The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed new planning rule, better known as “Planning 2.0,” currently resides in limbo between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House has voted to roll back the rule under the provisions of the Congressional Review Act, and the Senate will soon be considering action to finalize the process. No matter which action the Senate opts to take, the effects will be far-reaching.
Planning 2.0, although well intentioned, is not without its flaws. It has been highly criticized for its relation to local government and its emphasis on landscape-level planning. However, among its major objectives are early public engagement, implementation of adaptive management techniques, and achieving objectives on a broader level than previously considered. These provisions are included within the Forest Service’s planning rule of 2012, which certainly shows potential for improved active management of federal lands.
Considering the incidence of catastrophic wildfire during the past several decades, it becomes apparent that one of the integral components of any plan for federal lands should be the implementation of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which was developed as part of the National Fire Plan. This strategy is largely based on county and community wildfire protection plans, thereby automatically triggering participation from local government and area residents. However, this local involvement is still applied on a landscape level. This is necessary in order to coordinate mitigation activities across ownership and management responsibility boundaries.
The ominous part of the rollback effort is that, under the Congressional Review Act, any rejected rule or regulation is prohibited from being resubmitted, either in a repeated or even similar form. This means that the early public participation and emphasis on landscape-level wildfire mitigation planning would not only be eliminated from the proposed rule, but essentially eliminated from future consideration. This action could seriously hamper local and regional efforts to combat the conditions that currently predispose public lands to catastrophic wildfire.
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Planning 2.0 is not, by any means, a perfect panacea. Problems within the rule certainly exist. However, there are parts of the rule that could improve the BLM’s ability to interact with the public and local government, and which could certainly facilitate the implementation of the Cohesive Strategy. Amending the rule to allow the retention of its benefits, while negating its negative aspects, would certainly seem preferable to its outright rejection, with no possibility of resurrecting its advantages.
Bob Cope is a former Lemhi County commissioner and current member of the Forest Service FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act) committee regarding the agency’s planning rule.