The Forest Service has a problem. In 1974 and 1976, Congress passed laws requiring an elaborate forest planning process. That process turned out to be an utter failure. The plans collectively cost billions of dollars to produce, but they didn’t solve any problems and took so long to write that most were obsolete before they were signed.
Most people in the Forest Service know that planning is a waste, but the problem is that the planning laws are still on the books. Faithful Antiplanner ally Andy Stahl (who frequently comments on this blog) has a solution: rewrite the planning rules to create a highly simplified planning process that requires the absolute minimum under the law.
As Stahl — who directs Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics — observes in a series of posts on a blog called A New Century of Forest Planning, the law only requires that forest plans contain each forest’s “planned timber sale program.” But planners (and the current forest planning rules) go far beyond this and try to write an “umbrella document” guiding all national forest activities. Since this is a big job, the plans must be followed by a second level of expensive and time-consuming environmental analyses for each timber sale or other project.
Stahl’s proposed revision of the planning regulation is based on KISS — Keep It Simple Stupid. His rule mainly just quotes the law itself to set forth the minimum requirements for a plan. He fleshes this out a bit by creating a process in which all of the environmental analyses are contained in the plan itself — thereby eliminating the secondary analyses. The plans would be revised every three years or so, instead of the current 10 to 15 years, but the net effect would be a huge reduction in paperwork.
As it happens, the Forest Service is revising its forest planning rules and may give Stahl’s ideas serious consideration. Such simplifications could also be applied to other planning laws, such as the metropolitan transportation planning process required by Congress. This could save taxpayers millions of dollars per year and avoid the inevitable failings of long-range planning.