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Best available science used in forest plan revisions

OREGON — The 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands in the United States are managed according to the guidance of planning documents, or “forest plans,” that must be periodically updated. Natural resource managers and planners who help develop these forest plans are directed to base their assessments on the best available science. A recent study showed that the “best available science” they draw on often includes USDA Forest Service general technical reports.

Pacific Northwest Research Station scientists Lee Cerveny and Dale Blahna contributed to the study, which looked at the forest planning efforts of four national forests. They sought to determine how these forests approached the requirement for using the best available scientific information in their assessments.

The study authors found that government documents and technical reports were the most commonly cited format of science reporting in these four forest assessments. In particular, Forest Service general technical reports from the agency’s Research and Development branch were the most frequently cited type of science document. 

Interestingly, the authors found that assessments were disproportionately heavy in ecological science and more limited in their treatment of social and economic issues, with recreation being the only topic to receive consistent attention across all four forests.

The authors’ conclusions contain important messages about science communication. For example, they suggest that planning teams rely on Forest Service technical reports because they may be more accessible and usable compared to scholarly journal articles. Engagement with scientists can be valuable too. Recreation managers in the study indicated strong preferences for enhanced interactions with Forest Service scientists via collaborative research and conferences, and expressed a desire for researchers to reach out to them more directly.

Cover: General Techinical Report
Forest Service general technical reports like this one are an important source for forest plan revisions. USDA Forest Service photo.