The Forest Service is undergoing change. Rather than a rigid bureaucratic administrative process mired in history, there is a refreshing breath of new life showing within the agency.
Within USFS Region 5 (California), there are 14 Forest Plan revisions scheduled over the next 3 years. Nationwide, many Forests are undergoing similar planning efforts. These planning efforts are directed at updating existing Forest Service Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP). Preliminary information (and actions) indicate these plan revisions will be conducted using collaborative action processes.
Introducing the Inyo NF Plan Revision, a “cadre” representing Forest Service (Washington, DC) conducted a workshop in order to establish a “collaborative action” process for the pending Forest Plan revision.
According to information presented, Region 5 is expecting the remaining Forests to engage the public through “collaborative action” processes involving local Forest stakeholders. Initially, the Inyo NF is a pilot project using collaborative action planning developed by the Washington, DC based “cadre”. The “cadre” process was developed from lessons learned from collaborative action used on the Bridger-Teton (Wyoming) and White Mountain (Colorado) National Forests.
The California Forests are scheduled to begin their Forest Plan Revisions during the fall of 2009 using the “cadre” format or the services of the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution. Or, some blend of the two will be used for Region 5 and other Forest around the nation during their plan revisions.
All plans are expected to be under the 2008 Forest Planning Rule (assuming it survives the legal challenge) that is focused on forest health and sustainability. This means that the LRMPs will provide a strategic framework to guide operational issues within the Forest. The plans will not deal with site specific issues.
Within Region 5, all plans will start as a Categorical Exclusion and develop Desired Conditions. This is important as “Categorical Exclusion” means that the planned activity does not have an “on-the-ground” impact that exceeds normal operation activities. The “Desired Conditions” will be matched with “Current Conditions” to determine the need for change. This is defined as a “Comprehensive Evaluation Report”.
The scope of the “need for change” could result in the planning process moving to an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement. Key point is the data to develop Desired Conditions will be accumulated through a collaborative process involving stakeholders.
Also important to note is the “Current Conditions” will be based on the current Travel Management Plan, the Recreation Facilities Master Plan and other existing data defining special interest land management categories and environmental issues.
At this point in time, it is important for each Forest to have a “champion” that will be in contact with the Forest. Someone needs to be involved with the Forest Supervisor as well as the specific Ranger Districts. That involvement will give them a voice as a stakeholder while the Forest Plans Revisions move forward.