January 11, 2007
Time to Abandon the Forest Planning Process?
As we await a decision an the validity of the 2005 NMFA planning rule from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District in California, we are all pondering the worth of and/or mid-course corrections for forest plans, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance and categorical exclusions for plans, the worth of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and the relationship between EMS and NEPA compliance responsibilities.
Into this mix we need to add this: Is it time to let the planning process as we've know it die and find a simpler way to sense public needs and render public service on the national forests?
Is it time to let the planning process die? Long-time forest activist Randal O'Toole says YES!:
Forest plans that do nothing, Randal O'Toole, The Seattle Times, 01/07/2007: … [T]he forest planning process is a failure, and the best thing we can do is let it die a natural death.
In the 1980s, the Forest Service spent well over $1 billion trying to write plans for each of the 120 or so national forests. The plans took so long to write that by the time they were done, they were obsolete.
Some forests rewrote their draft plans as many as three different times in response to new events, such as a forest fire or the listing of the spotted owl as a threatened species. But before they were finished, something else would happen that would render the new plan useless.
When forest managers finally got the plans, they quickly discovered they were worthless and pretty much ignored them. National forest management in the 1990s bore little resemblance to what the plans had said.
Of course, environmental groups challenged some of the plans in court. After spending all this time and money, the Forest Service made the curious argument that the plans actually made no decisions, and so there was nothing to challenge. The Supreme Court agreed, and so we spent $1 billion and 10 years doing nothing.
Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell Congress that the process was a failure. …
Those who want better forest management realize that it makes more sense to spend scarce taxpayer dollars actually managing the forests, not writing plans that are obsolete before they are finished.
This does not mean I have a lot of faith that the Forest Service will do a good job. … Forest planning is a waste of everyone's time. Let the forest planning process wither away. Then we can go on to debate the real issues involved in public land management.