worth it. Interacting with you over the past couple of years has been a lot of fun. I really appreciate all that you’ve done.
In our Winter Solstice celebrations and breaks from work, we might have missed this announcement on Dec. 7 of a 45 day public comment period on the CEQ Draft Guidance on Improving the NEPA Review Process.
Here’s a nice summary from Holland and Hart LLP:
CEQ Issues Draft Guidance on Improving NEPA Review Process
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently released draft guidance to improve the efficiency and timeliness of environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The draft guidance is of potential interest to natural resource industries and project developers, among others, that would benefit from a more coordinated, streamlined NEPA process with clear timelines for the NEPA review.
The guidance highlights existing regulatory strategies, such as integrating planning and environmental reviews, coordinating multi-agency or multi-governmental reviews and approvals, and setting schedules. It was released as part of the CEQ’s review of existing regulations under Executive Order 13563 and the President’s August 2011 Memorandum on “Speeding Infrastructure Development through More Efficient and Effective Permitting and Environmental Review.”
CEQ’s guidance first clarifies that many of the CEQ regulations applicable to Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) preparation, the most intensive type of NEPA review, should also be applied to all types of NEPA reviews, including less-intensive Environmental Assessments (EAs). For example, the agencies should conduct a scoping analysis of the full range of actions, alternatives, and impacts for all environmental reviews, including both EAs and EISs. Also, for actions initiated by private or non-federal governmental entities, the guidance encourages the agencies to require the applicant, whenever possible and not already required, to submit an environmental report with its application or request for agency action.
The guidance next provides several principles for agencies to follow in conducting environmental reviews, including that:
NEPA encourages simple, straightforward, and concise reviews and documentation that are proportionate to and effectively convey the relevant considerations in a timely manner to the public and decision-makers while comprehensively addressing the issues presented;
NEPA should be integrated into project planning rather than be an after-the-fact add-on;
NEPA reviews should coordinate and take appropriate advantage of existing documents and studies, including through adoption and incorporation by reference;
Early and well-defined scoping can assist in focusing environmental reviews to appropriate issues that would be meaningful to a decision on the proposed action;
Agencies are encouraged to develop meaningful and expeditious timelines for environmental reviews; and
Agencies should respond to comments in proportion to the scope and scale of the environmental issues raised.
While setting out several basic NEPA principles established in practice over the years, the guidance nevertheless may be helpful in emphasizing the need and avenues for timely and efficient NEPA review process. Projects can experience delay in the NEPA process for a variety of reasons. The CEQ’s draft guidance (and as it may be finalized) cannot reasonably be expected to address all of these instances, but for some, it may be helpful. For example, long linear projects, such as interstate pipelines and transmission lines, that involve multiple federal and state agencies may benefit from the guidance’s emphasis on intergovernmental coordination and concurrent environmental reviews. In addition, for projects where delay is the result of the actual drafting of the NEPA analysis, the guidance may provide additional support, or a policy emphasis from CEQ where needed or helpful, to streamline the NEPA process through incorporation by reference and proportionate responses to public comments. Furthermore, the draft guidance emphasizes the benefits of establishing clear timelines on a project-by-project basis, which may help provide some measure of predictability to the process.
CEQ is providing for a 45-day public comment period on the draft guidance. Natural resource project developers and others requiring federal permits or approvals for their operations that would trigger NEPA reviews may wish to submit comments to CEQ describing their own experiences with the NEPA review process and the need to improve the efficiency and timeliness of the process. Providing specific examples of NEPA streamlining processes that have been successful, as well as examples of where the absence of such approaches have resulted in inefficient or delayed NEPA processes, may be helpful to CEQ in formulating the final guidance. The comment period for the draft guidance expires on January 27, 2012. The draft guidance can be found here and the Council’s press release can be found here.
So we have people from the environmental document writing, and the commenting, appealing, objecting, and litigating sides of the house all represented on this blog. I wonder if there are any areas that we all can agree on to improve efficiency and timeliness? Will this restatement and focused document around relevant CEQ guidance help, or are there other factors at work that need to be addressed? What do you think?