A Planning Rule for Tomorrow

Tom Tidwell, Chief
1st National Roundtable, Planning Rule
Washington, DC
— April 1, 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.

Good morning! It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 1st National Roundtable for the planning rule.

As you know, the Forest Service’s processes for forest planning and project decision making are participatory by law, based on citizen input. That is as it should be. People feel strongly about their public lands, and there is plenty of room for healthy debate. Through the open, honest surfacing of differences, the Forest Service gets a variety of perspectives and information, and we use those to make sound, well-informed decisions—decisions that are responsive to the people we serve. Our role is to help people sort through their differences, understand the implications of what they propose, and come to agreement based on shared values and common goals.

That is what we hope to achieve here, beginning today. Your job is to get the ball rolling.

We are planning based on provisions that are 28 years old—older than many of our employees, maybe older than some of you here. Just to give you some idea, in 1982 we sold 10 billion board feet of timber. Last year, we sold a fraction of that—2.5 billion—and most of that was the byproduct of projects for other purposes, such as fuels and forest health treatments. Today, we are about sustaining healthy, resilient forest and grassland ecosystems for clean water, wood, wildlife, wild foods, and all the other benefits Americans get from them.

Our planning provisions were devised before ecosystem management, before all the big fires we’ve seen, before all the mortality we are seeing from insects and disease, before we fully became aware of climate change as a driver on the landscape. Today, we are in a whole new management environment. We need forest plans that address our new management environment and a new rule to guide them.

For more than 10 years, we’ve been trying to get a new rule, and I’m sure many of you have been right there with us. We went through three different processes, and each one failed to give us the tools we need. But we got a lot of collective experience. Last summer, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asked us to try again—to use everything we have learned to come up with a new rule that addresses today’s land management environment—not the one we had a generation ago.

Based on past experience, we are trying something new. Instead of coming up with something on our own, based on the experience and expertise of scientists and professional land managers, we are bringing you in from the very beginning. We are asking for help from a broad range of stakeholders—anyone interested, really.

We believe that this approach is in the spirit of collaboration. It might be messy and confusing, but democracy can be a messy, confusing business. We believe that, in the long run, this kind of collaborative approach is more transparent, more democratic, more sustainable, and more likely to succeed.

We know that the planning rule can’t be all things to all people. But the important thing is not so much the outcome, but the process. We want a process that is open and honest, that surfaces all points of view, no matter how divergent … that respects every point of view, no matter how different. If we can have that kind of process, that kind of dialogue, then I believe we can build on it, not just here, not just for this planning rule, but for all the forest plans to come—for all the project decisions to come—for all the benefits to come on the ground, where it really counts.

With that said, there are certain principles we are inviting you to address—certain realities about today’s land management environment. We face challenges like climate change … like the need to restore healthy, resilient ecosystems capable of delivering clean water, habitat for wildlife, and all the other benefits people get from their forests and grasslands. That includes a sense of place, local ties to the land, and opportunities for outdoor recreation. We also face the need to work together across borders and boundaries to make it happen.

The bottom line is this: We need to move beyond a decade of rule writing and rewriting 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 current conditions and promote collaboration. More important than the rule itself, even more important than the individual forest plans, are the processes that go into making them … because those processes are the foundations for our relationships, our partnerships, our collaborative capacity to manage the National Forest System to deliver all the benefits that Americans want and need, for the sake of generations to come.

Thank you for taking the time to be here. I look forward to seeing the results of your work!