Buffalo Environmental Law Journal


Brett M. Paben

First Page


Document Type



In Copyright


Over the past several decades, the element of management most common to the 155 national forests across the country has been gridlock. Efforts of the US. Forest Service to appease the various interests of environmentalists, recreationists, timber companies, mill operators, and local politicians in management decisions have often led to a stalemate wh1e re the only answer has been to do nothing or very little or face administrative appeals and subsequent litigation from one of the affected interests. In the meantime, our national forests are facing unprecedented environmental threats, including uncharacteristic wildfire, possibly the largest insect infestation in North American history and the die-off of a large number of trees from heat stress. Further the Forest Service has to be concerned with economic depression in rural communities that have been dependent on timber from national forests since the housing boom after World War II and growing pressure from industrialized recreational uses.

For some national forests, the answer to this gridlock has been place-based, or forest-specific, legislation that attempts to bring the varied interests together to find solutions that allow management to move forward. While these place-based initiatives have had successes and failures, pursuing these initiatives on an ad-hoc basis is a delusive way to proceed. Many of the issues these place-based initiatives seek to address are systemic. Addressing them on aforest-by-forest basis will not solve the underlyingproblems. Further with numerous federal environmental laws affecting national forests, placed-based legislative initiatives have the potential to undermine the commonalities in national forest management.

This is not to say that place-based management does not have an important place in national forest management. On some levels, the devolution ofnational forest management may make sense. The ecological and management issues facing forests in western Washington, Oregon, and California are much different than those in Arizona, Colorado, and the Southeastern United States. Besides the ecological differences, forest ownership patterns are not uniform across the countr. In the eastern United States, private ownership prevails while in the Western United States, public ownership of forests is dominant.' This pattern holds true for the Forest Service, which has 123 million of its 148 million acres of the forests it controls, more 83 percent, in the Western United Statesi Another varying issue is the impact of climate change. There is no doubt that forests are being and will become increasingly affected by climate change. While much of the scientific literature addressing climate change on forests in the United States has also focused on the Western United States, environmental changes can be expected on forests in other parts of the country as well.3 However these climate change effects will not all be uniform.

As the impacts of global climate change are only initially being felt and are probably a long way from being understood, effective management of our national forests will only grow, in importance to our country's forests, wildlife, and other natural resources that are part of the 193 million acre national forest system. The forests of the Rocky Mountain fWest may be at the beginning of a region-wide emergence of entirely new ecos ystems. Entire landscapes characterized by large swaths ofdead trees from beetle kill and fire, which are aesthetically unappealing and may impact tourism and the positive economic impact tourists bring. However more than the loss of scenic vistas, wildlife habitat, soil productivity, and watersheds are at risk. Wfestern forests account for 20 to 40 percent of the total carbon sequestration in the United States. Meaning, the more these forests succumb to the effects of global climate change, the more total carbon will be released, further exacerbating the problem of global w1arming.

For the Forest Service to survive, let alone thrive, as an agency a set of national legislative and policy mandates is imperative. This does not mean that there cannot be different mandates for individual forests, as is currently provided for in the requirements for land and resource management plans (LRMPs), or forest plans, for each unit of the national forest system under the National Forest Alanagement Act (NFM4). It is important to note that LRMPs allow agency-driven, place-based management. However a different legislative mandate for individual forests may undermine the esprit de corps that has set the Forest Service apart from the other federal land management agencies throughout most of its existence, adding to the systemic problems that have plagued the Forest Service.

If desired, an ansier to this dilemma may be hybrid legislation that specifically authorizes place-based management across the entire national forest system. This hybrid model would allow more local input into national forest management, yet keep consistent national mandates across the national forest system.

A model for this hybrid program may already exist in the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). Enacted in 2009, the purpose of the CFLRP is to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes. The CFLRP expands collaborative landscape partnerships to: encourage ecological, economic, and social sustainability; leverage local resources with national and private resources; facilitate the reduction of w1ildfire management costs, through re-establishing natural fire regimes and reducing the risk of uncharacteristic w1ildfire; demonstrate the degree to wvhich various ecological restoration techniques achieve ecological and watershed health objectives; and encourage utilization offorest restoration by-products to offset treatment costs to benefit local rural economies and improve forest health.