An analysis of public participation under 2005 national forest planning regulations
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Public participation has long played an important role in national forest planning. Under 1982 regulations, this participation has largely taken place through traditional notice and comment procedures mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In 2005, the Forest Service issued a new planning rule that excluded forest planning from NEPA procedures, but required a collaborative process in addition to traditional notice and comment periods. Some interest groups argued this approach degraded public participation, while the Forest Service argued it would provide for better public participation. The objective of this analysis is to determine how public participation in national forest planning might be impacted under the 2005 rule. I interviewed participants in plan revision processes for three national forests - one taking place under the 1982 rule (Mark Twain), one taking place under the 2005 rule (Uwharrie), and one that switched from the 1982 to the 2005 rule (Western Montana Planning Zone). I analyzed the interview results using an evaluative framework that defined good public participation. The framework included the following elements: (1) a fair outcome, (2) equal access/representation, (3) equal voice/participation, (4) adequate influence, (5) logic/use of technical information, (6) resolving conflict, (7) building trust in institutions, and (8) educating and informing the public. The Uwharrie, using a collaborative process, provided for good public participation, while the Mark Twain, using notice and comment processes, did not provide for good public participation. The results from the Western Montana Planning Zone were mixed, with the poor public participation due to a perceived lack of influence after switching to the 2005 planning rule. The results suggest that the 1982 rule can engender poor public participation, even when NEPA procedures are followed. The 2005 rule can provide for good public participation, but this is likely to occur only with collaborative-type activities. The biggest impediments to the public’s perceptions of good participation under the 2005 rule appear to be: (1) the new structure of the plans and the fact that they do not make specific management decisions, and (2) balancing both local and national interests, and both lay and professional input.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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