Rural System's

Addressing the Challenges of National Forest Planning

Over many years, there have been complaints about National Forest Planning. At the time of the last version of the Plan for the George Washington, a telling analysis was developed. The challenges outlined then remain and so the changes needed are all of those that address for this Forest the specific comments made in that document.

In Synthesis of the Critique of Land Management Planning (Volume 1, USDA Forest Service, Policy Analysis Staff (FS-452) June, 1990, 24 pages) there were experiences, lessons learned, and future challenges. I have have studied the document as well as 10 other "Critique Reports." I am particularly pleased to have insights into how to meet future challenges.

Challenge: Meeting Demand

Can ... "national forests continue to be everything to everyone at the level they demand? This question should be the cornerstone of every forest plan" [my emphasis] (p. 18). I have sketched the system GeorgA capable of answering that question. The System requests objectives, states what amounts can be achieved on the Forest, then in text material presents optional sources about where and the means by which the objectives can be achieved. In a positive, forthright way, it presents its limitations and capacities given likely budgets of energy and money. For staff as well as the public and adjacent land owners, information about risks, longterm costs and benefits are as obscure as knowledge about each specific forest type and its requirements.

Capacities are never really known (cf. you can grow bananas on a chestnut-oak ridge with enough money for a greenhouse) but current limits can be stated. Ideas for new capabilities may remain a public challenge.

Area-proportional data will be presented. This, in part tends to answer and limit the question. (What is available on the National Forest as compared to other areas?). "Nearness-to" data will be presented (people living within what access radius)

Three policy concepts will be explored by simulation

  1. What if all (100%) of the local demand (by people of all of the counties in which the Forest occurs) was attempted to be met? What would be the success or failure rates?
  2. Half (50% or more)?
  3. A proportion,. P, where P = Forest ownership/total county area?

Two investment (budgets available) scenarios will be presented, thus, providing a readable, simple 2 x 3 table. The table can be used for comparisons and education attempting to bring citizen benefits in line with their expectations.

Challenge: Shorten the Time It Takes to Complete a Plan GeorgA is a dynamic planning system. The plan text can be produced at anytime. The "plan" is the dynamically changing computer system. A planning system will be created in 3 years. It will be undergoing change and improvement thereafter not only for planning but for many roles. GeorgA is a prototype so all Eastern forests can have an approved planning system with massive components of conventional plans already in files, edited, and readily modified to fit local conditions. Standard equations and algorithms can be used (or replaced if local data or equivalent operators are available). The planning system may have milestone dates but it is a continually improving and growing system so there is never the notion that " the plan is completed."

Challenge:Conduct Planning in Smaller Increments

Consistent with the above, GeorgA (1) seeks inputs and advice on specific "chapters" or "paragraphs" (plan elements) from various people and groups in prescribed formats (flexibility is assured, but often citizens have difficulty in deciding on how (in what form) to make inputs. They are often flexible. We reduce (but not eliminate) the square pegs for round holes. Because of the many sections and many "publics," these reviews and inputs do not have to be tightly scheduled. Some sections may be nearly permanent, others changing every 6 months. There are no final, permanent answers.

Challenge:Clearly Articulate Resource Capabilities and Limitations

Related to the first challenge above directed to Forest capabilities, this challenge addresses the limitations of GeorgA itself and associated staff. A limitations statement will be made.The education group will list "reducing complaints about limitations" and "reducing excessive requests" as behavior modifications to be achieved.

One consequence of "modeling" will be to identify the knowledge gaps and factors to which the system is most sensitive.A Research and Study Needs chapter will be created and made available in the system but it will also be available as a separate document to NSF, USDA, the Southern Research Station, universities, and others. Often the need is for help in finding existing knowledge.

Challenge: Find Ways to Balance Local. Regional. and National Priorities

We shall have in the stored text the major relevant laws, regulations, and policies. As part of the incremental process, small local groups will be called together to work on planning segments. Knowledge of the total system and key connection points will allow specific questions to be formulated, discussions focused, limitations stated, and local conditions included in the system.

National priorities will be interpreted in brief statements. Usually laws, regulations, and policies can be interpreted as fifth-order objectives (types of "Objectives" will be presented in a follow-up document) and one type is used as constraints within the mathematical formulations.

"Forest plans are local plans..." (p. 19) and GeorgA addresses the Forest, the Districts, planning units, and the local citizens who list objectives, assign them values, and indicate limitations on how they wish them achieved.

Challenge:Build Effective Human Relations

Difficult at best, nearly impossible for an Agency, stressed by frequent staff turnovers, antagonized by "the impersonal computer, " this is a real challenge. GeorgA addresses it by:

  1. Assigning authorship to ideas and comments (if desired)
  2. Addressing individuals for help
  3. Developing ad hoc, short-term "taskforces"
  4. Presenting TV, pictures, etc. of participants for news releases
  5. Conducting a new series of field trips
  6. Sponsoring a web site with special units for "Adjacent-landowners"
  7. Conducting County and Planning District leadership education sessions
  8. Conducting Professional group education sessions (e.g., landscape architect, private recreational facility owners)
  9. Sponsoring abundant high quality publicity media, contact areas, and contact phone
  10. Conducting "Programs" for citizen groups
  11. Developing a Forest computer "game(s) " for youth to play
  12. Achieving a balance of requests for public "help" (volunteerism) with rewards of some type (a) clear use, (b) acknowledgement, (c) and minor benefits (field trips, newsletter, etc.).

Challenge: Be Sensitive to People's Emotions

An analytical procedure will be developed. We shall see if "an individual" is isolated or representative. We shall determine whether "relative weights of importance" in computing the system performance index can be revised as can expected values for public groups. Explanation may help (e.g., in changing an expected value). Alternatives include the potential to address some emotional issues by separating users of areas, "hiding" certain users or uses (in models as well as within the field) , separating users in time, etc.

Minor changes in responses by staff, both personal and written, need to be made. A $100 personal visit may equate to a $10,000 law suit saving.

We shall seek inputs on strategies from university and USFS experienced personnel.

We need to encourage extended, publicized, efforts at compromise before decisions.

Challenge:Achieve Integrated Interdisciplinary Resource Management

GeorgA itself is the best currently available concept to "depict a desired future condition for the forest as a whole" (p. 20). It allows the best knowledge and data on individual resources (not upsetting single-resource staff lines) to be unified ecologically, economically, energetically, and aesthetically. GeorgAworks on opportunity areas as well as for "planning" so daily proposed actions on the forest (prescription, etc.) can be tested against the system land. Changes can be tallied to change the expression of the current state of the system.

Challenge: Integrate Programming, Budgeting, and Appropriations

Current budgetary processes allocate money to each resource area separately, rather than as an integrated whole. The Rural System concept, that of a public/private for-profit conglomerate presents an alternative funding mechanism and converts the plan into a working tool, essential for sustained profits, thus a well-protected, well managed, and rejuvenated system. GeorgAmay later be used as a model to compare the consequences of two or more different budgeting strategies including full scale authorizations or partials or re-scheduled funding.

The search should be for "a way that encourages rather than inhibits interdisciplinary integrated forest management." GeorgA allows such a search to continue along alternative paths.

Challenge: Effectively Deal with Multi-faceted Issues

The proposed system unifies the resources of the forest... far beyond those of trees and adds to them the full scope of rural resources. System failures and conflicts have been felt because of separating agency claims to single-resource management. By centralizing emphasis on sustained net monetary gains and incentives for all, the single resource emphasis (retained for the law) is suppressed. An elaborate Feedforward Subsystem (see elsewhere in this document) is described to provide "... integrated responses to issues that have simultaneous effects in many resource areas."

Challenge:Fuel Forest Plans with the Dollars They Require

Resource plans without budget plans to manage or use the resources appear silly to all in the public. The alternative budgetary conditions suggested under "Objectives" addresses the options but does not address "desired budgets" or "annual needs." Budgets can be devised and presented in infinite configuration. GeorgA presents only minimum budgetary information but expresses costs (three levels with different risks of failure) of achieving expressed, desired benefits.

Challenge: Keep Forest Plans Current The dynamic nature of GeorgA as already described, meets this challenge.

There have to be responses to these challenges. They remain in the current system and procedures even after many reports and analyses of why planning is weak. We need to have these changed before we go farther down the road that we know will not allow us to arrive at a successful condition. We know the challenges. There need to be major changes, not course adjustments.

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May 3, 2005