Grounding a New Planning Rule in Sound Science

Hank Kashdan, Associate Chief
Science Forum, Planning Rule
Washington, DC
— March 29, 2010


Thank you. Your presence here highlights the importance of your support for this rulemaking process, and I thank you for taking the time to be here. I’d like to extend the same thanks to everyone here—we really need your help.

We need a new planning rule, and you are here to help in the process of writing one. I cannot overstate the importance of science in that process. Science has been in the forefront of many of the challenges we face today, including climate change.

Climate change places us in a whole new environment for land and resource management. Population growth, loss of open space, fire and fuels, invasive species, the spread of forest pests and disease—a host of factors threaten the nation’s forests and grasslands. Each factor affects the others in multiple feedback loops, both positive and negative; and each, in turn, is affected by climate change.

Climate change highlights the need for broad-scale approaches—for conservation at landscape scales. Landscape-scale conservation is an approach to managing land at the level of watersheds, ecoregions, or broad geographic areas. It gives land managers the scope and the flexibility to address the full spectrum of complexity, risk, and uncertainty in their new management environment, bearing in mind that climate is not the only major driver. The goal is to maintain the ability of landscapes to adapt to changes shaped by climate, demographics, global markets for wood, a legacy of fire exclusion, and other large-scale drivers.

Our current planning provisions were written in 1982, long before we were fully aware of climate change and other large-scale drivers. We need forest plans that address our new management environment and a new rule to guide them—a rule that is equally relevant in Alaska and Puerto Rico, yet gives us the flexibility to write forest plans tailored to regional and local issues.

That rule needs a sound scientific basis, and we are asking for your help to give it one. This forum will provide the scientific underpinnings for the national roundtables that begin in a few days. Today and tomorrow, we want you to present and discuss the latest science on the eight topics listed in the notice of intent. We also want you to identify any important topics not contained in the notice of intent.

We have assembled a group of panelists who are eminently qualified to take on this task. These panelists have been recommended by experts in their fields, and I am confident that they will provide the sound science needed to inform the new planning rule.

In the spirit of collaboration, for the sake of an open, honest surfacing of all points of view, we invite comments not just from the panelists, but from everyone here. We want the discussion to be as broad as possible, covering a full range of ecological, social, and economic sciences, recognizing the need to bring current science from all these disciplines into the rulemaking and policy development process.

The bottom line is this: We need to get beyond writing and rewriting this rule while the challenges we face only get worse. We need a rule that lets us focus on what truly matters. What truly matters, in my view, is not the rule itself, but having forest plans in place that address today’s land management environment, based on the best possible science.

That’s our goal, and we hope you can ground the rulewriting process in sound science. Thank you again for taking the time to be here. I look forward to seeing the results of your work!