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BLM Planning Changes

b2ap3_thumbnail_blm-news.1.pngBureau of Land Management has announced an effort they are calling BLM Planning 2.0.  And, they are hosting (or did host) two listening sessions, one in Denver, CO and the other in Sacramento, CA.  I did attend the listening session in Sacramento.

For background, land management agencies are required to develop Resource Management Plans that provide the guidance for how the public lands under their care are "managed".  Typically, an RMP defines open areas, closed areas, and other special management conditions.  In recent years these management plans have become cumbersome to develop and subject to litigation.  Faced with outdated plans, BLM is seeking to change the rules of the game and make life easier for the agency and public.

They are following in the footsteps of the Forest Service and creating a management environment where the public (stakeholders) can be more involved in the planning process and reduce the potential of litigation.

They have an ambitious goal, a new "planning rule" by summer of 2016.  Reviewing Forest Service efforts, it took them almost 10 years and three court cases to achieve a "planning rule" that was implemented in 2010 -- still facing an uncertain litigation future.

Like the Forest Service planning rule, the BLM planning rule is heavy on "collaboration" and "adaptive management".  And, short on additional details.  But, this round is a "listening session".  And, BLM officials have heard from the public about shortcomings in their proposal.

I am willing to give them latitude to develop a more complete proposal.  It is hard to be critical with few details to review.

As a result, today's listening session was a chance to put forth some concepts that hopefully will be incorporated in the next phase of the BLM effort.

Some key points from my perspective deal with definition and application of terms used.  For example, the perspective BLM planning rule will provide for a "landscape" approach to planning.

That begs the question of "What is a "landscape"?  BLM heard today that the definition of "landscape" AND the application of the term is a hot-button issue.  While the Defenders of Wildlife and the Theodore Roosevelt League are comfortable with a vast landscape approach with top-down goals and objectives, others (myself included) object to having an overly broad "landscape" as a planning framework.

A broad landscape approach without confining boundaries does not bode well for all objectives of a planning effort.  Large geographic areas encompass many different features and a top-down one-size fits all plan does not scale across the broad area.

And management plan needs to be flexible enough to change without undo cost and time.  Hence, the concept of "adaptive management" was developed.  As a philosophy, adaptive management allows for a goal to be established and management actions implemented that will result is successfully achieving the goal.  Key to adaptive management is the ability to adjust the management action as necessary to achieve the goal.  That requires detailed monitoring.

It is unclear at this stage as to the extend of commitment to adaptive management is (or will be) contained in the proposed rule.

Any manage action requires data and monitoring.  When questioned about data, I was pleased to hear that BLM official recognize the they do have legal requirements to meet to ensure "data quality".  However, as noted in adaptive management, collection and analysis of data are important issues. While there are legal mandates to ensure "data quality", collecting the data and determining its "quality" are expensive and time consuming efforts.

Finally, the proposed rule appears to lean heavy on "collaboration".  In short, collaboration is a meeting (or series of meetings) where interested parties discuss the issues and arrive at a proposal to address the issues.  By nature, collaboration is a long process where no conclusion are reached in a single meeting.  And, collaboration can be forced into a premature conclusion.

While I am a proponent of collaborative processes, I do have a background in the facilitated meeting structure and understand the benefits and the shortcomings.

For recreation (and ordinary public) participation, the collaboration effort can be expensive and time consuming. 

The listening session cited three goals:

-- Create a more dynamic and efficient planning process
-- Enhance opportunities for collaborative planning
-- Plan across landscapes and at multiple levels

A check of the referenced BLM website (http://www.blm.gov/plan2) reveals a slightly different set of goals.

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