Eco-Watch
Jan 31, 1998
 

My Two Cents Worth
 
    When I began my career with the Forest Service twenty years ago we were living in a different world--or so we thought. Forest management was about farming (e.g. timber, range, and to some extent huntable wildlife and fish), mining, and development (recreation, roads, etc.). And, of course, there were Wilderness considerations, research natural areas and other set-asides. As for planning, it was about zoning, and more specifically about maximizing yields from farming as constrained within those zones deemed suitable. Sustained yield was on our mind, but we were busy with models like FORPLAN that achieved even sustained yield more in theory than in fact. Sustainability--sustaining quality of life for the inhabitants of Earth--was far from our thoughts.

    Today things are much different. Today we talk much about sustainability and managing conflict and hardly at all about maximizing yields. But our actions are slow to mimic our words. A most apparent "growth industry" in the Forest Service is in appeals and litigation, with much more effort spent in clean-up than in prevention. In cynical moments we talk about how we inadvertently tend to maximize conflict in what we do. Still, collaborative stewardship is the buzz, following in line from earlier talk of ecosystem management, new perspectives, and new forestry. But amid talk of collaboration and other harmony on the social front we know it isn't all that tranquil in the real world. Our sheer numbers, increasing rapidly in the Western US (and on the Earth in general) are arguably stressing Earth's life support systems and threatening quality of life for all of us humans and nonhumans--even threatening life itself for at least some species. When you add in pollution and our seemingly incessant consumptive lifestyles we have more to worry about relative to "sustainability," as defined by quality of life indicators not just by numerical abstracts. As President Clinton said in the recent State of the Union address, we are on a roll in terms of the United States in the world economy. But as he did not say, we are paying a high price in terms of continued reckless exploitation of natural resources on the source side and reckless pollution on the sink side. This is not to say that we aren't making progress, but we are still very much in denial on many fronts. Grab Lester Brown and coauthors' State of the World 1998 (which boasts 1 million copies sold on the header) or visit them at WorldWatch for "the rest of the story."

    Enough ranting.. What are my hopes from all of us in this collaborative endeavor?

 First, I hope that we address forest management and planning in context. In the context of society and culture including law and policy. In the context of hierarchically interrelated systems, both natural and social with no clear lines of separation between them. In the context of interrelated, open systems theory. We must remember that contextual approaches require thinking that is both holistic and particularistic. It is no longer "either-or," but "both-and" that guide our thoughts and actions.

 Second, I hope that whatever we end up with is founded on principles of "sense of purpose" and "sense of place." Sense of purpose has to do with sustainability, ecosystem health, biological integrity and conservation of species, living in harmony with Nature's discordant harmonies. Like sense of purpose, "sense of place" is also a hierarchically ordered multiscale notion. Bryan Norton and Bruce Hannon describe it well, paraphrasing geographer Yi-Fi Tuan, by saying that "we need a sense of place and a sense of space around that place, for it is the surrounding space that defines our place and shapes our sense of who we are (p. 232)." The idea is that it tends all to be multiscaler, encompassing both spatial and temporal dimensions. Any planning or management must avoid any single focus (B.G. Norton and B. Hannon. Environmental Values: A Place-Based Theory, Environmental Ethics 19(3): 227-245, 1997.)

 Third, I hope that we build both the rules of the game and site-specific variants through extended dialogue between management and science, where both domains reach beyond the narrow confines of professionalism and engage stakeholders in dialogue throughout the process. On this and much more I agree with Al Abee that we need to share design, information, and decisionmaking as we work to build public decisions. For guidance see David Bohm's On Dialogue.

 Forth, I hope that we can learn to embrace complexity and contingency through simplicity. Whatever we design, we must remember that it is to be done by stakeholders who will want a say in both ideology and methodology. Besides, look where all our complex designs in planning and management have led us in the past... For advice on this front see Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers' A Simpler Way.

 Finally, we have to understand how open, adaptive systems theory relates to management. Life is a journey, and so is management. Yet too often we forget that important point and try to force management into rigid straightjackets: rational planning, command and control decisionmaking, etc. If we can begin to design planning and management systems as open, adaptive systems--as part of our "complexity through simplicity" design and implementation--we will be ahead of the game. Whether we look to Carl Jung's Synchronicity the new-age variant of the same in Joseph Jaworski's Synchronicity: The Inner Path to Leadership, or go to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow I think we'll find the same simple truths: life and management are journeys and need to be treated as such. This thinking is certainly not unique, it's just a bit of that type thinking that sits close at hand here in my office. And let's not forget about the wealth of ideas written in the category of "learning organizations."

    I have a lot of faith in this committee. I also know that the political road forward will be littered with roadblocks. So it goes. Two words of advice to the committee: be bold. Do not let your focus be so narrow as 36 CFR 219 (the NFMA Regs.). Regarding the Forest Service and so-called natural resource management, address founding principles, emergent principles, policy, law, etc. in the context of society and culture, and how all of the above fit into our very human, recent quest toward sustainability.

    For more, you may want to visit our Eco-Watch website. This website houses several years worth of materials I have sent to Forest Service colleagues, including some of their feedback, on Sustainability, Ecosystem Management, Leopoldian Land Ethics, and more.

Dave Iverson
Social Science Coordinator
Intermountain Region, US Forest Service
801-625-5278