18 Feb 2008, 2:03pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

The Process Predicament

In 2002 The USFS published a report entitled The Process Predicament. The report was intended to analyze the problems that USFS has with planning and implementing active management projects. The report found that eco-litigation was at the root of the effective shut-down of that agency.

The Report (without appendices) is [here]. The Executive Summary is posted below. The Report with appendices may also be found [here].

It is of interest to note that the Report generated no substantive changes. Since issuance the following megafires have occurred:

Biscuit Fire (2002) 500,000 acres
Hayman Fire (2002) 138,000 acres, five firefighter deaths
Rodeo-Chediski Fire (2002) 467,066 acres
Cedar Complex Fire (2003) 721,791 acres, 3,640 homes burned ,15 deaths
B an B Fire (2003) 90,000 acres (now a complex of over 150,000 acres)
Tripod Complex Fire (2006) 300,000 acres
Yellow Pine Complex Fires (2007) 750,000 acres

and many, many more. Here are the national wildfire acreage totals:

2007 - 9,749,239
2006 - 9,890,823
2005 - 8,686,753
2004 - 6,790,692
2003 - 4,918,088
2002 - 6,937,584

For further discussions of the megafires see SOS Forests > Past Catastrophes [here]

The massive destruction of forests, wildlife habitat, watersheds, and all resource values has burgeoned and shows no sign of slowing down. Active management has ground to a virtual halt. The agency is is in disarray and has shed thousands of employees every year since.

The problems discussed in The Process Predicament have worsened. No hope for substantive change is in sight. But it is instructive to see what the Report had to say:

The Process Predicament: How Statutory, Regulatory, and Administrative Factors Affect National Forest Management, June 2002

Despite a century of devotion to conservationism, the Forest Service today faces a forest health crisis of tremendous proportions:

• 73 million acres of national forests are at risk from severe wildland fires that threaten human safety and ecosystem integrity.

• Tens of millions of acres in all ownerships are threatened by dozens of different insects and diseases.

• Invasive species are spreading at an accelerated rate, degrading an increasing proportion of forests, rangelands, and riparian habitats.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service operates within a statutory, regulatory, and administrative framework that has kept the agency from effectively addressing rapid declines in forest health. This same framework impedes nearly every other aspect of multiple-use management as well. Three problem areas stand out:

1. Excessive analysis—confusion, delays, costs, and risk management associated with the re-quired consultations and studies;

2. Ineffective public involvement—procedural requirements that create disincentives to collaboration in national forest management; and

3. Management inefficiencies—poor planning and decision-making, a deteriorating skills base, and inflexible funding rules, problems that are compounded by the sheer volume of the re-quired paperwork and the associated proliferation of opportunities to misinterpret or misapply required procedures.

These factors frequently place line officers in a costly procedural quagmire, where a single pro-ject can take years to move forward and where planning costs alone can exceed $1 million. Even noncontroversial projects often proceed at a snail’s pace.

Forest Service officials have estimated that planning and assessment consume 40 percent of total direct work at the national forest level. That would represent an expenditure of more than $250 million per year. Although some planning is obviously necessary, Forest Service officials have estimated that improving administrative procedures could shift up to $100 million a year from unnecessary planning to actual project work to restore ecosystems and deliver services on the ground.

The Forest Service is deeply committed to the principles of sound public land management in a democracy—long-term planning on an ecosystem basis, extensive public involvement, inter-agency consultation and collaboration, and ample opportunities for public redress. In the 21st century, Americans have the tools and techniques they need to work together to stop invasive species, reduce the danger of catastrophic fire, restore ailing watersheds to health, and enjoy their national forests. Permitted to use the tools and apply the techniques of modern management, Americans can look forward to a future of healthy, resilient ecosystems all across their national forests and grasslands.

It is time to tailor the Forest Service’s statutory, regulatory, and administrative framework to the new era of public land management. Part of the solution will be internal. However, the problem goes far beyond the range of control of any single agency, or a single branch of the government. The Forest Service will need to work with partners, both in and out of government, to establish a modern management framework. By working together with partners to create and operate within such a framework, the Forest Service can focus more of its resources on responsible stewardship and thereby improve public trust and confidence in the agency’s ability to care for the land and serve people.



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