Here is Region Five’s “Ecological Restoration Implementation Plan”. It is definitely worth a browse, especially if you are a local within or near any of these National Forests. Each Forest spells out what it is doing and what it is planning.
(The picture is an old one, from fall of 2000. I had been here, salvaging bug-killed trees, in 1991. There was obviously additional mortality after that.)
From the Eldorado NF entry:
Maintain healthy and well-distributed populations of native species through sustaining habitats associated with those species
Use ecological strategies for post-fire restoration
Apply best science to make restoration decisions
Involve the public through collaborative partnerships that build trust among diverse interest groups
Create additional funding sources through partnerships
Incorporate the “Triple Bottom Line” into our restoration strategy: emphasizing social, economic and ecological objectives
Implement an “All lands approach” for restoring landscapes
Establish a sustainable level of recreational activities and restore landscapes affected by unmanaged recreation
Implement an effective conservation education and interpretation program that promotes understanding the value of healthy watersheds and ecosystem services they deliver and support for restoration actions.
Improve the function of streams and meadows
Restore resilience of the Forests to wildfire, insects and disease
Integrate program funding and priorities to create effective and efficient implementation of restoration activities
Reduce the spread of non-native invasive species
I ran across this report of a survey done by NASF which I thought was interesting.
Here’s the survey.
Given these factors, seven out of ten voters support maintaining or increasing efforts to protect forests and trees in their state. Among the key specific findings of the poll are the following:
• Voters continue to value the nation’s forests highly, particularly as sources of clean air and water and places for wildlife to live. The survey found most voters are personally familiar with the nation’s forests: two-thirds of voters (67%) say they live within ten miles of a forest or wooded area. Voters also report engaging in various recreational activities that may bring them to forests. These include: viewing wildlife (71% of voters say they do this “frequently” or “occasionally”), hiking on outdoor trails (48%), fishing (43%), overnight camping (38%), hunting (22%), using off-road vehicles (16%), snow-shoeing or cross-country-skiing (15%), and mountain biking (14%).
Taking all of this into account, it should be no surprise that voters value the many benefits forests provide. As shown in Figure 1, 92 percent of voters surveyed believe that helping to keep the air clean is at least a “very” important benefit of forests, including 58 percent who believe it is “extremely” important. A nearly identical 91% of voters assign similar importance to forests’ role in filtering water to keep it clean. Solid majorities of voters found other benefits of forests to be “very important” as well, including providing a place for wildlife to live (86%), providing a source of good-paying jobs (73%), supplying products like wood and paper (73%), providing a place for recreation (71%), and reducing global warming (60%).
Appreciation of the economic benefits of forests has increased sharply in recent years. Most likely due to the economic downturn, voters appear to have a more acute awareness of the good-paying type of jobs provided by forests. Only 47 percent of voters considered this to be an “extremely” or “very” important benefit of forests in a 2007 national survey, a proportion which rose to 73 percent this year. There were also gains in the proportions viewing it as important that forests supply essential products and provide a place for recreation.
• At least three in five voters see major threats to forests from wildfire, development, and insects and diseases. American voters recognize that the nation’s forests face a variety of significant threats. As shown in Figure 2, 73 percent of all voters consider wildfires to be a “major” threat to forests. Three in five voters believe the same about insects and diseases that harm trees (62%) and development (62%).
Three-quarters of voters want to see efforts to protect and manage forests maintained or increased. In total (as shown in Figure 3), 74 percent of voters say they are comfortable with the current level of forest management and protection, including 41 percent who say it needs to be increased.
The figures included are interesting but I couldn’t transfer them to this post.
The Forest Service seems to love the idea of partnerships, but questions remain as to how this happened, and where it will end. I’m not talking about government-to-government collaboration here, but so-called “partnerships” in other arenas. The notion is particularly contentious when partners are “for profit” corporations. In the early 1900s, the Forest Service would never have dreamed (except in nightmares) of “partnering” with big business. Instead, founder Gifford Pinchot wanted to regulate forest management on all lands, including and especially lands owned by big timber companies. But it was never to be. Not here in the USA.
In Harold Steen’s The Forest Service: a History we find enough of the tortured history of the Forest Service to give me pause. Forest Service people had to be tough to maintain their zeal in trying to encourage conservation and regulate long-term timber supply in the face of frontier ethics that pretty much said, use it or lose it. Gifford Pinchot didn’t last as long as he hoped as Forest Service Chief (1901-1910)—having crossed at least one politician too many in his zeal to reign-in business corruption. Still, Pinchot left a mark that would position the agency pretty much in his shadow for a Century. Half of that Century, almost, the Forest Service sought to regulate all timber harvest public and private, and much of the grazing in the country.
Just before the Forest Service finally gave up the all-lands regulation fight early in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Administration, after being libeled “socialists,” the Forest Service switched gears and rhetoric, and decided to be cooperators in sustained yield units composed of both public and private land. [Remember that this was the era of emerging McCarthyism, and being branded as a "socialist" was at minimum problematic.] The public good in these deals was that the Forest Service could pressure private industry to grow up and out of it’s “cut and run” behaviors—to at least replant cutover lands. To some extent it worked. To some extent the tragedy on private lands continued. But at least the Forest Service tried to achieve its regulatory dream, albeit via other means—cooperation.
Public-private cooperation is a difficult concept to wrap the mind around. How do you cooperate with “the government”? Isn’t a democratic government supposed to be an extension of the people? I can easily wrap my mind around the idea of complying with government dictate or regulation. But to “cooperate” with the government? I’m not even sure what it means. You can almost wrap your mind around the idea when you think of the Forest Service as one of many entities that manage land in the US, but when you contrast government land management (particularly multiple use management) with other land management, the idea still doesn’t make all that much sense. Still, I admit that there are areas where similar goals (e.g. biodiversity preservation) may indeed make sense to multiple owners as well as the country as a whole.
The whole idea of “cooperation” didn’t make too much sense in the early days, and didn’t get better with time, as big recreation interests got more active in and around public lands. As the rhetoric shifted from cooperation to partnership, the task was not made easier. Ski resort complexes come immediately to mind. You tell me, where is the “public good” in a ski resort complex that cannot be obtained via contracting, else outright privatization? I know that there are those who believe that conservation is better obtained with a public-private regulation-partnership model in place. But I’m skeptical. On the other hand if we begin to privatize “inholdings” in government land, where does that game end? So maybe we just have to muddle through, grit our teeth and deal with the idea that there will be some limited, regulated private use of public lands, alongside public use.
I wondered back in 1999 what we ought to make of emergent coziness between the government and those who seek to profit from land and resource managed by the government—particularly such coziness with organized commercial recreation interests. Here are a few inquiry questions I posed then, and repeat now:
- What type commercial uses are appropriate on the National Forest in the 21st Century?
- Is a “wise use”/multiple-use policy still sufficient when biological diversity, Wilderness, and other public use issues loom large?
- Is there still reason to be wary of large scale commercial interests?
- How ought we to fund the management of the National Forests, the National Parks, BLM lands, National Wildlife Refuges, etc.? Are user fees appropriate mechanisms? Are commercial permit fees appropriate? If so, in what mix and under what circumstances?
- What roles, if any, might non-government organizations play in the funding federal lands management? What roles, if any, might corporations and other for-profit organizations play? What roles, if any, might nonprofit organizations play? Are all nonprofits created equally?
Clinton-era Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, once safely out of office, endorsed “public use”, suggesting that we ought to steer clear of “privatization” via things like government/private partnerships. Oddly (or maybe not) Babbitt did not mention commercial recreations interests, while explicitly mentioning timbering, grazing, and mining. I’ll assume that Babbitt believed that they too ought to be in the mix.
I’ll not go that far, even though I wish we had never allowed so much commercial use of public lands—i.e managing national forests for “private” rather than public use. I realize that a “public use” agenda is not the way history played out on the public lands, although there is still time/hope. Further, I doubt that we would still have the public lands in the amount we still do, if the idea of strict public use had been the agenda from the get-go. The public lands were born in controversy, and we ought to be glad that we’ve so far kept them intact in an American culture hell-bent on promoting individualism, and individual profit-making. Still, there is time to make a major course-correction toward public use.
My Views on Public v. Private Use of National Forests
Where do I stand re: privatized commercial use of public lands? I enthusiastically support public use, including scenic backdrops to development, biodiversity reserves, wilderness reserves, and more.
I’m OK with some private use of public forest products/services, managed under broad multiple use/ecological stewardship guidelines. I’m OK with private use of wood products from the national forests. Although, I’ve argued that we might be better off just selling the products to commercial vendors at “the loading dock”—some transfer station that would allow products to be transferred from public to private ownership—rather than allowing corporate interests to work the public lands to get the products. I might even be OK with, e.g. timber sales contracts—i.e. allowing commercial entities to work public lands for the forest products—as long as there are enough eyes on the contracts to make sure that the taxpayers get a fair deal, alongside the contractors. Similarly with “stewardship contracts” that allow contractors to keep and sell some forest products.
I’m Ok with commercial recreation interests, although not OK with making the national forests into Disneyland-type destinations. I’m still struggling with ski resorts and upscale marinas on public lands, but I guess I’ll have to allow space for them in my design—and I do use them, so it would be a bit disingenuous if I were to suggest otherwise.
As for “outfitters and guides,” I believe they ought to be able to operate on public lands, but with much less privilege than they now are allowed. And I don’t think the Forest Service ought to try to regulate them. This gets tricky, but maybe not as much as we might initially think, since the agency will have to allow for group recreational use of the national forests in any case, and if a group has a outfitter and/or guide that doesn’t seem to complicate the matter that much. One question: Why does the Forest Service seek to regulate outfitters and guides?
But I believe that marketing, e.g. signing and soliciting for any and all commercial use of the national forests should be minimal and in keeping with traditional rustic imagery of the national forests.
And I believe that fee collection should be both fair to the owners of the national forests and should be easily administered. For example, it would be better to charge an annual fee for use, than to charge for each occurrence. Why? Simply because it detracts from natural experiences when one is constantly grabbing for a billfold.
Regarding concessionaires, I believe their presence is allowable (as it has been in the US Park Service since pretty much the beginning) but their operation ought not to be the “swinging hot spots” from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. Instead concessionaires ought to be relative low-key operations. Exceptions might be made for ski resort communities, but maybe the best bet there would be to trade lands so that at least the most commercial of operations are not on the national forests. But that too has problems as I explained above. My preference re: campgrounds/picnicgrounds is for the Forest Service to manage them (likely via volunteers) and use them in part for conservation education.
As for grazing on public lands, I’m hard-pressed to see a good case for continuing it, if only because of the many disease-related problems in co-mingling domestic stock and wildlife. I’m not opposed to grazing on public lands if properly managed, e.g. onsite caretakers of a herd, but only if we can somehow get beyond the disease problem.
Mining and Oil and Gas exploration are at-minimum problematic, but I don’t see them stopping. Our best bet might be to continue vigilance and seek ever-better-regulation of these activities relative to both environmental and aesthetic considerations.
Have I joined with the forces of “darkness and evil”, i.e. those who would “marketize” the national forests? Or is this a useful beginning to ring-fence creeping marketization? In his book The Abstract Wild, in a chapter titled “Economic Nature,” Jack Turner describes the loss of shared social values, what others might call the virtues of civic engagement. These values might include sense of community, sense of place, sense of wildness in interacting with and attempting to be, once-again, part of Nature, etc. Through time, however, the world, and particularly the US is approaching a place where all values save one—money—are lost along the timeline of a society madly reinventing itself into crass-consumerism, accompanied by marketing madness. In Turner’s words,
Only one widely shared value remains—money—and this explains our propensity to use business and economics rather than moral debate and legislation to settle our differences. …
This rejection of persuasion creates a social order wherein economic language (and its extensions in law) exhaustively describes our world and, hence becomes our world. Moral, aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual order are then merely subjective tastes of no social importance. It is thus no wonder that civility has declined. For me this new economic conservation “ethic” reeks of cynicism—as though having failed to persuade and woo your love, you suddenly switched to cash. The new economics conservationists think they are being rational; I think they treat Mother Nature like a whorehouse. (pp. 57-8)
And what about partnerships? I still don’t much like the word, neither the word “cooperator.” And I’m particularly incensed when government people cozy-up to commercial agendas, even sometimes becomming cheerleaders for such. I do like the idea of collaboration in policy making, in program development, and so forth. I have reservations as to the manner that the Forest Service now chooses to engage individuals and public interest groups, but that is a matter for other posts—many of which I’ve already aired.
No matter how the “use” and “commercial use” debates play out, with accompanying litigation and legislation, there are at least two intertwined “bigger issues” that remain on the table, in the background: biodiversity and associated species loss, and human population growth (with related resource extraction and pollution concerns that include human lifestyle concerns). These two issues under gird pretty much all others but are not popularly discussed. I hope that these two items will again find their way into mainstream talk in advance of catastrophe. But I’m doubtful that such will happen anytime soon, and I don’t believe we’ve got a lot of time left, particularly given the dynamics of doubling of human population growth (Wikipedia link) and the fact that the doubling curve is an exponential growth curve that is working into a very steep space—i.e. when 3 billion became 6 billion people (30 years, 1 generation) the curves looks remarkably steeper than when 3 million became 6 million people (1000 years, 33 generations).
Anyone remember the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000? The Act, along with follow-up legislation was supposed to wean rural Oregon Counties from long-standing dependence on timber revenues from O&C and other Federal Lands and put them on a path to “self-determination.” Guess what? It didn’t. In fact by funding the counties at highest revenue levels ever for a period of time, the Law may have increased the dependence. Admittedly, the recent global recession played a part in the drama, but the question remains as to whether the secure rural schools law really paved a path to “self-determination.” No matter. The Lands are once-again under consideration to help the counties out of a financial bind. Isn’t it time then, once again, to bring up the notion that these lands ought not to be put into play as a single-purpose program? Isn’t it time to realize that given the broad scale of this checkerboard (here’s a map, pdf), we need better resolution of a mixed ownership problem? Watershed concerns loom large, as do species viability problems. Then there are the ever-present access and esthetic problems that surround public lands ownership. And these are no doubt just the tip of an iceberg of problems. [Note: A good short history of this saga up to 2007 is found in Forest Magazine, a longer history was published in 2010 from the Congressional Research Service (pdf)
This is a problem that cries out for "all lands management," yet our political system doesn't seem ready to confront multi-scale deliberative democracy (Wikipedia link). We have tried to jump start that program for many years and always come up short. Remember Kai Lee's Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating Science and Politics for the Environment. Lee's masterwork went to press in 1993. Nearly 20 years later we seem to have largely forgotten that the issue is still on the table. It always will be, because as John Muir noted long ago, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." So too with the O&C lands.
When I looked at the O&C lands map yesterday I thought, Why not just trade away the checkerboard federal lands for lands nearer the larger blocks, i.e. block-up ownership? That way land management would be made easier. But easier is not always better, as the massive and extensive clearcuts of recent memory in the Northwest constantly remind us. In the old days the clearcuts tended toward checkerboard, following the ownership patterns. If we were to block up the ownership what might we get, particularly on the then predominant private lands?
I sometimes ponder Gifford Pinchot's notion of needing to regulate all forest lands. In Pinchot's day the rallying cry was to prevent a "timber famine." In our day, I believe we need to regulate all lands in an attempt to stave off and/or reverse a "biodiversity famine."
Increasingly I ask myself, What might Aldo Leopold recommend? Leopold not only was a forest supervisor, but in later years also helped found the Wilderness Society, and importantly helped to guide the foundation of both wildlife management and environmental ethics. So, What might Leopold recommend?
Note: As I was updating this post, I realized that an alternative resolution to the funding side of this problem has been on the table for a long time: provide "just compensation" to counties with a preponderance of federal lands via PILT. A careful look at the recent Congressional Research Service's assessment of the situation (pdf), yield's Ross Gorte's long-standing contention that the Congress ought to find means to get overly dependent counties off the federal dole by fully funding PILT payments, and thereby rid the nation of the plague of over-cutting federal lands in the name of "revenue enhancement." Or maybe I just read Gorte's CRS piece too quickly, in which case I can either amend this post one more time, or maybe just "deep six" it.
Updated (4:56 PM MDT): After Andy Stahl corrected me via email on an earlier version of this post as to what is/has been in play w/r/t Oregon Counties and Oregon School Districts:
The [1937 ] O&C Act gives the counties three times the stake in BLM logging as compared to national forests — 75% of sale receipts vs. 25%. Further, the counties don’t share any O&C revenue with schools. The schools get only a portion of national forest logging receipts. The school’s share is set by state law at 40% in Oregon with 60% going to county road funds. Schools receive zero BLM O&C monies.
So I changed my mistaken wording that tied rural schools to O&C timber receipts, and reworked other parts of this post accordingly. Lemee know if I’ve still got it wrong.
“If planning is everything, maybe it’s nothing.” Aaron Wildavsky
[Author's note: This is a lengthy (for a blog), partisan,
historical view rant on the road from NFMA "forest planning" to "adaptive governance."]
Let’s face it, the “forest land and resource management plan” is an anachronism—an artifact of a bygone era. That era was in its heyday when the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reigned supreme after President Richard M. Nixon consolidated rule-making and other powers in the OMB via executive order in 1970. Economics-based, comprehensive rational planning was the rage. It is no surprise that The Renewable Resources Planning Act was passed in 1974, just after Nixon consolidated power under the banner of rationally planned and carefully audited governmental process. Twenty years later Henry Mintzberg penned The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning (1994). Mintzerberg’s classic pretty much laid a tombstone atop rational planning exercises. Or at least it should have.
The Forest Planning Era
Following passage of the National Forest Management Act of 1976 as an amendment to the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, it was thought that forest program management decisions could be adequately fit into a forest plan “decision container”—that somehow each forest could develop a forest-wide plan that would integrate programs now and into the future in a such a way as to allow disclosure of environmental consequences that might flow from said decisions. Project level National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) disclosure would disappear with proper forest planning and environmental disclosure at the forest level.
Allowance was made for FS administrative region plans, and for a national RPA Program plan. Given the upper two tiers, it was believed that decisions would be integrated vertically, and cumulative effects—according to NEPA standards—could be adequately disclosed.
It was a relatively innocent era, when viewed through the “green-eyeshaded accounting lenses” of OMB over-see-ers. The innocence collapsed relative soon in the forest arena as litigation proved that the three-level administratively-bounded review was not going to pass muster in the courts. Not only were projects not going to be shielded from NEPA review by a forest plan, there was increasing evidence that at least one level of planning/disclosure might be needed between project and forest.
An initial remedy to the seemingly endless process gridlock brought about by too many levels of planning was to eliminate regional plans. I referred to this then as the Texas two-step solution (forests/projects), since at that time the Forest Service’s National Planning Director was from Texas. But that was a solution looking for a problem, or better still a “non solution” not looking for anything but an easy way out. The problem between forest and project remained. Another problem was to be found elsewhere, framed larger than forest plans but not fitting into regional plan containers.
Spotted Owls, Roadless, and more
Much time and effort was now spent in the 1970s, 80s, 90s on above-forest policy making, brought about by actors and actions taken either against the Forest Service or from within the Forest Service responding to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. They were, “Spotted Owl Management Plans,” “The Roadless Rule,” “The Northwest Forest Plan,” and more. These decision containers were bounded as regions, not FS administrative regions but geographical regions more appropriately suited to the issues and the actors petitioning for problem resolution. Note that the policy-level decision making was largely about curtailing timbering and roading, but the Forest Service chose to name the efforts after the initiating issues, not the federal actions being considered.
Forest Planning Proves Resilient, if not usefulThe forest planning paradigm still captured much attention, but the three-level planning process swirling around the forest plan—projects/mid-scale/forest—was felt by forest planners and the Forest Service generally to be too cumbersome. Something else needed to be done. While the rest of the world was waking up to complex systems, wicked problems, and adaptive management, as was part of the Forest Service via the Northwest Forest Plan, the Forest Service via the NFMA rule was still stuck in the wonderful, if overly complex and somewhat bizarre world of capital P “Planning.” And the Forest Service was always trying to force-fit things into forest-level and project-level decision containers. But times were changing by 1990 and at least for a time, the Forest Service seemed to be ready to catch up to the rest of the world.
Adaptive Governance: Emergence in the Clinton Era
Adaptive management seems to be evolving in name to Adaptive Governance, following a path laid down early on by Kai Lee in Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating Science and Politics for the Environment (1993). For a time the Forest Service seemed inclined to follow. [Note: Today, the "adaptive governance" path seems already well-discussed, if not well traveled. That is if my "adaptive governance" Google search is an indication. But my Wikipedia search didn't give me much. Recognizing that the only viable adaptive management for dealing with public lands management has to deal with both Kai Lee's Adaptive management compass and his civic-engagement gyroscope. I'll go ahead and use the term "adaptive governance" hereafter.]
In what we might call Clinton era management, Chief Michael Dombeck sought to bring about a Leopoldian awakening (see, e.g. here, here) to Forest Service thinking. That “awakening,” as per Leopold’s earlier thinking, was about adaptive governance. But the largely Republican-dominated Forest Service resisted. Chief Dombeck was never accepted by Forest Service managers since he was from the BLM and appointed by an environmentally left-leaning Clinton administration. Things didn’t get better under Chief Jack Ward Thomas, himself a huge fan of Leopold. The road from Pinchot to Leopold was not going to be an easy one. Adaptive governance thinking was soon on the chopping block along with pretty much all else from “new forestry” to “new perspectives,” etc. following the election of George W. Bush as a new Administration came to Washington.
Adaptive Governance: Bush/Cheney Backlash
The Bush/Cheney public lands legacy can be viewed as a legacy of war—war on the environment and war on anything the previous Clinton Administration had built under the rubric of “ecosystem management” (See generally Bob Keiter’s Breaking Faith with Nature: The Bush Administration and Public Land Policy). Under Mark Rey as Undersecretary of Agriculture, the Forest Service moved into its “Healthy Forests Initiative,” followed soon thereafter by the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.” As Bob Keiter notes, the names could be viewed as cynical, as part of a well-orchestrated backlash against Clinton era reforms. To Keiter:
By using the Healthy Forests Initiative to expand the scope of NEPA categorical exclusions and to alter the ESA consultation process, the Forest Service has further enhanced its authority and reduced the potential for judicial review of its decisions, which is also what the [Aquatic Conservation Strategy] and species inventory revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan would have done. Congress has abetted this de-legalization effort by including NEPA provisions in the HFRA and the Energy Policy Act that either eliminate or reduce environmental analysis requirements for timber thinning and energy exploration projects.279 Add to this the Bush administration’s approach to its ESA responsibilities—which include an overt hostility to new listings, a rush to delist species, and contemplated revisions to the section 7 consultation process and critical habitat designation and critical habitat designation criteria—and the land management agencies could well be relieved from meaningful regulatory oversight. Related efforts to eliminate administrative appeal opportunities are plainly designed to further insulate management decisions from review. The net effect is to minimize opportunities to enforce environmental standards and procedures, and thus shield criteria—and the land management agencies could well be relieved from meaningful regulatory oversight. Related efforts to eliminate administrative appeal opportunities are plainly designed to further insulate management decisions from review. The net effect is to minimize opportunities to enforce environmental standards and procedures, and thus shield the agencies from any meaningful accountability. It is a return to an era when discretion reigned supreme. [Footnote in original]
All good things come to an end. So do all bad things. The Bush/Cheney regime and its war on the environment ended in January 2009, although effects (and federal judges) linger. [Personal aside: My friend from the early "planning days," Dale Bosworth served as Forest Service Chief early in the Bush/Cheney Administration. I believe Dale did what he could to curb the worst of the what might have been done to the Forest Service during that era, but didn't take my advice the be take a firm stand and be the first Chief since Gifford Pinchot to be fired for standing up against the powers that be. Had I been in his shoes I might not have taken that advice either. Who knows? But it wasn't in Dale's nature to work that way. I don't find fault with Bosworth's leadership/management during that era.]
Adaptive Governance: Obama’s ‘Audacity of Hope’
Unfortunately for Leopoldian dreamers, incoming President Barrack Obama’s audacious plans have not yet been focused on matters environmental, other than green energy. Nor will they likely anytime soon, even if Obama or anyone in his Administration were prone to do so—which itself is in question. Obama is too distracted with two wars, emergent unrest in the Mideast and Middle America following Tea Party elections in statehouses and the US Congress. Not to mention continued after-shocks from the near-disaster of the financial meltdown that arrived coincidentally (or not) right as Obama was entering the White House.
Obama cut his political teeth on community organizing, and that is in a sense Kai Lee’s gyroscope to accompany his adaptive management compass. So we can at least hope for endorsement from Obama if planning is replaced with adaptive governance. Whether or not it will be a good thing depends largely on whether or not untoward devolution happens—or is perceived to likely happen—under adaptive governance schemes. Time will tell. But I get ahead of our story. The Forest Service hasn’t yet embraced adaptive governance, although I hear they are flirting with it. Instead they are still wedded to capital P “Planning.” As Andy Stahl noted, the recent Draft NFMA “planning rule” (pdf) (as the Forest Service likes to call it), stages up a rational planning exercise. The difference is that this time it is driven by ecological rationality instead of the earlier economic rationality from the OMB era.
Adaptive Governance: Absent in the NFMA Draft Planning Rule
I suspect it was because the Bush/Cheney era NFMA rule was thrown away by the courts, but for whatever reason the Obama Administration chose to rewrite the “NFMA rule.” There has been a flurry of commentary on this blog and elsewhere about the rule and associated planning. But does anyone really care about this type planning anymore? What decisions are really contained by a forest-level plan? Despite the language of the draft rule, I find no “ecological resilience” decisions, neither “ecological or social sustainability” decisions, nor any “species viability” decisions, nor … that can be contained in a forest-level plan. All such considerations will well-up at scales different from forest boundaries.
As I’ve argued before, these are wicked problems. Wicked problems are not amenable to rational planning resolutions. Part of the “wicked problem” problem is that they are shape-shifters, they vary in problem identification and resolution across both time and space. They just won’t stand still, and will not be force-fit into predetermined “decision containers.”
In addressing wicked problems, I believe that scale-dependent futuring, and/or puzzle solving, is in order alongside scale-dependent assessments and monitoring. We ought to add in scale-dependent standard setting. They all fit under a header “puzzle solving.” Where scale-dependent is really the stuff of framing decisions/actions according to a “Garbage Can Model” wherein issues, actors, and arenas self-organize across the landscape into various and sundry decision containers. We all need to think hard about wicked problems and, e.g. Cohen, March, and Olsen’s garbage can decision model. Here’s a pdf of CMO’s 1972 article: “A Garbage Can Theory of Organizational Choice.”
See too Pritchard and Sanderson’s chapter in Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (2002), “The Dynamics of Political Discourse in Seeking Sustainability.” After setting stage for adaptive governance, complete with “wicked problem identification” and “garbage can” resolution mechanisms, Pritchard and Sanderson conclude:
[Testing hypotheses and applying lessons learned] to the thorny puzzles of environmental management and governance are [noble] goals. The greatest promise lies in addressing political issues directly, rather than in avoiding or submerging them. The fondest hope might be that individuals, communities, and formal organizations engage the spirit of adaptation and experimentation, by allowing a set of contingent ideas to shape “the gamble” of democratic resource management, and citizen experts to report on the results. Of course, for such a profoundly disorganized and multiscale approach to thrive, government, market, and citizen must share a common vision—that all must address these puzzles in order that they might be engaged and worked on—not solved forever; that “expertise,” popular voice, and power are separable, and none holds the dice [from a "floating crap game" model of politics] for more than a pass.
A Few Questions Linger
Is an ecologically framed rational planning rule what we need to resolve controversy?
Or is it time to embrace adaptive management, even adaptive governance in an attempt to tame wicked problems? Yes, I know that the preamble to the Draft NFMA rule claims that forest planning will be driven by adaptive management. But, really? Read the rule and explain to me how the draft rule stages for more than rational planning.
An old adage says, “Form follows function.” In my experience with the federal government it often works the other way around, i.e. Function follows form. Consider “collaborative engagement.” If you survey the landscape, you’ll often find the Forest Service attempting collaboration, while at the same time so is the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Park Service, etc. Each attempts to develop policy (often via planning) by “considering the needs” of adjacent land holdings, but they still do it for the most part alone. In single-agency collaboration and planning, function follows form.
Is it time to rethink federal agency “form” in the ongoing movement toward collaborative engagement in public lands management? In particular, is it time to rethink how the federal government functions in these deliberations? Is is time to relearn how form ought to follow function?
Along with many others I have argued that it proves inefficient for each federal agency to attempt ecosystem management deliberations by themselves—whether for assessment, policy development, action, or monitoring. It also proves frustrating for collaborators. Too many forums, too many meetings, etc. At a time when all eyes are on the federal government to trim its budget, why not, one again, hope for high-level reorganization.
A Department of Public Lands
Maybe it is time for a Department of Public Lands. Such a Department could effectively set up appropriate forums for collaborative engagement in public lands policy and action, in concert with state and local officials, and other collaborators.
If the Obama Administration plays its cards right during upcoming budget deficit battles, we might see it make a move toward a cabinet-level Department of Public Lands, complimented with a sister Department for Environmental Regulation. This second Department would serve to separate land management from regulatory policy and enforcement—an idea that we will leave for a later post.
Setting up a new Department of Public Lands would take the Forest Service out of the Department of Agriculture and allow it to start anew as a division or agency in the new department—in concert with The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, The Park Service, etc. (It would probably be good to once-again consider combining the Forest Service with the Bureau of Land Management, as well.)
Such reorganization would allow for a fresh start, whereby the new Department of Lands and all its agencies could be chartered for collaborative engagement in adaptive management. (Or maybe just move the Forest Service into the Department of Interior, and follow a similar plan.) In the former case legislators and the Administration would have to work up new organic legislation, etc. But it is likely time to refresh “organic” framing anyway.
Either way, with a new Department of Public Lands or with the Forest Service moved into Interior, the public wins in at least five ways: First, outdated, bureaucratic agencies can be set up with structures and functions that work for the new century—championing collaborative engagement for conservation, preservation, and use. Second, the Department could field many questions about larger-scale management that are not well fielded under current structure. Third, many mid-level staff personnel, e.g. Forest Service Regional and National staff members, might be better positioned as Departmental positions. Why? So that when collaborators work out the regional assessment, action, and monitoring, the federal government will not be so fractured as it now is. Fourth, the taxpayers win as there should be fewer personnel in a Department so structured. Finally, more money can go to the field, where infrastructure and other needs have been neglected for too long.
There will never be a better time to think about this idea, since many mid-level (and high-level) Forest Service employees are near the end of their careers—i.e. no massive layoffs needed. So too with other land management agencies.
Why might it work now? Because in the next few years there will be many discussions on how to trim the federal deficit and whittle-down the national debt. This may give President Obama a chance to do what so many others have failed to do: bring the Forest Service into line with other federal land and resource management agencies. In doing so, Obama might make history by charting a new course for federal lands management.
Note: Jeff DeBonis and I offered up a similar suggestion early in the Clinton Administration. Ours was just one of many similar suggestions made through the years. The suggestions have never gained traction. Maybe this time will be different. Or maybe not.
Here is an excellent piece by Bob Berwyn on this effort to protect watersheds- joint effort by the Forest Service and Denver Water. It’s got climate change, bark beetle, water, landscape scale, all lands.. many of our key themes on this blog.
Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service will join forces to treat about 38,000 acres of critical watersheds to try and prevent catastrophic damage to key streams and reservoirs, top officials announced Saturday, speaking at a press conference at the Dillon Marina, within sight of Denver Water’s largest mountain reservoir.
The precedent-setting $33 million “Forest to Faucet” partnership covers about 6,000 acres in the Blue River watershed in Summit County, including 4,700 acres already planned for treatment by the Forest Service, plus another 1,300 acres to be treated when Denver Water pitches in another $1 million starting Oct. 1. Other projects are planned around Strontia Springs, Gross, Antero, Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheeseman reservoirs.
The partnership was announced in the context of the pine beetle epidemic that’s wiped out about 3 million acres of lodgepole pine forests in the state.
Part of the Forest Service share of the funding will come from money that’s already been allocated to the Rocky Mountain region of the Forest Service, said Harris Sherman, Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Additionally, several national forests in Colorado competed favorably for a separate slice of forest health funds that will also specifically toward these critical watershed treatments…
“The Forest Service can’t do this alone,” said Sherman, adding that about 33 million people in 13 states depend on water that come from Colorado watersheds. “Maintaining these forests is everybody’s business. I applaud Denver Water for their long-term investment in our national forest watersheds.”
The work will focus in thinning, fuel reduction, creating fire breaks, erosion control decommissioning roads, and, eventually, reforestation. The partnership could serve as a model for similar agreements across the West and with other industries, Sherman added, singling out the ski industry and power companies with infrastructure on forested lands.
Without further details and language, I’m unsure of what to make of the USFS’s draft planning rule framework. I’m anxious to see the draft language and learn more next week at the 4th Roundtable. But I can’t help feeling somewhat positive about the agency’s apparent willingness to adopt an “all-lands approach” to planning.
It’s impossible to fully exorcize the cynic out of me, so I realize that this might amount to nothing more than some recasting of ecosystem management. But the Stuart Smalley in me says that this could be an important turn for the agency. (yes, I need my daily affirmation).
Just a few years ago, during the 2005/08 regulations, several national forests revised plans without even acknowledging their broader landscape and ecological context.
I found this incredibly frustrating. How, for example, could national forests in western Montana not even mention the word “Plum Creek” in a revised plan? How could the agency simply ignore the largest private landowner in the state and its real estate subdivision plans on adjacent checkerboard sections? Such context would be provided during NEPA-analyzed projects supposedly, but I remain unconvinced, and still think a forest plan should situate a national forest in its broader landscape.
In was within this context that Char Miller and I wrote the following essay (NIE Miller article (2)) (a few years ago actually, with the essay “in press” forever). I lied, bribed, harassed, cajoled asked Char to provide the historical context and to set the stage for a few pretty general observations of my own. Here is our abstract:
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) identified the loss of open space as a core threat to the health of national forests. Widely acknowledged are the ecological interconnections between public and private lands. But there is also an important historical and political relationship between national forest management and private land development. There is ample historical precedent for the USFS to consider what is happening outside its jurisdiction and respond accordingly on national forests. We expect national forests to become more politically contested in the future, as a result of the fragmentation taking place on private lands. If the agency fails to consider the larger landscape when making decisions, we also expect a growing number of interests to challenge it politically and legally. There are several policy tools and strategies that can be used to deal with the private land development problem, and we focus on a few approaches that have not received as much attention.
I expect federal lands to become more politically contested in the future, as more private lands get developed. A compensation principle will be hard to miss. But an all-lands mindset might cut in numerous political directions. Take grazing-lease decisions, for instance, and the debate over “cows versus condos.” Will the demise of public-lands ranching lead to further land fragmentation as ranchers are forced to sell and subdivide their adjacent private property? Debate notwithstanding, it is reasonable to ask the Forest Service to consider the environmental impacts of their leasing decisions at a landscape level, with possible threats to private land included.
My take is that the USFS is on solid historical footing; and that embracing an all-lands approach will pay political dividends in the future as well.
National Forests and “private working lands” are prominently featured in the new U.S. Department of Agriculture five-year strategic plan released last week. The plan contains strategic objectives for National Forests to restore ecosystems and watersheds on both private and public lands. It also contains objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and develop climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for National Forests.
One of the four strategic goals for the Department of Agriculture (besides assistance to rural communities, promoting agriculture production, and nutritious food for kids) is goal #2: “Ensure our National Forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources.”
The plan calls for a collaborative “all lands” approach to bring public and private owners together across landscapes and ecosystems. “Private working lands” are defined to include farms, ranches, grasslands, private forest lands, and retired cropland. The plan is intended to coordinate National Forest System programs with other USDA programs for private lands.
Restoration of watershed and forest health is intended to be a core management objective of the National Forests and Grasslands. Objective 2.1 is to “restore and conserve the Nation’s forests, farms, ranches and grasslands.” The plan calls for a 13% increase in forest lands that are restored or enhanced each year.
Objective 2.2 calls for efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It sets an 8% increase in carbon sequestration on U.S. lands and an 8% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. All National Forests must have a climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy.
Objective 2.3 calls for protection and enhancement of water resources. It calls for an increase in National Forest System (NFS) watersheds at or near natural conditions from 58 million acres (30 percent of NFS lands) to 62 million acres (32 percent of NFS lands). Acres of restored wetlands would increase from 2.1 million acres per year to 2.3 million acres per year. There would be an $0.5 billion increase in flood prevention and water supply projects. Nine million acres of high impact targeted practices would be implemented to accelerate the protection of clean, abundant water resources.
Objective 2.4 calls for a reduction of the risk of catastropic wildfire and restoring fire to its appropriate place on the landscape. It sets a desired condition within the natural (historical) range of variability of vegetation characteristics, increasing the cumulative number of acres from 58.5 million to 61.5 million acres. It calls for an increase from 10,000 to 18,000 communities with reduced risk from catastropic wildfire, and an increase from 41 percent to 55 percent of acres in Wildland-Urban Interface that have been treated.
On this blog, there have been many discussion of planning over different spatial scales and ownerships. In yesterday’s AP story in the San Jose Mercury News about an assessment in Southern California toward an all-lands approach.
PASADENA, Calif.—The National Park Service is beginning a lengthy study on ways to conserve corridors of wilderness around the intense urbanization of Los Angeles.
Officials suggested Friday that the outcome would likely be a proposal to Congress for collaborative management between the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and public-private partnerships, but property rights advocates charged that it will lead to a land-grab for a national park.
The story included this interesting (hopefully) misspelling:
Smeck said the process will include a series of meetings this summer to gather public input and identify stakeholders. Officials will determine which areas rise to national importance and study how the Park Service might fight in with existing entities doing conservation work.
A different take on the same thing showed up yesterday in the Pasadena Star
PASADENA – U.S. Forest Service officials announced Friday the beginning of a five-year study of an open space that stretches from the Santa Monica range to the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Rim of the Valley Corridor includes private and public land from the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Susanna Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, Verdugo Mountains and San Rafael Hills.
The Forest Service wants to bring the lands under federal protection and would study the possibilities of trail development, land acquisition and preservation of wildlife corridors that connect different sections of open space in the area.
It’s interesting how the two different stories described the role of the Park Service compared to the Forest Service. The creative aspect is to take an “all lands” approach and for only $500K over 4 years, and the fact that is is not part of an NFMA process. It is also interesting that the AP story talks about “wilderness” in a kind of generic way..
“The question then became decades later, would we feel the same foresight? Would we be able to anticipate the same kind of growth in population, the same need to proactively try to preserve this incredible wilderness area?” said Schiff, whose district includes foothill communities along the wilderness areas.
So it is not particularly clear from these news stories if the assessment is for land allocations within the Forest Service land, to identify potential acquisitions and easements, to give the Park Service a larger role in collaboration, to “protect wilderness” or all of the above.