The Forest Service Needs a Clear Mandate
by James E. Brown, Oregon State Forester
The National Association of State Foresters recognizes
the significant role the Forest Service has played in forestry in the U.S., and
hopes that the agency can continue in that leadership capacity. However,
members of Congress want to know whether the states can manage the lands
currently entrusted to the Forest Service, and whether doing so would make
sense from a financial, as well as forestry, perspective.
The answer, in a nutshell, is that the states could likely assume title to
federal forests, and do as good a job for less money, provided state agencies
were not encumbered by the overlapping, and, in many cases, conflicting
mandates placed upon the Forest Service by current federal law. Although our
remarks here mainly deal with the Forest Service, they apply with little
modification to lands managed by the BLM as well.
The National Association of State Foresters (NASF) represents the directors of
the state forestry agencies from all 50 States and five U.S territories, as
well as the District of Columbia. The primary responsibilities of the state
foresters is to encourage stewardship management and provide for the protection
of more than two thirds of the Nation's forests.
As a national organization, NASF works to build partnerships with federal
agencies, natural resource management organizations, and other national
organizations to create consensus on forest resource use. Through
public/private partnerships, NASF seeks to bring forest land under proper
sustained management to ensure healthy forest ecosystems that provide natural
resources and sustainable economies.
NASF recently surveyed several states that manage sizable forest resources to
gain a sense of how best to resolve federal land management issues. Ten states
responded to the survey.
Most state foresters view federal land managers as capable resource
professionals. Unfortunately, they have lost their way in a maze of federal
laws. The President's Northwest Forest Plan and other ecosystem-based efforts
have attempted to find their way through the maze, but commodity outputs and
other values have suffered in the process.
Different interest groups have used the legal system, as well as the extensive
administrative appeals process, to push planned outcomes in their favored
direction--not necessarily with an eye towards the public interest. As a
result, very little active forest management is being accomplished.
Generally, the members of NASFs Federal Lands Committee, as well as the states
surveyed, are frustrated at the pace and outcomes of federal forest land
management. In our view, there are two principle avenues to resolve these
- Clarify the purpose of federal land management by amending the organic acts
of the federal land managing agencies, and then harmonize these statutes with
other pertinent laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act; or
- Transfer the lands to the states without the encumbrance of current federal
planning laws. These transfers would take place only to individual states that
request the opportunity to take over the federal lands.
If Congress decides to retain federal ownership of these lands, then:
If Congress determines it is in the public interest to transfer federal lands
to the states, then:
- Organic acts and other pertinent laws (i.e., NEPA, ESA, CWA, etc.) should be
harmonized to provide a clear mandate to the managing agencies.
- The federal land planning processes (those required by NFMA, FLPMA, and
others) should be streamlined. The proposed revisions to the Forest Service's
planning rules provide a good start, but do not go far enough. Efforts to
improve the process should continue.
Of particular concern to state land managers is the compatibility of federal
land management plans with state land management planning efforts. Federal land
management plans should fit within the context of state plans. To accomplish
this, federal land managers should actively involve and invite the
participation of state and local governments and other stakeholders. With the
recently passed revisions, the Federal Advisory Committee Act should not
constrain this involvement. Likewise, federal land managers should actively
participate in the development of state plans.
The key words here are "involve" and "participation" which go beyond the
commonly used phrase "coordinate with" in terms of input to and ownership of
plans. Coordination has often been the federal standard in relationships with
state and local government. This relationship needs to move to the next level
to make federal land management more relevant and connected to state issues and
- Combining the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management into a single
federal land management agency makes sense. Although the agencies have unique
histories, organizational cultures, and missions which would make combining
them difficult and contentious (both within and outside the agencies
themselves), a merger should be considered as a long-term goal. A more
practical short-term goal would be to initiate aggressive major land transfers
and exchanges between the two agencies and with the states.
- The Forest Service should explore opportunities to contract for services
with States, local governments, and private enterprises where it will reduce
administrative and land management costs.
The Forest Service and the state foresters have a long relationship that
includes many successes, particularly in the areas of forest fire control and
pest management. The National Association of State Foresters believes that the
Forest Service has played an important role in the history of American
forestry, and, with proper and clear guidance from the Congress, that it could
continue to be a leader in forestry and land management. If Congress decides to
pursue large scale transfer of Federal lands to the States, it should keep in
mind that doing so will not improve the management of these lands if the
current, conflicting, and complicated structure of Federal laws is kept intact.
- States generally would welcome the opportunity to own and manage these
lands under state statutes and without the encumbrances of federal laws.
- Congress should establish a process whereby states could submit a plan for
the transfer of federal lands to the states. This should include criteria on
lands eligible for transfer. If individual states decide to petition Congress
to take over the federal lands, and if the criteria established by Congress are
met, the transfer would occur by law. The criteria for transfer should allow
the states to sell or exchange isolated parcels to facilitate overall
management, and should allow the states to retain revenues from the lands to
pay for management expenses. As part of the transfer proposal, states should
identify lands to remain in federal ownership.
- States believe their current land management practices will provide for the
same array of goods, values, and services provided by federal lands. The key
difference is that state land managers are actually able to manage their lands.
Many states are already managing their forests under an ecosystem management
concept, employing it in such a way as to provide needed jobs and commodities
while still protecting ecosystems.
James Brown (email@example.com) is the Oregon State Forester and
chairs the Federal Lands Committee of the National Association of State
Foresters. This paper is based on testimony he gave before the Forests and
Public Land Management Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
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