Recently, the discussion of collaboration and forest planning – at least on this blog – has focused on the processes at play with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest forest plan revision. See here, here and here. The discussion and debate continues, as we can clearly see in these point/counter-point guest columns, which recently ran in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. The first one is from Lee Rozen, who wrote his piece on behalf of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News editorial board. The second piece is from Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director for Friends of the Clearwater.
We have this Friend, see, who’s stumped us
By Lee Rozen, for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News editorial board
Sometimes, you have to wonder whether the Friends of the Clearwater can see the national forest for the trees. Generally speaking, we agree with much of what the Friends, and groups like them, stand for. We are skeptical whenever industry or local government tells us to just trust them because they are acting in our best interest.
But when government in the form of the U.S. Forest Service comes forward and seeks the informed advice of a wide variety of groups – both industry and Friends included – we don’t see sinister conspiracies lurking behind the next stump. Challenges, perhaps, but not conspiracies.
The Forest Service is trying a “collaborative” process to develop a management plan for the newly combined administration of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. That’s instead of proposing a plan and offering it up for industry, governments, recreationists and environmentalists to take potshots at, and eventually go to court over.
It seems that’s what Friends of the Clearwater want them to do. The Friends seem to be afraid their principles will be co-opted if they sit down across the table from industry, government, hunters, motorcyclists and ski-mobilers and negotiate the best way to reach an acceptable compromise on the use of this forest. More practically, they argue that industry and government can pay to have their representatives at the discussions but groups of volunteers with day jobs can neither afford the time off nor the travel expenses. As a result, the Forest Service has offered to help the collaboration occur online.
A plan for running a national forest poses a complex problem because it is so unclear what national forests are and what they should be. It’s pretty clear what’s intended for national parks, wilderness areas and national recreational areas. But national forests are different. They are supposed to support a mix of goals, many of which can be contradictory – logging and recreation, for instance. The Friends of the Clearwater, and other interest groups, should be working to make the “collaborative process” work for all, rather trying to shoot it down in hopes of “total victory” in the courts.
US Forest Service must follow the law
By Gary Macfarlane
Lee Rozen’s criticism of Friends of the Clearwater (Our View, written for the editorial board, March 13) is off base, misinformed and reflects a lack of understanding concerning our public land laws and the public involvement process. Had he contacted us, he would have learned why we believe the Forest Service is not following the law. It appears the agency has stumbled into a quagmire, under the guise of collaboration, with its new forest planning process.
The process the Forest Service is currently following on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests plan revision circumvents existing law, creates a contradictory and confusing public involvement process and lacks accountability. For 40 years, the National Environmental Policy Act has governed public input and analysis of agency proposals. NEPA mandates that the first step of the public involvement process is to identify pertinent issues. However, this collaborative process is seeking to resolve issues before the genuine public involvement process even begins. How can the Forest Service resolve issues before they are properly identified?
Under NEPA, all citizens can participate equally. However, the new collaborative forest plan revision process – which has no statutory authority – creates two unequal classes of citizens. The E-collaborative invention funnels citizen comments from the second class through the first class citizen collaborative group. Why should a special working group have more input and be allowed to determine whether or how other citizen comments are used?
Furthermore, NEPA requires an objective analysis of alternatives before decisions are made. Thus, the integrity of NEPA is compromised when the agency reaches a deal or understanding with the collaborative forest planning group before the NEPA process even begins. NEPA must be more than a pro forma exercise. Can you imagine having a collaborative group decide the outcome of an election before the election begins in order to avoid the contentiousness of elections?
Another stated reason behind the new forest planning process is to save time and money. How is having two competing public involvement processes for national forest planning more efficient? Indeed, the Forest Service recently admitted the collaborative process would take longer than anticipated. We feel that such redundancy wastes time and money and also creates conflict and confusion. In fact, a member of the forest planning collaborative for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests – Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League – recently termed the process as collective collaborative confusion at a presentation given in Eugene, Ore. Even proponents of collaboration find the new process fatally flawed.
Retired Forest Service fishery biologist and Moscow resident Al Espinosa stated in a comment letter on the new process, “The intent here is to avoid accountability by eliminating the appeal process and providing a phony pathway around the regulations and laws.”
He also noted the new planning process would circumvent the national interest. Removing accountability and de-legitimizing NEPA’s public involvement and decision-making process is not in the public interest. The Forest Service could have prevented scrutiny, confusion and distrust had the agency followed citizen suggestions made in an October meeting in how to lawfully proceed with the forest plan revision process.
If national forest management is to be determined by local collaborative groups, then existing laws like NEPA need to be repealed first. If the goal is to remove the ability of citizens to have judicial redress and to challenge agency decisions in court, then the Constitution must be amended. The new process for national forest planning clashes with the law. Friends of the Clearwater simply believes the Forest Service should be accountable to U.S. citizens and the law. We think the majority of Americans would agree with us.
The Western Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Oregon Wild, filed a motion today in federal district Court in Washington D.C. to fight a lawsuit that aims to drastically limit the use of science to help manage our national forests.
Led by the timber industry, a coalition of industry groups filed suit on August 31 to challenge the new planning rule for the national forest system, designed provide for sustainable management of 193 million acres of national forests across the country. The purpose of the industry group’s lawsuit is to prevent the Forest Service from using “best available science” and ecosystem management tools to guide decisions affecting national forests, and to prohibit the agency from maintaining “viable populations” of wildlife, among other legal claims.
Conservation groups are seeking to intervene in this lawsuit in order to ensure the use of sound science in decisions affecting the public’s air and water, and our children’s natural heritage.
“These industry groups have a scary vision for our national forest,” stated Joseph Vaile, Program Director for the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) an Oregon-based conservation organization. “Never before have we seen extraction industries so clearly state that they oppose the use of science on our National Forests. Through this suit these groups hope the keys to our national forests are handed over to private industry so they can be turned into private tree-farms for their own benefit.”
“It comes as no surprise that the timber industry would like to see our National Forests managed for logging but it becomes truly bizarre when the timber industry must argue against science and in favor of crony capitalism in order to achieve their desired result,” said Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator for Oregon Wild, another organization intervening.
Pete Frost, attorney for the conservation groups, stated, “This lawsuit, if successful, could effectively ban conservation biology as a basis to help craft how we manage our national forests. It is a throw-back to when only logging, grazing, and mining mattered.”
Here’s a copy of the lawsuit filed yesterday by an assortment of timber industry, off-road/ATV and grazing interests against the new NFMA planning rules.
How to do Assessments Under the Proposed Forest Service Planning Rule – Part 4: Beginning with the End
This is the last in a series of posts about assessments for Forest/Grassland plan revisions under the proposed Forest Service planning rule. The posts are a summary of this working draft of the asssessment process. In previous posts, Part 1 described some suggestions about how the assessment process would focus on a series of questions derived from the rule. Part 2 talked about the analysis and deliberation steps. Part 3 described futuring and scenario planning.
Before revising a Forest Service plan, the proposed planning rule requires an assessment – both a product (the document), and a participatory process (deliberation and analysis). There are three important outcomes of the assessment process:
- It can provide baseline information for looking at the effects of a Forest Plan.
- It can provide actionable knowledge about the need to change the Forest Plan.
- As part of a broader adaptive governance framework, it can foster collaborative learning, especially when there is no agreement on the problems or solutions.
The assessment sets the stage for the subsequent proposed plan, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and the who, what, when, where, why and how for the NEPA process. The interplay between the assessment document and the EIS is of particular interest. As a comprehensive look at the planning rule requirements, the assessment would look at the current plan and serve as a screening process for an EIS. This would simplify the EIS since it would only need to focus on those requirements that the current plan isn’t expected to meet. The assessment could also essentially become the “affected environment” chapter of the EIS.
Several points need emphasis. First, the topics covered in an assessment are at the scale of the Forest Plan decision under NFMA and its implementing rule. The level of detail required to develop a Forest Plan is less specific than resource planning (like fire planning or forest-wide recreation planning) or project planning. Second, an assessment is time sensitive. It provides information for the subsequent plan revision and EIS. The rule assumes a more or less continuous cycle of assessment, plan revision or amendment, and monitoring. An assessment is a time step for those issues that are ripe for discussion.
“Actionable knowledge,” as researcher Chris Argyris has written in his 1993 book, “is not only relevant to the world of practice, it is the knowledge that people use to create that world”. A forest plan assessment needs to provide information about what needs to be changed in the forest plan, and how those changes should be made. An assessment shouldn’t merely be a compilation of “descriptive” facts about a forest. The descriptive facts should be connected together in the context of the assessment questions and the experience and judgment of the participants. We might know that there are 10,000 acres of dead trees in a forest. But just knowing that there are dead trees doesn’t compel us to act. However, if we have Forest Service employees, scientists, local residents, or others with experience about disease agents and how they might spread, within the context of a specific assessment question about wildlife habitat or timber salvage markets, we now have actionable knowledge that can inform how the forest plan might be changed.
Argyris has said that actionable knowledge includes a deliberate, intentional search for error, understood as a mismatch between either intentions or assumptions and outcomes. In a sense, these errors are surprises that we didn’t know about or think about when we wrote the original plan. The whole idea of actionable knowledge is about having a reasonable process that facilitates timely recognition of likely, yet unpredictable surprises so that less costy actions are possible in response. Actionable knowledge is about looking to learn, instead of assuming that what we think we know during a planning process will always be the case as we move forward. The context in which we manage these public lands is just too dynamic for such assumptions.
An important theme of the planning process in the proposed rule is learning:
This new framework is science-based and would provide a blueprint for the land management process, creating a structure within which land managers and partners could work together to understand what is happening on the land, revise management plans to respond to existing and predicted conditions and needs, and monitor changing conditions and the effectiveness of management actions to provide a continuous feedback loop for adaptive management.” Federal Register p. 8487
Ideally, for adaptive management to work, learning objectives should be explicitly stated and incorporated into the objectives of the forest plan, with monitoring questions and indicators all tied to those objectives. The proposed rule requires the identification of monitoring questions and indicators as part of the assessment process. So it beomes important that participants use the assessment process by formally asking what they want to learn and why.
Elsewhere on this blog, we’ve discussed the need for the Forest Service to establish an adaptive governance framework, and some of the basic principles. As part of that broader framework, the forest plan assessment process can be used to engage stakeholders and allow participants to invest in the planning process. Without such an investment, we will not reach that basic standard of collaboration—are stakeholders, including the Forest Service, willing to live with the proposed changes? Failing to reach that basic standard reduces the willingness to help get the job done and increases the willingness to challenge the decision administratively, legally, or through civil disobedience, such as ignoring new management rules.
The assessment process will require a capacity to collaborate. Based on a study of forest plan revision efforts, Sam Burns and Tony Cheng have developed six essential prerequisites for utilizing a collaborative process:
Is the Forest Service staff aware of collaboration ideas and principles?
Is there an understanding of the social and historical context for collaboration in the planning locale, including community understanding of collaboration and related collaborative capacities?
Is there internal capacity to do collaboration?
Are there clear collaborative expectations?
Are there ways to monitor and adapt the planning process?
Is there a design for how the collaborative process will work?
A collaborative learning process is essential because forest planning often behaves as a classic example of a wicked problem, where there is no definitive statement of the problem, and hence there can be no definitive solution. (See for instance Salwasser’s description of the Sierra Forest Plan amendments). The forest planning process will involve fragmented stakeholders, high-uncertainty, disagreement about the role of science, political engagement, and an ebbing and flowing of Forest Supervisor control. As the assessment process goes through the iterations of deliberation and analysis, The Forest Supervisor should determine if it still helping define the problem, or still building relationships and capacity for subsequent planning and project work. There will be no easy rules of thumb for when the end the assessment process. There are no “right” answers for many of the assessment questions. The proposed planning rule gives some flexibility by allowing the assessment process to overlap with the revision and NEPA process. It also gives the Forest Supervisor the discretion on when to end the process. Hopefully, the Forest Supervisor has communicated early in the process how she/he will decide when to end the process, participants shouldn’t be surprised when management intervention is taken.
The design and implementation of the assessment process needs to have its end in mind. It’s about convening, exploring and learning, in order to act and move ahead. Ultimately it’s not about a plan, it’s about implementing a plan. But you can’t implement until you know what you’re doing. You also can’t implement a plan without support of those affected it. A well designed assessment process can improve the final plan document, provide a fair process for the participants, and foster relationships with people that can later help implement the plan. So let’s begin.
What is the future of our National Forests? How do we fulfill NFMA’s challenge to plan for sustained yield of products and services into the future?
In the messy world of forest planning, there are demands for certainty and assurances about the future, so subsequent project work can be done. Planners have responded with deterministic linear programming models, reasonably foreseeable development forecasts, ranges of historic variation, or simply promises. If uncertainty remains, there is a promise to monitor, and to eventually adapt. Sometimes these approaches have worked, often they haven’t.
The challenge of the proposed planning rule is to assess present and potential future conditions in order to plan for them. In previous posts, I offered suggestions to review assessment questions derived from the rule through an interactive process using analysis and deliberation. If Forest Plans are to be strategic and guide projects from one decade to the next, they must be able to address an uncertain world. However, the appearance of certainty comes at a price, both in the cost of the plan’s preparation, and its reliability. One thing becomes clear: forest planning should not try to reduce uncertainty – instead, it should embrace uncertainty.
One approach to addressing uncertainty is to set up adaptive management. You establish a hypothesis, then test it through monitoring and evaluation. But adaptive management only works when the Forest Service is in control of the forces affecting the forest. For uncertainty that can’t be controlled, a better approach is to develop a plan that is robust and flexible to respond to the unexpected problems that “walk into the District Ranger’s door”, or to address the uncertain events that the proposed planning rule calls “drivers, stressors, and disturbances” or “risks”.
Nimble, flexible planning requires some awareness of blind spots and assumptions about the future. It requires a look at alternative futures. In order to break out of people’s comfort zones, it’s important to offer stories with impact, that create a future shock. These are the elements of scenario planning, or what is sometimes referred to as scenario thinking. Scenario planning is a structured framework to identify actions that will be most effective across a range of potential futures to promote desired outcomes. Peterson, et. al. has described how scenario planning is useful in natural resource planning where there is high uncertainty and minimal control. The Park Service is applying scenario planning for addressing climate change in park planning.
Applied to the Forest Plan assessment process, scenario planning would include the following steps:
- In answering the assessment questions, find out what scientists know, think they know, and don’t know.
- For the things that we don’t know, find out what are the most critical forces that affect the answers to the assessment questions.
- Combine the most critical forces into different stories about how the future will play out.
- Think about what should be in the forest plan to respond to the various scenarios.
- Determine what important monitoring questions and indicators are important to see what scenarios may unfold.
Scenario planning focuses on multiple, reasonably plausible futures. While these multiple futures can be thought of as analogous to multiple forecasts, true scenario planning seeks to describe multiple plausible futures. Scenario planning does not seek to establish probabilities associated with those futures. The emphasis on plausibility instead of probability is overlooked by some disciplines that have embraced the terminology of scenarios without understanding the origins of scenario planning. Emphasis on probabilities reinforces a problematic search for a single best answer (see for instance, Mitroff and Lindstrom or Van der Heijden), a problem the founders of scenario planning sought to address (wikepedia link).
This difference between emphasizing plausibility and emphasizing probability creates a need to develop new Forest Service skills, because those trained in natural resource sciences are taught about probabilistic methods. Some of the new skills needed require rethinking fundamental training, which is especially challenging.
The main goal of scenario thinking is to question basic assumptions about how the world works and to open people’s minds about possible futures that would otherwise be unimaginable. Participants can break out of their standard worldview, exposing blind spots that would otherwise be overlooked in the generally accepted forecast. It’s then easier to recognize a scenario in its earliest stages, should it actually be the one that unfolds. The Forest Supervisor is also better able to understand the source of disagreement that often occurs when different people are envisioning different scenarios without realizing it.
Collaboration is central to scenario planning – engagement that includes but is not limited to that of technical experts and scientists. This engagement is a scientifically valid method of bringing biases and assumptions to the surface and then using those to construct plausible alternative futures. In contrast, traditional approaches to forest planning typically pit competing perspectives against each other in search for a single best forecast or scenario, occasionally looking for multiple single-point forecasts. Chermack and Lynham explain that the search for a single best forecast makes traditional methods fundamentally adversarial, and therefore at odds with more collaborative, learning-oriented approaches to planning and decision-making.
Like most planning methods, there are some cautions with scenarios. We’ve talked about Mintzberg’s classic book on this blog, and Mintzberg (p. 248) mentions the balancing act between developing enough scenarios and hitting the manager’s mental capacity. He says that “hedging or remaining flexible has its own costs, primarily in the lack of commitment to a clear strategy.” Plus, even when the planners are quite sure that one of their scenarios is on the right track, there remains the problem of convincing management to do something about it. Still, despite Mintzberg’s and other commentors’ concerns, scenario planning is useful to begin a dialogue, to blend the “hard” analysis with a manger’s “soft” intuition, and engage the public.
Properly done, an assessment under the proposed planning rule should challenge the conventional wisdom and contribute to the learning of all participants. That might be the greatest benefit of NFMA planning.
In an earlier post I offered some ideas for doing an assessment under the proposed Forest Service planning rule. The essential purpose of the assessment would be to review assessment questions derived from the rule to determine what in the Forest Plan needs to change for the Revision.
In order to assess the relevant conditions of a forest, or the risks to a forest, two activities are often described in the planning literature: deliberation and analysis. (See for instance the National Research Council’s guide to risk assessment.) These two activities can be thought of as complementary approaches to gaining knowledge about the world. Analysis uses rigorous, replicable methods to arrive at answers to factual questions. Deliberation is any formal or informal process for communication and collective consideration of issues. Together, the combination of deliberation and analysis serves as the synthesis process, required for assessments in the proposed planning rule (see definition at 219.19).
The Deliberative Democracy Consortium defines deliberation as an approach to decision-making in which citizens consider relevant facts from multiple points of view, converse with one another to think critically about options before them and enlarge their perspectives, opinions, and understandings. Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. As a result, a citizen influences – and can see the results of that influence on – the policy and resource decisions that affect their daily lives and their future.
The assessment process would contain analysis and deliberation steps, but the process itself must be designed collaboratively by the participants. The principal reason is that the participants should have sufficient ownership in the process. If participants have ownership in the process, they will see it as fair, and therefore willing to live with the eventual outcomes. The steps and the sequence should be agreed upon by the participants at the beginning of the process. The Forest Supervisor needs to be fully engaged, explaining to the participants the sideboards for the process, and that she/he will retain the discretion to determine the scope, scale and timing of the assessment (proposed planning rule at 219.6)
David Straus has described in his book How to Make Collaboration Work (amazon link) that a flowchart of the steps of a collaboration process might look like an “accordion”. For a plan assessment, here’s what it might look like.
There are cycles between deliberation activities and analysis activities. There are also cycles between large group activities and small group activities. Each cycle refines the answers to the assessment questions, and may bring in new participants and new sources of knowledge. The flow chart expands with concurrent activities, then contracts into deliberative meetings, then expands again, hence the description as an “accordion process.”
Again, the focus of deliberation and analysis would be answering the assessment questions. One of the first questions on the list relate to the values that participants place on a National Forest, and what roles and contributions they see the forest providing now and into the future.
One approach that can be applied is David Cooperrider’s appreciative inquiry methodology. This process moves from (1) discovering what works well in the current forest management situation; (2) envisioning what might work well in the future; (3) designing, planning and prioritizing what would work well; and (4) executing the proposed design.
Another key step is looking into the future. The next post describes the potential role of scenario planning in the assessment process.
An assessment is the gathering and integrating of information relevant to the planning area from many sources and the analysis of that information to identify a need to change a plan or to inform how a new plan should be proposed. – section 219.5(a)(1) of the proposed Forest Service planning rule
It is a synthesis of information in support of land management planning to determine whether a change to the plan is needed. Assessments are not decisionmaking documents but provide current information on select issue. – section 219.19 of the proposed Forest Service planning rule
This is the first of a series of posts about possible approaches to preparing an assessment for a National Forest/Grassland Plan revision under the proposed Forest Service planning rule. (It is based on some informal conversations that Peter Williams and I have had with folks inside and outside the Forest Service, but nothing here reflects official Forest Service policy or the deliberations of the team working on the planning rule.)
The proposed rule expects a process that integrates both science and collaboration: “the objective of this part is to guide the collaborative and science-based development, amendment, and revision of land management plans.” (219.1(c)). Under the rule, an assessment must be collaborative and science-based, just as the overall plan revision process, because it brings together many sources of information, including social, economic, and ecological, whether qualitative or quantitative. Moreover, the subsequent process must rely on information from an assessment if the process is to be collaborative and science-based.
Although one immediate purpose of an assessment is to identify whether a need for change exists, the second, equally important purpose of an assessment is to inform design of the subsequent forest planning process that will propose specific changes to the plan if a determination is made that a need for change does exist.
Under this definition, an assessment is both a product and a process.
The product is a report similar to an “Analysis of the Management Situation” or other scoping documents under the 1982 planning rule. It documents “existing and potential future conditions and stressors” that subsequently will be the foundation for the revision’s Environmental Impact Statement. It describes the Forest in the context of the broader ecosystem, and what’s going on in the States and counties within and surrounding the Forest.
The process involves convening multiple parties at multiple scales to determine if the current Forest Plan is working by answering a set of assessment questions derived from the rule.
This rather long list of questions has the potential to be quite lengthy, so they need to first be screened to determine if they are relevant to the particular forest. Screening questions would include:
|Coarse Screening Question|
Need for change in plan components or monitoring program
|Is the information needed to inform and develop plan components (i.e., Is this a Forest Plan issue, not a program planning issue or a project issue)? 219.6(b)(1)|
|Is the resource present? 219.7(b)(2)(ii)|
|Is the resource important? 219.7(b)(2)(ii)|
|Is addressing the resource within the authority of the Forest Service? 219.8, 219.9, 219.10, 219.11|
|Is addressing the resource within the capability of the plan area? 219.8, 219.9, 219.10, 219.11|
|Is addressing the resource within the fiscal capability of the unit? 219.10|
|Is there an emerging public issue that needs be addressed? 219.6|
Design of process for revising a plan or monitoring program
|Is the information needed to understand the discrete roles, jurisdictions, responsibilities, and skills of interested and affected parties? 219.4(a)|
|Is the information needed to understand the expectations regarding the accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information? 219.4(a)|
|Is the information needed to determine the scope, methods, forum, and timing of public participation opportunities? 219.4(a)(1)|
|Is the information needed to develop required plan components (219.6(b)(1)), including information needed to inform design of the public notification and participation process? 219.7(c)(1)|
In answering the questions, technical information is essential, but an assessment under the rule should not merely be a technical process – it is fundamentally participatory, drawing on information and knowledge from multiple sources and multiple participants. During an assessment, the most accurate, reliable, and relevant scientific information is synthesized from governmental and non-governmental sources. But the process is also about clarifying values, because an important step is to identify why a particular National Forest/Grassland is important to the participants. One reason for clarifying values is that the knowledge being sought includes how a new plan should be proposed. That is a process-oriented goal. To meet such a goal in a way that is appropriate for the local situation, the assessment must seek to understand procedural preferences—values—of stakeholders, including but not limited to those of Forest Service personnel. The second specific assessment purpose is worth highlighting again: the goal of an assessment under the proposed planning rule is to gather and integrate information that informs design of a participatory and collaborative process should one be needed to change the plan.
Part 2 will describe how an assessment might be conducted.
Adaptive governance—an adaptive management approach to public lands management—is well underway, and will replace planning, the Forest Service’s chosen management strategy for the 20th century. This may be seen as a bold assertion. But the ideas and actions embedded in adaptive governance have been emerging for quite some time as more and more people realize that 20th century notions cannot guide the Forest Service or any other government agency into the 21st century. Adaptive Governance framing is very different from scientific management/planning framing.
Gifford Pinchot’s “planned forests” guided Forest Service thought, policy, and action for the 20th century. (See, e.g.: here, here (pdf)). It was a model where humans sought to recreate and control Nature’s forests for utilitarian purposes. This model no longer serves. For the 21st century, we are better served with Aldo Leopold’s notion that humans humbly serve as plain members of a broader ecological community, and are not masters of the community. Still, humans must derive sustenance from the land and also re-create the human spirit via interrelationship with the land. To facilitate this transformation, a broad educational campaign in ecological literacy is needed. Part of that educational process can be effected via deliberative democracy in development of adaptive management strategies and actions, with its emphasis on learning not only to incrementally design and implement ever-better management actions, but also to design and implement ever-better management and science theory.
My assertion that adaptive governance is well underway stems from many conversations with planners, NEPA coordinators, and planning directors. It also stems from extensive reading in adaptive governance. [See, e.g. Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy, Decision Making (Brunner et al, 2005), Finding Common Ground: Governance and Natural Resources in the American West (Brunner et al, 2002), The Politics of Ecosystem Management (Cortner and Moote, 1999)]
At this time when we are discussing the recent Draft NFMA rule, I see three paths forward for the Forest Service: Leave the NFMA rule anchored in by-gone-era planning, while continuing to move toward adaptive governance in all other aspects of forest service thought/action. Develop a very simple NFMA rule that frees the Forest Service of much of the baggage of past NFMA rules, thereby allowing the agency to move forward into the adaptive governance era. Embrace adaptive governance in the NFMA rule.
If as expected the Forest Service chooses to embrace a slightly tweaked Final NFMA rule, which it now calls a “planning rule,” the major problem is that it will further erode trust—a much-discussed casualty of the highly controlled central planning methodology with its “jack in the box” public involvement strategies. [Yes, I'm aware that the Draft rule champions collaborative engagement, but we all know that the Forest Service has little intention to alter its current behavior of giving little more than lip-service to collaboration in forest planning, let alone in higher policy arenas. Besides, if as I've argued forest-level planning has little to offer re: adaptive governance, even extensive well-intentioned collaboration in that arena will yield little more than frustration and discontent.]
If the Forest Service chooses to develop a very simple NFMA rule, public interest groups may go along, recognizing that the US Congress is not likely to repeal, amend, or revise RPA/NFMA anytime soon, and that the Forest Service is already engaging stakeholders in adaptive governance discussions/policy actions. On the other hand public interest groups may not go along, if only beause the wicked problems surrounding “species viability” will not be quickly tamed. If the species viability questions can be addressed in (or around) a “simple rule,” public interest groups may move their attention to other arenas. There is a long-standing tradition in American government of leaving laws on the books long after enforcement of these laws makes sense. Think about how long city governments kept laws like “a hitching post will be provided every X feet along Main Street” on their books.
Finally, if the Forest Service chooses to embed adaptive governance in the NFMA rule, it can serve at once as a wake-up call to the Congress to revise RPA/NFMA and simultaneously relieve forest-level burdens now imposed by an anachronistic planning rule—currently the 1982 planning rule. It can also serve as a means to rebuild trust!
I’m betting on a simple tweak of the Draft rule, but hoping for one of the other two paths.
Most people view the problems of forest management from the narrow perspective of their own interests. They understand that there are “many great interests on the National Forests which sometimes conflict a little,” as Gifford Pinchot described the situation a century ago. While we must honor specific interests, the Forest Service’s charge under Organic Act of 1897 stewardship framing, then broadened and altered by subsequent law is more complex. It is never as easy as getting folks together to sit across a table and working out a “forest plan.”
The Forest Service came into being at the end of a very rapacious period in American history. Hence the emphasis on “reserves” in the Organic Act , and later in the Weeks Act of 1911. The public lands had been attacked by many as the so-called settlement of the American West proceeded after the Civil War. It was perceived and used as a “commons” and plundered and burned in too many places. That caused the public outrage that led to the forest reserves.
After successfully bringing the reserves into the national forest system, Gifford Pinchot wanted to regulate all forest practices in the US. Pinchot could not achieve his dream, and the private lands were over-cut for a long time. Even Weyerhauser, where I worked for a summer in the late 1970s—and deemed the “Best of the SOBs” by Forbes magazine, knew but were reluctant to admit in public that their “fee lands” were being cut faster than their “High Yield Forestry” tree farms could replace the volume being cut and milled during that late period of the US housing boom. There would be a “gap.” And sure enough, just as soon as their and other private land owners “gaps” appeared the pressure mounted to cut the national forests. And cut they did, until the environmentalists, working public attitudes/pressures/law shut it down, amid great angst for locals particularly in the Northwest.
As the timber wars raged, more people with new-found affluence were using the national forests and more conflicts emerged between recreationists and cattle and sheep grazers on the national forests. And there were two emergent back-country recreationist movements that were destined to clash one with another: the “primitive back-packers” and the “ATV/OHV users”. In addition, primitive canoe, kayak, float boat enthusiasts were clashing ever-more with commercial outfitters and motorboat enthusiasts, not to mention personal watercraft. And then there were Wilderness advocates clashing against motorheads of all ilks. The wars were on.
Amid this upwelling of controversy, the US Congress penned the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974. But before the ink dried on that law, timber cutting on the national forests, clearcutting to be precise slammed to an immediate legal halt via a lawsuit on the Izaak Walton League. Then under a panic to reopen clearcutting on the national forests, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 was born, and so was forest-level planning. But there was little in either the RPA nor its amendment the NFMA that was destined to settle the controversies. The controversies were the stuff of wicked problems in public forests as noted first by Allen and Gould in 1986.
So here we are more than 30 years after NFMA, with the same controversies raging, overlaid by more people wanting more (and different) things from the national forests, more people living much closer to the national forests, global climate change controversy, species loss controversies that stem from more people (and roads/dams/power lines/energy corridors/etc.) across the landscape and from more stress on both “sources” (resources) and “sinks” (particularly air and water sheds where pollution is dumped)added in, etc..
And all the while the Forest Service continues to pretend that forest planning, pretty much as designed in the late 1970s, but having dropped economic rationality in favor of ecological rationality, will somehow save the day. Or at least that’s how I read the Draft Planning Rule (pdf)
It is my feeling that the only path forward that will afford any chance to allow forest users to sit across tables and talk seriously about prudent use of individual forests, watersheds, or mountain ranges, is for their to be some means to continue to discuss, debate, and develop policy for “broader scale” issues that will set boundaries on discussions of use and conservation at “local scales,” including but not limited to the national forest-scale.
That is why I continually suggest that an Adaptive Governance approach be developed in the NFMA rule. It could as well be developed apart from the NFMA rulemaking process. But until and unless it is developed, there is little or no chance that national interest groups will allow for the type across-the-table “use discussions” that more local interest groups advocate. This conclusion is not mine alone. Consider this from 1999, subtitled Making Sense of Wicked Problems:
What is the answer then, to these complex (wicked) problems? How do we organize ourselves to deal with diverse values and expectations about sustainable forest management? Shannon (1992) asserted that the answer lies in the notion of informed governance. That is, we need places where people can learn, question, debate, and come to an informed judgment of what choices are best (FEMAT 1993). In Coming to Public Judgment , Yankelovich (1991) determined that the most critical barrier to making effective and informed choices in a complex world is the lack of forums in which the process of “working through” value differences and preferences can occur. There is growing support among natural resource professionals that a public dialogue must be an integral part of achieving social and political acceptance of forest practices (e.g., Bengston 1994, Clark and Stankey 1991, Shepard 1992). Regardless of value differences, if people are to come to an understanding of, if not agreement on, the problems and choices that confront public lands management, it is likely to be in public forums where open and honest discussion can occur. Unfortunately, from their research on adaptive approaches to forest management, Stankey and Shindler (1997) conclude that such forums are most notable by their scarcity. (emphasis added)
Anybody want to explain to me where I (we) have got it wrong?
[Note this post was precipitated by this comment. Thanks Brian]
Adaptive Governance is art and science, blended with management and politics. It is art since political decision-making is an art. One face of adaptive governance is a dance wherein public land managers engage with particularly ecological and social scientists in learning from experience about transformations in ecosystems and institutions. The dance is broadened further, since both managers and scientists dance with the public, both as interested individuals and communities of interest alongside communities of place.
The promise of adaptive governance for the US Forest Service and other public lands agencies is that it might heal the wounds from many of the forest and rangeland wars that have only festered during thirty years of failed rational planning games. The promise too is that if properly framed and practiced, adaptive governance could free up talent at the national forest level to do the many worthwhile jobs that need attending to at that level, like road, trail, and campground and other recreation-related maintenance, like permit administration, and program and project management (fire, timber, recreation, minerals, grazing, etc.), like attending to trespass and encroachment problems, fragmentation of land ownership patterns/problems, and so on. Forest-level people would not have to attend to many tasks now burdening them under the current “planning” frame—framed as rational planning with public input.
One problem I’ve been harping about for years is that “wicked problems” can not be tamed via rational planning. They have to be attended to through the art of political decision-making. Take a look at the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah, for example. It is widely known for its ATV experiences, jamborees, etc. It is also a relatively easily-accessible place for big game hunting, via various sorts of Off Highway Vehicles. [In younger years I used to wander the roads there, and wander off the roads, looking for big mule deer.] The decisions, or political/social happenstance, that took the Fishlake in this direction, are the stuff of politics, not science.
Some of the tasks that now appear to be the responsibility of forest-level managers and practitioners would be handled closer to the center or the Forest Service (and at the center, the USFS Washington Office). These are the tasks of landscape and broader-scaled assessments, monitoring efforts, and related problem staging/resolution/learning as adaptive management policy-setting. In addition, the center of the organization would be held accountable to steer and monitor deeper “double-loop” learning that comes from thoughtful examination, reflection upon, and learning from “Transformations in Human and Natural systems,” the subtitle of Lance Gunderson and CS Holling’s Panarchy. Finally the center of the Forest Service would be the keeper of the Vision/Mission of the agency, reconciled appropriately with the Congress and the Administration. [Note: Mission/vision stuff should not be framed as "NFMA planning," but still might be part of broader strategy setting and contained-in-part by a FS Strategic Plan.]
Critiquing Adaptive Governance
I have spent the last week or two trying to better understand applied adaptive governance, to see whether the time to try it formally on American public lands is at hand. I ran across several interesting investigations [which I'll not link to today, but may detail further later], looking into the art and practice of adaptive governance or what we might call adaptive management in its public form. In almost every case the authors were reluctant to embrace adaptive governance fully since the track record is not very good, for various and sundry reasons. Once problem frequently noted was that the practice was too technical, too much engaged in “scientific rationality.” On the other extreme, some authors noted a tendency for unwarranted devolution; wherein the process was captured by too narrowly framed interests, often dominated by “locals.” In almost every case, US authors failed to investigate the influence of “political backlash” by the Bush/Cheney Administration as they waged war on the Clinton Administration’s initial strides at adaptive governance under banners of “Ecosystem Management” and “Collaborative Stewardship.” This backlash began earlier with the so-called “Gingrich Revolution”— remember the “Contract
On With America”? [Want some fun? Google up: "contract with america" "public lands"] Why was the backlash missed? I don’t see how you can separate adaptive governance efforts from the politics that enfold them.
As mentioned earlier, critical review authors cite the fact that adaptive management in its public form is too technical, too much centered in technocratic rationality. But adaptive governance need not be so burdened. Adaptive governance can operate in policy-development spaces far apart from those where “adaptive management experiments” are structured, tested, and rationalized. But it can embrace those too, where they make most sense. This is the direction some of us tried to take the Forest Service in the early 1990s, under the banner “A Shared Approach to Ecosystem Management,” outlined in part here. It lives today under the banner “adaptive governance.”
Embracing Adaptive Governance
An important aspect of the emergence of adaptive governance is that it is about humans and their institutional settings—that these often fall into the same rigidity traps (problems of overly-tight coupling) and poverty traps that we talk about in so-called natural systems. This is easily seen through the lenses of Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating Science and Politics for the Environment (1993), Barriers and Bridges to the Renewal of Ecosystems and Institutions (1995), and Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (2002).
I believe that the time it right to more-fully embrace adaptive governance—to replace what has been forest planning. But a big barrier is that the Forest Service remains a technocracy, a big-believer in science and management, with little or no formal emphasis on the art of “forestry,” the art of “political decision-making,” etc. I remember all too well the many Forest Service social science meetings where I complained that two words (and practices) were forbidden in both voice and action: politics and psychology.
In a future post I will lay out a roadmap to begin that journey as a rewrite to the administrative “rule” that is being batted around in Draft form, improperly framed as a “planning rule.” Here, I’ll just leave one definition of adaptive governance. Maybe someone here can come up with a better one.
Adaptive Governance: linking a broad range of actors at multiple scales to deal with the interrelated dynamics of resources and ecosystems, management systems and social systems, as well as uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise. Adaptive governance focuses on experimentation and learning, and it brings together research on institutions and organizations for collaboration, collective action, and conﬂict resolution in relation to natural resource and ecosystem management. The essential role of individuals needs to be recognized in this context (e.g., leadership, trust building, vision, and meaning); their social relations (e.g., actor groups, knowledge systems, social memory) and social networks serve as the web that tie together the adaptive governance system. It has cross-level and cross-scale activities and includes governmental policies that frame creativity.
From “Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems”, Carl Folke, Thomas Hahn, Per Olsson, and Jon Norberg, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2005. 30:441-473 (pdf)
Adaptive Governance and Forest Planning, John Rupe, NCFP, Feb. 2010
Book review of Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy, and Decision Making, by Ronald D. Brunner, Toddi A. Steelman, Lindy Coe-Juell, Christina M. Crowley, Christine M. Edwards, Donna W. Tucker, 2005
Collaboration Reading for Thoughtful Practitioners, Dave Iverson 2006
Taking Uncertainty Seriously: Adaptive Governance and International Trade (pdf), Rosie Cooney and Andrew T.F. Lang, The European Journal of International Law 18(3), 2007