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Pilot Projects Can Test Alternative Approaches for Managing Federal Lands

A joint position statement of the Inland Empire and Intermountain Societies, Society of American Foresters

Adopted by the Executive Committee of the Inland Empire Society of American Foresters on December 23, 2002, and by the Executive Committee of the Intermountain Society of American Foresters on December 11, 2002, and approved by the Director, Forest Policy, Society of American Foresters.  This position statement will expire in five years unless revised or extended by the Executive Committees.


The Inland Empire and Intermountain Societies, Society of American Foresters (IESAF and IMSAF), advocate the implementation of pilot projects to test alternative approaches to management of federal public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Such projects are a way to address and help resolve the ecological, economic, and social challenges presented by the current statutory and regulatory framework for federal lands decision making. Current decision processes commonly result in “gridlock,” a term for inaction caused by lack of consensus on appropriate action. Partly as a result of gridlock, forest and range health as well as productive uses of federal lands have declined in this region. Appropriately structured pilot projects can test and demonstrate innovative ways to improve deteriorating ecosystem conditions through enhanced stakeholder collaboration and trust, consensus, and efficiency in federal land management.  Testing such concepts in pilot projects can assist further refinement and implementation of federal land management reform at a broader scale.

Such projects should incorporate collaboration, public participation, environmental protection, long range planning, and multiple use and sustained yield principles.  These projects should also include objective monitoring and assessment of efforts and results.  The IESAF and IMSAF support the further development and implementation of appropriate pilot projects.  Examples of existing projects and those proposed by various sources are described in the Background section below. Projects should address all of the concepts detailed in the Recommendations section below.


Federal land management is too often hampered by decision “gridlock” or “analysis paralysis.”  The current situation has contributed to diminished delivery of goods and services from federal lands, declines in forest and range environmental quality, and related economic and social destabilization of communities. Gridlock is a problem at a time when federal scientists agree that “active management appears to have the greatest chance of producing the mix of goods and services that people want from ecosystems, as well as maintaining or enhancing the long-term ecological integrity of the [Interior Columbia River] Basin” (Integrated Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia Basin, USDA Forest Service, 1996, p. 185).  However, reaching agreement among a wide range of constituencies regarding nationwide changes in management approach or procedures to address the problem has remained elusive.


The federal lands “gridlock” problem has been evaluated in various publications, including History and Analysis of Federally Administered Lands in Idaho (Policy Analysis Group Report #16, University of Idaho, 1998), Forest of Discord (Society of American Foresters, 1999) and The Process Predicament:  How Statutory, Regulatory and Administrative Factors Affect National Forest Management (Forest Service, 2002).  Proposals for reform cover a wide range, but one approach is to authorize pilot experiments on selected units of land administered by the Forest Service or BLM.  (E.g., This Sovereign Land, Kemmis, 2001.)  Such pilot projects are intended to test alternative, innovative mechanisms for various stakeholders to work with the agencies and larger public to achieve greater consensus and efficiency in federal land management.

Some pilot projects already exist and are in the process of implementation.  These include the Quincy Library Group Project (California) and the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (New Mexico), each authorized by separate specific federal legislation enacted in 2000.  The Valles Caldera Trust, also established under new legislation in 2000, is a trust land approach to managing newly acquired national forest lands in New Mexico for multiple use and sustained yield of commodity and amenity resource values.  Smaller scale stewardship contracting pilot projects are near to or are being implemented on several national forests.

Proposals for additional pilot projects include the “charter forest” concept included in the President's Fiscal Year 2003 budget documents; alternative collaborative, cooperative, and trust land approaches described in New Approaches for Managing Federally Administered Lands (Task Force Report, Idaho Department of Lands, 1998); and specific projects incorporating these concepts, set out in Breaking the Gridlock: Federal Land Pilot Projects In Idaho (Working Group Report, Idaho Department of Lands, 2000).  Legislative proposals adapted from these ideas include the Clearwater Basin Project Act, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 5629 in October 2002.


The IESAF and IMSAF recommend and support continued implementation, monitoring and assessment of existing pilot projects and further development and implementation of additional appropriate pilot projects on Forest Service and BLM-administered lands, particularly in the Inland Empire and Intermountain regions of the western U.S.

Such projects should be structured to provide working tests at a meaningful, workable scale of innovative, alternative approaches to address federal land management “gridlock” and related forest and range health and community stability issues.  Pilot projects, no matter what they may be called, should focus on and effectively address the following set of elements:

  • National interest:  Lands selected for pilot projects should remain in federal ownership and the federal land management agency should retain lead decisionmaking and implementation authority and responsibility.  Pilot Projects are not a vehicle to privatize federal lands or turn them over to state or local govenments.

  • Location and amount.  A limited, manageable number of pilots from different regions, including national forests and BLM-administered lands in the Inland Empire and Intermountain areas of the western United States, would be desirable.

  • Public involvement:  Pilot projects should be collaborative in nature and involve citizens from a variety of philosophical perspectives in their implementation.  Local support for and participation in such projects is essential.

  • Environmental laws:  Existing environmental laws should apply to pilot projects.  However, there should be provisions for streamlining process requirements as long as fundamental statutory objectives are met.

  • Long-range plans:  The management framework for pilot projects must be based on existing, revised, or new long-range plans.

  • Appeals:  The Forest Service and BLM administrative appeals procedures need creative streamlining.  They should be better integrated with public participation opportunities that occur earlier in the planning and decisionmaking processes and that are less adversarial.

  • Funding:  A sustained source of funding, preferably separate from more general federal lands budgets, is essential for meaningful testing of pilot project approaches.

  • Outcome monitoring and assessment:  Pilot projects should include a process for objectively monitoring and assessing efforts.  Such a process is needed to evaluate effectiveness, assure accountability, and facilitate feedback for further refinement and adaptation.

  • Incentives for innovation:  While monitoring, assessment, and standards to assure responsible action are important, projects should be structured with sufficient flexibility that federal agency decisionmakers, staff, and other participants do not feel personally "at risk" in exploring reasonable new ways of doing business, in an adaptive manner.