A Little Citizens' Involvement
Alternative Modern National Forest System Area Planning
for the George Washington National Forest, Virginia
|Contents (click to link to a chapter)
About the web site
Introduction and Vision
Addressing the Challenges of National Forest Planning
A Proposed Planning System : GeorgA
Planning for the Appalachian Trail
Forests of Rural Towns in and Near the National Forest
Plan and Planning References
In Salem, Virginia, mid-April 2005, a small group sponsored by the Citizens Taskforce on the National Forests met and the new planning concepts of the US Forest Service were discussed with Forest representatives. A spirit of openness, willingness to cooperate, and potentials to collaborate was sensed.
The specific work ahead, given regional meetings and policy changes, was to take a new approach to Forest planning, specifically to develop with it a new plan for the George Washington National Forest. That Plan was over 10 years old. The plan for the adjacent and singularly managed Jefferson National Forest had been recently completed (after many years) in 2004.
In the spirit of "public involvement" (from the USFS glossary), several of us explored how we might best spend our energy and expertise. We began thinking about what real collaboration might mean. We started to write suggestions to the Forest staff and then realized we had fallen into an old confrontational strategy. We were beginning, all over again, to create a one directional presentation, inviting response -- with surely some negative elements, thus, by definition, conflicts. We were developing weapons, "arrows" and awaiting others in return. We read of and have spoken of collaboration and found ourselves not doing it. We hardly knew how.
|We found typical graphical presentations inadequate, even suggesting hostility.|
We continue to seek alternative images for the words of working together in a public private relationship, one of candor, openness, trust and fair recognition of contributions as well as limitations. We work at different scales, find rewards and professional advancements in different ways, have different objectives … all of which need to be acted upon, more than just acknowledged. We attend meetings irregularly, move to higher assignments, have shifting priorities. We acknowledge that the work of a planning group, a collaborative one, like its Forest, needs to be sustained. Private participants have time limits as real as agencies have budget limits and arbitrary deadlines. Sustaining private interest in a seemingly non-responsive large federal system with changing "deadlines" is as difficult as that of sustaining agency administrative budgets.
Private participants in the planning process are pleased to be informed about Forest plans
Not at all sure that "only tell us what you want changed" is the best approach to the new Forest plan, we nevertheless think that may be an excellent way to both begin discussions and to summarize. The following are the desired changes:
Whether we will be allowed or encouraged in participation in the processes remains to be seen. Some of us have been attempting participation for over 20 years. Some actions have seemed useful but "performance measures" suggest they have been unsuccessful for both of us. We now know that public participation in Forest planning is very different than participating in a classical public hearing about a new garbage route or a new zoning regulation. The magnitude (volume of pages, time frame (always over 150 years), areas involved, number of professionals involved, number of people influenced, and likely scale of financial impacts) is enormous. Its scope, social group (vs. individual) intent, legal and regulatory form, and number of topics are typically far beyond the knowledge or interest of any one person in the agency, certainly that within the public that might be involved. Even the best-intended participation may be readily discounted. A reason or excuse for such discounting is always handy. Thus we work for new techniques of involvement.
These are all "involvement" and we assume they are acceptable in general, but they are neither the kind of citizen consciousness and concern that the agency needs, nor is it the kind, we believe, that underlies the law (as suggested by Primack in , Chapt 8; Giles in Wildlife Management, Chapt. 5, Decker and Goff in Valuing Wildlife; David Perry in Forest Ecosystem, p. 570, and Editors Johnson, Szaro and Sexton, 1999, Ecological Stewardship, Vol. 3; and esoteric demands for clear citizen objective functions in Dykstra's Mathematical Programming for Natural Resource Management, 1984, and Starfield and Bleloch's Building Models for Conservation and Wildlife Management).
We understand the existing George Washington National Forest Plan and have participated in it. I was once involved with the Forest as a state game department biologist for 5 years in the cooperative forest-wildlife program on the southern districts of that forest. I've participated as a citizen in Forest planning for 0ver 15 years. While interested in the Forest, I are more interested in the planning process that in the present Forest conditions, and when asked "what needs to be changed?" I do not think of map segments and harvest amounts but of the "planning level" of the Forest as an example of what I have wished for the George Washington as well as the other Forests of the nation. I know the work is long, difficult, costly and tedious, and people who are hired for their love of "the field" do not like or find comfort in the intensive office work required. I think that we can change that together. There is a need for a new concept of the Plan and new procedures to make it achievable, timely, and cost effective. The planning effort outlined herein may become one major alternative for communicating just what we mean by that. Communicating that message for something as large, complex, complicated, and value-laden as an entire large Eastern Forest, we know, cannot be done easily and not likely with historical intent or methods. Public meetings and limited time for multiple presentations will not achieve the desired Forest conditions.
I re-iterate: I contend that citizens want a central advisory role in developing a vital planning system, one that, by design, overcomes past difficulties. The design criteria are as follows. These are the outline of our "vision" of the plan itself. Achieving the criteria, our objectives as citizens, will assure us and we believe the Forest staff and the present and future citizens for whom they labor, that a desirable planning system is operating. It can reduce the "eternal vigilance" of some of us within "the public" for engaging in preventative legal combat. That is not the "public involvement" (the last on the list above) that any of us seek.
The design criteria that I recommend for the revised plan:
We hope you will read and study the overview and suggestions for changes and additions to the next George Washington National Forest Plan. See the contents list above. I'll be glad to correspond. Contact me.
Robert H. Giles, Jr., May 25, 2005
April 28, 2005