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March 30, 2005

Bolle Center Panelists Asked if NFMA Rule Makes Sense

On March 7, The University of Montana’s Bolle Center organized a panel of diverse people to discuss the USDA US Forest Service's recently adopted new National Forest Management Act (NFMA) regulations governing land and resource management planning on the national forests:

The U.S. Forest Service Planning Rules: What They Mean, Why They Matter?

Panelists included:

Pam Gardiner, Director Ecosystem Assessment and Planning, USDA Forest Service, Northern Region

Martin Nie, University of Montana, Associate Professor of Natural Resource Policy  (Nie’s Paper)

Julia Altemus, Montana Logging Association (Altemus’ Paper)

Timothy Preso, Attorney, Earthjustice  (Preso’s Paper)

Bob Wolf, Retired, Congressional Research Service (Wolf’s Paper)

Jack Ward Thomas, University of Montana, Boone & Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation, Former Chief, USDA Forest Service

Bolle Center, http://www.forestry.umt.edu/research/MFCES/programs/Bolle/default.htm

We dug up as many “perspectives” from the panelists as we could, hyper-linked above as "Papers." We also leave you with this perspective, from the Managing Editor of New West magazine and network.

The 'Paradigm Shift' in Forest Policy You Never Heard About

By Courtney Lowery, 3-08-05

In December, right before Christmas, the Forest Service finalized and released new rules on how forest supervisors on the ground should manage their forests. The rules were the first revision of the management planning process since the early '80s.

Nearly everybody says the revisions were long overdue. The process of drafting and finalizing management plans for our national forests has become too cumbersome, they say, too rigid, too lengthy. A management plan is basically a forest's "constitution," governing how the forest should be used, which parts should be logged, which parts should be open to off-road recreation etc. They are updated every 15 years, but under the current rules for revising the plans, some have been in the revision process since the last one was finalized.

Hence, the need for the revision of the top-down "streamlined" rules for management planning.

It was no small revision by any means. It's pages upon pages of what University of Montana associate professor of natural resource policy Martin Nie calls a "a paradigm shift" in how our national forests will be managed.

The Forest Service doesn't deny that, at all.

"This new rule is a big deal," said Pam Gardiner, the Forest Service's director of ecosystem assessment and planning in the Northern Region. "It's a big deal for the Forest Service ... it's a big deal for the public."

And it is a big deal. Big enough to bring out the big guns of forest policy Monday night in Missoula. Former Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas for one. Gardiner for another. Julia Altemus of the Montana Logging Association and the lawyer she had a little scuffle with during the panel -- EarthJustice attorney Timothy Preso.

Altemus and Gardiner were the only ones to come out and say they were big fans of the new revisions. Gardiner, granted, is a fan, because she is the Forest Service and her colleagues worked long and hard on the
new regs. She said at the panel discussion Monday that the regs will better allow the public to become involved. The agency says public involvement will increase partially because the new regs will cut the time it takes to develop said plans nearly in half.

Altemus, of course, loves the plan because it means there doesn't have to be an environmental impact statement for each broadened management plan like there used to be under the National Environmental Policy Act. Instead, there's a simplified "Environmental Management System," which the logging community favors.

Thomas was unsure of the ramifications of the new rules, but said a revision was long overdue. And then there was Preso, who has already helped put the new rules into their first set of litigation in Defenders of Wildlife vs. Johanns.

So why are we just now getting word of all of this? (If you are one of the devout followers of forest policy, you likely have already heard all of this... maybe you even participated in the conversation that drafted these rules. If so, kudos. But too bad the rest of us got left out.)

The truth of it is, we tend not to give a hoot about forest planning. We want to know when there is a timber harvest. We want up-to-date information on fires and lightning strikes and fuel densities on forest floors, but rarely do we involve ourselves in the process. It's long and drawn out -- precisely why the Forest Service made the revisions. But now, the rules are too lax -- too open to interpretation. As Nie said, the new regulations will do good in either's hands -- a utilitarian administration or a preservationist administration. They are designed to take a systematic approach to planning and give "maximum administration direction," Nie said.

The issue now is -- which kind of administration do you think is in the White House right now?

Exactly. We are being governed by the kind of administration that pushes a set of regulations, dripping with phrases like "establishes a dynamic process to account for changing forest conditions," and "will help local forest managers provide future generations with healthier forests, cleaner air and water, and more abundant wildlife while sustaining a variety of forest uses."

It does this quietly while we stand by wondering what the hell "forest planning" really means.

So next time you hear your local forest is having a planning meeting -- bring some coffee if you need to -- show up. Whether you think our forests should be logged or turned into wilderness shouldn't matter. What should matter is that these new regulations will take that decision away from the public by putting more power in the hands of the managers.

Really, forest policy is one place where officials can pretty-up the language and spoon feed it to us (sans Congressional review, for instance) without us knowing that really -- it could mean the difference between whether our kids have a National Forest system to enjoy or not.

Posted by Dave on March 30, 2005 at 03:45 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: Forrest Fleischman

Alright - perhaps someone here can help me out. I think of myself as a fairly intelligent person, and I've read through the entirety of the new regulations and planning directives, as well as the commentary on this site. I still have NO CLUE what an environmental management system is, not to mention why the Forest Service thinks it will be helpful.

Here is what I have been able to figure out. EMS is some sort of auditing system, however it does not disclose to the public the environmental effects of Forest Service actions (i.e. it is not and does not replace NEPA), nor, according to Bob Wolf, does it track money. It doesn't appear to collect any data about environmental attributes of the forest either.

This all makes me think of a recent headline on the online humor magazine, The Onion:

EPA To Drop 'E,' 'P' From Name
WASHINGTON, DC—Days after unveiling new power-plant pollution regulations that rely on an industry-favored market-trading approach to cutting mercury emissions, EPA Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that the agency will remove the "E" and "P" from its name. "We're not really 'environmental' anymore, and we certainly aren't 'protecting' anything," Johnson said. "'The Agency' is a name that reflects our current agenda and encapsulates our new function as a government-funded body devoted to handling documents, scheduling meetings, and fielding phone calls." The change comes on the heels of the Department of Health and Human Services' January decision to shorten its name to the Department of Services

Forrest Fleischman | Mar 31, 2005 12:36:38 PM

Posted by: John Rupe

Great comment. Glad you have you aboard the forum. As to what the heck an EMS is, those of us in the Forest Service are just beginning to figure out how we're going to implement it. I've posted some websites that have some good info. Also, I like the observation by Wildlaw that EMS is a puppy that's going to grow into a big dog that we're not going to be able to control. Let's get some newspaper for house training.....

John Rupe | Mar 31, 2005 5:27:28 PM

Posted by: Sharon Friedman

If you don't understand EMS, as John says, there are plenty of helpful documents all over the web. My favorite to relate it to forest planning kinds of things is the Canadian Forestry Standard.
They use EMS as a "delivery mechanism" for sustainable forest management. Here's the link at CSA- it's free: http://www.csa.ca/repository/group/Z809-02july.pdf

The Clinton administration thought EMS was a good idea. That's why the President signed EO 13148 in April 2000 requiring EMSs for federal agencies. Here's the federal perspective. I guess the alternative thinking is why wouldn't it be good for the Forest Service if it's good for everyone else?
Here's some papers on EMS and NEPA- largely found to be complementary ways of meeting NEPA section 101 and 102 goals. http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/ems/nepa_ems.htm

What if the FS had introduced a commitment to speed up adoption of EMS for land management environmenal issues in 2000 when the EO was signed? I think most folks would probably think that independent audits of the requirement for compliance audits on environmental statutes, a transparent and structured approach to adaptive management would be a good thing. It would have been a major environmental win.

But EMS is now associated with the 2004 planning regulation. The intention was to tie similar public involvement, analysis and monitoring together so that EMS is integrated and not separated from other agency processes. Both concepts are in the regulation (only strategic decisions, so no EIS, analysis found in CER) and (requiring EMSs), they are both new ideas, but not directly related. The new regulation has a great many new ideas that have come about since the 82 regulation, but many of these new ideas are not directly related to each other- the only similarity is that someone thought they were improvements over the old way of doing business.

Whether the FS does EISs or Comprehensive Evaluation Reports to look at possible environmental trends at the unit level is not directly relevant to the EMS discussion. EMS operates off working with the public, in this case, as part of the planning process, to select key environmental aspects to focus on improving and work with the public on an adaptive management loop. For the EMS, it doesn't matter if the unit level analysis is documented in a CER, an EIS or any other kind of document.

But on the EIS vs. CER topic, I would be interested in hearing in this discussion more detail on specifically the kinds of analysis, process or other specific factors that people think are good in an EIS but that are not found in the Comprehensive Evalution Report in the directives that are currently out for public review. The directives are now out for public comment, so this would be a good time to have the discussion.

Sharon Friedman | Apr 2, 2005 1:16:46 PM

Posted by: Tony Erba

Re: EIS vs. CER analysis...what I'd like to hear from other people is what conclusions they think are appropriate given that a strategic plan is the "action" is proposed by the Forest Service. We keep hearing about cumulative effects not being accounted for now that an EIS is not required, but does anyone really believe that the full breadth of cumulative effects was accounted for with the previous forest plan EISs? Given the volatility of federal agency budgets (face it people - we are not a high national priority), I'd like to hear from anyone what the agency's program of work will be be for the next 5 years. Name the activites, the locations, and the times those activities will occur. When that can be determined, we can discuss whether a cumulative effects analysis is appropriate. If people are going to say "make a guess", the NEPA statute/regulations advise against such actions. So, back to my original question - what type of conclusions should the Forest Service make when it revises its national forest/grassland/prairie management plans?

Tony Erba | Apr 10, 2005 6:38:50 PM

Posted by: Dave Iverson

Tony Asks, “Does anyone really believe that the full breadth of cumulative effects was accounted for with the previous forest plan EISs?”

I don’t think many do. But that begs the question of whether or not a plan might be part of the answer to cumulative effects questions. That was the dream built into CEQ’s notion of ‘tiering.’
(Note: if this ‘tiering’ dream has been abandoned by CEQ, please let me know.)

In a plan-to-project dream a few of us had some years ago, we saw a day when a forest plan decision would lay out a vision and perchance a course of action painted with broad strokes. With similarly broad strokes we would paint cumulative effects pictures accompanying the plan.

Sub-plans, and ultimately project plans would all ‘tier’ to the forest plan. All would help refine differing parts of any proposed “course of action” and associated cumulative effects pictures. In essence we would be accumulating evidence with each subsequent step.

AND: With each sub-plan and or project EIS (or EA or whatever) we would revisit the forest plan decision to see if it was still valid. Each tiered decision would formally supplement the forest plan decision and any other hierarchically ordered higher decision. If any “higher decision” needed amending or revising, this action would be triggered as well.

We felt that this might be workable, although we knew then that we would have to get much better at NEPA compliance, administrative decision-making, public engagement, technical writing, and more.

Not enough people shared our vision, so it was never tried. Instead, it seems that we the FS have worked ourselves into victim-blame behavior, declared ourselves the victims of over-bearing process, and are now seeking to categorically exclude forest plans from EIS requirements.

Now we wait to see how it all plays out in court.

Dave Iverson | Apr 12, 2005 11:30:49 AM

Posted by: Joe Carbone

Dave makes reference to CEQ's 1983 guidance which was what I was going to reference to add clarity to this NEPA discussion. The concept of "tiering" under the CEQ regs has to do with tiering site-specific decisions to broader programmatic decisions and analyses used for those decisions. If cumulative effects was CEQ's dream related to tiering, than it really has turned out to be a dream for long-term programmatic decisions based on EISs because one can't very easily navigate the EIS process to keep cumulative effects up-to-date to be useful at the site-specific level, let alone establish meaningful cumulative effects analyses at the start (as Tony points out re. plan EISs).
CEQ points out that tiering is there as an option, but not a requirement.
If better cumulative effects analysis is what we are after, then I suggest we look at the best ways of doing that today based on current technology and what we've learned from past efforts. If EISs are the best way to do cumulative effects analysis, I'm not convinced. It's not lack of shared vision or trying that has caused this change. It's experience. Just because the agency didn't find EISs to be all that helpful for the energy it took to produce and maintain them for forest plans doesn't mean there isn't value in doing cumulative effects analysis. We just don't need an EIS at the forest planning stage to do cumulative effects analysis.

Joe Carbone | Apr 15, 2005 9:40:48 AM

Posted by: Dave Iverson

Joe and others,

Near the end of the Cold War I heard a story about two economists, one American and one Soviet, discussing the merits an drawbacks of their political/economic systems. The left leaning American economist was defending the Soviet system as not working all that badly. At that point, the Soviet economist said something like, “Have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that we have survived for nearly 70 years with a system that doesn’t work at all?”

It is entirely possible that for all the years since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the US Forest Service has never done cumulative effects analysis right. And it is entirely possible that the agency has stubbornly resisted attempts to deal with the NEPA ‘tiering’ in a reasonable and responsible manner.

I remember Office of the General Counsel attorney Peter Hapke’s paper that argued for tiering and for at least one level of analysis and decision making between forest plans and project plans. How well I remember the push back by the Forest Service both in the Intermountain Region and in the Washington Office.

There is at least one school of thought that argues that the Forest Service, in a passive-aggressive response to the passage of environmental legislation generally, stemming from what some label “professional arrogance,” has steadfastly avoided its legal responsibilities. Another school of thought argues that the agency has simply bungled these responsibilities due to “analysis paralysis,” “process gridlock,” and other bureaucratic pathologies. A third school of thought argued by Joe and others here is that plan-to-project NEPA links need not be done via ‘tiering,’ and probably ought to be done other ways.

If the Forest Service chooses to “categorically exclude” forest plans from NEPA EIS requirements, assuming that choice survives inevitable legal challenge, we will all get a chance to see just what constitute these ‘other ways.’

Dave Iverson | Apr 17, 2005 12:51:38 PM

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