Rural System's

Public Involvement

Rural System staff may work closely with public lands and with large private land holdings requiring abundant public involvement in land use dicisions.


The NFMA planning regulations require that public participation "shall be used early and often throughout the development of plans…" (36 CFR 219.6(c). The intent is to acquire information, provide an opportunity for the Forest Service to understand public concerns and values, and to inform the public of Forest Service planning activities, programs, and proposed actions (36 CFR 219.6(a)."

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Hendee et al. (1973:17) recommended based on studies that "several objectives are appropriate and feasible for most public involvement efforts, although their importance may vary with particular issues or at different stages of the decision process. The specific objectives should be established for each particular issue, and then be communicated clearly both within the Service and to the public."

Sixteen different methods of public participation were outlined by Force and Williams (1989). They observed that participating in planning requires considerable time, money, educational skills, and effort. Although half of participants work on their own, organizations tend to promote more activity and allow participants to be better prepared.

In 2001, a National Dialogue on public involvement in environment-related topics was convened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and hosted by Information Renaissance with additional support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The following notes gathered from over 500 participants tend to guide the efforts herein. We concur with many water resource managers and planners and that of Sherry Arnstein's that implementing public participation can be compared to eating spinach. Everyone agrees it is good for them, but no one enjoys it.

We propose that GeorgA system (a planning system proposed for the George Washington National Forest, 2007, and being generalized) should attempt to:

To these public-involvement ends, staff of GeorgeA should attempt -- to the fullest extent of time, resources, and abilities (unfortunately not always successfully) to have a successful program of public participation or involvement. We need to clarify and develop an understanding about what public participation processes or program are supposed to "do." Success of such a program in public participation (a subsystem) may not result in resource success, i.e., in changes in the environment or the faunal resource. The public-involvement program (like the plan itself) is a means to an end -- achievement of the objectives complex.

The managers' roles are to make the public participation process as efficient as possible, to elicit participation, to collect results, and to process them along with several types of participation in a democratically oriented society. The manager sets up a system, gets participation, and then uses it ... and subsequently refines and maintains it fro there are not evident "end-states." The activities of the system are seen as being:

  1. Clarify the objectives of the public-involvement program.
  2. Provide financial assistance for major contributions
  3. Provide specialized information to groups with identified interests
  4. Help communities and groups educate themselves using self-help or training manuals
  5. Avoid spoon-feeding adults. "What most adults desire is guidance to facilitate their own actions using whatever ingenuity applies to their situation."
  6. Strive for fresh ideas, corrections, and improvements
  7. Provide several levels of information and explanations for complex topics
  8. Provide local units that demonstrate concepts
  9. Provide computer-based as well as conventional materials
  10. Make revisions based on sharing and listening
  11. Work with group representatives, then "stakeholders," using a variety of methods to either identify stakeholders or to allow them to self-identify.
  12. Within reasonable limits, address many interests. Without a breadth of interests at the table, one cannot be sure that all the major issues are raised by individuals with a stake in the outcome. In the policy realm, "membership and participation issues" were considered by Congress in the Negotiated Rulemaking Act (5 USC sec. 581 at sec. 585). For example, congress stated in sec. 585 that to establish a committee under the act, the agency (the choser of the members, usually with assistance from a "convenor" or neutral facilitator) "must determine that a negotiated rulemaking committee can adequately represent the interests that will be significantly affected by a rule..."
  13. Keep records.
  14. Provide media information about the plan and its changes.
  15. Use electronic exchanges i.e., chats, listserves, email responses, e-polling, electronic surveys and questionnaires
  16. Develop citizen and staff listserves for correspondence about the planning system and changes.
  17. Identify as early as possible the outcomes and the affected people.
  18. Recognize that collaboration cannot be gained with hundreds of thousands of people. Their personal interests and preferences cancel each other. Collaboration needs to be with individuals and groups working toward the objectives-complex.
  19. Use and recognize "Readers" and "Subject-matter Advisors"
  20. Learn "as we go," making changes.
  21. Tell the public about the inputs that were made and how they affected the system (explain the impact of the comments)
  22. Acknowledge and discuss the strong emotional attachment and values held by some groups, the positive and negative values of some species, and the changing residences of people that singly or collectively may result in stalemates within a democracy or representative government.
  23. Develop strategies for involving the "silent majority"-- those who tend to be the traditionally under-served or those who can't participate because of situational, cultural, locational, or financial barriers.
  24. Provide alternative modes of participation.
  25. Show that voices raised in any fashion have an effect.
These comments are developed from concepts within and related to:


Some managers take a problem-oriented approach to management. They see planning along with forming guidelines as a way "to avoid what we don't want." Others of us see "problems" as the gap between achieving objectives and the current condition. We start with objectives. Nevertheless, some of us think that Forest staff may like support and confirmation of the problems they face or see on the horizon. These we currently see as:
1. Invasive species
2. Unauthorized off-road vehicle use of the land
3. Urban residential area expansion
4. Endangered species
5. Minorities use rates
6. International emphasis
7. Employment and Community Stability
8. Inadequate ecological knowledge use
9. Low clarity of objectives
10. Energy challenges
11. Vertebrate damage
12. International ecotourism quality
13. Political support for Eastern Forest management and programs
14. Admixture of Western Forest problems and policies with Eastern conditions
15. Improving stream fishery quality
16. Unstable artesian and groundwater supplies
17. Excessive wilderness uses
18. Needs for Chesapeake Bay initiatives
19. Needs for New River initiatives
20. Need for a modern active multi-agency conglomerate enterprise core philosophy vs. the "woodland-mountain-top scanning" persona
21. Improving State-and-private linkages
22. Improving Research Station, university/college, and Forest linkages

Public Comment

We think that comments on official documents are now standard practice and not likely to change. They allow individuals to comment on individual parts of individual items. Given the scope of a Forest plan, these types of comments may result in editorial change but are likely to have little effect in a well-balanced document in which tradeoffs and concessions, and break-even analyses have, over long periods and great costs and often in-house debate, produced the displayed result. The person commenting typically feels that the comment is wasted for it seems ignored, not integrated, or no significant effects perceived later. The public or agency comment after the planning is done, a form of "approval" of the final plan, while "involvement," is almost functionless and probably wasteful.

We believe that those people making comments should provide backup, supporting documents, and scientific reports wherever possible (an onerous task, enough to discourage participation) but similarly, there needs to be backup for the statements and positions taken by staff developing the plan. These can be included in appendices and explanatory and supportive documents and models of various types. Hypertext or significant links can begin to achieve this new flow of information and policy.

We have been engaged in studies of public participation and when we studied, for example, the once-hotly-contested topic of setting the season for gray squirrel hunting, we found that there were many criteria for what would be a good season. It took energy to tease out of discussions of squirrel habitat and the biology and ecology of the squirrel that (1) different people had very different values attached to the potential death of young squirrels in the nest, and (2) almost unrelated to the squirrel, they were concerned about the high probability of poaching young wild turkeys (Giles, R. H., Jr. and J. M. Lee, Jr. 1979). Previously, Kennedy (1970) in his Ph.D. work found attitudes, values, and expectations of professional foresters and wildlife specialists were not those of "the general public" deer hunter, thus being able to manage precisely "for the general public" was unlikely.

Alternative Citizen Inputs

We propose a procedure for gaining estimates of the multi-dimensional objectives of citizens expressed as Forest benefits. While we believe that an estimate can now be made of the median dollar value of such benefit units (Brown, 1982; Swanson and Loomis 1996), some many not. Expressions of relative importance allow a secondary estimate of value, the "opportunity cost" to be made. We see the Forest as having and producing opportunities to buy, secure, or use services to achieve individual or group benefits. Officially imposed limits on use provide so-called "option demand." Major benefits are to be accounted; all secondary benefits achieved and accommodated (there may be many) in that process do not have to be tallied. The successes are reported as "at least… achievement."

Rather than returning to or emphasizing a project orientation, we propose major citizen involvement in articulating objectives and assigning estimates to their dimensions. We believe this shift represents a major change in public area natural resource management. It allows full accountability, precise performance measures, resource tradeoffs, attention to specific publics and individual exceptions (as long as within stated bounds), and requires high-level knowledge of the structure and function of alpha cell ecologic, silvics, and silviculture functions, primarily those of production over time (ecological succession). While full-scale democratic public participation is encouraged and allowed, we suggest a jury be secured (perhaps someday elected) to assign, as instructed, their best estimates of the median values of what they and all of their associates would most likely assign. (The assignment process is difficult and tedious. Sampling techniques may someday reduce the time and effort required because strong correlations and predictive regressions seem likely to be built readily for groups, perhaps individuals.)

The end result is that Forest staff can be seen as officially working for the general public, all citizens. Past efforts to please "the average citizen" have failed (as suggested in the nearby figure). Their total work becomes that of
Figure 1. If population interests, values, risks and willingness to substitute are bi-modal (2-humped) then there may be very few average citizens that would be served by a strategy for meeting or serving the average.
utilizing their education, experience, and resources available to them to secure cost-effectively opportunities for citizens to achieve their quantified objectives. The public does not tell than "what they want" except explicitly the benefits they want and need, leaving the manager a full range for exercising professional creativity and acumen and continual field work to improve models, the arrangement in time, space, and sequence of things, and dealing with the daily challenges of sequences and experiences.

The computer systems now available allows the tradeoffs and balances to be made among the often-competing needs for resources and space over time to achieve the stated, desired benefits…that is the opportunity for people to secure those benefits during the next 150 years. Getting or delivering them is not planned. Expressed needs are met to the best ability of the manager, given natural conditions and limitations, preventing extinctions occurring, providing for the future, obeying the local, state and federal laws, meeting professional codes, and within the variable nature of forest conditions….all for the long planning horizon of 150 years sliding forward each year.

Objectives and values for the dimensions are examined every 5 years by the jury and analyses re-run as needed. (Most will remain the same. A stable system, however, seems very difficult to create to meet unstable objectives.)


May 13, 2012