New Models of Collaborative Planning – The US Forest Service and Surrounding Dependent CommunitiesBy Sandra Pinel
The United States Forest Service (USFS) is launching the second phase of collaboration and planning that invites public engagement and coordination with local and tribal land use plans, on the 127 forest plans. The national process creates an important challenge for regional and intergovernmental planning going forward, especially for rural America. Regional and intergovernmental planning discussions on city and county management of urban and exurban growth neglect the important role of federal land management plans and policies in land use planning, conservation and development. In addition, while metropolitan economics compete for a share of the global economy, many western rural communities, such as those of Clearwater County, Idaho, suffer 20% unemployment because the residents have lost traditional timber and other resource-based company jobs. In Idaho, for example, approximately 70% of the land is managed by national government entities such as the Bureau of Land Management and the US National Forest Service. Rural citizens sometimes blame the USFS and national groups or environmental laws for economic decline. Additionally, federal management decisions have consistently been challenged in the courts. The combination of mistrust and court challenges created an atmosphere of risk that suppressed creative responses by the USFS. To address these challenges a voluntary group, the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, evolved in 2009 with the support of Idaho Senator Crapo. The collaborative represents 21 different interest groups and is committed to resolving land management conflicts.
The USFS has also responded by taking a more collaborative approach. To overcome stalemates and create a process for adapting forest plans to climate change and integrated social and ecological science, the US Forest Service adopted a new collaborative Forest Planning Rule in 2012 and chose eight national forests as demonstration "early adopters". Under the 2012 rule, the Forest Service should complete plan revisions more quickly at reduced cost, while using current science, collaboration, and an all-lands approach to produce better outcomes for people and the environment environment (http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/planningrule/collaboration).
The rule was created through a national collaborative process facilitated by the US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution of the Udall Center in response to a legal ruling in 2008 which required a public process for the rule change. Subsequently, 21 representatives of multiple interests including local and tribal officials were appointed to the Federal Advisory Committee (FACA). FACA is currently developing implementation guidelines based on lessons learned by the early adopters (http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/planningrule/committee), which include the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest in the northern Rockies Region 1 (discussed below).
The US National Forest head Tom Tidwell, is publicly committed to a collaborative planning process, as is Rick Brazell, a supervisor for the Nez Perce Clearwater (NPCW) National Forest, who led collaborative planning groups in another region before it was required. Current USFS leadership expresses commitment to intergovernmental planning and local government participation in the planning process, "The Forest Service is working with states, Tribes, private landowners, and other partners for landscape-scale conservation—to restore ecosystems on a landscape scale." (http://www.fs.fed.us/about-agency/newsroom/leadership-biographies, accessed January 18, 2015).
The 2012 planning rule directs the responsible official to coordinate land management planning with other planning efforts. However, land management plans developed under the 2012, planning rule need not be consistent with county-level plans. National forests and grasslands often have different missions and land bases than do counties. Land management plans must be flexible to address the diverse management needs on National Forest System lands and regional and national interests on Federal lands. We will encourage counties to participate throughout the planning process, and where appropriate, to work with us as cooperating agencies. We will also review planning and land use policies of state and local governments during the planning process and consider opportunities to contribute to joint objectives and reduce or resolve conflicts
The NPCW National Forest includes 4 million acres in north central Idaho from Montana to Washington State, contains watersheds that the feed the three branches of the Clearwater River and is transected by the Lewis and Clark Trail. In addition to being the homeland of the Ni Mii Puu (the people) or Nez Perce Tribe, it is located within three counties with several small cities and communities that grew up in the 1800s around mining and timber activities. The forest also includes the largest tracts of wilderness in the lower 48 and has been known for rich timber harvests, elk hunting guide services, and for conflicts over wolf reintroduction.
The Clearwater Basin Collaborative is known for nationally demonstrating effective multi-interest collaboration among conflicting interests. The jurisdictions in the NPCW National Forest are represented on the Clearwater Basin Collaborative that was invited to "model" collaboration for the planning process for the larger group of plan making participants.
My role has been to observe national early adopter meetings, research the methods used by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative to overcome stalemates through land management policies and facilitate the NPCW public participation process for the new forest plan. Counties are represented both as members of the CBC and as participants in the planning process. In my observations of the early adopter phone discussions and the recent national December forest planning conference discussions, federal land managers are unaccustomed to creating plans that go beyond their own land management boundaries and authorities.
In my observations and as discussed in a December conference on forest planning, USFS planners find it most challenging to actually do intergovernmental planning with county and local governments. As we presented to 65 people who attended the summer 2013 kick-off 2-day "summit", the USFS cannot legally co-manage or share decision-making or prioritize some public over others, but it can designate cooperating agencies and use local comprehensive plans in the assessment process. Much of the new rule revolves around giving the agency flexibility to respond adaptively to environmental change, rather than setting static objectives for each resource and location. In addition, it tries to minimize conflict by moving the public input to the start of the process, rather than leaving it to the Environmental Impact Process at the end. Here I highlight a few of the observed challenges for working across boundaries. County governments have a particular economic interest due to laws and policies that allocate a fixed percentage of timber revenue to local schools and in lieu of taxes. Therefore, county interests in the CWNP included an interest in increased timber uses. In addition, the USFS has covered the costs of wildfire, which increase with exurban development next to national forests and climate change.
The rule outlines three planning phases and component elements where the best available science and public input should be integrated: 1) assessment, 2) plan development, amendment or revision, and 3) monitoring to respond to changing conditions (Federal Register/ Vol. 77, No. 68 / Monday, April 9, 2012 / Rules and Regulations). The NPCW chose to update assessments, including an earlier ethnographic assessment that identified many of the local values and different ideas of stewardship. Examples values expressed at the county level include:
"Our community has changed a lot. We have lost our soul and our way of life. Logging was just more than a living to people. It was a way of life and a way of structuring your life."
"The people who live here have been in the woods, they work in the woods. The people who live in the East, they think we have cut all the trees down, they think we have clear-cut everything here. They never see the picture of the vastness of the timber ground." (Region I, USFS, 2006, Social Economic Assessment Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests).
The USFS staff worked hard to present draft assessments and accompanying needs for change to the public meetings, and county officials reacted to the reports without offering their own plans for the lands that bound the forest. I believe the County Planning Division has been working on encouraging land use planning in these boundary areas that go beyond the USFS suggested "firewise" practices for home owners.
A second challenge is the public process itself. The NPCW struggles with the policy for being transparent, open and inclusive and the opportunity to benefit from all the work on consensus-building already done over several years by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative. One environmental group, the Friends of the Clearwater, for example, has challenged the legitimacy of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative to speak for the public and would challenge any prioritization of that groups' recommendations in the plan. Members of this group have been observed to discredit local government views as not representative of the national interest in the forests. The Clearwater Basin Collaborative and other collaborative groups also wrestle with this issue of scale. Should local government political interests outweigh national interests or be considered? The Friends of Clearwater, for example, advocates for reliance on the Environmental Impact Assessment Process and objects to collaboration in advance of this formal process. I did not notice the integration of county and tribal comprehensive plans or the engagement of the very well established regional development organization, the Clearwater Economic Development Association.
A third challenge is how the USFS responds to major differences in local input between and among counties and tribal governments such as the Nez Perce. Collaborative groups such as the Clearwater Basin Collaborative have the long-term reputation of working through such differences, but if their recommendations cannot be adopted by the USFS and a national forest cannot legally mediate or structure partnerships, then it is hard to imagine how they will address conflicts. A round of public meetings and comment on the NPCW draft plan, which resulted from one year of bringing science to public meetings, was completed in October. The formal public comment process on alternatives is underway. Other forests such as in Region 3 of the southwestern US are beginning their process. This newsletter piece is intended to challenge regional planning and development organizations and planners to become engaged and to help the national forests think about how to integrate growth management and economic development into national forest plans.
The Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a multi-faceted agency that protects and manages 154 national forests and grasslands in 44 states and Puerto Rico and is the world's largest forestry research organization. Our experts provide technical and financial help to state and local government agencies, businesses, private landowners to help protect and manage non-federal forest and associated range and watershed lands.
We develop partnerships with many public and private agencies to augment our work planting trees, improving trails, providing education on conservation and fire prevention, and improve conditions in wildland/urban interfaces and rural areas. Our team also promotes sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation internationally.
The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. (http://www.fs.fed.us/about-agency, accessed January 18, 2015)