The Geoscience Role in Forest Service Committee of Scientists' Report Sustaining the People's Lands

In 1997, Secretary of Agriculture Glickman appointed a 13-member interdisciplinary Committee of Scientists to "review and evaluate the Forest Service's planning process for land and resource management and to identify changes that might be needed to the planning regulations."  Dr. K. Norman Johnson, a specialist in forest management and policy, chairs the Committee.  The Committee also includes experts in forest ecology, forest hydrology, landscape ecology, range ecology and management, silviculture, fisheries and public administration, animal ecology, natural resources economics and policy, sociology and organizational theory, forest economics and Native American studies, natural resources law, and public participation and dispute resolution.  The Committee was asked to "develop a set of concepts and principles toward which land and resource planning could work."

In mid March, 1999, the Committee on Scientists submitted its report.  The Forest Service was expected to release new draft regulations June 12.  The Committee's report "Sustaining the People's Lands" is directed at the planning process, rather than specific regulations or policy.  The report is available in full at  A thirty-seven page synopsis is also available at that site.  The report reviews recent trends and developments in land management and nearly a century of struggle to define the term "sustainability."  It stresses the environmental, social and economic importance of scientifically based planning and urges that these interests be evaluated as complementary rather than competing with one another.  The report views land management as an ongoing process in response to many changing factors.  It urges planners to acknowledge the dynamic nature of ecological systems, the significance of natural processes, the uncertainty and inherent variability of ecological systems and cumulative effects.

In the report, the committee "suggests a three pronged strategy: (1) focusing on a set of selected "focal" species and their habitat needs; (2) maintaining conditions necessary for ecological integrity; and (3) monitoring the effectiveness of this approach in conserving native species and ecological productivity."  The Committee stressed the importance of involving scientists in each of these steps.

Throughout the report, the need to consider the "larger landscape" rather than only looking within the Forest Service's jurisdiction is repeatedly emphasized.  The report calls on the Forest Service to provide "'conservation leadership' as set forth in the National Forest Management Act."  The Committee favors regional planning that considers broad geographic, political, economic and social variations across federal, state, private and tribal property lines bearing in mind global effects and long-term goals.  It strongly emphasizes the need for co-operation between federal, state and local governments and their agencies, Native American tribes and community members.  At the same time, the report calls for operational planning for small landscapes.

More specifically, the report emphasizes that "Visualization of the future landscape through pictures, maps and computer simulations will be a crucial element" to a collaborative effort that involves both scientist and non-scientists.  It also calls for increased involvement of the scientific community, especially in the areas of information gathering, analysis and review.  As policy makers and community members become more involved in the decision-making process, the need for scientists to summarize the state of knowledge and integrate information from different disciplines is expected to increase as traditional research is continued.  "The Committee recommends that the Forest Service create a national science and technology advisory board to provide highly qualified and independent scientific advice" in order to help "collaborative planning become a reality."  The report also calls for increased funding for Forest Service Research and the National Forest System technical staff.

This report opens the door for increased participation of geoscientists in Forest Service management planning, but such participation will require geoscientists to step up and take that role without waiting to be asked twice.  The report clearly emphasizes insuring the sustainability of watersheds and timber supplies.  Focusing attention on geoscience issues will still require such scientists to bring their contributions to the attention of the Forest Service.

Submitted by AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Althea Cawley-Murphree

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Last updated June 30, 1999

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