USDA FOREST SERVICE : Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment

FY 2003 Performance Report

FY 2003 Performance Trends

The following discussion on performance indicators and trend information may contain wording that states “administered to standard.” In the Forest Service Directives System there are criteria by which the agency administers these performance indicators. The Forest Service Directives System has two components —Forest Service Manual (FSM) and Forest Service Handbooks (FSHs). The FSM contains legal authorities, objectives, policies, responsibilities, instructions, and guidance needed on a continuing basis by Forest Service line officers and primary staff in more than one unit to plan and execute assigned programs and activities. The FSHs are the principal source of specialized guidance and instruction for carrying out the direction issued in the FSM. Specialists and technicians are the primary audience of FSH direction. The FSHs may also incorporate external directives with related USDA and Forest Service directive supplements.

In the 2003 Planned and Actual Performance and the Performance Trends for 1999-2003 tables, there are performance indicators that appear to be duplicates between base program and National Fire Plan accomplishments but have different results reported in the “Projected 2003 Performance” column. These activities are funded through normal appropriations and National Fire Plan appropriations and, therefore, must be reported separately.

In FY 2003, the Forest Service provided financial and technical assistance to States and local communities through its wildland fire management, economic action, and forest stewardship programs. State and Private Forestry (S&PF) programs and projects focused resources and assistance to sustain rural communities and the 70 million acres of urban forests nationwide and to protect environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to nonforest uses.

The Forest Service worked closely with States and local volunteer fire departments to help prevent fires and to increase the survivability of homes from wildland fires. In FY 2003, the Forest Service protected communities from wildland fire by reducing the amount of hazardous fuel in the wildland-urban interface area. The agency does not have performance results prior to FY 2001 for the wildland fire performance indicators, so the trend has not been established for the required 4-year period. Continuing on a positive trend since 2001, however, the Forest Service treated 129 percent of the planned acres of hazardous fuels in the wildland-urban interface area and accomplished 96 percent of the planned number of acres for treating hazardous fuels not in the wildland-urban interface area.

The Forest Service assisted 699 natural resource dependent rural communities with strengthening and diversifying their economic health, while promoting ecosystem health and conservation. These programs promoted community-based approaches to strengthen rural economies and tribes, encourage energy independence, and integrate public and private efforts to achieve sustainable economic development. Although the trend for this indicator shows that the number of communities appears to have decreased, this is a result of distributing part of this performance indicator to the National Fire Plan. At 699 communities with improved capacity, this indicator is at 93 percent of the 2003 planned number of 750 communities.

In FY 2003, the Forest Service focused assistance for the retention and strategic placement of trees, forests, urban parks, greenspace, and related vegetation for multiple purposes—mitigating air, water, soil, and noise pollution; reducing energy consumption; providing public health benefits; and increasing property values. The agency also assisted participating communities with planning, demonstration projects, and technical assistance. There were 10,869 communities that participated in these programs that are designed to enhance urban and community forestry resources.

The Forest Service brought cost-effective sustainable forestry to a diversity of landowners in FY 2003 by developing forest stewardship plans for small woodlot owners, tribes, States, and other Federal agencies. An additional 1,577,000 acres of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) lands are now under approved NIPF stewardship, establishing the basis for their future management, sustained production, conservation, and income for thousands of landowners. The Forest Service reported 21,795 stewardship management plans for NIPF, which is 131 percent of the planned number of NIPF plans for FY 2003. The trend for the number of acres under approved NIPF stewardship plans continues to fluctuate, although the agency accomplished 98 percent of the planned acres.

The agency also worked to protect environmentally important forest areas threatened by the conversion to nonforest uses through nonregulatory partnerships. Through an incentive-based approach, the Forest Service worked to assure that both traditional uses of private lands and the public benefits of America’s forests are protected for future generations. The Forest Legacy Program expanded to 34 participating States and Territories, advanced 3 additional State implementation plans to the Secretary of Agriculture for approval and entry into the program, and protected nearly 300,000 acres in FY 2003. Cooperative forestry performance indicators show an increase in the trend for the environmentally important (legacy) forests threatened by conversion to nonforest uses, but the 292,583 acres accomplished were 43 percent of the planned number of acres in FY 2003.

The health of forests and grasslands is important to the Nation for a variety of reasons—the production of clean water, forage for livestock and game, a wide variety of recreation opportunities, timber and other forest products, and many other uses. However, invasive species, native insects and diseases, and forest fires threaten the health of forests and grasslands. Partnerships and other coordinated efforts with private landowners and local, county, and State governments are needed to prevent the spread of invasive species and to implement treatment. The Forest Service is aggressively combating these issues through implementation of initiatives; partnerships with various Federal, State, tribal, and local governments; and other efforts.

The trend for the forest health performance indicators exists only for acres protected, and not for acres surveyed, whether on Federal lands or cooperative lands. The reported performance information for this indicator was in error due to confusion as to the unit of measure (UOM). While most regions and areas realized that the units were reported as “thousands of acres,” others did not and reported their performance in “acres.” This UOM error inflated the performance reporting for the 2003 planned acres protected on Federal lands. The valid performance information for this indicator with the correct UOM was 131.03 for the 10-month actual, 53.795 for the 2-month estimate, and 184.825 for the FY 2003 projected total.

The trend for protecting acres on cooperative lands has fluctuated over the last 4 years, reporting approximately 855,000 acres in FY 2003, which was 92 percent of the planned acres. Accomplishments for Federal acres surveyed and cooperative acres surveyed came in at 75 percent and 100 percent, respectively. Although existing technologies enable the agency to implement standard prevention, suppression, and restoration treatments, additional long-term research and development is needed for finding solutions for controlling and eradicating invasive species. There are promising new management techniques, as well as newly developed chemical and biological control agents, but they are still in need of more testing to improve their efficacy. Also, the need for improved communication between the Forest Service and its partners is necessary to prevent invasive species from establishing themselves in the forests and grasslands of the United States.

Results for the Research and Development (R&D) performance indicators were predominantly successful. An omission of several units’ accomplishments for research products, tools, and technologies developed shows accomplishments at 83 percent of those planned for FY 2003. The correct number is 10,986 but could not be verified before the audit. If this number proves to be verified as valid, results for this indicator will be at 159 percent of planned. A similar indicator, but for products, tools, and technologies pertaining to fire, reported 125 percent accomplishment. Results for Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) products, tools, and technologies and the percent of FIA target plots measured reported 97 percent accomplishments. Trend information exists for percent of FIA plots measured from FY 2000, showing a steady increase. For the products, tools, and technologies pertaining to fire, trend information exists from FY 2001, with the implementation of the National Fire Plan. After a 1,200-percent increase from 63 in FY 2001 to 783 in FY 2002, the number of fire products, tools, and technologies remains at 750 for FY 2003.

Results for the law enforcement and investigations performance indicators show that these performance indicators may need to be reevaluated and more closely aligned to the agency’s mission. Enforcement of laws and regulations reported a 130-percent accomplishment, while criminal investigations reported a 76-percent accomplishment. The indicator measuring eradication of cannabis reported 34 percent accomplishment in FY 2003. Trend information shows a significant increase in performance for enforcement of laws and regulations from the 28 percent in FY 1999. Although criminal investigations peaked at 72 percent in FY 2002, the trend appears flat.

In forest products, timber volume offered for sale reported 96 percent of FY 2003 planned volume, but the trend shows a 37-percent decrease in volume offered for sale since 1999. Timber volume harvested reported 73 percent of the planned volume, but the trend shows a 55 percent decrease in volume harvested since 1999. Volume of salvage timber offered for sale reported a 101-percent accomplishment for 2003. Timber volume sold was at 64-percent of planned volume. Permits administered for forest special products reported a 102-percent accomplishment. Approved National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents for timber sales reported 69 percent of 2003 planned approved documents.

The range management performance indicators showed mixed results. Acres of grazing allotments administered to standard reported a 130-percent accomplishment, while approved NEPA decisions for grazing allotments reported 68 percent of 2003 planned approved documents. The indicator for grazing allotment acres administered to standard increased over 80 percent from FY 2002, but is still approximately 83 percent of the FY 2000 number of acres. With 308 approved NEPA decisions for grazing allotments, this performance indicator increased significantly from 184 approved decisions in FY 2001, but is 66 percent of the 464 approved decisions in FY 1999.

For the planning, inventorying, and monitoring indicators, revised and new Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) exceeded the 2003 planned number by 139 percent, while LRMP amendments reached 82 percent of planned for FY 2003. LRMP monitoring and evaluation reports reported 86 percent of the planned number. The new and revised LRMP showed such a significant increase that the 2003 projected performance is more than the last 4 year’s reports combined. Even with the FY 2003 decrease to 59 amendments, the trend for the LRMP amendments indicator has steadily increased from 15 in FY 2000 to 82 in FY 2001, and then significantly increased to 198 amendments.

Other accomplishments for the planning, inventorying, and monitoring indicators were 180 percent of planned acres of above project-level inventories and 92 percent of planned completed watershed assessments. The trend in above project-level inventory acres is more than 50 percent higher than FY 2002, but is still less than 40 percent of the high of 120 million acres in 2001. The trend for completed watershed assessments declined in FY 2003 for the second consecutive year.

There were 46 reported broadscale assessments underway, but there were none planned for FY 2003.

Also, there is no multiyear trend information to report. While a significant number of Geographic Information System (GIS) resource mapping quads were reported, there was no “percent accomplished.” The 35,608 quads reported in FY 2003 will serve as a baseline for this performance indicator in the future.

Three of the wildlife and fish performance indicators did not meet the planned number from the FY 2003 Program Direction. Terrestrial wildlife habitat restored or enhanced reported only 84 percent of planned acres for FY 2003, but the planned number of 284,396 acres is nearly 18,000 acres higher than any actual accomplishment since FY 1999. Streams restored or enhanced reported 84 percent of miles accomplished for FY 2003. The planned number of 2,000 miles of stream was realistic as the FY 2002 actual number of miles reported was 2,001 miles. Lakes restored or enhanced reported only 86 percent of acres planned for FY 2003, but the planned number of 20,212 acres was 1,784 acres higher than any actual accomplishment since FY 1999. On the other hand, interpretation and education products provided reported 145 percent of FY 2003 planned products.

The focus seen in the vegetation and watershed management performance indicators was on invasive plant control (including noxious weeds). Results for the vegetation and watershed management performance indicators showed that the Forest Service exceeded the FY 2003 planned numbers—136 percent for soil and water resource improvements, 116 percent for acres of noxious weed treatments, and 124 percent for established vegetation. FY 2003 results were reported at 75 percent for manage air quality and 65 percent for improved vegetation. There was no planned number of activities in the FY 2003 Program Direction for the environmental compliance and protection (ECAP) indicator, which reported 265 activities.

Trend information since FY 1999 for these performance indicators reflects what’s happening “on the ground.” Acres of noxious weeds treatment have significantly increased by 56 percent while the acres treated for soil and water improvements or acres of established vegetation have decreased, by 32 percent and 81 percent, respectively.

FY 2003 results for all the lands performance indicators show accomplishments of 94 percent or higher, with 117 percent reported for land use proposals and applications processed and 109 percent for both cases resolved through litigation or administrative procedure and acres acquired. Results for acres adjusted were 99 percent for FY 2003. These successful results in FY 2003 do not reflect the significant decreases in results since 1999 for most of these performance indicators. Three trends have decreased by 50 percent or more since FY 1999—land use proposals and applications processed; acres acquired, and authorizations administered to standard, while the indicator for acres adjusted is only 8.2 percent of the high of 337,396 acres in FY 1999. The trend for miles of boundary line marked or maintained remains flat, with accomplishments in FY 2003 near those of FY 1999. The most significant increase was in cases resolved through litigation or administrative procedure, with a 73 percent in the last 4 years.

FY 2003 results for the capital improvement and maintenance performance indicators show success in maintaining or improving National Forest System (NFS) roads—100 percent of miles of improved roads, as well as 121 percent of miles of high clearance roads and 134 percent of miles of passenger car roads maintained. The indicator for miles of trails maintained to standard also reported a 123 percent accomplishment. Miles of trails improved to standard and miles of roads decommissioned reported 76 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Also, capital improvement completed for facilities (over $250,000) reported a 50-percent accomplishment. Trend information for the majority of these performance indicators begins in FY 2000. The exceptions are miles of roads decommissioned, which significantly decreased from 2,907 miles in FY 1999 to 888 miles in FY 2003, and Facility Condition Index (FCI), which is a new indicator based on industry standards.

Since 2000, there have been increases in miles of trail maintained to standard (23 percent) and miles of road improved to standard (240 percent increase). There have been decreases in miles of trail improved to standard (35 percent decrease), miles of high clearance road maintained (45 percent decrease), and miles of passenger car road maintained (36 percent decrease).

The minerals and geology performance indicators all reported above 90 percent for FY 2003. Operations administered to standard reported 99 percent, completed and operations processed reported 91 percent.

Trend information since FY 1999 for operations administered to standard shows a 56-percent increase since FY1999, and operations processed shows a 28-percent decrease in the same time period. Geologic permits and reports completed are up from 1,048 in FY 2002, the first year to track this information.

The Forest Service provided diverse, high-quality, resource-based tourism destinations and outdoor recreation opportunities in FY 2003. The agency’s outreach efforts and partnerships focused on minimizing resource impacts and educating users in low-impact and responsible use of special places through programs, such as Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly, as well as the preservation of historic and prehistoric areas. Many of the 214 million visits the American public makes to the national forests and grasslands were made possible by recreation service providers through the Special Use Program. In programs like these, the Forest Service delivers annual economic outputs and social benefits that contribute to the accomplishment of long-term outcomes identified in the Forest Service’s strategic goals and objectives.

For FY 2003, the majority of accomplishments for the recreation, wilderness, and heritage performance indicators were 99 percent, or higher. Heritage resources managed to standard reported 88 percent of planned for FY 2003, and products provided to standard reported 76 percent. Results for general forest areas managed to standard were 91 percent, while recreation special use authorizations administered to standard were 99 percent of the planned number. Of more than 25,000 special use permits, the agency administered 13,956 to standard, which is 99 percent of the goal for FY 2003.

Wilderness areas managed to standard reported 107 percent and operation of developed sites to standard reported 109 percent for FY 2003. Trend information shows that the Forest Service is managing nearly twice as many wilderness areas to standard as in FY 2000, but only 72 percent of FY 2002. Trend information for recreation special use authorizations administered to standard has very significantly increased, with 1,227 in FY 1999 and 13,956 in FY 2003. While the results for heritage resources managed to standard did not meet the planned number in FY 2003, the 7,504 sites managed is 88 percent more sites than in FY 2000. Other significant increases since FY 2000 are in general forest areas managed to standard, with a 1,000-percent increase, and operation of developed sites to standard, with a 33-percent increase in persons at one time (PAOT).

The challenge in many of the recreation programs is that the transfer of funds needed to pay for fire suppression has impacted the Forest Service’s ability to accomplish recreation program goals in two ways—not only from the loss of funds, but also from the instability in program funding levels and the week-to-week workforce diversion in the height of the recreation field season. Developing contingency plans and adjusting schedules and operating plans required much time and energy.

Another factor was the loss of approximately one-third of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) positions that the Forest Service has traditionally hosted. The recreation sites program has become highly “leveraged” over the last 20 years in response to the steady decline in buying power of the appropriated funding at the field level.

In May 2003, the Forest Service was notified that it would lose approximately one-third of the SCSEP positions. As a result, the recreation program lost approximately 10 to 12 percent of the field workforce delivering the recreation site program. The long-term outlook is for a continuing decline in enrollees available to the Forest Service.

The Forest Service’s ability to sustain the existing level of recreation site development without reducing operations and maintenance to an unacceptable standard is a concern under current conditions. Consequently, the agency placed greater emphasis on reconstructing existing facilities to meet current need, reduce annual maintenance and operations costs, and reduce backlog maintenance. In addition, the agency implemented the recreation site alignment process with the objective of balancing financial needs for annual operating and maintenance costs with available resources, thereby eliminating lower priority sites either through divestiture to the private sector or decommissioning. Inventory, costing, visitor use, and satisfaction data, which are critical to this decision process, continued to be improved and refined. The primary criteria in decisionmaking is retaining sites which best meet the “niche” defined for each forest and that have the highest values on the “public benefit scale.” The “niche” concept is a marriage of highest-quality local opportunities with public demand, community and tourism needs, and visitor satisfaction. The “public benefit scale” concept recognizes are of primary benefit to the individual user while others are more oriented to the population, as a whole. Development and implementation of this process was slowed in FY 2003 by the same factors discussed in relation to recreation site operations.

Special use permit administrators continued to feel the pressure of declining resources. The agency recognizes the need to develop additional human and financial resources for special use administration and has considered methods to do so. In the near future, the agency will implement cost recovery regulations to address the cost of issuing permits. Permit administration remains a concern and the agency will continue to explore obtaining the authority to retain special use fees. In addition, the agency is considering working with the administration to draft legislation to allow for private sector investment in Government-owned facilities. The difference between planned and actual accomplishment is primarily due to confusion in interpreting the definition of “to standard” and the inconsistent application of standards across all field units. A modification is being made to the Special Uses Database System to more consistently collect data on “administration to standard.”