The Case for a Public Voice on National Forests
Forest Users-The Agency’s Eyes and Ears As agency budget constraints prevent planning teams from being everywhere in the forest, forest users have frequently performed the valuable service of grassroots ecology. From water quality monitoring to identifying previously unknown populations of rare and endangered species, amateur naturalists around the country provide valuable information to the Forest Service and other state and federal agencies. Scores of volunteers are largely responsible for gathering bird sighting data under the Migratory Bird Act. Sportsmen provide valuable field information on game and non-game wildlife populations. Local historians contribute greatly to the Forest Service’s mission of managing the land for cultural heritage values under the Antiquities Act. Citizen participation in forest management goes far beyond helping maintaining hiking trails.
Affirming the Role of Citizen Science
After NFMA’s passage formalizing citizen participation in long range and project-level forest management, everyday people around the country began dedicating their lives to promoting and protecting America’s public lands trust. Hundreds of grassroots groups and individuals began providing detailed, site specific feedback and concerns to the agency on issues of stream quality; wildlife populations, the effects of high road volumes on soils, hydrology, and wildlife; invasive species; historical forest composition; and more. In many forests, local forest activists sponsored bringing to light important new research on fire dynamics, forest carbon sequestration, and other complex topics in forest science and ecology. As with in so many other things in public participation, it helped raise the standards of professionalism in the agency.
This is important in the agency’s stated mission to base its management of National Forests based on the “best available science”, a vast undertaking that it unfortunately does not always have the resources for. Indeed, courts have affirmed that citizens have a role to play in federal land agencies’ scientific mission. In Oregon Wild vs BLM, a federal court recently upheld the requirement to consider field science undertaken by grassroots groups who had done important work conducting habitat surveys for an endangered species.
Engaging the Public Reduces Gridlock
Citizen Science Spotlight: Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project
Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (BMBP) has been working to protect and restore the ecosystems of the Blue Mountains and Eastern Oregon Cascades since 1991. BMBP is a classic example of grassroots citizens working on behalf our public lands. Most of BMBP’s work is done by volunteers. Over 235 interns have been trained over the years in forest ecology and activism. Through the use of rigorous forest monitoring, BMBP is a great example of citizen science in action- with continuous field work in the Malheur, Ochoco, Umatilla, and Deschutes National Forests. BMBP works for the protection of old growth, sensitive and listed species, water quality, roadless areas, and areas vital to ecological processes, while providing ways for regular people to become more involved in environmental change work via our summer volunteer internship program and other volunteer opportunities. Thanks to our country’s laws that give the public a voice in the conservation of our National Forests, groups like the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project can make a difference.
The BMBP is always looking for new volunteers. You can be one too! Go to their website to find out you can get involved.
While some claim that giving the public a voice at the table causes too much “gridlock” that keeps land managers from doing their job, the vast majority of timber projects across the National Forest system progress are never litigated. In reality, the system of forest project development and public input has done much to reduce conflicts, improve forest management, raised the professionalism of forest managers, raised public trust, and brought important science to the agency.
The process of forest plan and project development that has worked for decades has in particular done much to raise the quality of discussion and understanding of complex ecological, economic, and social issues that the Forest Service has to deal with. Until recently, project development had opportunities for citizens to be involved throughout the process. When forest managers would begin to develop projects, called “scoping”, the public would often raise important issues early on, helping rangers avoid conflicts and wasted time, so by the time a final analysis had been published, potentially contentious issues had been resolved. The proposed changes to forest planning would do much to stifle this important part of sound forest management. Our nation's National Forests are filled with examples of the advantages of listening to "regular folks", and some serious problems that happened when the agency did not. Learn more about the many ways that public involvement protects our National Forests.