Dear Reader: This paper is a work in progress by the Committee of Scientists on planning processes for the national forests. It has been constructed by a subcommittee of the COS. While it contains some of the ideas that have been discussed by the COS, it should not be seen as a finished product. We wanted to distribute it in this form so that we would receive your comments at a time when we could use them.

 

CHAPTER 4.   A PLANNING APPROACH TO ACHIEVE SUSTAINABILITY AND DEEPEN PUBLIC AND AGENCY ENGAGEMENT

The primary purpose of land and resource planning on the national forests is to sustain our watersheds, forests and rangelands and provide for the multiple use of these lands.

As discussed in other sections, the most fundamental goal of the National Forest System is to maintain and restore ecological sustainability — the long-term maintenance of the diversity of native plant and animal communities and the productive capacity of ecological systems. To achieve this goal, planning must apply the best available scientific information and analysis so that the diversity and adaptive capability of ecosystems will be maintained and restored.

Building on the foundation of sustainable ecological systems, planning should provide for sustainable development that contributes to our economic and cultural systems and to our communities. To accomplish this goal, planning should seek to provide a wide variety of uses, products, values, and services.

The guiding framework for the planning process within these two primary goals comes from the public issues of national, regional or local interest regarding the management of the national forest system lands. The identification, analysis and, hopefully, resolution of these issues is a desired outcome of the planning process.

 

SUSTAINABILITY--THE TRADITIONAL FOCUS OF PLANNING

Over the last 400 years, an overriding goal of public forestry has been to sustain the productive capacity of its forests. First in Europe and then in the United States, foresters have attempted to meet this goal by providing a sustained yield of commercial timber volume. As in Europe, the emergence of forestry in the United States in the late nineteenth century occurred after a long period of deforestation due to rapid harvest to clear lands for agriculture and settlement, build cities, provide fuel for individuals and commerce, and ship lumber to foreign markets. The concept of sustained yield forestry This approach stood in stark contrast to this rapid harvest.

The forest reserve movement at the end of the nineteenth century sought to protect watersheds and the productive capacity of the forests by creating public forests. Advocates of forestry and conservation argued that a public forestry based on sustained yield principles would provide for both ecological and social sustainability--overexploitation of resources would be prevented and a continuous supply of wood would be available to help stabilize local economies and communities.

From the very beginning, planning for the use and management of the forest reserves, later renamed the National Forests, began with an analysis of the sustained yield of timber. The size of the planning area was a "working circle", or an area large enough to provide a local mill with sufficient timber on a continuing basis. Regulation of use (timber, grazing, mining, and recreation) and protection (from fire, insects and disease, and poor timber harvest practices) were the primary roles of public forest managers. As harvest levels rose after World War II, management analysis went intofocused more on timber yield estimates, the effects of intensive management, and later, in the 1970s, on the environmental and economic implications of allowing short periods of higher harvest levels as compared to an "even-flow" policy.

The NFMA was written at a time of change in public values as expressed in the Wilderness Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, to name only a few of the many environmental protection laws of the time. The NFMA called for public forest management to explicitly address the environmental consequences of commercial timber harvest and to designate areas that were unsuitable for timber harvest as a result of environmental considerations. Thus, "forest planning" focused on determining the sustained yield level of timber harvest for each national forest, subject to providing at least minimal levels of protection for species and ecosystems.

In the 1980s, scientific knowledge of ecosystems grew rapidly, and new analysis technologies allowed complex interactions to be understood and predicted based on different management scenarios. Management strategies based on sustained yield of timber simply did not provide adequate protection it became clear that the protection of many plant and animal species and or for ecosystems ecological system functions necessary for long term productivity. In addition, in a dynamic global economy, a localized emphasis on a sustained supply of commercial timber could provide neither economic nor community stability.

But the forest planning process was too far down the tract track to recall. So the heart of the plans continued to be a sustained yield of commercial timber volume. And, once completed, they were almost immediately made obsolete, in many parts of the country, by the emerging emphasis on the conservation of the diversity of plants and animals to ensure ecological sustainability.

The purpose of this section is to suggest a planning process and structure that first recognizes the maintenance of sustainable ecological systems as the foundation of national forest management and then, within that context, attempts to provide sustainable contributions to the social and economic well-being of communities and the nation. This chapter builds upon the existing legal framework for planning and management in the Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA) as amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA). We begin with a discussion of the national assessment and program required by the RPA. To provide a context in which to understand the current and proposed planning structure, we describe the key elements of the current system of plans. We then turn to a new conceptual framework for information gathering, strategic planning and implementation planning.

 

THE ROLE OF THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT AND PROGRAM

The RPA assessment was intended to be a vehicle by which the status of all lands and resources in the United States can be periodically assessed relative to current conditions and future expectations. It has especially emphasized the supply and demand for the different multiple uses such as timber and recreation across the different ownerships. It has been less successful in characterizing ecological conditions, especially those that have a strong regional flavor such as threatened and endangered species. In reality, the RPA assessment cannot be expected to provide a detailed evaluation of ecological sustainability in the different regions of the country. Providing that information, the basis of planning for sustainability, needs to be done through bioregional assessments as discussed below.

Still, the RPA assessment can contribute to national forest planning in a number of ways: 1) It shapes our understanding of the conditions on all forest and range lands across the country as well as likely demand and supply considerations. The regional analyses on forest and rangeland trends on nonfederal ownerships are especially valuable. 2) It provides linkage to international ecological and social issues like the role of forests in addressing global climate change policy, protecting biodiversity, and sustaining temperate and tropical forests. 3) It provides a forum for discussing the institutional and policy framework for sustainability on diverse ownerships, including the principles and mechanisms for sustainable forest management on private forest lands. 4) It can highlight ecological systems at risk.

The RPA Program was envisioned as a master plan for the management of the national forests, given the inputs (especially budgets) that would be needed to provide high levels of outputs (especially commodities). It has rarely worked as intended in the 25 years since its passage. The RPA Program, for all its good intentions, called for input and output goals that become divorced from the land and the dynamic management that goes on at the local level. Its targets have forever lagged behind the changing conditions and values expressed at each unique National Forest and Ranger District. In addition, both Presidents and Congress has largely ignored the Program, responding more directly to their own priorities for management of the National Forests and the realities of limited budgets. Similarly, both Regions and National Forests have largely ignored the RPA program in planning--not a surprising result since it is difficult to express the goals for management of each National Forest as a set of functional resource production targets set at the national level.

We believe that the RPA Program (and its successor) could provide overall policy guidance for the National Forests by recognizing their role in the context of other ownerships, as specifically required in the law. At its best, the RPA program can be a strategic vision of the management emphasis for the national forests in the context of the management of all lands, including lands in other countries, pointing out the unique contributions of the National Forests. With this vision the RPA program would be a policy guide when developing the large and small landscape plans discussed below. As an example, the recent statement of the Chief of the Forest Service regarding the importance of watershed protection in achieving ecological sustainability is the beginnings of such a strategic vision.

The Annual Report to Congress called for in the RPA is the direct connection to the Government Performance and Reporting Act. The planning process proposed below should make it possible to track actual improvements in land and resource conditions, actual achievements given budget appropriations, and necessary changes to meet the primary goals of the national forest system.

 

A COMPARISON OF PLANNING STRUCTURES: EXISTING AND PROPOSED

EXISTING APPROACH

The planning regulations now in effect were proposed in 1979 and revised and approved in final form in 1982. The current regulations resulted in three sub-national planning levels in addition to the national Assessment and Program. Each planning level is considered a NEPA action, and thus has an EA or an EIS associated with it:

Type of plan/
responsible
official
Geographic
boundary
Purpose
Regional guide/
Chief

Forest Service
Region

Reflect RPA goals and objectives;
Display tentative RPA resource objectives
(targets) for each planning area; cover
standards and guidelines for addressing the
major issues which need to be considered at
the regional level to facilitate planning
(maximum clearcut sizes, approp.
silvic. method, management strategies for wide-
ranging species, etc.)

Forest plan/
Regional forester

National
Forest

Develop multiple use goals and objectives,
identify the quantities of goods and services
to be produced, subject to minimum
management requirements for protection of
wildlife habitat, soil and water quality.
Ensure viability of vertebrate species.
Address local issues and develop
alternatives showing minimum resource
development and maximum biological potential,
with costs and benefits. Toward these purposes,
allocate land among different management emphases,
set standards and guidelines for mgt. within each
emphasis, calculate the land suitable for timber
production, calculate an upper limit on timber
removals, estimate ecological, economic, and
social effects on a programmatic basis; set project
goals and aggregate budget and human resource
requests for projects. Develop monitoring and
evaluation requirements. At least one alternative
was to be directed toward meeting the RPA targets
stated in Regional Guidance.

Project/
??

Depends on
objective of
project

Propose actions to achieve goals of
plan, assess site-specific effects;
estimate budget needed and outputs that will
result. Mitigate adverse environ. effects

 

Developing information for the planning process was an initial step in the planning process at both the Regional and National Forest levels. Called the "analysis of the management situation", it included: demand and supply conditions for resource commodities, services as well as their production potentials.are developed, as needed planning These analyses were production oriented calling for benchmark analysis of the minimum and maximum physical and biological production capabilities of significant goods and services with associated costs and benefits, monetary benchmarks that maximize present net value of major commodity resources, estimates of current production of goods and services, and projections of demand.

Thus, although the RPA expected that "the new knowledge derived from coordinated public and private research programs will promote a sound technical and ecological base for effective management, use and protection of the Nation’s renewable resources" (RPA Sec. 2(4)), the 1982 Regulations reflected the commodity production orientation of the time. As a result, the information developed for and used in forest planning did not generally address the ecological issues of increasing concern for scientists and the public, and therefore led to underestimated or downplayed environmental effects of commodity production in EIS analyses.

 

PROPOSED APPROACH

Our proposed approach retains a hierarchical planning structure, emphasizing the use of ecological boundaries, especially those that have social meaning, separates the assessment information gathering from planning and urges a collaborative approach with other federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, and the public. It is intentionally more flexible than the current design to allow for a diversity of approaches across the country and to encourage experimentation. The process, though, has a set of core design characteristics that we feel are essential for effective planning, and by which any planning process and structure should be judged:

1) the development and use of scientifically credible strategies for the protection of species and ecosystems,

2) a set of goals and proposed actions for management of these forests that puts them on the path to ecological sustainability, contributes to economic and social sustainability, and provides for the multiple uses.

3) a deepened public engagement in planning, including development of a sense of joint inquiry into the conditions, capabilities and potential of the national forests, the encouragement of joint public/agency stewardship of these lands, and the restoration of trust in Forest Service management.

4) a deepened agency engagement in planning by connecting planning more centrally to the issues faced by national forest managers,

5) the encouragement of organizational learning through adaptive management, information sharing, ongoing public dialogue, and independent review.

Assessments

We believe that it is important to recognize assessment as a distinct task organized as a joint inquiry involving the federal agencies, other governments, and the public. It should meet the expectations of RPA for creating "coordinated public and private research" relationships to "promote a sound technical and ecological base" of information.

In the past, the analysis of ecological and social conditions and trends was done, to one degree or another, as part of regional guidance and national forest planning. We believe that assessments have such an important role in providing the information base for national forest planning that they should be organized as a separate task. Assessments are not decisions and should not be made to function under the NEPA processes associated with planning. By recognizing assessment as a separate task, everyone in the assessment process will more easily focus on conditions, trends, problems and risks instead of on the development of planning alternatives.

These assessments have a number of functions--identifying issues of special importance, creating forums for joint learning between scientists, managers and the public, improving inventories encouraging landscape level thinking that transcends national forest and agency boundaries, building cohesion among different levels of the Forest Service and between the Forest Service and other agencies, and providing a context for national forest planning. Also, they can help develop leadership and provide a crash course in adaptive management.

Our proposal includes an additional element at the bioregional level--the development and application of scientifically credible procedures for evaluating ecological sustainability. The analysis of ecological sustainability will require a critical mass of scientists, working independently, but reporting periodically to a broader group to enable critique, discussion, and joint learning. An example of this approach is the recent work on aquatic ecosystems in the ICBEMP (sidebar). Without the development of these scientifically credible approaches to assessing the effect of planning alternatives on ecological sustainability, it is difficult to see how planning the management of the national forests can be successful. With the development of these strategies, assessments should be able to prove their worth to managers and planners.

In this process, it will still be important to retain the linkage between assessment and planning: the primary purposes of assessments are to develop information on ecological and social sustainability and to develop the organizational and social capacity for planning so that planning can proceed. This linkage will help define not only the boundaries of the assessments, but their organization and staffing. Planners and resource specialists need to participate in these assessments in order to contribute their knowledge, better understand the body of information that is produced, get experience with adaptive management processes, and be better prepared to use the information in planning and management.

We envision two types of assessments:

Type Geographic boundary Purpose
Bioregional Ecological Assess ecological sustainability (species
viability and ecosystem integrity) under
current polices across all ownerships.
Suggest strategies for sustaining ecological
systems where problems are detected.
Assess the current and potential
contributions of the national forests to
economic and social well-being. Assess the
social context and history of the region,
including demographic changes, economic
patterns and trends, and institutional
arrangements. Address a variety scientific
and technical issues as suggested by public
issue groups.
Watershed
assessments
(landscape
assessments)
Landform Use information from bioregional
assessments and large landscape plans to
refine desired future condition and pathways
to that condition; address local
issues of ecological sustainability and
multiple use, including those defined by
issue groups. Use a participatory social
analysis approach so that communities can
assess their current economic and social
conditions and long term well-being.

Planning

Planning could be done through either two or three levels, depending on whether strategies for ensuring ecological sustainability are developed at the bioregional level separate from the large landscape plans or as a part of them. We explain the planning hierarchy in terms of a three-level approach and then also illustrate its structure when two levels are recognized.

Type of plan/
responsible
official
Geographic
boundary
Purpose
Bioregional
guidance/Regional
Forester
Ecological Provide strategies to ensure sustainable
ecological systems (species viability and
ecosystem integrity) and sustainable
development across large areas.
Large landscape
plans/
Forest
Supervisor(s)
Ecological/
social
Interpret strategies for ecological
sustainabilility and provide for multiple use;
address issues defined by collaborative
groups; set desired future conditions for
different parts of the landscape
and actions permitted within them, choose
strategic pathways to move toward desired
conditions, set input and outcome measures
for judging progress toward desired
conditions, set land suitable for resource management, estimate ecological, economic,
and social contributions on a programmatic
basis. Develop monitoring and evaluation
process, including independent review.
Small
landscape
Ecological/
social
Propose actions that move toward desired
future conditions; consider all projects in
combination to the degree possible within
the planning area; estimate site-specific
effects; estimate budgets needed for action,
estimate outcomes that will result, estimate
cumulative effects, provide context for
action. Specify monitoring criteria and
expected outcomes, including experimental
efforts and areas of uncertainty.

This approach retains the three-tiered planning framework that has developed over time based on the existing (1982) regulations: 1) overall guidance at the "regional" level, 2) a second level, smaller in geographic scope although still perhaps covering millions of acres, at which the long-term plan is developed considering the multitude of issues that surface during the planning process, and 3) a site-specific level to develop the actions needed to carry out the long-term plan. Based on the experience of the last 20 years, we would suggest a number of changes and refinements in this overall approach to better address the provision of ecological and social sustainability. Many of these suggested changes are already being tried in different regions across the country; in fact we learned of many of them from the critiques that the Forest Service and others have done about planning and from our meetings across the country with Forest Service employees and the public:

Focus bioregional guidance on the development of scientifically credible strategies for ecologically sustainable use. In the past regional plans often fell short in their guidance on ecological sustainability. National forests, as a result, was were left without a firm foundation on which to build their plans. Significant effort in the future in bioregional planning must be placed on constructing scientifically-based strategies for the conservation of species and ecosystems.

Focus large landscape planning on desired future conditions and outcomes and on the pathway to achieve these desired states. In the past, national forest planning often focused on the short-term issues of land allocation and timber harvest levels. While these are still important issues, we believe that, consistent with the emphasis on ecological and social sustainability, national forest planning should emphasize the development of desired long-term landscape conditions and outcomes that will provide this sustainability. We believe that establishing these long-term goals is the most constructive place to start in the collaborative planning of the future and provides an essential guide for management. Visualization of the future landscape through pictures and computer simulations will be a crucial element in this work. Using information on current conditions, from the bioregional assessments and elsewhere, the large landscape plans should also build a pathway from the current state to the desired future state that includes an estimate of actions and budgets that will be needed.

Focus small landscape planning on the mix of activities and projects needed to meet the goals in the strategic plan--to implement the strategic plans. Projects should be developed in combination, to the degree possible, with attention to cumulative effects, and include implementation schedules, measurable performance standards, budget plans and staffing plans. New activities can be added to the overall plan with consideration of cumulative impacts and consistency with the general strategic intent of the plan. This is the planning level that is based upon Adaptive Management, meaning that it is a continuous cycle of activity, evaluation and review, adaptation and change.

The need to consider connected actions and cumulative effects, and to enable the public to see the geographic context within which the actions will occur, argues for an approach to project planning that considers a larger geographic area than that usually covered by a single project. These areas of interest will rarely follow national forest boundaries. Current examples are sometimes called "site-specific" landscape plans, and following this experience, we anticipate that small landscape plans will cover from 10,000 to 150,000 acres. There may be individual projects that are highly controversial and that require a longer time for public discussion prior to reaching a decision on their outcome. In such cases, it would be appropriate to evaluate them separately, but the cumulative effects of the project must be analyzed with the others before including them in the small landscape plans.

An Overall Planning Structure

The following schematic represents our vision of the overall planning process when a strategy for ecological sustainability is developed as a decision separate from the large landscape plans:

 

Bioregional Bioregional guidance
assessment ------------------> for ecological sustainability
1 D
1 D
1 V
1 -----------------> Large landscape plans
1 DDDDDDDDD "Strategic plans"
1 D D
1 D D
1 D D
1 D D
V V V
Watershed -----------------> Small landscape plans
(landscape) "Implementation plans"
assessment D
D
V
Actions
Information flows: -----------------> or 1 or ^
1 1
V 1
Decision flows: D
D
V

where V or > indicates the end of an arrow.

(In the interest of simplicity, some of the feed back loops on the diagram have been omitted.)

 

An Alternative Planning Structure

An alternative planning structure would combine the bioregional guidance for ecological sustainability with the development of the large landscape plans. The following schematic represents our vision of the overall planning process when a strategy for ecological sustainability is developed as a decision separate from the large landscape plans:

 

 

Bioregional
assessment
1
1
1
1 ----------------> Large landscape plans
1 DDDDDDDDD "Strategic plans" including the development
1 D of guidance for ecological sustainability
1 D D
1 D D
1 D D
1 D D
V V V
Watershed ----------------> Small landscape plans
(landscape) "Implementation plans"
assessment D
D
V
Actions

 

Each of these planning structures has advantages and disadvantages. Developing strategies for ecological sustainability at the bioregional level ensures that that a coherent conservation strategy for species and ecosystems is available for use as the foundation for forest planning in the large landscape plans. We expect that the range of many species and ecosystems cover the area of multiple large landscape plans. Therefore, attempting to develop conservation strategies as part of the large landscape planning process puts pressure on the planning teams to work together across large landscape planning areas as they craft their plans. It will undoubtedly require something close to simultaneous development of large landscape plans and raises the importance of an independent "science-consistency" check on the proposed plans.

 

The Role of the "Traditional" Land and Resource Plan for a National Forest.

The NFMA calls for development of an integrated land and resource plan for each National Forest. Where does that fit here? In some cases, the area of a large landscape plan will be identical to that covered by an individual national forest or a cluster of national forests. In those cases the land and resource plan called for under NFMA would be equivalent to the large landscape plan. In many cases, though, different areas on a national forest will be part of different large landscape plans.

Regardless of the boundary used for planning, it is important to integrate all planning direction into a single document at the appropriate scale. One problem created by varying the scales and boundaries of planning is the creation of multiple overlapping planning direction for a single national forest unit. This is confusing not only to the public, but also to the field personnel charged with implementing the plan who must refer to the planning direction and resolve differences in that direction among multiple planning documents.

Thus, individual national forest plans still have an important role in compiling the results of large landscape plans and connecting them with specific actions, ie., with small landscape plans. These plans are a logical focal point for summarizing budgets and staffing needs for proposed activities, measuring performance, and monitoring results. These plans provide a framework for the administration of a NF in a context of federal agencies and jurisdictions, state and local governments, tribes, local associations and other landowners. They are important sources of identity for many of the participants in forest planning.

We envision the "Forest Plan" as a "living document" holding in its covers the current agreements and strategies affecting a particular national forest or grassland. The boundaries of national forests may not be appropriate as planning units, but they can be the primary administrative unit for carrying out management of these lands.

We would predict that each of the three levels in the planning hierarchy described above would need a NEPA document--an EIS or EA associated with it. We believe that, as described here, the ‘Forest Plan" would not be part of a NEPA process when it served as a vehicle for compiling the results of a set of large landscape plans and small landscape plans.

 

Integrating Budgets into Planning

Past plans developed both the goals for forest management and also a set of actions for the plan decade expected to achieve these goals. The activity set was generally developed without limiting budget needs to current experience. Rather the plans were developed to help define the budget that would be needed, based on conclusions reached by the Forest Service after much analysis and public involvement. This approach often led to disappointment during plan implementation as Congress appropriated less money than envision envisioned and targeted the funds it did allocate to a different mix of actions and outcomes than called for in the plans.

For planning to be meaningful, it needs to bear a relationship to the current and likely future situation. To achieve this there must be some relationship between the plan and the budget available to undertake the plan. As discussed above, the strategic plan should concentrate on setting the long-term goals and the associated desired future condition, and make a first estimate of the pathway (mix of actions) over time to achieve these conditions. The estimated rate of attainment of desired conditions should be keyed to expected budgets, along with analysis of how increased or decreased budgets will affect the rate of progress. The details of actions to achieve progress toward these goals, however, should be left to implementation planning. As part of strategic planning, the budget needs of maintaining the desired future condition should be examined; if they appear unrealistic, less budget-intensive desired future conditions should be considered and options for building partnerships to increase stewardship capacity actively sought..

The actions outlined in the small landscape plans, updated on a yearly-basis, should be the basis for the budget requests. Budget short-falls will affect the actions taken and the rate of progress toward goals; they do not automatically trigger a revision in the strategic plan. If it becomes clear over time that Congress is unlikely to fund accomplishment of the management goals, then the strategic plan itself may need revision. During plan revision, a comparison should be made between the expected and actual budget during the plan period.

An annual report should be published that outlines how the budget for the year is affecting progress toward long-term goals. This is also an opportunity for identifying areas where goals are not being met and require a broader approach than just the planning process.

We envision the relationship between large landscape plans, small landscape plans, the national forest plans, and budgeting as follows:

 

Large landscape plans DDDDDD
"Strategic plans" D
D V
D National BBBBBBB > Budgeting
D forest B
D plans < BBBBBBBBB B
V ^
Small landscape plans B
"Implementation plans" BBBBBBB
D
D
V
Actions
Information flows: ------> or 1 or ^
1 1
V 1
Decision flows: D
D
V

where V or > indicates the end of an arrow.

Budgeting (requests flow up; money flows down): B B B B

 

Some Key Elements in our Proposal

We have listed 11 key elements of our proposal below:

1) Designate as the responsible official, a manager whose responsibilities cover the area being planned. Currently, the Chief is responsible for regional plans and the Regional Forester is responsible for national forest plans. This approach inhibits change and adaptation in regional plans and national forest plans. We believe that the Regional Foresters should be responsible for bioregional plans and that the Forest Supervisors should be responsible for national forest planslarge and small landscape plans and the integrated "forest plan."

2) Emphasize ecological boundaries for assessment and planning but also consider their social meaning in choosing them. In the past, planning boundaries were generally based on political/social boundaries--states, national forests, timber sale boundaries. Over the last 20 years, it has become increasingly recognized that assessment and planning to ensure ecological sustainability needs to use ecological boundaries-- such as range boundaries or key species, major watersheds, mountain ranges, vegetative types---to enable the development of comprehensive plans for the conservation of species and ecosystems and to measure the cumulative effects of proposed actions. This is especially true for the bioregional assessment and guidance for ecological sustainability: the logical species range or other ecologically meaningful area should be used. Examples are the bioregions defined by the range of the northern spotted owl, the watershed formed by the Columbia River, and the vegetative/watershed boundary for the Southern Appalachian Assessment. Rarely will a single boundary be sufficient for the assessment of ecological sustainability--rather different boundaries will be needed for different species and ecosystems in the assessment. In our discussion below, ‘bioregion’ refers to the area formed by the union of all the different species ranges and ecosystem boundaries.

Planning at the large and small landscape level should use ecological boundaries that also have social meaning. "large landscape plans" might be based on a geographic area that includes a single national forest, a cluster of national forests, or pieces of one or more national forests. Examples would be the Grande Ronde drainage within the Columbia River, the Lake Tahoe watershed in California, the collection of watersheds containing the three southern Idaho National Forests, or the northern, central, and southern parts of the Sierra Nevada. "Small landscape plans" for implementation would cover areas large enough to provide a context for action, and to measure cumulative effects, and small enough to enable site-specific analysis of proposed actions. They also should have some meaning to people as a ‘whole’. Examples are the Little Applegate River on the Rogue River NF, the Seven Buttes area of the Deschutes NF, and , and the Chattooga Watershed Conservation Plan in the Southeast.

3) Consider the larger landscape in which the national forests sit to understand the role of the national forests in ensuring ecological sustainability and contributing to human use. Past national forest planning tended to look inward at what the forests can produce rather than outward at the larger landscape and the special contribution that the national forests can make. Ideally, land and resource planning integrates the broader geographic, political, and social landscape with the potential contributions of the national forests, rangelands, watersheds and grasslands. Maintaining the diversity of native plant and animal communities and the productive capacity of ecological systems usually depends, in part, upon the activities on other public, tribal, state and private lands. Thus, the planning process must be outward looking with the goal of understanding the broader landscape in which the national forests and grasslands are located. The assessment of social, cultural and economic conditions and trends should provide a useful synthesis of current information regarding demographic changes and migration patterns, economic patterns and relationships, social organization, current institutional arrangements, and relevant historical context. This assessment will allow planners to have an independent "picture" of the social environment which can be refined and become more "place-based" in the planning process.

4) Address all federal lands and work with all affected federal agencies in a coordinated fashion. Past national forest planning tended to go its own way. We have realized that effective assessment and planning for our federal lands requires a coordinated approach across affected federal agencies. Federal agencies have made great strides in improving their coordination in recent years, such as the interagency development of the Northwest Forest Plan. Still much work needs to be done. The Committee has repeatedly heard that state, tribal, and private groups are becoming overwhelmed by the multitude and complexity of federal land and resource planning processes.

Federal agencies should coordinate their planning processes, especially where there are adjacent federal managers within a regional landscape (Applegate sidebar).

Harmonizing and coordinating the different statutory priorities, geographic areas of consideration and implementation time frames of the various federal agencies is no small task, but the potential benefits are enormous. Integrating and coordinating these separate planning processes is essential to developing integrated strategies for ecological and social sustainability and for adapting these strategies over time.

Despite differences among agency programs, the principles and recommendations set out in this report have broad application among the various federal agencies responsible for management or regulation of natural resources. Integrated federal planning will not magically solve difficult scientific and social issues, but it should enhance public understanding and confidence in the various federal planning and regulatory programs. And it should provide the public with a clearer picture of desired future conditions for entire landscapes, from watersheds to river basins (Sidebar with a check list for the public to judge whether coordinated planning is occurring including whether agencies jointly plan and map their activities, whether they have synchronized their strategic planning, etc.). With the federal shop in order, collaboration with state and tribal governments, groups, and the public will be made more efficient and effective.

5) Use a collaborative approach to developing large landscape and small landscape plans In the past, the Forest Service has taken the approach of proposing the choices for management of the national forests and the measures of their success in addressing issues and then asking other governments and the public how much they liked them. We believe that planning will be more successful if it takes a "collaborative" approach in which people, communities, tribes, businesses and governments are full partners in defining issues and developing options for addressing them.

Collaboration, quite simply, is based on the "old adage that ‘two heads are better than one’ and that one by itself is simply not good enough!" (Gray, 1989) Two heads can be "better" in many different ways. They bring more issues, perspectives, and ideas to discussions. They bring more resources, time and energy to the resolution of issues and the implementation of plans. They foster better decisions; decisions that are better informed, better understood, better accepted, and more apt to be implemented.

With such a simple premise, but applied to so many varied contexts, it is not surprising that "collaboration" is not a uniformly structured process. Instead, collaborative processes work precisely because they are always tailored to fit the particular situation of concern. Consequently, there are many varied shapes, sizes, functions and outcomes of collaborative processes that can be observed across the landscape of resource management activity. What is important is not the precise formula or the rigid structure, but rather that each is guided by some fundamental principles. They strive to be inclusive, open, representative, guided by clear expectations and objectives, flexible, but at the same time, linked to existing law and procedures, and having clear decision rules and authorities. They build on current scientific understandings and knowledge and seek out relevant expertise as needed. They are not democracy run amok.

There is no magic to collaboration. And, there are only two key ingredients that must be present and that all successful collaborative efforts share in common. Effective collaborative efforts involve individuals who, first, share, share a concern about a place, an issue or a problem and, second, are committed to working together on its behalf. Shared concerns and commitment are the essential ingredients. It is worth noting that one element in many of the promising approaches that COS heard about was that those individuals involved -- Forest Service and non-Forest Service alike -- viewed what they were doing to be an experiment and learned and adapted accordingly. They were "in it together" and consequently expectations and behaviors within the process were very different than they were in the traditional planning process; views of responsibilities differed; the Forest Service planner’s role was more flexible and adaptive; hence, those involved seemed more open, forgiving and motivated by the process. This is what collaboration is all about, working together on issues of mutual concern in a manner that best fits the needs of the people, place, and issues of concern.

In sum, sustainability can be better achieved by taking an integrative approach that works with people, communities, tribes, businesses and governments to conserve the lands within and around the national forests and grasslands. Policies and projects will need to be developed and implemented through collaborative relationships within clusters of organizations – other public agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses, community associations, and interested citizens – based on shifting alliances centered around the accomplishment of specific programs or policies. No longer can agencies acting alone carry out conservation strategies that involve large areas, numerous resources, and multiple interested parties. Rather, effective planning and implementation entails building strong relationships with other organizations whose programs can contribute to achieve a common goal.

One approach to collaboration that should be given serious consideration is the formation of a public planning group. This group would work with the planning team to review public issues and comments, develop a list of public issues for the planning process to address, identify issues which require scientific assessment, develop short descriptions of each issue to identify additional analysis needs, ensure the planning process addresses these issues, review proposed decisions based upon the public issue analysis, and work with the FS planning team to identify alternative approaches to resolving public issues. When large landscape plans include portions of several NFS, the group could identify several of its members to work on them. For small landscape plans, it could develop sub-committees which can add additional members from the locality.

While the NFS should develop a process for might identifying people that it would encourage toto become be part of a public planning group, including advertising in the local and regional media for applicants. While this group would form a core citizens group, anyone could participate, as they wish, at any time. This group would probably need to function as a FACA Committee and would serve the role outlined in NFMA for "Forest Advisory Committees". From time-to-time, this group might need technical and scientific assistance; identifying knowledgeable people that could help them would be an important part of the process.

The public planning group would help characterize the planning alternatives. Alternatives are intended to identify different, integrated approaches for achieving the goals of the NFS within the ecological and social context of the area. Alternatives should reflect different future visions of the NFS so that scientific and technical analysis can further public understanding of the implications of different courses of action. Alternatives would also be presented in tentative form on the Forest Home Page so that all interested parties can contribute to their definition, analysis and review.

To further facilitate communication and collaboration, all information about the NF should be available on the Internet. The planning process should include a participation strategy designed for the Internet so that interested parties living away from the NF can participate in it. Working analyses and discussion papers should be continuously available and contributions invited. Minutes from the PPG discussions should also be available on the internet. The NF should make every effort to invite public participation from people living too far from the NF to participate in frequent meetings.

6) Encourage citizens, as well as governments and groups, to become stewards of the land. At all stages and levels, the planning process needs to enable citizens as well as other agencies and organizations to become stewards of the land, not merely its clients and customers. Thus, the planning process can build implementation capacity by defining problems in ways that they are everyone’s responsibility.

7) Maintain the terms of the public controversy. The planning process needs to be issue-based and not eliminate the controversy in the issues. The planning process should create an open forum for public and organizational inquiry in which issues of key public concern are deliberated, analyzed and questions defined so that all can actively work on developing solutions to them.

8) In the long run, consider organizing administration (budgeting, performance standards, monitoring) around the landscape units associated with the large landscape plans. Individual national forests have an important role to play in organizing budgets and staffing needs for proposed activities, measuring performance, and monitoring results. Their plans have provided a framework for integrative administration of a NF in a context of federal agencies and jurisdictions, state and local governments, tribes, local associations and other landowners. Even when the national forests are not the unit of planning, they can be the administrative location for staff, budgets and coordination necessary for developing both large and small landscape plans, and implementing the resulting policy direction and project activities.

We rely upon this administrative capacity of the national forest system, but suggest a move toward an organizational structure keyed to the boundaries of the large landscape plans in some places. Without such a change, the potential for inconsistent, wasteful actions within the large landscape units is high. In addition, making the large landscape unit, drawn on ecological boundaries, as the administrative unit, should make it easier to communicate to the goals of management to the public. An example of such a unit that currently exists is the Lake Tahoe Basin which is the watershed of Lake Tahoe and which previouslyBasin, which is the watershed of Lake Tahoe and which previously, was administered by four national forests in two bioregions. An example of a unit that needs to be established is the Applegate Watershed, which is currently administered by two national forests and two BLM Districts (sidebar).

9) Measure plan performance through the achievement of actions and outcomes. Traditionally, plan performance has been measured through attainment of output targets. We feel that measurement of plan performance should primarily be done through 1) comparing the expected actions from the strategic plans to actions undertaken through the small landscape plans on an annual basis and 2) comparing movement toward the desired conditions every few years. Either of those measures might have four results: 1) concluding things are fine, 2) adjusting the actions that would be undertaken to achieve the mix assumed in the strategic plan, 3) considering a change in the mix of treatments in the strategic plan, or 4) considering a change in the desired future conditions.

10) Make science-based planning a reality. In the first round of forest plans under NFMA, scientists, by and large, sat on the sidelines as managers and inter-disciplinary teams developed forest plans. A series of lawsuits, and a growing realization of the central role of science in planning, led the Forest Service and other federal agencies to call for "scientifically credible conservation strategies" for species and ecosystems. Throughout the country, in recent years, the Forest Service has embraced the notion of planning based on science as one of the tenets of forest management.

Science-based planning incorporates current scientific thought into the planning process and the plans that result, with the understanding that this knowledge is a set of working hypotheses informed by experiments, demonstrations, argument, and reflection, and that over time these hypotheses may be retained, revised, and discarded as needed. Scientists will be asked to assist in a wide variety of ways under our proposal including: creating knowledge of relevance to forest planning, working on the integrative science of bioregional assessments and planning, helping managers understand the application of this scientific and technical knowledge to management problems, and helping to design effectiveness monitoring procedures and the experiments needed under adaptive management. Managers will need to work with people from another culture (science) and to treat management as an experiment.

11) Establish independent reviews to provide an "outside check" on the use of technical and scientific information. The credibility of the planning process rests in part on the routine application of an "outside check" on the use of technical and scientific information. These reviews can provide independent verification of the science-basis of plans and their implementation. They can and highlight and reward creative approaches to the challenging issues faced in the management of the national forests. The knowledge of an evaluation at the end of the planning process should, by its very presence, encourage collaboration between managers, specialists and scientists as the plans are developed.

There should be an evaluation of the use of scientific and technical information in large landscape planning, i.e., an evaluation of the consistency of strategic planning and plans with scientific and technical understanding. A potential role model for this effort is the "science consistency" check recently pioneered in the Tongass National Forest land management plan (Everest et al., 1997)---a technique that evaluates if the information transferred from scientists to policy makers and planners was understood by them.and used appropriately.

Field reviews of projects should also be conducted to ascertain whether implementation would meet the goals of the plans from a scientific and technical viewpoint. The interagency PACFISH reviews could serve as a model for this effort ,effort, assuming that the interagency committee was broadened to consider all the values recognized in the plans.

Independent review is a critical element of adaptive management and planning. In addition to the scientific and technical role for independent review, the review should also evaluate the process itself to identify information bottlenecks, and evaluate whether there is adequate interdisciplinary representation, coordination of planning and management across administrative boundaries, opportunities for discussions with scientists, and open communication across functional areas and with upper levels of administration. This part of the review process should especially look to see if the planning process provided an opportunity for the agency to develop new ideas, new approaches to solving problems, and new relationships with other governments, agencies, tribes, communities and the near and distant public. This part of the review should be developed as a separate paper available for public review and comment and should be included in the annual performance evaluation of the NF.

Appendix: Characteristics and Tasks of Assessments and Planning

We have tried to summarize below the characteristics of the different assessments and plans and the tasks they should undertake.

Assessments

These assessments should have the characteristics described earlier:

They address all lands within the geographic area being studied on which they report conditions, trends, risks, and other issues of interest.

National forests and other federal agencies with responsibilities within the bioregion help coordinate the assessment so that it covers all federal lands and issues.

They work on joint fact-finding with collaborative groups formed by relevant federal, state and local agencies as well as tribes, various organizations, local associations, and citizens as they attempt to develop a shared base of information. At their best, these assessments should create forums in which scientists, managers, and the public can collectively understand the assessment findings.

They are completed in a relatively short period of time--within a year for a bioregional assessment and within six months for a watershed assessment.

The trust of participants and non-participants alike is enhanced when the assessment process includes independent review as a normal part of the process. For example, in the case of the Southern Appalachian Assessment, a multi-stakeholder group reviewed the scientific and technical adequacy of the Assessment. This group included professionals from local and national non-government organizations, which greatly contributed to the perception of independence and openness.

Bioregional assessments

Biorgional assessments are driven by need to understand the current state and trends on forests, rangelands, and watersheds, relative to ecological and social sustainability. These assessments provide needed inventory information on which to build a foundation for addressing the conservation of species and ecosystems as well as other regional issues. The Southern Appalachian Assessment is an example of an assessment designed to inform the planning processes on five national forests so that each of them could address issues of regional concern in context, as well as more clearly understand their unique and important contributions to the larger region (sidebar). The Science Assessment of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan (ICBEMP) attempts to provide an assessment of species and ecosystems in the Columbia Basin as the foundation of bioregional guidance and planning (sidebar). Thus, bioregional assessments are directly linked to bioregional guidance and to large landscape planning processes.

These assessments are problem-based and issue-driven scientific and technical analyses of what is known about the lands and resources within a large geographic area. These areas of interest often will not follow national forest boundaries. As an example, the Deschutes National Forest is neatly divided in half by two bioregions of interest: 1) that of the northern spotted owl and 2) that of the interior Columbia Basin. Given the large area often covered by bioregional assessments, they will require the participation of other federal agencies, tribes, state and local government, tribes, and the public.

These assessments should compile or synthesize and develop an integrated analysis of the best scientific and technical information about the diversity of native plant and animal communities and the productive capacity of ecological systems in the bioregion, the social and economic context of the region and existing institutional arrangements and their stewardship capacity. To achieve this goal, assessments should at least:

  1. Define the focal species for use in the assessment of species diversity in forest planning and develop procedures for estimating the viability of focal species, threatened and endangered species, and sensitive species. They should also apply these approaches to estimate viability under likely management on the different ownerships in the region.
  2. Define measures of ecosystem integrity and develop procedures for estimating the level of ecosystem integrity in different ecosystems in the region including the characteristic diversity of major functional groups, productivity, soil fertility, and rates of biogeochemical cycling. They should also apply these procedures to estimating ecosystem integrity under likely management on the different ownerships in the region.
  3. Suggest approaches to addressing the difficulties in ecological sustainability discovered in the analysis.
  4. Make estimates of the range of historical variability for a number of resources, including the range in the size and patterns of openings in the different forest types.
  5. Develop an analysis of the demographic changes and migration trends, economic patterns and trends, social organization, and assess the stewardship capacity of existing institutional arrangements.
  6. The bioregional assessments should compile or develop the best scientific and technical information on the contribution of the national forests to the economic and social well-being in the bioregion, identifying those uses, products, values, and services of special significance to the region.
  7. They should also respond, to the degree possible, to technical and scientific questions developed by the collaborative groups participating in the assessment.

 

Watershed Assessments

"Watershed assessment" is the common name for information development processes for relatively small, ecologically identifiable geographic areas. Boundaries for these assessments range from small river basins, mountain ranges, or other landscape units that can logically connect the bioregional assessment and large landscape plans to local conditions. In some parts of the country, most notably the southeastern part of the US, small scale assessment boundaries do not follow watershed boundaries and other terms are commonly used. We have adopted the watershed name for its easy recognition, but encourage other, regionally specific, names to be adopted so as to provide that same sense of identification with scale.

These assessments share many common characteristics with bioregional assessments: federal agencies with responsibilities within the regions use a coordinated effort to address all lands within the geographic area being studied, on which they report conditions, trends, risks, and other issues of interest.

As with bioregional assessments, watershed assessments need a collaborative approach to creating a mutually understood base of information regarding a specific area, involving relevant federal, state and local agencies as well as tribes, various organizations, local associations, and citizens. People often think about and care about lands and resources at the scale of watersheds. This "sense of place" should make it easier to meaningfully engage them in watershed assessments than can occur in bioregional assessments. A participatory process should be used whereby communities and groups assess their social and economic well-being using the larger regional social and economic assessment as a base of information for comparative analysis. When successful, these assessments will also have a collection of stories and reflections from the people of the area in addition to quantitative and qualitative analyses of resources and conditions.

Watershed assessments generally come after the development of a strategic plan for a larger landscape. They address the following tasks:

  1. They interpret the implications of the goals in the strategic plan for the area, in the context of site-specific information and analysis.
  2. They develop a "place-based" analysis that provides context for developing small landscape plans.
  3. They identify important ecological, social, economic and institutional variable to monitor during management implementation.
  4. (More to come)

 

Planning

Bioregional Guidance

These efforts develop scientifically credible conservation strategies for species and ecosystems. These strategies are then employed as the foundation on which large landscape and small landscape plans are built.

They develop strategies for conserving the focal species defined in the bioregional assessment and for threatened, endangered, and sensitive species, using the procedures for estimating species viability developed in the bioregional assessment. They also develop strategies to conserve ecosystem integrity, using procedures for estimating the level of ecosystem integrity in different ecosystems in the bioregion developed in the bioregional assessment.

The develop strategies for increasing the stewardship capacity of current institutional arrangements, government programs, and community-based conservation organizations in order to achieve the goals of the national forest system.

 

They also provide guidance on other regional issues.

 

Large and Small Landscape Plans

Both strategic plans and implementation plans should address all lands within the geographic area. They should build on the plans already in existence, reacting to issues and problems with these plans as identified in a collaborative effort. The likely management of non-federal lands is considered to estimate the context and likely cumulative effects of federal land management. A coordinated plan for all federal land would ideally be the result at both levels. These plans should be done collaboratively in partnership with other federal agencies, states, and local governments, tribes, and the public. In this way, the federal land management plans are coordinated with plans or anticipated activities that states and localities have for some or all of the area. From the perspective of public participation, these planning process utilize a knowledge base on which there is at best tentative agreement among the interested parties and consider values that are often ambiguous and conflicting. Thus, they require extended stakeholder and expert deliberation and cannot be reduced to "routine" decisions.

 

Large Landscape Plans (Strategic Plans)

Large Landscape Plans (Strategic Plans) have the following characteristics: they provide a set of strategies to achieve sustainability and place management of the national forests in a regional context based on the bioregional assessments and other information. They set resource management goals for different parts of the national forests including criteria and indicators for measuring accountability and effectiveness. They create a policy dialogue that involves public as participants and employ a technical review process to assess the use of knowledge in developing the strategic plans. Generally, the plans should be completed within one year and updated as issues arise or conditions demand.

We have named the strategic planning level the "large landscape plan" because the ecological scale of the resource issues often extends beyond the boundaries of a single national forest. Measuring the ability of plans to conserve the species and ecosystems of interest can occur only when the implications of plans for these species and ecosystems are "added up". The plans must "fit together" in this aspect. If bioregional guidance is available, that will be used to make sure these plans, in aggregate, provide the needed protection. If the large landscape plans are to develop the needed conservation strategies, coordination of large landscape plans will be needed to address specific species and ecosystems.

One of the primary purposes of having these plans involve all federal agencies and producing a coordinated plan is to enable cooperation across arbitrary administrative boundaries in an effort to significantly strengthen their joint stewardship capacity. In other words, we expect coordinated strategic plans to enable joint decision making at the implementation level across ranger districts, across national forests or grasslands, between national forest system lands and other federal land managing agencies, and with regulatory agencies sharing jurisdictional responsibility. These plans should be anticipatory and future oriented so as to reduce the need for "after the fact" consultation. While consultation will no doubt continue to be a part of the implementation process at the small landscape level, we would expect that it would be related to the specific issues posed by a specific set of conditions.

Strategic planning of large landscapes should:

1) Set goals for different parts of the landscape expressed in terms of the desired future landscape condition, and the uses and outputs, to achieve ecological sustainability and contribute to economic and social sustainability. Developing a vision of the future landscape conditions and outcomes needed to achieve this result should be a central focus of planning. Given the likely conditions that will occur on nonfederal land in the future, the federal agencies need to develop a vision of the future condition of forests, rangelands, and watersheds that will be sought and the goods, values, uses, and services that they will provide.

2) Compare the current condition of the landscape, derived from the bioregional assessment and other information, to the desired condition,

3) Develop a strategy for moving to the desired condition. Make an estimate of the suite of actions (type, amount, budget) needed to move the existing conditions to the desired conditions in the context of likely unplanned disturbances, ie., propose a pathway from the current conditions to the desired future conditions in terms of the suite of proposed actions (type, amount, budget) and resulting conditions through time.

4) Estimate likely affects on species and ecosystems and (qualitatively) on economies and communities over time. This work would estimate the viability of focal, threatened and endangered, and sensitive species and of the level of ecosystem integrity.

The purpose of strategic planning is to set a clear course of action for a specified period of time. These Plans should answer the question: "What are conditions and outcomes that we should seek on the national forests to provide for ecological sustainability and to contribute to economic and social sustainability, how will their accomplishment be measured, what kinds of actions do we need to take to achieve them, and what will it cost?"

Small Landscape Plans (Implementation Plans)

Determine the mix of activities and projects needed to meet the goals in the strategic plan--to implement the strategic plans.. A key information component will be the watershed assessments that will facilitate the development of management options within a participatory framework. Projects are developed in combination, to the degree possible, with attention to cumulative effects, and include implementation schedules, measurable performance standards, budget plans and staffing plans. A technical field review process helps evaluate effectiveness of the projects in meeting the goals. Plans are developed within 6 months and remain in effect for the duration of the activities. New activities can be added at any time to the overall plan with consideration of cumulative impacts and consistency with the general strategic intent of the plan. This is the planning level that is based upon Adaptive Management, meaning that it is a continuous cycle of activity, evaluation and review, adaptation and change.

From the process of defining activities to meet the goals, planning teams will be able to estimate the kinds of staff needed to accomplish these activities, the budgets necessary to carry them out, and the kinds of cooperative actions necessary to build sufficient implementation capacity. Once there is a relatively clear set of proposed activities at the field level of the organization, the planning analysis then "backs up" through the structure of the agency, always focused on how the next level up in the organizational hierarchy can best help achieve the proposed activities. In this way, the resource planning process is integrated with the management planning that includes the staff and budget resources required to carry out the specified projects and activities. It is difficult to estimate the budgets, resources, and outputs that will be forthcoming at the strategic planning level. Only in the proximate activities of a site specific implementation plan can accurate estimates of inputs and outputs be established, clear accountability measures applied, and links to budgets for multiple purpose projects be clearly defined.

The need to consider connected actions and cumulative effects and to enable the public to see the geographic context within which the actions will occur argues for an approach to project planning that considers a larger geographic area than that usually covered by a single project. These areas of interest will rarely follow national forest boundaries. Current examples are sometimes called "site-specific" landscape plans, and following this experience, we anticipate that small landscape plans will cover from 10,000 to 150,000 acres.

There are times when individual controversial projects or decisions may threaten to derail a small landscape planning process; in such cases experience suggests that they need to be "worked on some more" before they can be incorporated into the small landscape plans. Sometimes these issues are controversial because of their immediate effects, for example a decision to close part of a campground because of the presence of bald eagle nesting sites. Other times, the controversy stems from strongly different perspectives on the issue or resource. And other times, there are extremely important, but very site-specific issues, as in the case of a rock sacred to several Indian tribes but also of important local interest. In all such cases, it is reasonable to allow for highly contextualized planning processes to emerge from the nature of the problem. Decisions made in these cases can be added to the small landscape plans when ready. In such cases, it would be appropriate to evaluate them separately, but the cumulative effects of the project must be analyzed with others before including them in the small landscape plan.

Since planning is a creative, educative and learning process, effective problem solving at the level of the "site-specific" small landscape depends on allowing flexibility to local managers to recognize and work within local conditions in achieving the desired conditions of the landscape. This approach rests on utilizing the creative powers of national forest managers and the collaborative group assisting the mangers in planning for the management of these complex systems. It relies on this discretion to improve the reliability and effectiveness of the policies at the local level.

Part and parcel with this discretion is the need for independent evaluation of how well these site-specific implementation plans achieve the strategic goals, including highlight of creative solutions and innovative approaches. Without the independent evaluation of the specific projects and their implementation, it is difficult to justify flexibility at the local level. Issues of trust, the ability of local managers to develop local actions to address strategic goals and the success of implementation all increase as the amount of discretion increase. Yet the key to successful implementation is to harness the creative talents of national forest managers and interested members of businesses, communities, tribes, state and local governments and the public. Thus, there is a need for an evaluation of the site-specific landscape plans and their implementation. The difficulty for organizations to engage in self-critique argues for an independent assessment. The recent review of implementation of PACFISH offers an example of how an independent team can assess and improve implementation of a strategic plan.

Performance evaluation of complex strategies depends on the ability to "add up" the cumulative effects of multiple projects and multiple activities at the large landscape scale. Measurement of plan performance would be done through 1) comparing the expected actions from the strategic plans to actions undertaken on an annual basis and 2) comparing movement toward the desired conditions every few years. Either of those measures might have four results: 1) concluding things are fine, 2) adjusting the actions that would be undertaken to achieve the mix assumed in the strategic plan, 3) considering a change in the mix of treatments in the strategic plan, or 4) considering a change in the desired future conditions.