oversight

Forest Service Decision-Making: A Framework for Improving Performance

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-04-29.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Requesters




April 1997
                 FOREST SERVICE
                 DECISION-MAKING
                 A Framework for
                 Improving
                 Performance




GAO/RCED-97-71
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Resources, Community, and
      Economic Development Division

      B-276170

      April 29, 1997

      Congressional Requesters

      As agreed with your offices, this report discusses the underlying causes of inefficiency and
      ineffectiveness in the decision-making process used by the Department of Agriculture’s Forest
      Service in carrying out its mission. The report contains a matter for congressional consideration
      and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and to the
      Secretary of Agriculture designed to reduce the costs and time of the decision-making process
      and/or improve the agency’s ability to deliver what is expected or promised.

      We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional committees, the Chair of
      the Council on Environmental Quality, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Chief of the Forest
      Service. We will also make copies available to others upon request.

      Please call me on (202) 512-3841 if you or your staff have any questions about this report. Major
      contributors to this report are listed in appendix VI.




      Victor S. Rezendes
      Director, Energy, Resources,
        and Science Issues
B-276170

List of Requesters

The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski
Chairman, Committee on Energy
  and Natural Resources
United States Senate

The Honorable Larry Craig
Chairman, Subcommittee on Forests
  and Public Land Management
Committee on Energy and
  Natural Resources
United States Senate

The Honorable James V. Hansen
Chairman, Subcommittee on National Parks
  and Public Lands
Committee on Resources
House of Representatives

The Honorable Ralph Regula
Chairman, Subcommittee on Interior
  and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives

The Honorable Conrad Burns
United States Senate




                     Page 2                GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
B-276170




           Page 3   GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
Executive Summary


             The decision-making process used by the Department of Agriculture’s
Purpose      Forest Service in carrying out its mission is costly and time-consuming,
             and the agency often fails to achieve its planned objectives. The agency
             has spent over 20 years and over $250 million developing multiyear plans
             for managing national forests. It also spends about $250 million a year for
             environmental studies to support individual projects. However, according
             to an internal Forest Service report, inefficiencies within this process cost
             up to $100 million a year at the project level alone. In addition, by the time
             the agency has completed its decision-making, it often finds that it is
             unable to achieve the plans’ objectives or implement planned projects
             because of new information and events, as well as changes in funding and
             natural conditions.

             In response to congressional requests, GAO examined the Forest Service’s
             decision-making process. In this report, GAO discusses the internal and
             external causes of inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the process: (1) the
             inadequate attention that the Forest Service has given to improving the
             process; (2) the lack of agreement, both inside and outside the agency, on
             how it is to resolve conflicts among competing uses on its lands;
             (3) unresolved interagency issues that transcend its administrative
             boundaries and jurisdiction; and (4) differences in the requirements of
             laws that help frame its decision-making.


             The Forest Service manages about 192 million acres of land—nearly
Background   9 percent of the nation’s total surface area and about 30 percent of all
             federal lands. Laws guiding the management of the nation’s 155 national
             forests require the agency to manage its lands under the principles of
             multiple use and sustained yield to meet the diverse needs of the American
             people.

             Under the multiple-use principle, the Forest Service is required to plan for
             six renewable surface uses—outdoor recreation, rangeland, timber,
             watersheds and water flows, wilderness, and wildlife and fish. Under the
             sustained-yield principle, the agency is to manage its lands to provide high
             levels of all of these uses to current users while sustaining undiminished
             the lands’ ability to produce these uses for future generations.

             To carry out its mission, the Forest Service follows a decision-making
             process that includes (1) preparing a long-term strategic plan that maps
             the agency’s course for the next decade and beyond, (2) developing
             regional guides that direct the management of its national forests,



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                   Executive Summary




                   (3) developing plans for managing each forest, and (4) reaching
                   project-level decisions for implementing these plans. In developing plans
                   and reaching project-level decisions, the Forest Service must comply with
                   the requirements of environmental statutes, including the National
                   Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water
                   Act, and the Clean Air Act. The Council on Environmental Quality in the
                   Executive Office of the President is responsible for issuing
                   governmentwide regulations to implement the provisions of the National
                   Environmental Policy Act. The responsibility for implementing and
                   enforcing environmental laws and regulations is dispersed among several
                   federal regulatory agencies, as well as state and local agencies.


                   Some of the inefficiency in developing forest plans and reaching
Results in Brief   project-level decisions, as well as the ineffectiveness in achieving the
                   plans’ objectives, has occurred because the Forest Service has not given
                   adequate attention to improving its decision-making process, including
                   improving accountability for its performance. As a result, the Forest
                   Service (1) must request more funds to accomplish fewer objectives
                   during the yearly budget and appropriation process and (2) has not
                   corrected long-standing deficiencies within its decision-making process
                   that have contributed to increased costs and time and/or the inability to
                   achieve planned objectives.

                   Strengthening accountability for performance within the Forest Service
                   and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of its decision-making is
                   contingent on establishing long-term strategic goals that are based on
                   clearly defined mission priorities. However, agreement does not exist on
                   the agency’s long-term strategic goals. This lack of agreement is the result
                   of a more fundamental disagreement, both inside and outside the Forest
                   Service, over which uses the agency is to emphasize under its broad
                   multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and how best to ensure the
                   long-term sustainability of these uses.

                   Issues that transcend the agency’s administrative boundaries and
                   jurisdiction also affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency’s
                   decision-making. In particular, the Forest Service has had difficulty
                   reconciling the administrative boundaries of the national forests with the
                   boundaries of natural systems, such as watersheds and vegetative and
                   animal communities, both in planning and in assessing the effects of
                   federal and nonfederal activities on the environment.




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                             Finally, the requirements of planning and environmental laws, enacted
                             primarily during the 1960s and 1970s, have not been harmonized.
                             Differences among the requirements of various laws and their differing
                             judicial interpretations require some issues to be analyzed or reanalyzed at
                             different stages in the Forest Service’s decision-making process without
                             any clear sequence leading to their timely resolution. Additional
                             differences among the statutorily required approaches for protecting
                             various resources—such as endangered and threatened species, water, air,
                             diverse plant and animal communities, and wilderness—have also
                             sometimes been difficult to reconcile. However, GAO believes that statutory
                             changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Forest Service’s
                             decision-making process cannot be identified until agreement is first
                             reached on the agency’s mission priorities.



Principal Findings

The Forest Service Has Not   The Forest Service has not given adequate attention to reducing the costs
Given Adequate Attention     and time of its decision-making and improving its ability to deliver what is
to Improving Its             expected or promised. As a result, the Forest Service must request more
                             annual appropriations to achieve fewer planning objectives, and
Decision-Making Process      deficiencies within the decision-making process that have been known to
                             the agency for a decade or more have not been corrected.

                             The Forest Service has made little progress in holding its managers
                             accountable for their performance. For example, in response to
                             congressional concerns about the Forest Service’s inability to deliver what
                             is expected or promised, the Chief, in the fall of 1991, formed a task force
                             of employees from throughout the agency to review the issue of
                             accountability. The task force’s February 1994 report set forth a seven-step
                             process to strengthen accountability. Steps in the process included
                             (1) establishing work agreements that include measures and standards
                             with customers’ involvement, (2) assessing performance, and
                             (3) communicating results to customers. However, the task force’s
                             recommendations were never implemented. Rather, they were identified
                             as actions that the agency planned to implement over the next decade.

                             Because the Forest Service has made little progress in holding managers
                             accountable for their performance, it must request more funds to
                             accomplish fewer objectives in forest plans during the yearly budget and




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Executive Summary




appropriation process. For example, in fiscal year 1991, the Congress
asked the Forest Service to develop a multiyear program to reduce the
costs of its timber program by not less than 5 percent per year. The Forest
Service responded to these and other concerns by undertaking two major
examinations of its timber program and is now preparing to undertake a
third. However, with no incentive to act, the agency has not implemented
any of the recommended improvements agencywide. In the interim, the
costs associated with preparing and administering timber sales have
continued to rise. As a result, for fiscal year 1998, the agency is requesting
$12 million (6 percent) more for timber sale management than was
appropriated for fiscal year 1997 while proposing to offer 0.4 billion board
feet (10 percent) less timber for sale.

Another result of the lack of accountability within the Forest Service has
been that long-standing deficiencies within the agency’s decision-making
process, which have driven up costs and time and/or driven down the
ability to achieve planned objectives, have not been corrected. These
deficiencies include (1) not adequately monitoring the effects of past
management decisions to more accurately estimate the effects of similar
future decisions and to modify decisions when new information is
uncovered or when preexisting monitoring thresholds are crossed, (2) not
maintaining comparable environmental and socioeconomic data that are
useful and easily accessible to forest managers, and (3) not adequately
involving the public at the beginning of the decision-making process when
problems are identified, data are gathered, and relationships are
established and maintaining their involvement throughout the process.

For example, adequate monitoring of the effects of past management
decisions is critical to accurately estimate the environmental effects of
similar future decisions. Moreover, monitoring can be used as an effective
tool when the effects of a decision may be difficult to determine in
advance because of uncertainty or costs. However, the Forest Service
(1) has historically given low priority to monitoring during the annual
competition for scarce resources, (2) continues to approve projects
without an adequate monitoring component, and (3) generally does not
monitor the implementation of its plans as its regulations require. The
Forest Service’s past failure to monitor represents a lost opportunity to
reduce the costs and time of future decision-making.




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Agreement Needs to Be     The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 is designed to hold
Reached on How the        federal agencies more accountable for their performance by requiring
Forest Service Should     them to establish performance goals, measures, and reports that provide a
                          system of accountability for results. It requires each federal agency to
Resolve Conflicts Among   develop, no later than September 30, 1997, a strategic plan that covers a
Competing Uses            period of at least 5 years. The Forest Service is planning to prepare two
                          long-term strategic plans—one to comply with the requirements of the
                          Government Performance and Results Act and another that maps the
                          agency’s course for the next decade and beyond, as required by another
                          statute.

                          Successful implementation of the requirements of the Government
                          Performance and Results Act is contingent on establishing long-term
                          strategic goals that are based on clearly defined mission priorities.
                          However, agreement does not exist on the Forest Service’s long-term
                          strategic goals. This lack of agreement is the result of a more fundamental
                          disagreement, both inside and outside the Forest Service, over which uses
                          to emphasize under the agency’s broad multiple-use and sustained-yield
                          mandate and how best to ensure the long-term sustainability of these uses.

                          During the last 10 years, the Forest Service has increasingly shifted the
                          emphasis under its broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate from
                          consumption (primarily producing timber) to conservation (primarily
                          sustaining wildlife and fish). This shift is taking place in reaction to
                          requirements in planning and environmental laws and their judicial
                          interpretations—reflecting changing public values and concerns—together
                          with social, ecological, and other factors. In particular, section 7 of the
                          Endangered Species Act represents a congressional design to give greater
                          priority to the protection of endangered species than to the current
                          primary missions of the Forest Service and other federal agencies. When
                          proposing a project, the Forest Service bears the burden of demonstrating
                          that its actions will not likely jeopardize listed species.

                          The increasing emphasis on sustaining wildlife and fish conflicts with the
                          older emphasis on producing timber and underlies the Forest Service’s
                          inability to achieve the goals and objectives for timber production set forth
                          in many of the first forest plans. In addition, this attention to sustaining
                          wildlife and fish will likely constrain future uses of the national forests,
                          such as recreation. The demand for recreation is expected to grow and
                          may increasingly conflict with both sustaining wildlife and fish and
                          producing timber on Forest Service lands.




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                            While the agency continues to reduce its emphasis on consumption and
                            increase its emphasis on conservation, the Congress has never explicitly
                            accepted this shift in emphasis or acknowledged its effects on the
                            availability of other uses on national forests. If the Forest Service is to be
                            held accountable for its performance, the agency will need to consult with
                            the Congress on its strategic long-term goals, as the Government
                            Performance and Results Act requires. This process may entail identifying
                            legislative changes that are needed to clarify or modify the Congress’s
                            intent and expectations.

                            Such a consultation would create an opportunity for the Forest Service to
                            gain a clearer understanding of which uses to emphasize under its broad
                            multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and how to resolve conflicts or
                            make choices among competing uses on its lands. This understanding
                            would, in turn, provide the agency with a basis for establishing long-term
                            strategic goals, as well as performance goals and measures that are linked
                            to them.


Interagency Issues Affect   Issues that transcend the agency’s administrative boundaries and
the Forest Service’s        jurisdiction also adversely affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the
Decision-Making             Forest Service’s decision-making process. These issues include differences
                            in the geographic areas that must be considered in reaching decisions
                            under different planning and environmental laws.

                            The Forest Service and other federal land management agencies are
                            authorized to plan primarily along administrative boundaries, such as
                            those defining national forests and parks. Conversely, environmental
                            statutes and regulations require the agencies to analyze environmental
                            issues and concerns along the boundaries of natural systems, such as
                            watersheds and vegetative and animal communities. For example,
                            regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act require
                            the agencies to assess the effects of their actions on natural systems.

                            Because the boundaries of administrative units and natural systems are
                            frequently different, federal land management plans have often considered
                            effects only on portions of natural systems or portions of the habitats of
                            wide-ranging species, such as migratory birds, bears, and anadromous fish
                            (including salmon). For example, the Interior Columbia River Basin, a
                            recognized ecological system, contains 74 separate federal land units,
                            including 35 national forests, each with its own management plan and
                            information database. Not analyzing effects on natural systems and their



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                              Executive Summary




                              components at the appropriate ecological scale can result in duplicative
                              environmental analyses for individual plans and projects, increasing the
                              costs and time required for analysis and reducing the effectiveness of
                              federal land management decision-making.

                              Over the past few years, several major studies have examined the need to
                              reconcile differences in the geographic areas that federal agencies must
                              consider when reaching decisions. Among the options for reconciliation
                              that have been suggested are changes to the Council on Environmental
                              Quality’s regulations and guidance for implementing the National
                              Environmental Policy Act. Such changes include amending the Council’s
                              regulations to require that the environmental analysis accompanying a
                              plan or project be “tiered,” or linked, to a broader-scoped environmental
                              study and that the analysis itself focus on the environmental issues
                              specific to the plan or project. While tiering is currently allowed, it is not
                              required.

                              According to Council officials, changes to the act’s regulations and
                              guidance are not being considered at this time. Instead, the Council plans
                              to rely primarily on interagency agreements. However, interagency
                              agreements (1) have not been lived up to by agencies in the past, (2) are
                              generally not enforceable by outside parties, and (3) do not provide a basis
                              for common approaches among all agencies. Also, federal land
                              management and regulatory agencies sometimes do not work efficiently
                              and effectively together to address issues that transcend their boundaries
                              and jurisdictions. In addition, the environmental and socioeconomic data
                              gathered by federal agencies are often not comparable, large gaps in the
                              information exist, and federal agencies lack awareness of who has what
                              information. Therefore, although strong leadership by the Council would
                              help to ensure that interagency agreements accomplish their intended
                              objectives, the Council may also need to consider changes to its
                              regulations and guidance for implementing the National Environmental
                              Policy Act.


Differences in the            Finally, differences in the requirements of numerous planning and
Requirements of Laws          environmental laws, enacted primarily during the 1960s and 1970s,
Affect the Forest Service’s   produce inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the Forest Service’s
                              decision-making. Requirements to consider new information and events
Decision-Making               and differing judicial interpretations of the same statutory requirements
                              have made it difficult for the Forest Service and other federal agencies to
                              predict when any given decision can be considered final and can be



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Executive Summary




implemented, increasing the costs and time of decision-making and
reducing the agencies’ ability to achieve the objectives in their plans.

For instance, the listing of a species as endangered or threatened under
the Endangered Species Act after a forest plan has been approved can
require the Forest Service to reinitiate formal consultations with federal
regulatory agencies to amend or revise the plan. The listing may also
prohibit the Forest Service from implementing projects under the plans
that may affect the species until the new round of consultations has been
completed. Recent federal court decisions have required the Forest
Service to reinitiate consultations on several approved forest plans. For
example, after a species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and a species
of owl in the Southwest were listed as threatened under the Endangered
Species Act, the courts ruled that the agency could not implement projects
under the plans that might affect the species until the new rounds of
consultations had been completed.

Differing judicial interpretations of the same statutory requirements have
also established conflicting requirements. For instance, three federal
circuit courts of appeals have held that the approval of a forest plan
represents a decision that can be judicially challenged and prohibited from
being implemented. Conversely, two other federal circuit courts of appeals
have held that a forest plan does not represent a decision and that only a
project can be judicially challenged, at which time the adequacy of the
plan’s treatment of larger-scale environmental issues arising in the project
can be reconsidered.

In addition, differences between environmental laws and agencies’
planning statutes can be difficult to reconcile. Whereas environmental
laws typically address individual resources—such as endangered and
threatened species, water, and air—the Forest Service’s and other federal
land management agencies’ planning statutes generally establish
objectives for multiple resources—such as sustaining diverse plant and
animal communities, securing favorable water flow conditions, and
preserving wilderness. These different approaches to achieving similar
environmental objectives have sometimes been difficult for the Forest
Service and other federal agencies to reconcile, at least in the short term.
For example, prescribed burning to restore the forests’ health and to
sustain diverse plant and animal communities may be appropriate under
the Forest Service’s planning statutes but may be difficult to reconcile in
the short term with air and water quality standards under the Clean Air
and Clean Water acts.



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                    Adequately addressing the differences in the requirements of laws
                    affecting the Forest Service’s decision-making would require a systematic
                    and comprehensive analysis of the laws to avoid making changes that
                    would entail unintended consequences for the future. GAO has observed
                    that the Forest Service’s decision-making process is clearly broken and in
                    need of repair. Moreover, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of
                    the process, a consensus for statutory changes appears to be growing.
                    However, any legislation that may be needed to clarify or modify the
                    Congress’s intent and expectations requires that the Forest Service and the
                    Congress reach agreement on the agency’s long-term strategic goals, on
                    the uses that the agency should emphasize under its broad multiple-use
                    and sustained-yield mandate, and on the steps that the agency should take
                    to resolve conflicts or make choices among competing uses on its lands.

                    Without agreement on the Forest Service’s mission priorities, GAO sees
                    distrust and gridlock prevailing in any effort to streamline the agency’s
                    statutory framework. For instance, during his Senate confirmation hearing
                    in April 1995, the Secretary of Agriculture pledged to work with the
                    Congress to identify statutory changes to improve the processes for
                    implementing the Forest Service’s mission. However, the Secretary has not
                    sent to the Congress either his analysis or the options for changing the
                    current statutory framework suggested by the Forest Service in 1995.
                    Administration officials have said that they are hesitant to suggest changes
                    to the procedural requirements of planning and environmental laws
                    because they believe that the Congress may also make substantive
                    changes to the laws with which they would disagree.


                    The Congress may wish to consider how the requirements of the
Matter for          Government Performance and Results Act can be integrated most
Congressional       efficiently into the Forest Service’s current decision-making process.
Consideration       Specifically, the Congress may wish to consider eliminating the
                    requirement in the Forest Service’s statutory framework that the agency
                    develop a strategic plan for the next decade or more when it is also
                    required to develop a similar strategic plan under the Government
                    Performance and Results Act.


                    GAO recommends that the Secretary of Agriculture direct the Chief of the
Recommendation to   Forest Service to identify how the agency will link a long-term strategic
the Secretary of    goal with annual performance goals and measures.
Agriculture

                    Page 12                            GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
                       Executive Summary




                       GAO recommends that the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
Recommendations to     change the Council’s regulations for implementing the National
the Chair of the       Environmental Policy Act to require, rather than merely allow, federal
Council on             agencies to tier plans and projects to broader-scoped studies. In addition,
                       GAO recommends that the Chair revise the Council’s regulations and
Environmental          guidance for implementing the act to improve interagency coordination;
Quality                identify a baseline of comparable environmental data needed for agencies
                       to implement the act; and assume or assign responsibility for collecting,
                       managing, and making the data available to other users. GAO is not
                       recommending precise changes to the Council’s regulations or guidance
                       because GAO believes that such changes are better left for the Council to
                       determine on the basis of its own internal study and its evaluation of the
                       outside views solicited during its effort to reinvent federal agencies’
                       implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.


                       GAO requested and received written comments on a draft of this report
Agency Comments        from the Forest Service and the Council on Environmental Quality. The
and GAO’S Evaluation   Forest Service said that it agreed with many of the report’s goals and
                       identified actions that it is taking to clarify its long-term strategic goals,
                       improve its accountability, and streamline its administrative processes and
                       decision-making. Similarly, the Council agreed with the goals for
                       implementing the National Environmental Policy Act articulated in the
                       report but said it was using different mechanisms to achieve these goals.

                       The Forest Service said that it intends to establish strategic goals and
                       related performance measures for managers, as well as work in
                       partnership with other agencies more closely and issue revised regulations
                       for implementing the National Forest Management Act. GAO believes that
                       implementing these actions would improve the efficiency and
                       effectiveness of the agency’s decision-making process. However, as the
                       report notes, while the Forest Service can and does identify problems,
                       according to the agency’s own analysis, without external attention it often
                       fails to take corrective action. In its comments, the agency did not discuss
                       either a schedule to implement the improvements or a plan to closely
                       monitor its progress and periodically report on its performance, both of
                       which GAO believes are needed to break the cycle of studying and
                       restudying issues without any accountability or clear sequence for
                       resolving them. The Forest Service did not comment on GAO’s
                       recommendation to the Secretary of Agriculture.




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The Council on Environmental Quality identified actions that it is taking to
reinvent the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act on
an agency-by-agency as well as on a more generic basis. These actions
include streamlining procedures at individual agencies and examining
issues on a sector-by-sector basis (e.g., timber, grazing, and oil and gas).
GAO agrees with the Council that (1) differences among the cultures,
organizations, and institutional goals of various federal agencies, as well as
the substantive nature of their underlying missions, require the Council’s
regulations implementing the act to be generic in nature and (2) regulatory
changes often need to be tailored specifically to individual agencies’
processes. However, as this report indicates, some decision-making issues
transcend federal agencies’ administrative boundaries and jurisdictions,
and for some of these issues, changes in the Council’s regulations and
guidance need to be considered. The Council did not agree with GAO’s
recommendation that it should change its guidance and regulations.
However, GAO’s recommendation to the Council’s Chair is intended to
ensure that the Council’s planned multiyear reinvention effort does not
prematurely or arbitrarily close off options for implementing the act more
efficiently and effectively. GAO also clarified this recommendation to
indicate that it is not recommending precise changes to the Council’s
regulations or guidance because, in its view, such changes can be best
determined by the Council. On the basis of the agencies’ comments, GAO
revised the draft report where appropriate. The agencies’ comments,
together with GAO’s responses to them, are presented fully in appendixes
IV and V.




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Page 15   GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
Contents



Executive Summary                                                                                     4


Chapter 1                                                                                            20
                         The Forest Service’s Management Is Decentralized                            20
Introduction             National Forests Are Managed Under the Principles of Multiple               22
                           Use and Sustained Yield
                         The Forest Service Is Part of a Larger Federal Land Management              23
                           Organizational Structure
                         Federal Land Management Agencies Must Comply With                           24
                           Environmental Laws and Regulations
                         The Forest Service Must Involve the Public in Its                           25
                           Decision-Making
                         Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                          25

Chapter 2                                                                                            28
                         The Forest Service’s Decision-Making Process Is Costly and                  28
The Forest Service’s       Time-Consuming
Decision-Making          Objectives in Forest Plans Often Have Not Been Achieved                     31
                         Opportunities Exist to Improve the Efficiency and Effectiveness             33
Process Is Costly and      of the Forest Service’s Decision-Making
Time-Consuming,
Often Falling Short of
Expectations
Chapter 3                                                                                            35
                         The Forest Service Is Not Sufficiently Accountable for Its                  35
The Forest Service         Expenditures
Has Not Given            The Forest Service Is Not Sufficiently Accountable for Its                  37
                           Performance
Adequate Attention to    The Forest Service Must Request More Funds to Accomplish                    39
Improving Its              Fewer Objectives
Decision-Making          The Forest Service Has Not Corrected Long-Standing                          40
                           Deficiencies in Its Decision-Making Process
Process                  Recently Enacted Federal Statutes Establish the Framework                   47
                           Necessary for Strengthening Accountability
                         Conclusions                                                                 50




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Chapter 4                                                                                          51
                       The Forest Service Has Shifted Its Emphasis From Timber to                  52
Agreement Needs to       Wildlife and Fish
Be Reached on How      Agreement Does Not Exist on Which Uses the Forest Service                   62
                         Should Emphasize on Its Lands
to Resolve Conflicts   The Government Performance and Results Act Provides a                       67
Among Competing          Framework to Reach Agreement
Uses                   Conclusions                                                                 72
                       Matter for Congressional Consideration                                      73
                       Recommendation to the Secretary of Agriculture                              74
                       Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                          74

Chapter 5                                                                                          75
                       Differences Between Administrative and Ecological Boundaries                75
Interagency Issues       Are Sometimes Difficult to Reconcile
Affect the Forest      Changes to Regulations and Guidance Have Been Suggested                     80
                       Efforts Will Continue to Rely Primarily on Interagency                      83
Service’s                Agreements
Decision-Making        Complete and Comparable Data Could Improve the Agencies’                    90
                         Ability to Conduct Studies and Coordinate Activities
                       Conclusions                                                                 93
                       Recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental                94
                         Quality
                       Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                          94

Chapter 6                                                                                          96
                       Requirements to Consider New Information and Events Entail                  96
Differences in Laws’     Ongoing Reviews of Plans and Projects
Requirements Affect    Differing Judicial Interpretations Have Created Conflicting                 97
                         Requirements
the Forest Service’s   Different Approaches to Protecting Resources Have Been                      98
Decision-Making          Difficult to Reconcile
                       A Systematic and Comprehensive Analysis of the Laws Is Needed               99
                       Lack of Agreement on the Forest Service’s Mission Priorities Has           102
                         Delayed Needed Analysis of the Laws
                       Conclusions                                                                103

Appendixes             Appendix I: The Forest Service’s Decision-Making Process                   104
                       Appendix II: National Forests Visited                                      121
                       Appendix III: Organizations Contacted                                      123




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          Contents




          Appendix IV: Comments From the Forest Service                              130
          Appendix V: Comments From the Council on Environmental                     139
            Quality
          Appendix VI: Major Contributors to This Report                             146

Table     Table 2.1: Comparison of Average Annual Timber Sale Goals and               31
            Timber Sale Volumes for Five National Forests

Figures   Figure 1.1: Lands Managed by the Forest Service in the 48                   22
            Contiguous States
          Figure 2.1: Costs to Undertake Timber Sales, 1973-94                        29
          Figure 2.2: Disposition of Wildlife-Related Actions in 51 Forest            33
            Service and Bureau of Land Management Plans
          Figure 3.1: Implementing GPRA: Key Steps and Critical Practices             49
          Figure 4.1: Volume of Timber Sold From Forest Service Lands,                54
            1950-94
          Figure 4.2: National Forest Lands Withdrawn for Conservation                58
            Purposes
          Figure 4.3: Visitor Days in National Forests, 1950-94                       61
          Figure 4.4: Relationships Between the Forest Service’s Four                 70
            Long-Term Strategic Goals and Practical Steps to Implement
            Ecosystem Management
          Figure 5.1: Boundary Suggested for the Greater Yellowstone                  77
            Ecological Unit
          Figure 5.2: Forest Service’s National Hierarchal Framework of               88
            Ecological Units
          Figure 5.3: Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ecological Unit Map                 89
          Figure I.1: Forest Service Decision Levels                                 104
          Figure I.2: RPA Planning Process                                           105
          Figure I.3: Developing Forest Plans                                        108
          Figure I.4: Making Project Decisions                                       110
          Figure I.5: Process for Appealing Project Decisions                        112
          Figure I.6: NEPA Process                                                   115
          Figure I.7: ESA Consultation Process                                       117
          Figure I.8: Summary of the Forest Service’s Decision-Making                119
            Process
          Figure I.9: Participants in the Forest Service’s Decision-Making           120
            Process




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Contents




Abbreviations

CEQ        Council on Environmental Quality
EA         environmental assessment
EIS        environmental impact statement
EPA        Environmental Protection Agency
ESA        Endangered Species Act
FACA       Federal Advisory Committee Act
FWS        Fish and Wildlife Service
GAO        General Accounting Office
GIS        geographic information system
GPRA       Government Performance and Results Act
NEPA       National Environmental Policy Act
NFMA       National Forest Management Act
NMFS       National Marine Fisheries Service
OTA        Office of Technology Assessment
RPA        Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act


Page 19                         GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
Chapter 1

Introduction


                       In carrying out its mission, the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service
                       follows a decision-making process that is largely based on planning laws
                       enacted during the 1970s. This process includes (1) preparing a long-term
                       strategic plan that maps the agency’s course for the next decade and
                       beyond, (2) developing regional guides that direct the management of its
                       155 national forests, (3) developing plans for managing each forest, and
                       (4) reaching project-level decisions for implementing these plans.1
                       Environmental laws, enacted primarily during the 1960s and 1970s, hold
                       the Forest Service accountable for the ecological consequences of its
                       decisions by requiring the agency to protect natural resources such as
                       threatened and endangered species, wetlands, air, water, and wilderness.


                       The Forest Service, created in 1905, is a hierarchical organization whose
The Forest Service’s   management is highly decentralized. The Chief of the Forest Service heads
Management Is          the agency and, through Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural
Decentralized          Resources and Environment, reports to the Secretary of Agriculture.
                       Under the Chief, there are an associate chief and six deputy chiefs,
                       including one responsible for the National Forest System. In fiscal year
                       1995, the Forest Service received $3.4 billion in appropriated funds, of
                       which about $1.3 billion, or about 38 percent, was allocated to the National
                       Forest System. The National Forest System received another $1.2 billion in
                       fiscal year 1995 from other sources—including moneys from trust funds
                       and for fighting forest fires and fire protection, as well as credits for roads
                       built by purchasers of timber sales, according to the Forest Service. As a
                       result, funding for the National Forest System totaled over $2.5 billion. The
                       system employs about 70 percent of the agency’s approximately 36,000
                       personnel.

                       Forest Service headquarters (Washington Office) primarily establishes
                       policy and provides technical direction to the agency’s three levels of field
                       management—9 regional offices, 123 forest offices, and about 600 district
                       offices. At the Washington Office, the National Forest System has separate
                       program directors for six different resources: heritage and wilderness,
                       range, recreation, timber, watershed and air, and wildlife and fisheries.
                       There is also a program director for planning. Similar lines of resource
                       management exist at the regional, forest, and district office levels.
                       However, because of budgetary constraints, the management of some
                       resources may be combined.



                       1
                        The Forest Service’s decision-making process is explained in detail in app. I.



                       Page 20                                          GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
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Introduction




The nine regional offices, each managed by a regional forester, interpret
policy and provide additional direction to the 123 forest offices that
manage the 155 national forests. Together, the Chief, the associate chief,
the six deputy chiefs, the seven program directors, and the nine regional
foresters make up the Forest Service’s leadership team.

The forests, together with 20 national grasslands and 17 national
recreation areas, make up the National Forest System. The forest offices,
each managed by a forest supervisor, in turn, oversee the about 600
district offices, most of which are managed by a district ranger. The forest
supervisors are primarily responsible for developing and implementing
management plans for their respective forest(s) which are approved by the
appropriate regional forester. The district rangers are primarily
responsible for implementing project-level decisions within their
respective district. At each level, managers have considerable autonomy
and discretion for interpreting and applying the agency’s policies and
directions, guided by a system of manuals and handbooks keyed to
statutes and regulations.




Page 21                            GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
                                          Chapter 1
                                          Introduction




Figure 1.1: Lands Managed by the Forest Service in the 48 Contiguous States




                                          Source: Forest Service.



                                          The Forest Service’s motto is “caring for the land and serving people.”
National Forests Are                      Laws guiding the management of the National Forest System require the
Managed Under the                         Forest Service to manage its lands under the principles of multiple use and
Principles of Multiple                    sustained yield to meet the diverse needs of the American people. The
                                          agency is required to plan for six renewable surface uses only—outdoor
Use and Sustained                         recreation, rangeland, timber, watersheds and water flows, wilderness,
Yield                                     and wildlife and fish. In addition, the Forest Service’s guidance and
                                          regulations require that nonrenewable subsurface resources—such as oil,
                                          gas, and hardrock minerals—also be considered in preparing forest plans.2


                                          2
                                           Federal Land Management: Better Oil and Gas Information Needed to Support Land Use Decisions
                                          (GAO/RCED-90-71, June 27, 1990).



                                          Page 22                                      GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
                        Chapter 1
                        Introduction




                        Under the Organic Administration Act of 1897, the national forests are to
                        be established to improve and protect the forests within their boundaries
                        or to secure favorable water flow conditions and provide a continuous
                        supply of timber to citizens. The Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960
                        added the uses of outdoor recreation, range, watershed, and fish and
                        wildlife. This act also requires the agency to manage its lands to provide
                        high levels of all of these uses to current users while sustaining
                        undiminished the lands’ ability to produce these uses for future
                        generations (the sustained-yield principle). Under the National Forest
                        Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) and its implementing regulations, the
                        Forest Service is to (1) recognize wilderness as a use of the forests and
                        (2) maintain the diversity of plant and animal communities (biological
                        diversity).


                        The federal government owns about 30 percent (about 650 million acres)
The Forest Service Is   of the nation’s total surface area. The Forest Service, in turn, manages
Part of a Larger        about 192 million acres of land, or about 30 percent of all federal lands.
Federal Land            Forest Service lands include about one-fifth of the nation’s forest lands.

Management              The Forest Service is one of four major federal land management agencies.
Organizational          The other three are the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land
                        Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, all within the Department
Structure               of the Interior. Together, the four agencies manage about 95 percent of all
                        federal lands.

                        The Fish and Wildlife Service manages a loosely structured system of
                        about 500 wildlife refuges encompassing about 89 million acres. These
                        refuges are concentrated in Alaska and along four major north-south
                        waterfowl migration flyways. The agency manages its lands primarily to
                        conserve and protect fish and wildlife and their habitat, although other
                        uses—such as recreation (including hunting and fishing), mining and
                        mineral leasing, livestock grazing, and timber harvesting—are allowed
                        when they are compatible with the primary purposes for which the lands
                        are managed.

                        The National Park Service manages about 77 million acres, divided into
                        374 national parks and other units in 49 states. The agency manages its
                        lands to conserve, preserve, protect, and interpret the nation’s natural,
                        cultural, and historic resources for the enjoyment and recreation of
                        current and future generations.




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                      Introduction




                      The Bureau of Land Management manages about 270 million acres, divided
                      into resource areas and located mainly in the West and in Alaska. The
                      Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 requires the Bureau to
                      manage its lands for multiple uses and sustained yield. The act defines
                      multiple uses as recreation; range; timber; minerals; watershed; fish and
                      wildlife; and natural, scenic, scientific, and historic values.


                      All four of the major federal land management agencies must comply with
Federal Land          the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).
Management Agencies   NEPA and its implementing regulations specify the procedures for

Must Comply With      integrating environmental considerations through environmental analyses
                      and for incorporating public input into the agencies’ decision-making
Environmental Laws    processes. NEPA requires that a federal agency prepare a detailed
and Regulations       environmental impact statement (EIS) for every major federal action that
                      may significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The EIS is
                      designed to ensure that important effects on the environment will not be
                      overlooked or understated before the government makes a commitment to
                      a proposed action.

                      In developing plans and reaching project-level decisions, the four agencies
                      must also comply with the requirements of other environmental statutes,
                      including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air
                      Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as
                      other laws, such as the National Historic Preservation Act. The Forest
                      Service is subject to more than 200 laws affecting its activities and
                      programs.

                      NEPA established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within the
                      Executive Office of the President. CEQ issued governmentwide regulations
                      to implement the provisions of NEPA in 1978. CEQ also assists federal
                      departments and agencies in coordinating programs and activities that
                      affect, protect, or improve environmental quality. The responsibility for
                      implementing and enforcing environmental laws and regulations is
                      dispersed among several federal regulatory agencies, as well as state and
                      local agencies. For example, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the
                      Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service share the
                      responsibility for ensuring the protection and recovery of threatened or
                      endangered plant and animal species under the Endangered Species Act.
                      The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authorities and
                      responsibilities to implement major environmental statutes, including
                      those to protect and enhance air quality (the Clean Air Act) and to restore



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                     Introduction




                     and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s
                     waters (the Clean Water Act). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has
                     authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate activities in wetlands and
                     other waters of the United States.


                     Both NEPA and NFMA and their implementing regulations require the Forest
The Forest Service   Service to involve the public in its decision-making process. In addition,
Must Involve the     NFMA requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish and consult with

Public in Its        advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), as
                     amended, if they are deemed “necessary to secure full information and
Decision-Making      advice.” Passed in 1972, FACA was enacted to control the advisory
                     committee process and to open to public scrutiny the manner in which
                     government agencies obtain advice from private individuals and groups.
                     FACA applies to formally organized committees or similar groups that the
                     President or an executive department or official directs to provide advice
                     or make recommendations. An advisory committee chartered under FACA
                     must take a number of steps to ensure open public meetings. These steps
                     include publishing timely notice of meetings in the Federal Register,
                     holding meetings in public, making detailed minutes of the meetings
                     available to the public, and allowing interested persons to appear before
                     the committee.


                     Concerned about the costs, time, and complexity of the Forest Service’s
Objectives, Scope,   decision-making (see ch. 2), the Chairmen of the Senate Committee on
and Methodology      Energy and Natural Resources and its Subcommittee on Forests and
                     Public Land Management; the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National
                     Parks, Forests, and Lands, House Committee on Resources;3 the Chairman
                     of the Subcommittee on Interior, House Committee on Appropriations;
                     and Senator Conrad Burns asked us to identify and examine the
                     decision-making process used by the Forest Service in carrying out its
                     mission. (See app. I.) They have also asked us to testify on issues and
                     options relating to the process.4

                     In this report, we discuss the internal and external causes of inefficiency
                     and ineffectiveness in the Forest Service’s decision-making process:

                     3
                      In the 105th Congress, this Subcommittee was split into a Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health
                     and a Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands.
                     4
                      Forest Service: Issues Relating to Its Decisionmaking Process (GAO/T-RCED-96-66, Jan. 25, 1996),
                     Forest Service: Issues Related to Managing National Forests for Multiple Uses (GAO/T-RCED-96-111,
                     Mar. 26, 1996), and Forest Service Decision-Making: Greater Clarity Needed on Mission Priorities
                     (GAO/T-RCED-97-81, Feb. 25, 1997).



                     Page 25                                       GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
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Introduction




(1) the inadequate attention that the Forest Service has given to improving
the process; (2) the lack of agreement, both inside and outside the agency,
on how it is to resolve conflicts among competing uses on its lands;
(3) unresolved interagency issues that transcend the Forest Service’s
administrative boundaries and jurisdiction; and (4) differences in the
requirements of laws that help frame its decision-making. As agreed with
the requesters’ offices, we focused our work primarily on the relationship
between the agency’s timber production and other uses on the national
forests.

To identify the decision-making process used by the Forest Service in
carrying out its mission, we reviewed applicable laws and their legislative
histories, regulations implementing the laws, executive orders, agency
directives, and court cases. We also met with Forest Service headquarters
and field managers and staff, headquarters and regional attorneys from
Agriculture’s Office of the General Counsel, and staff and counsel from
CEQ.


To identify issues relating to the Forest Service’s decision-making process
and options to address them, we met with and reviewed documents
provided by (1) officials in the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture and
(2) the Chief of the Forest Service and other Forest Service headquarters
and field personnel. During the course of our review, we visited 14 forests
and one forest experiment station in 8 regions. We met with managers and
staff from these units and from 24 ranger districts located on the forests
that we visited. (See app. II for a list of these regions, forests, and ranger
districts.) We also met with or contacted, and obtained documents from,
headquarters and field managers and staff in EPA; Interior’s Bureau of Land
Management, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service; and
Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

We met with or contacted, and reviewed documents provided by, national
and local officials and staff of professional forestry, timber and livestock
industry, environmental, and recreational organizations, as well as
academic and other natural resource policy analysts and officials from
state and local governments and Native American tribes. (See app. III for
the organizations contacted during this review.) In addition, we conducted
a literature search and reviewed recent books and professional and
scientific journal articles on federal land management.

We reviewed program and budget data for the Forest Service since its
creation in 1905. We concentrated on the period since 1960, when the



Page 26                             GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
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Introduction




Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act was enacted, and especially on the
period since 1976, when the National Forest Management Act was passed.

We also reviewed studies and reports prepared by the Forest Service and
others, as well as legislation being considered by the Congress. We
identified “best practices” evolving within the Forest Service that could
improve efficiency or effectiveness if implemented agencywide. In
addition, we attended various forums, conferences, workshops, and
interagency meetings at which issues and options relating to the Forest
Service’s decision-making were discussed.

We performed our work primarily from August 1995 through March 1997
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. In
conducting our work, we did not independently verify or test the reliability
of the data provided by the Forest Service or others. We obtained
comments on a draft of this report from the Forest Service and CEQ. These
agencies’ comments and our responses are presented in appendixes IV and
V.




Page 27                            GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
Chapter 2

The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
Process Is Costly and Time-Consuming,
Often Falling Short of Expectations
                        Some Members of Congress are concerned about the costs, time, and
                        complexity of the Forest Service’s decision-making process. They are also
                        concerned that the Forest Service often has not been able to achieve the
                        objectives in its forest plans. Hearings held during the 104th Congress
                        identified opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the
                        Forest Service’s decision-making.


                        The last of the 123 forest plans covering all 155 forests in the National
The Forest Service’s    Forest System was approved in 1995, and the first plans, approved in the
Decision-Making         early 1980s, are due for revision. Forest plans have generally taken from 3
Process Is Costly and   to 10 years to complete, and recent plans for forests in the Pacific
                        Northwest have cost between $5 million and $8 million to develop.
Time-Consuming          Amending or revising forest plans can also be costly and time-consuming.
                        For instance, the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota estimates
                        that it has spent over 7 years and more than $3 million revising its plan,
                        which still has not been approved.

                        In addition, the Forest Service spends more than $250 million a year
                        conducting environmental analyses and preparing environmental
                        documents to support project-level decisions, according to a Forest
                        Service reengineering team.1 In 1995, the Forest Service reported that it
                        prepared about 20,000 environmental documents annually—more than any
                        other federal agency. In 1994 (the last year for which data are available)
                        the Forest Service issued almost 20 percent of all the final environmental
                        impact statements prepared by federal agencies (50 out of a total of 253).
                        According to the reengineering team, conducting environmental analyses
                        and preparing environmental documents consumes about 18 percent of
                        the funds available to manage the national forests and approximately
                        30 percent of the agency’s field resources.

                        The costs and time required to complete environmental analyses and
                        prepare environmental documents have increased for individual projects.
                        The Forest Service’s costs to undertake timber sales have tripled since
                        1988, and a sale can take up to 8 years to prepare. (See fig. 2.1.)




                        1
                         Final Report of Recommendations: Project-Level Analysis Re-Engineering Team (Nov. 17, 1995). The
                        team, consisting primarily of regional and forest-level personnel, was tasked by the Forest Service with
                        designing a new process for conducting project-level environmental analyses.



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                                        Chapter 2
                                        The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
                                        Process Is Costly and Time-Consuming,
                                        Often Falling Short of Expectations




Figure 2.1: Costs to Undertake Timber
Sales, 1973-94
                                        Cost per thousand board feet (in dollars)
                                        70


                                        60


                                        50


                                        40


                                        30


                                        20


                                        10


                                         0
                                         1973                     1978          1983                1988              1993
                                                                                  Year


                                        Source: Forest Service.




                                        For example, preparation for the La Manga timber sale on the Carson
                                        National Forest in New Mexico began in 1987. The environmental analysis
                                        was conducted between July 1990 and March 1994. On the basis of the
                                        analysis, the forest decided to offer approximately 4.2 million board feet
                                        with an estimated value of about $718,000. The decision was appealed and
                                        litigated. On the basis of new information on wildlife in the sale area and a
                                        plan by the Fish and Wildlife Service to recover the threatened Mexican
                                        spotted owl, the forest reduced the volume of timber to be offered to
                                        2.4 million board feet with an estimated value of about $411,000.
                                        According to forest officials, they spent an estimated $300,000 conducting
                                        the original environmental analysis and an additional $400,000 responding



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    Chapter 2
    The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
    Process Is Costly and Time-Consuming,
    Often Falling Short of Expectations




    to legal challenges, updating information, and reanalyzing the sale area.
    These estimates do not include the costs of using attorneys within
    Agriculture’s Office of the General Counsel to defend the agency or of
    postponing other projects on the forest to allow staff and resources to be
    assigned to the La Manga project.

    According to the Forest Service, it conducts extensive, complex
    environmental analyses in order to comply with the requirements of the
    National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental laws
    and to avoid or prevail against challenges to its compliance with these
    laws. Despite these analyses, the Forest Service receives over 1,200
    administrative appeals to project-level decisions annually, and about 20 to
    30 new lawsuits are filed each year. Many of these appeals and lawsuits
    are by parties seeking to delay, modify, or stop plans or projects that they
    oppose.

    Although compliance with planning and environmental laws is costly and
    time-consuming, noncompliance is also, as two examples demonstrate.

•   From October 1992 through June 1996, the Forest Service paid almost
    $6.5 million in claims for timber sale contracts that were suspended or
    canceled to protect endangered or threatened species. As of October 1996,
    the agency had pending claims with potential damages of about
    $61 million, and it could incur at least an additional $198 million in
    damages. Some of these contracts were suspended or canceled because
    the Forest Service had not developed plans that satisfied the requirements
    of laws such as NEPA, the National Forest Management Act, or the
    Endangered Species Act.2 Forest Service officials believe that additional
    congressional funding is needed to help pay for the increased costs. In
    December 1996, Forest Service headquarters directed the agency’s nine
    regional offices to plan and budget for fiscal year 1997 on the assumption
    that the Congress would approve a supplemental appropriation to pay for
    the increased costs.
•   The Forest Service could incur significant costs because the Eldorado
    National Forest in northern California failed to comply with the
    requirements of planning and environmental laws. Forest officials decided
    to proceed with a number of timber sales on the basis of cursory,
    out-of-date environmental assessments that did not adequately analyze the
    sales’ potential effects on fish, wildlife, plants, cultural resources, and
    water quality and did not consider significant new information, as required

    2
    Timber Management: Opportunities to Limit Future Liability for Suspended or Canceled Timber Sale
    Contracts (GAO/RCED-97-14, Oct. 31, 1996).



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                                         Chapter 2
                                         The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
                                         Process Is Costly and Time-Consuming,
                                         Often Falling Short of Expectations




                                         under NEPA regulations. The contracts that were awarded have since been
                                         suspended. As a result, the Forest Service could incur $30 million in
                                         potential damages.


                                         After spending over 20 years and over $250 million to develop forest plans,
Objectives in Forest                     the Forest Service often has not been able to achieve the plans’ objectives.
Plans Often Have Not                     As a result, the public has not been able to form reasonable expectations
Been Achieved                            about the health of forests over time or about the future availability of
                                         forest uses.

                                         In 1991, for example, we reported that the Forest Service had approved
                                         the plan for the Flathead National Forest in northwestern Montana in 1986
                                         but had fallen short of the plan’s timber-offering goal by about 37 percent
                                         during the first 5 fiscal years covered by the plan.3 The forest has
                                         continued to fall short of its goal. Similarly, in 1994, we reported that
                                         timber sales on five forests we reviewed were below the goals identified in
                                         the plans for fiscal years 1991 through 1993.4 (See table 2.1.) Three of the
                                         forests—the Deschutes and Mt. Hood in Oregon and the Gifford Pinchot in
                                         Washington—are in the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region. The
                                         other two forests—the Ouachita in Arkansas and the
                                         Chattahoochee-Oconee in Georgia—are in the Forest Service’s Southern
                                         Region. These two regions sold more timber in fiscal year 1993 than the
                                         Forest Service’s other seven regions.

Table 2.1: Comparison of Average
Annual Timber Sale Goals and Timber      Volume in millions of board feet
Sale Volumes for Five National Forests                                                              Timber sale volume
                                         Forest                    Timber goal                  1991                1992                1993
                                         Deschutes                          97.8                18.3                 26.7                12.7
                                         Gifford Pinchot                   334.0               110.2                 19.8                14.8
                                         Mt. Hood                          189.0                50.6                 28.2                38.1
                                         Chattahoochee-
                                         Oconee                            101.5                63.3                 54.1                49.2
                                         Ouachita                          146.7                39.8                 95.8               131.2

                                         The Forest Service approved the forest plans for the Deschutes, Gifford
                                         Pinchot, and Mt. Hood forests in 1991. However, the volume of timber sold

                                         3
                                         Forest Service: The Flathead National Forest Cannot Meet Its Timber Goal (GAO/RCED-91-124,
                                         May 10, 1991).
                                         4
                                          Forest Service: Factors Affecting Timber Sales in Five National Forests (GAO/RCED-95-12, Oct. 28,
                                         1994).



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The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
Process Is Costly and Time-Consuming,
Often Falling Short of Expectations




fell short of the plans’ timber goals by about 83 percent during the first 3
fiscal years covered by the plans. The forest plan for the
Chattahoochee-Oconee was approved in 1986. However, as a result of an
administrative appeal, forest officials agreed in 1986 to limit average
annual timber sales to 87 million board feet. The volume of timber sold fell
short of the plan’s revised timber goal by about 36 percent during fiscal
years 1991 through 1993. The forest plan for the Ouachita was approved in
1987 and amended in 1990. At that time, the plan’s timber goal was
lowered from 159.0 million board feet to 146.7 million board feet. The
volume of timber sold fell short of the plan’s amended timber goal by
about 39 percent during fiscal years 1991 through 1993.

At some of the forests visited during this review, we found that the Forest
Service had either (1) revised or amended its plans to significantly reduce
the timber goals or (2) acknowledged that the goals could not be met. For
example, the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina had
reduced its yearly timber goal from 72 to 34 million board feet, or by 54
percent, and the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota was reducing
its yearly timber goal from 160 to 100 million board feet, or by 38 percent.
In addition, the Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin acknowledged that it
could produce about 42 million board feet per year rather than the
97 million board feet established as a goal in its forest plan.

The Forest Service has also not met its objectives for sustaining wildlife.
When actions designed to benefit wildlife have been included in approved
forest plans, they have usually been implemented only partially or not at
all. For example, between February 1988 and August 1990, we examined
51 Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management plans containing 1,130
wildlife-related action items scheduled to have been conducted before our
review. Of these, 39 percent had not been started, 22 percent had been
partially completed, and 33 percent had been fully completed, according to
the available documentation.5 (See fig. 2.2.)




5
 Public Land Management: Attention to Wildlife Is Limited (GAO/RCED-91-64, Mar. 7, 1991).



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                                        Chapter 2
                                        The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
                                        Process Is Costly and Time-Consuming,
                                        Often Falling Short of Expectations




Figure 2.2: Disposition of
Wildlife-Related Actions in 51 Forest
Service and Bureau of Land
Management Plans

                                                  Not started   39%                                  Status unknown       6%




                                                                                                             Completed     33%


                                            Partially completed 22%




                                        Recent GAO work has found that reengineering inefficient work processes
Opportunities Exist to                  offers unprecedented opportunities to improve the delivery of government
Improve the                             services and reduce the costs of programs.6 Studies by the Forest Service
Efficiency and                          support this finding. For example, according to the Forest Service
                                        reengineering team, improvements to the agency’s process for conducting
Effectiveness of the                    environmental analyses could improve timeliness and reduce costs by 10
Forest Service’s                        to 15 percent initially and by 30 to 40 percent over time. Similarly, a Forest
                                        Service team, tasked with developing and implementing a more efficient
Decision-Making                         way of managing the process of issuing livestock grazing permits,
                                        estimates that the model it designed (referred to as the adaptive learning
                                        model) could improve the timeliness of the process by 40 percent.

                                        A reduction of 30 to 40 percent in the costs of the process used by the
                                        Forest Service to reach project-level decisions could reduce the costs of
                                        its decision-making by between $75 million and $100 million a year and
                                        reduce the time needed to complete some timber sales by up to 2 and 3
                                        years. Officials at many regions and forests we visited during this review
                                        stated that reducing the costs and time of decision-making would, in turn,
                                        provide more resources to achieve the objectives in the forest plans.
                                        However, as discussed in the following chapters, improving the efficiency
                                        and effectiveness of the Forest Service’s decision-making process will


                                        6
                                        Managing for Results: Steps for Strengthening Federal Management (GAO/T-GGD/AIMD-95-158,
                                        May 9, 1995).



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require that (1) the agency give adequate attention to improving
accountability for expenditures and performance, (2) agreement be
reached on how the agency is to resolve conflicts among competing uses
on its lands, (3) the Council on Environmental Quality and the major
federal land management agencies address interagency issues that
transcend the Forest Service’s administrative boundaries and jurisdiction,
and (4) a systematic and comprehensive analysis be performed to resolve
differences in the requirements of laws that help frame the agency’s
decision-making.




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                        Some of the inefficiency in developing forest plans and reaching
                        project-level decisions, as well as the ineffectiveness in achieving the
                        plans’ objectives, has occurred because the Forest Service has not given
                        adequate attention to improving its decision-making process, including
                        improving its accountability for expenditures and performance. As a
                        result, the Forest Service must request more funds to accomplish fewer
                        objectives during the yearly budget and appropriation process. In addition,
                        long-standing deficiencies within the decision-making process, which have
                        contributed to increased costs and time and/or limited the ability to
                        achieve planned objectives, have not been corrected. These deficiencies
                        include (1) not adequately monitoring the effects of past management
                        decisions, (2) not maintaining comparable environmental and
                        socioeconomic data that are useful and easily accessible to forest
                        managers, and (3) not adequately involving the public throughout the
                        decision-making process. However, landmark legislation enacted in the
                        1990s, if implemented successfully, will strengthen accountability within
                        the Forest Service and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its
                        decision-making.


                        The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires federal agencies to be
The Forest Service Is   more accountable for their expenditures of appropriated funds by
Not Sufficiently        requiring them to (1) develop integrated accounting and financial
Accountable for Its     management systems that are to provide complete, reliable, consistent,
                        and timely financial information and (2) provide for the systematic
Expenditures            measurement of performance. Improved accountability for expenditures is
                        particularly important within the Forest Service since the Congress has
                        increased the agency’s flexibility in fiscal decision-making. Beginning in
                        fiscal year 1995, the Congress (1) simplified the Forest Service’s budget
                        structure, reducing the number of main appropriations from 13 to 9 and of
                        funding items from 71 to 44, and (2) expanded the agency’s
                        reprogramming authority, giving it greater discretion in shifting funds
                        between line items within each appropriation. However, this increased
                        flexibility has not been accompanied by increased accountability in budget
                        execution through better accounting for expenditures, and the Forest
                        Service has made little progress in implementing the provisions of the
                        Chief Financial Officers Act.

                        An audit of the Forest Service’s financial statements for fiscal year 1995 by
                        Agriculture’s Inspector General resulted in an adverse opinion because of
                        “pervasive errors, material or potentially material misstatements, and/or
                        departures from applicable Government accounting principles affecting



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Financial Statement accounts.”1 On the basis of this opinion, Agriculture
reported that it could not provide reasonable assurance of the integrity of
the Forest Service’s management, accounting, and administrative control
systems.

Our work, as well as that of the Inspector General, has also identified
shortcomings in the Forest Service’s accounting and financial data and
information systems that preclude the agency from presenting accurate
and complete financial information. These shortcomings include
(1) various material weaknesses in the internal controls for financial
management that result in a lack of accurate and reliable information and
(2) accounting codes that do not accurately assign or track all costs to
each resource program.

For example, in June 1996 we reported that the Forest Service was unable
to provide us with data showing the costs and revenues of management
activities being carried out at each of the national forests because of
shortcomings in its accounting and financial information systems.
According to the Forest Service’s Associate Deputy Chief for
Administration, the current system for maintaining cost data does not
enable the agency to associate the costs incurred in generating revenues
from various forest uses.2 The shortcomings identified in our June 1996
report had been identified and reported by the Inspector General over the
previous few years.

The Inspector General’s audit of the Forest Service’s financial statements
for fiscal year 1995 found that the costs for firefighting personnel and
equipment had been incorrectly charged by one regional office to other
activities, resulting in overexpenditures of about $6.7 million by the region.
The Inspector General reported that, overall, the Forest Service could not
determine for what purposes $215 million of its $3.4 billion in operating
and program funds were spent in fiscal year 1995. As a result, Forest
Service managers are unable to adequately monitor and control spending
levels for various programs and activities relating to decision-making or to
measure the extent to which changes affect costs and efficiency.3

As evidenced above, the Forest Service has either (1) not implemented
corrective actions intended to hold it fiscally accountable for its decisions,

1
  Audit of Forest Service’s Fiscal Year 1995 Financial Statements, U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA), Office of the Inspector General, Audit Report No. 08401-4-At.
2
 Forest Service’s Financial Data Limitations (GAO/RCED-96-198R, June 19, 1996).
3
 Forest Service (GAO/AIMD-97-11R, Dec. 20, 1996).



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                        stating that these actions would be too difficult or costly to implement, or
                        (2) stopped monitoring corrective actions before they were completed.
                        For example, agency officials informed us that they believe it would be
                        difficult and costly to develop information systems that have the capability
                        to produce the sale-by-sale information on obligations and expenditures
                        needed to ensure compliance with a legislative prohibition against
                        expending more funds for reforestation and other related activities on a
                        timber sale area than have been collected from that sale area.4 Moreover,
                        in an audit of the Forest Service’s fiscal year 1995 financial statements, the
                        Inspector General stated that the Forest Service had stopped monitoring
                        actions to improve the internal controls over its timber sale program and
                        charge-as-worked fund usage (ensuring the use of proper accounting code
                        charges) before the actions were completed. As a result, the agency does
                        not know whether the corrective actions were ever implemented.

                        After Agriculture’s Inspector General concluded that the agency’s fiscal
                        year 1995 financial statements were unreliable, the Forest Service
                        established a working group to address these and other accounting and
                        financial reporting problems. However, corrective actions to address
                        accounting and financial reporting problems identified by the Inspector
                        General are not scheduled to be implemented until the end of fiscal year
                        1998.


                        The Forest Service has also made little progress in holding its managers
The Forest Service Is   accountable for their performance. Holding managers accountable implies
Not Sufficiently        a consequence for a certain decision and fixes the responsibility for
Accountable for Its     outcomes.

Performance             For example, in its June 1990 Critique of Land Management Planning,5 the
                        Forest Service stated that, while the Congress should increase the
                        agency’s flexibility in fiscal decision-making, it should not expect the
                        agency to be accountable for its performance. Specifically, the critique
                        stated that “Congress must put its money where its statute is,” but “this
                        should be done without any further complication of the system through
                        the introduction of new ’resource output goals’ that are problematic to
                        define and are of dubious value in program evaluation.” The critique
                        continued that “meaningful production goals for recreation, water,


                        4
                        Forest Service’s Reforestation Funding: Financial Sources, Uses, and Condition of the
                        Knutson-Vandenberg Fund (GAO/RCED-96-15, June 21, 1996).
                        5
                         Critique of Land Management Planning, Vol. 2, National Forest Planning: Searching for a Common
                        Vision, Forest Service (FS-453, June 1990).



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wildlife, and fisheries have yet to be established, even in theory, and
reported accomplishments would be nearly impossible to evaluate
objectively or even verify independently.”

In response to congressional concerns about the Forest Service’s inability
to deliver what is expected or promised, the Chief, in the fall of 1991,
formed a task force of employees from throughout the agency to review
the issue of accountability. The task force’s February 1994 report6 stated
that 60 percent of the findings by GAO and Agriculture’s Inspector General
focused on the inability of the Forest Service either to do what it agreed or
was directed to do, or to do the task in question as it said it would.
According to the task force, audits by GAO and the Inspector General
confirmed that the agency can and does identify problems but is slow to
take corrective action. This was especially true for internal Forest Service
reviews. The task force observed that when external attention is not
focused on an issue, “corrective action is not a top priority.” Only an
external review prompts corrective action, according to the task force,
even when the Forest Service has already identified the problems
disclosed through the external audit.

Using the information gathered, the task force defined accountability as
“being answerable for what we do” and determined that in order to be
accountable, the agency “must do what we agreed or were directed to do
as we agreed or are required to do it, monitor and show our results, and
take action to improve results.” The report set forth a seven-step process
to strengthen accountability. Steps in the process included (1) establishing
work agreements that include measures and standards with customers’
involvement, (2) assessing performance, and (3) communicating results to
customers.

The report noted that the evidence supporting the need for increased
accountability was “compelling” and that improving accountability for
performance would not require a major financial outlay. Rather, the report
called for a significant commitment on the part of the agency to change.
To help the Forest Service change its behavior, the task force
recommended that the agency (1) institutionalize its expectations for
corporate accountability in the work agreements established with
customers’ involvement, (2) accelerate cultural change, and (3) monitor
and track accountability through indicators or benchmarks.



6
Individual and Organizational Accountability in the Forest Service: Successful Management of Work
Agreements, USDA, Forest Service (Feb. 1994).



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                      The concepts in the task force’s report were adopted by the Forest
                      Service’s leadership team and distributed agencywide. However, without
                      external attention, the task force’s recommendations were never
                      implemented throughout the agency. As a result, the agency has never
                      fulfilled its stated goal to “achieve a leadership and organizational culture
                      in which responsibility and accountability for excellence are shared by all
                      employees in the execution of the Forest Service’s mission.” Rather, the
                      task force’s recommendations were identified in the agency’s
                      October 1995 draft long-term strategic plan as an effort to be implemented
                      over the next decade.7


                      Because the Forest Service has made little progress in holding managers
The Forest Service    accountable for their expenditures and performance, it must request more
Must Request More     funds to accomplish fewer objectives in forest plans during the yearly
Funds to Accomplish   budget and appropriation process. The Congress, in fiscal year 1991, asked
                      the Forest Service to develop a multiyear program to reduce the costs of
Fewer Objectives      its timber program by not less than 5 percent per year. The Forest Service
                      responded to these and other concerns by undertaking a cost-reduction
                      study and issuing a report in April 1993.8 However, the agency left the
                      implementation of field-level action items to the discretion of each of its
                      nine regional offices, and while some regions rapidly pursued the goal of
                      becoming cost-efficient, others did not.9 A second Forest Service report,
                      issued in January 1995, examined policy options to improve the timber
                      program’s cost-efficiency.10 However, the report’s recommendations have
                      not been implemented. Implementing the November 1995
                      recommendations of the Forest Service reengineering team, designed to
                      correct weaknesses in the agency’s project-level environmental analyses,
                      would go a long way toward reducing the costs of the agency’s timber
                      program. However, at the end of 1996, the Forest Service had not acted to
                      implement any of the team’s recommended improvements agencywide.

                      With no incentive to act, the Forest Service is preparing to undertake the
                      third major examination of its timber program in the last 4 years.
                      Meanwhile, the costs associated with preparing and administering timber
                      sales have continued to rise. (See ch. 2.) As a result, for fiscal year 1998,

                      7
                       The Forest Service Program for Forest and Rangeland Resources: A Long-Term Strategic Plan, Draft
                      1995 RPA Program, USDA, Forest Service, Washington Office (Oct. 16, 1995).
                      8
                       Timber Cost Efficiency Study—Final Report (Apr. 16, 1993).
                      9
                       Forest Service: Status of Efforts to Achieve Cost Efficiency (GAO/RCED-94-185FS, Apr. 26, 1994).
                      10
                          Timber Program Issues: A Technical Examination of Policy Options (Jan. 1995).



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                      the agency is requesting $12 million (6 percent) more for timber sales
                      management than was appropriated for fiscal year 1997 while proposing to
                      offer 0.4 billion board feet (10 percent) less timber for sale. Given such a
                      trend, some Forest Service officials expressed concern that the costs to
                      prepare and administer some timber sales may exceed the gross receipts
                      derived from them.

                      Moreover, without being held accountable for their performance in
                      reaching decisions, some Forest Service managers have become more
                      concerned about legal challenges to plans and projects than about the
                      costs and time required to reach the decisions. For example, according to
                      the Forest Service, it conducts extensive, complex environmental analyses
                      not only to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental
                      Policy Act (NEPA) and other environmental laws but also to avoid or
                      prevail against challenges to its compliance with these laws. In its 1995
                      report,11 the Forest Service reengineering team, tasked with designing a
                      new process for conducting project-level environmental analyses, noted
                      that the agency sometimes conducts (1) environmental assessments and
                      studies and prepares environmental documents for decisions that are
                      noncontroversial and/or could be categorically excluded from
                      environmental analysis and (2) redundant analyses instead of focusing on
                      what is new and using existing analyses to support new decisions when
                      possible.


                      Because the Forest Service has not been held sufficiently accountable for
The Forest Service    its expenditures and performance, it has not corrected long-standing
Has Not Corrected     deficiencies in its decision-making process. These deficiencies, which
Long-Standing         have driven up costs and time and/or driven down the agency’s ability to
                      achieve planned objectives, center on inadequate monitoring, data, and
Deficiencies in Its   public involvement.
Decision-Making
                      Many of the studies and reports that have addressed these deficiencies
Process               within the Forest Service’s decision-making process have also
                      recommended improvements—some of which reflect best practices
                      evolving in the field. Generally, these changes require nothing more than
                      involving the appropriate parties at the appropriate times and basing
                      decisions on sound information. However, the Forest Service has either
                      ignored the recommended improvements or left their implementation to
                      the discretion of regional offices and forests. As a result, their
                      implementation has been uneven and their results mixed.

                      11
                        Final Report of Recommendations: Project-Level Analysis Re-Engineering Team (Nov. 17, 1995).



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Monitoring and Evaluation   Regulations implementing the National Forest Management Act (NFMA)
Are Not Performed           require the Forest Service to monitor and assess the effects of its
                            management practices on the lands’ productivity. Adequate monitoring of
                            the effects of past management decisions is critical to accurately estimate
                            the effects of similar future decisions, including their cumulative impact
                            on the environment.

                            Moreover, monitoring can be used as an effective tool when the effects of
                            a decision may be difficult to determine in advance because of uncertainty
                            or costs. Regulations implementing NEPA provide that when information
                            relevant to reasonably foreseeable significant adverse effects is
                            incomplete or unavailable, an agency shall—in the environmental impact
                            statement accompanying the decision—(1) acknowledge this gap,
                            (2) explain the relevance of the missing information, (3) summarize the
                            scientific evidence available, and (4) evaluate the potential effects of the
                            decision using research methods or approaches that are generally
                            accepted in the scientific community. According to an interagency task
                            force chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ),12 the agency
                            can then condition the decision on the monitoring of uncertainties,
                            indicate how the decision will be modified when new information is
                            uncovered or when preexisting monitoring thresholds are crossed, and
                            reexamine the decision in light of its results or when a threshold is
                            crossed. According to the task force, if an agency spells out contingencies
                            ahead of time and if others have had an opportunity to comment,
                            management changes can be made without supplementing the NEPA
                            analysis, as long as the changes and their associated effects have already
                            been analyzed under the statute.

                            When the Forest Service proposed revisions to its planning regulations in
                            April 1995,13 it stated that an expanded and strengthened role for
                            monitoring and evaluation was a “cornerstone” for implementing the
                            proposed rule. Moreover, many Forest Service officials with whom we
                            spoke, as well as several studies we reviewed, stated that monitoring and
                            evaluation could be more efficient and effective than attempting to predict
                            a project’s outcome before implementing a project-level decision.

                            However, the Forest Service has historically given low priority to
                            monitoring during the annual competition for scarce resources. In
                            addition, almost 7 years after publishing its Critique of Land Management

                            12
                              The Ecosystem Approach: Healthy Ecosystems and Sustainable Economies, Vol. II, Implementation
                            Issues, Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force (Nov. 1995).
                            13
                              60 Fed. Reg. 18886 (Apr. 13, 1995).



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Planning,14 which identified the need to improve monitoring, the Forest
Service continues to approve projects that do not provide adequately for
monitoring. Moreover, the agency generally does not monitor
implementation of its plans as its regulations require. For example, in
fiscal year 1995, only 78, or 63 percent, of 123 required annual monitoring
and evaluation plans were prepared.

While the proposed revisions to the Forest Service’s planning regulations
state that projects to implement forest plans cannot be undertaken unless
there is a “reasonable expectation” that adequate funding will be available
to conduct monitoring and evaluation activities, they do not state how this
determination will be made or who will be held accountable for making it.
Moreover, monitoring programs that are funded may not be designed
carefully enough to provide information of the kind or in the form that is
most useful for evaluating past decisions and aiding in future
decision-making. Several Forest Service officials told us that simplified,
less costly monitoring plans with fewer, more well-chosen measurements
could provide most of the information needed to determine the
environmental effects of past management decisions. However, they also
noted that because the need for improved monitoring was so widespread
within the agency, adequate monitoring agencywide will likely require
more resources than are currently being committed.

In a March 1991 report,15 we stated that although the Forest Service’s
regulations required the agency to monitor the implementation of its forest
plans, it had generally not done so. It had not collected comprehensive
data on the current conditions of wildlife habitat and population trends for
the thousands of wildlife species using public lands. Not having these data
had precluded it from assessing the health of wildlife on public lands or
the effects of federal management efforts.

Similarly, in October 1996, an interagency team that reviewed an
emergency salvage timber sales program16 reported significant gaps in
carrying out the agreement’s direction on field monitoring.17 Gaps were

14
  Critique of Land Management Planning, Vol. 5, Public Participation (FS-456, June 1990).
15
  Public Land Management: Attention to Wildlife Is Limited (GAO/RCED-91-64, Mar. 7, 1991).
16
 “Salvage” timber generally refers to timber that is being made available for harvest because it is
disease- or insect-infested, dead, damaged, downed by wind, affected by fire, or imminently
susceptible to fire or insect attack.
17
   Interagency Salvage Program Review, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (Silver Spring, Maryland: Oct. 8, 1996).
The five agencies were the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land
Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency.



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                             identified in the effectiveness of (1) mitigation measures, (2) requirements
                             and limitations, and (3) other project design features intended to ensure
                             that activities are environmentally sound.

                             Not monitoring and evaluating its decisions could further increase the
                             costs and time of decision-making by exposing the Forest Service to
                             additional litigation. Specifically, the agency could be subject to claims of
                             noncompliance with the monitoring requirements of NFMA. For example, a
                             legal challenge filed against the agency in 1996 alleged inadequate
                             monitoring of the results of the plan for the Shoshone National Forest in
                             Wyoming. Although the agency settled the suit by agreeing to improve its
                             monitoring, the Chief of the Forest Service told us that the agency’s failure
                             to monitor represents a potential major future litigation liability to the
                             agency. He and other Forest Service officials noted that, in dismissing a
                             challenge to the President’s plan for the national forests in the Pacific
                             Northwest, the federal district court judge stated that the court would
                             entertain further litigation based on allegations that the Forest Service had
                             failed to live up to its monitoring requirements.18

                             Furthermore, the Forest Service’s historical noncompliance with the
                             monitoring requirements of regulations implementing NFMA diminishes the
                             chances that the public and federal regulatory agencies will trust the
                             agency to fulfill its monitoring requirements in the future. Several
                             environmental groups told us that they were concerned about the Forest
                             Service’s lack of monitoring on national forests. As a result, they will
                             continue to insist that the Forest Service prepare detailed environmental
                             analyses and documentation—which have become increasingly costly and
                             time-consuming—before reaching project-level decisions rather than
                             support what many Forest Service officials believe to be the more efficient
                             and effective option of monitoring and evaluation. Thus, the Forest
                             Service’s past failure to monitor represents a lost opportunity to reduce
                             the costs and time of future decision-making.


Data and Systems Are Still   Three acts or their implementing regulations establish data requirements
Limited                      for the Forest Service: NFMA regulations require it to base its plans on
                             comprehensive inventory data, NEPA regulations require it to consider
                             high-quality information on the potential effects of a decision, and the
                             Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires it to sufficiently understand
                             species’ habitat needs so that its decisions will ensure conservation of the
                             species. In a 1980 report on the Forest Service’s then relatively new

                             18
                               Seattle Audubon Soc. v. Lyons, 871 F. Supp. 1291 (W.D. Wash. 1994).



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planning process to implement NFMA,19 we stated that (1) without a
complete inventory of natural resources, forest plans are bound to be
inadequate and (2) the need for good data is greatest when resource
conflicts are being identified and mitigated and when initial land-use and
natural resource allocations are being made.

Subsequent studies have shown that limitations in data and systems
hindered the adequacy and implementation of many early forest plans.
Thus, a decade later, we found that these deficiencies persist throughout
the agency. In 1994, for example, we reported that limitations in
forestwide data and estimating techniques—which led to overestimating
the size of the timber inventory in timber harvest areas—had contributed
to lower-than-expected timber sales at four of the five forests included in
our review.20

In the revisions it proposed to its planning regulations in April 1995, the
Forest Service conceded that “realistically, many forests do not have fully
updated inventories at this time, so, regrettably, . . . delays [of 2 years or
more] must still be expected in some cases when forest plans are revised.”
Similarly, in its 1995 report, the Forest Service reengineering team, tasked
with designing a new process for conducting project-level environmental
analyses, noted that the agency still did not have a system of comparable
environmental information that was useful and easily accessible to
managers.

Among its recommendations to streamline and improve the process for
conducting project-level environmental analyses, the Forest Service
reengineering team identified the need for a system of comparable
environmental information that is useful and easily accessible to project
officials. However, over a year later, the Forest Service had not acted on
this and other recommendations that could be implemented within the
current statutory and regulatory framework. Instead, the agency combined
the task force’s recommendations for needed actions with proposals from
other initiatives and developed an “action plan” to implement them. The
plan identified 13 major themes for fiscal year 1996, many of which were
described as “high priority.” However, none of the themes had been fully
implemented throughout the agency at the end of the fiscal year, and the



19
 Changes in Public Land Management Required to Achieve Congressional Expectations (CED-80-82,
July 16, 1980).
20
 Forest Service: Factors Affecting Timber Sales in Five National Forests (GAO/RCED-95-12, Oct. 28,
1994).



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                             agency simply rolled them over to fiscal year 1997, again designating many
                             as “high priority.”

                             According to the Forest Service, the adaptive learning model (see ch.
                             2) developed to improve the timeliness of decision-making, which relies on
                             having comprehensive inventory data, was successfully tested on the
                             Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State. However, we observed
                             that without adequate information, the model was difficult, if not
                             impossible, to implement on the Lassen National Forest in northern
                             California. Here, Forest Service officials were responsible for renewing
                             livestock grazing permits, but because they had not collected information
                             on the condition of the land, they could not agree on or make informed
                             decisions about the level of grazing to allow. Although grazing had been
                             permitted for a number of years, the forest had not monitored and
                             evaluated the environmental effects of past grazing decisions.

                             In addition, as we first reported in 1980, the failure of the Forest Service to
                             base its decisions on sound information has resulted in continued legal
                             challenges to its plans and projects. These challenges have required the
                             agency to delay, modify, or withdraw planned projects, thereby reducing
                             the efficiency and effectiveness of its decision-making.


Public Participation in      The public has expressed its desire to become more involved in the Forest
Decision-Making Is Limited   Service’s decision-making and has demonstrated its preference for
                             presenting its concerns, positions, and supporting documentation during
                             rather than after the agency’s development of proposed forest plans and
                             projects. It has also signaled its intent to challenge decisions that it has not
                             been involved in reaching.

                             Both NEPA and NFMA create a positive duty on the part of the Forest Service
                             to involve the public in its decision-making process. The Forest Service’s
                             June 1990 Critique of Land Management Planning concluded that although
                             public participation in the agency’s decision-making process had
                             increased, improvements were needed. Moreover, while many managers
                             had done very well, others had involved the public only minimally in the
                             process. The document recommended that the agency find ways to inform
                             and involve the public early and continuously in the process.

                             In 1992, however, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported that
                             the Forest Service had not used public input efficiently or effectively in its




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decision-making process.21 According to OTA, much of the criticism was
similar to that heard at least 20 years ago: The agency asks for public
input, but the input does not affect final decisions. In 1995, the interagency
task force chaired by CEQ echoed this finding. The task force reported that

“the Forest Service dampens enthusiasm for effective public participation when it presents
a management plan for a national forest to the public as a fait accompli. Often, the
preferred alternative is presented, giving the correct impression that the agency already
knows what it wants to do and is requesting public input only pro forma.”


In the proposed revisions to its planning regulations, the Forest Service
stated that although its success or failure in communicating with the
public ultimately depends upon the people involved, certain expectations
can be defined and minimum procedures established. In August 1996, the
Forest Service revised its Land and Resource Management Planning
Handbook22 to give forest officials more flexibility and discretion in
developing forest plans. However, the agency retained its guidance and
instructions limiting the public’s participation in developing the plans. The
handbook directs forest officials not to release certain information critical
to evaluating a forest plan until after the public comment period on the
draft plan has closed and the final plan has been released. This
information includes (1) the agency’s process for evaluating alternatives
for managing the forest and arriving at the preferred one identified in the
draft plan; (2) the physical, biological, social, and economic criteria used
to evaluate the alternatives; and (3) the results of the evaluation. Our work
confirmed that forests comply with this requirement by using what is
sometimes referred to as the “clay pigeon” approach, limiting the public
primarily to reviewing and commenting on the preferred alternative in the
draft plan. Moreover, according to many members of the public with
whom we spoke, the Forest Service does not value their input and/or does
not involve them actively in its decision-making process.

NFMA requires the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint advisory committees
under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) if they are deemed
“necessary to secure full information and advice.” In an October 1995



21
  Forest Service Planning: Accommodating Uses, Producing Outputs, and Sustaining Ecosystems,
OTA-F-505 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 1992).
22
 Forest Service handbooks are the principal source of specialized guidance and instruction for
carrying out the direction in the Forest Service manual. The manual contains legal authorities,
objectives, policies, responsibilities, instructions, and guidance needed on a continuing basis by Forest
Service line officers and primary staff in more than one unit to plan and execute assigned programs
and activities.



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                      report,23 we stated that advisory committees established under FACA can be
                      an effective tool for facilitating communication between federal and
                      nonfederal parties. Similarly, the 1995 report by the interagency task force
                      chaired by CEQ recommended that federal agencies consider making more
                      extensive use of FACA-chartered advisory committees when seeking to
                      collaborate closely with nonfederal parties on a regular and systematic
                      basis.

                      However, the Forest Service has identified FACA as a barrier to, rather than
                      a tool for, effective public participation in its decision-making. In the
                      revisions to its planning regulations that it proposed in April 1995, the
                      Forest Service states that interdisciplinary teams established to amend or
                      revise forest plans will exclude the public. According to the Forest
                      Service, membership on the teams must be limited to agency and other
                      federal personnel “primarily due to the Federal Advisory Committee Act,
                      which imposes extensive requirements on the creation and use of
                      committees that include non-Federal personnel for the purpose of advising
                      Federal agencies.”

                      Inadequate public participation in decision-making can lead to appeals and
                      litigation. Although our October 1995 report on public participation in
                      federal efforts to restore the Everglades showed that public involvement in
                      federal land management decision-making should not be viewed as a
                      panacea to legal challenges, most studies and reports agree that for both
                      federal and nonfederal stakeholders, the benefits of working together
                      cooperatively to resolve differences often outweigh the costs of early and
                      continuous public involvement.


                      Landmark legislation enacted in the 1990s, if implemented successfully,
Recently Enacted      will strengthen accountability within the Forest Service and improve the
Federal Statutes      efficiency and effectiveness of its decision-making. Specifically, the Chief
Establish the         Financial Officers Act of 1990, as discussed previously, is intended to hold
                      federal agencies more accountable for their expenditures of appropriated
Framework Necessary   funds. The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) is
for Strengthening     designed to hold federal agencies more accountable for their performance.
                      The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 (formerly entitled, in part, the Information
Accountability        Technology Management Reform Act of 1996) and the Paperwork
                      Reduction Act of 1995 are intended to hold them more accountable for the
                      adequacy of their information systems and data.



                      23
                        Restoring the Everglades: Public Participation in Federal Efforts (GAO/RCED-96-5, Oct. 24, 1995).



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The Government            GPRA  is the primary legislative framework through which federal agencies
Performance and Results   will be required to set strategic goals, measure performance, and report on
Act                       the degree to which goals have been met. It requires each federal agency
                          to develop, no later than September 30, 1997, a strategic plan that covers a
                          period of at least 5 years. Each plan must include the agency’s mission
                          statement; identify the agency’s long-term strategic goals; and describe
                          how the agency intends to achieve these goals through its activities and
                          through its human, capital, information, and other resources. Under GPRA,
                          strategic plans are the starting point for agencies to set annual goals for
                          programs and to measure the performance of the programs in achieving
                          those goals.

                          Starting with fiscal year 1999, the Forest Service and other federal
                          agencies are required to produce annual performance plans containing
                          (1) annual performance goals for gauging the progress made toward
                          achieving longer-term strategic goals and (2) performance measures for
                          assessing the progress made toward achieving annual performance goals.
                          By March 31, 2000, federal agencies are to submit annual program
                          performance reports for fiscal year 1999. (See fig. 3.1.)




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Figure 3.1: Implementing GPRA: Key Steps and Critical Practices




                                               Step 1

                                               Define Mission and
                                               Desired Outcomes

                                               Practices:
                                               1. Involve stakeholders
                                               2. Assess environment
                                               3. Align activities,
                                                  core processes,
                                                  and resources



                Step 3                                                                  Step 2

                Use Performance                     Reinforce GPRA Implementation       Measure Performance
                Information                         Practices                           Practices:
                                                    9. Devolve decision-making
                                                        with accountability             4. Produce measures at
                Practices                           10. Create incentives                  each organizational
                                                    11. Build expertise                    level that
                6. Identify performance             12. Integrate management
                   gaps                                 reforms                            demonstrate results,
                                                                                           are limited to the vital
                7. Report information                                                      few,
                8. Use information                                                         respond to multiple
                                                                                           priorities, and
                                                                                           link to responsible
                                                                                           programs
                                                                                        5. Collect data




The Clinger-Cohen Act and                 Under the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, the Forest Service and other federal
the Paperwork Reduction                   agencies must establish goals, measure performance, and report in their
Act                                       annual budget submissions to the Congress on how well their information



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              technologies are supporting their mission-related programs. This act also
              calls for federal agencies to “benchmark” their information technology
              management processes against comparable processes of public or
              private-sector organizations. Agencies are to revise or reengineer their
              processes, as appropriate, before making investments in information
              technology.

              A related statute, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, also provides for
              improving the productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of federal
              operations, including those of the Forest Service, through better
              management of information resources to accomplish the missions and
              improve the performance of federal agencies. The act stipulates that
              agency officials are responsible and accountable for the information
              resources supporting their programs. Specifically, agency program
              officials, in consultation with their chief information officer and chief
              financial officer (or comparable official), are to define their program’s
              information needs and develop strategies, systems, and capabilities to
              meet these needs. They are also required to develop a plan to meet their
              information needs that contains goals and methods for measuring progress
              toward achieving them. In addition, agencies are to maintain ongoing
              processes to ensure that information management is integrated with
              organizational planning, budget, financial management, and program
              decisions. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget, within
              the Executive Office of the President, is to report annually to the Congress
              on the agencies’ progress in achieving their information management
              goals.


              If the Forest Service is to develop forest plans and reach project-level
Conclusions   decisions more efficiently and implement the plans more effectively, it will
              need to be held sufficiently accountable for its expenditures and
              performance. Accountability is the price that managers at every
              organizational level within the agency must pay for the freedom to make
              choices. The data and financial controls and systems required by the Chief
              Financial Officers Act; the performance goals, measures, and reports
              required by GPRA; and the information resources and technology goals,
              measures, and reports required by the Clinger-Cohen Act and the
              Paperwork Reduction Act are, in essence, the currency of that
              accountability. However, to ensure the full and effective implementation
              of these legislative mandates, sustained management attention within the
              Forest Service and sustained oversight by the Congress will be required.




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              The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA), if
              implemented successfully, will strengthen accountability for performance
              and results within the Forest Service and improve the efficiency and
              effectiveness of its decision-making. Successful implementation of the
              act’s requirements is contingent on establishing long-term strategic goals
              that are based on clearly defined mission priorities. However, agreement
              does not exist on the Forest Service’s long-term strategic goals. This lack
              of agreement is the result of a more fundamental disagreement, both
              inside and outside the Forest Service, over which uses to emphasize under
              the agency’s broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and how best
              to ensure the long-term sustainability of these uses.

              In developing the strategic plans that they are required by GPRA to submit
              to the Congress by September 30, 1997, federal agencies are to consider
              the views of the Congress and other stakeholders. To ensure that the
              agencies do so, the act requires them to consult with the Congress and
              solicit the views of stakeholders.1 This process may entail identifying
              legislative changes that are needed to clarify or modify the Congress’s
              intent and expectations or to address differing conditions and/or citizens’
              needs that have evolved since the statutory requirements were
              established.2 Such a consultation would create an opportunity for the
              Forest Service to gain a clearer understanding of how it is to resolve
              conflicts or make choices among competing uses on its lands. This
              understanding would, in turn, provide the agency with a basis for
              establishing long-term strategic goals, as well as the performance goals
              and measures that are linked to them.




              1
              Managing for Results: Enhancing the Usefulness of GPRA Consultations Between the Executive
              Branch and Congress (GAO/T-GGD-97-56, Mar. 10, 1997).
              2
               Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and Results Act
              (GAO/GGD-96-118, June 1996).



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                         The Forest Service’s October 1995 draft long-term strategic plan, prepared
The Forest Service       under the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of
Has Shifted Its          1974 (RPA) (see app. I),3 identified four new goals: (1) protecting
Emphasis From            ecosystems4 by ensuring their health and diversity while meeting people’s
                         needs; (2) restoring deteriorated ecosystems to improve the likelihood that
Timber to Wildlife and   biological diversity, long-term sustainability, and future options are
Fish                     maintained; (3) providing multiple benefits to meet people’s needs for
                         uses, values, products, and services within the capabilities of ecosystems;
                         and (4) ensuring organizational effectiveness by creating and maintaining
                         a multidisciplinary and multicultural workforce, respecting expertise and
                         professionalism, and empowering people to carry out the agency’s mission
                         while holding them accountable for achieving negotiated objectives. The
                         agency also plans to establish these four goals as its long-term strategic
                         goals under GPRA.5

                         The three goals relating to ecosystems reflect the ongoing shift in
                         emphasis under the Forest Service’s broad multiple-use and
                         sustained-yield mandate from consumption (primarily producing timber)
                         to conservation (primarily sustaining wildlife and fish). This shift is taking
                         place in reaction to requirements in planning and environmental laws and
                         their judicial interpretations—reflecting changing public values and
                         concerns—together with social, ecological, and other factors.

                         The increasing emphasis on sustaining wildlife and fish conflicts with the
                         older emphasis on producing timber and other commodities and underlies
                         the Forest Service’s inability to achieve the goals and objectives for timber
                         production set forth in many of the first forest plans. In addition, this
                         attention to sustaining wildlife and fish will likely constrain future uses of
                         the national forests, such as recreation. The demand for recreation is
                         expected to grow and may increasingly conflict with both sustaining
                         wildlife and fish and producing timber on Forest Service lands.




                         3
                          The Forest Service Program for Forest and Rangeland Resources: A Long-Term Strategic Plan, Draft
                         1995 RPA Program, USDA, Forest Service, Washington Office (Oct. 16, 1995.)
                         4
                          One definition of an ecosystem is a distinct ecological unit that is formed when interdependent
                         communities of plants and animals, which can include humans, interact with their physical
                         environment (soil, water, and air).
                         5
                          See Concerning Implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) in the
                         USDA Forest Service, statement by the Forest Service’s Acting Deputy Chief, Programs and
                         Legislation, before the Subcommittee on Management, Information, and Technology, House
                         Committee on Government Reform and Oversight (Mar. 10, 1997).



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The First Forest Plans   The Organic Administration Act of 1897 and the Multiple-Use
Emphasized Timber        Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, which guide the management of the nation’s
Production               forests, provide little direction for the Forest Service in resolving conflicts
                         among competing multiple uses on its lands (outdoor recreation,
                         rangeland, timber, watersheds and water flows, wilderness, and wildlife
                         and fish) or between current uses and future uses (sustained yield). The
                         definition of multiple use contains no specific goals for any particular use
                         and only a general environmental protection requirement (i.e.,
                         management is not to impair the long-term productivity of the land). As a
                         result, the emphasis that the Forest Service gives to the various uses under
                         its broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate responds to factors
                         supplementing these acts, such as requirements and incentives in other
                         laws, congressional expectations, and national and local values and
                         concerns.

                         From the end of World War II through the late 1980s, the Forest Service
                         emphasized timber production. Hence, the agency emphasized timber
                         production in many of its first forest plans. Figure 4.1 shows the volume of
                         timber sold from Forest Service lands between 1950 and 1994.




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Figure 4.1: Volume of Timber Sold
From Forest Service Lands, 1950-94
                                     Board feet (billions)
                                     14


                                     12


                                     10


                                      8


                                      6


                                      4


                                      2


                                      0
                                          1950                 1960             1970               1980               1990
                                                                                   Year


                                     Note: Volume is in billions of board feet. A board foot is a measure of wood volume equal to a
                                     board 1 foot long by 1 foot wide by 1 inch thick.

                                     Source: Forest Service.




                                     Requirements and incentives in laws supplementing the acts that guide the
                                     management of the nation’s forests encouraged the Forest Service to
                                     produce high levels of timber on its lands. For example, the
                                     Knutson-Vandenberg Act of 1930, as amended in 1976, allows the national
                                     forests to retain a portion of their timber sale receipts to help fund the
                                     reforestation of harvested areas, as well as the protection or improvement
                                     of nontimber resources, such as fish and wildlife habitat, and of recreation
                                     areas and facilities. The Forest Service maintains the Knutson-Vandenberg
                                     Trust Fund for this purpose. The agency was also mindful of the increased



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demand for timber from federal lands to meet postwar housing
construction needs and to replace the supply of timber from depleted
industrial lands. In addition, in reports accompanying annual
appropriation acts, the Congress set “target” levels of timber to be
harvested and appropriated money for the administration of timber sales
with the expectation that the targets would be met.

In addition to these incentives and expectations, the linear computer
programming models used by the Forest Service to estimate forest plan
objectives focused on timber and were not able to account accurately for
interactions with other uses. Sometimes, the goals for timber were
arbitrarily increased by Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural
Resources, or inputs to the models were adjusted to produce the desired
results. For example, the Forest Service did not allow the timber-offering
goal on the Flathead National Forest in northwestern Montana to be
inconsistent with the harvest levels of the preceding few years. To project
this goal, the Forest Service modified the locations and methods of timber
harvesting used in the models without identifying the resulting
environmental effects.6

Some of the first forest plans also did not adequately (1) consider species
listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act
(ESA) and/or (2) anticipate the listing of candidate species7 or the
designation of habitat critical to the survival of listed species. For
example, plans for national forests in Arizona and New Mexico included
decisions to move to more even-age timber harvesting8 and to harvest on
steep slopes. These decisions would have adversely affected the habitat of
the Mexican spotted owl, which was, at the time, designated by the Forest
Service as a sensitive species9 under regulations implementing the
National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and became a candidate for
listing under ESA shortly after the plans were approved. The subsequent
listing of the owl was a primary reason why the forests did not achieve the
plans’ objectives. Furthermore, although the needs of wildlife were

6
Forest Service: The Flathead National Forest Cannot Meet Its Timber Goal (GAO/RCED-91-124,
May 10, 1991).
7
 Candidate species are recognized by the Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine
Fisheries Service as being vulnerable enough to support proposals that would list them as endangered
or threatened. See Endangered Species Act: Types and Number of Implementing Actions
(GAO/RCED-92-131BR, May 8, 1992).
8
 Even-age timber harvesting is a method that involves removing most or all of the trees from the
timber-harvesting site at one time.
9
 Sensitive species are those for which there is some evidence of risk, but that are not sufficiently
imperiled to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.



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                            considered in developing the first forest plans, in some cases, Forest
                            Service managers chose to emphasize timber production and other uses,
                            such as livestock grazing, that conflicted with sustaining wildlife and fish.10



Emphasis Has Increasingly   During the last 10 years, the Forest Service has increasingly shifted its
Shifted to Sustaining       emphasis from producing timber to sustaining wildlife and fish under its
Wildlife and Fish           broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate. This shift is taking place
                            in response to requirements in planning and environmental laws—enacted
                            primarily during the 1960s and 1970s—and their evolving judicial
                            interpretations. In particular, section 7 of ESA represents a congressional
                            design to give greater priority to the protection of endangered species than
                            to the other missions of the Forest Service and other federal agencies.11
                            When proposing a project, the Forest Service bears the burden of
                            demonstrating that its actions will not likely jeopardize listed species.

                            Social, ecological, and other factors have also contributed to the shift in
                            emphasis. These factors include (1) an increasing knowledge of the
                            importance of naturally functioning systems—such as watersheds,
                            airsheds, soils, and vegetative and animal communities—to the long-term
                            sustainability of other forest uses, including timber production;12 (2) an
                            increasing recognition that past Forest Service management decisions
                            have led to degraded aquatic habitats, declining populations of some
                            wildlife species, and increased forest health problems;13 (3) an increasing
                            number of environmental restrictions that have necessitated the use of
                            more costly and time-consuming timber-harvesting methods;14 and
                            (4) activities occurring outside the national forests, such as timber
                            harvesting on state and private lands, whose effects the agency must
                            assess in deciding which uses to emphasize on its lands.

                            For example, on June 4, 1992, the Chief of the Forest Service announced a
                            new policy of multiple-use ecosystem management on the national forests
                            and grasslands. According to the Chief, the announcement was based on

                            10
                              Public Land Management: Attention to Wildlife Is Limited (GAO/RCED-91-64, Mar. 7, 1991).
                            11
                              TVA v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 185 (1978).
                            12
                             Ecosystem Management: Additional Actions Needed to Adequately Test a Promising Approach
                            (GAO/RCED-94-111, Aug. 16, 1994).
                            13
                             See, for example, Federal Fire Management: Limited Progress in Restarting the Prescribed Fire
                            Program (GAO/RCED-91-42, Dec. 5, 1990).
                            14
                             Forest Service: Factors Affecting Timber Sales in Five National Forests (GAO/RCED-95-12, Oct. 28,
                            1994).



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the results of experiments to develop more environmentally sensitive ways
to manage the forests. In conjunction with this new ecosystem
management policy, the Forest Service announced plans to reduce the
amount of timber harvested by clearcutting15 by as much as 70 percent
from fiscal year 1988 levels.

In addition, the acreage available for timber production has declined
steadily. Portions of the national forests have been set aside by the
Congress or administratively withdrawn for conservation—as wilderness,
wild and scenic rivers, national monuments, and recreation. In 1964, less
than 9 percent (16 million acres) of national forest land was managed for
conservation. By 1994, this figure had increased to 26 percent (almost
50 million acres).16 (See fig. 4.2.)




15
  Clearcutting is a harvesting method that involves removing all of the trees from a timber-harvesting
site at one time.
16
 Land Ownership: Information on the Acreage, Management, and Use of Federal and Other Lands
(GAO/RCED-96-40, Mar. 13, 1996).



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Figure 4.2: National Forest Lands
Withdrawn for Conservation Purposes
                                      Millions of acres
                                      250




                                      200                                                                191.6
                                                             186.3
                                                              16.0
                                                              16.0
                                                                                                         49.9
                                                                                                         49.9

                                      150




                                      100                    170.3
                                                             170.3                                       141.7
                                                                                                         141.7




                                       50




                                           0
                                                             1964                                        1994
                                                            Nonconservation acreage           Conservation acreage




                                      Most of the federal acreage that has been set aside for conservation
                                      purposes is located in 12 western states.17 In western Washington State,
                                      western Oregon, and northern California, where 24.5 million acres of
                                      federal land were available for commercial timber harvest, about
                                      11.4 million acres, or 47 percent of the available acreage, have been set
                                      aside by the Congress or administratively withdrawn under the original
                                      forest plans for such uses as wilderness, wild and scenic rivers, national
                                      monuments, and recreation.




                                      17
                                       The 12 western states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New
                                      Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.



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                             Other environmental requirements have further reduced the amount of
                             federal land available for timber production. For example, 7.6 million
                             acres (31 percent) of these federal lands that were available for
                             commercial timber harvesting have been set aside or withdrawn as habitat
                             for species that live in old-growth forests, including the threatened
                             northern spotted owl, or as riparian reserves to protect watersheds. To
                             protect the forests’ health, only limited timber harvesting and salvage
                             timber sales are allowed in some of these areas.

                             In total, 77 percent of the 24.5 million acres of these federal lands that
                             were available for commercial timber harvesting have been set aside or
                             withdrawn, primarily for conservation or to meet environmental
                             requirements. In addition, requirements for maintaining biological
                             diversity under NFMA—as well as for meeting standards for air and water
                             quality under the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, respectively—may limit
                             the timing, location, and amount of harvesting that can occur. Moreover,
                             harvests from these lands could be further reduced by plans to protect
                             threatened and endangered salmon.18


Sustaining Wildlife and      The Forest Service is increasingly unable to avoid, resolve, or mitigate
Fish Constrains Other Uses   conflicts among competing uses on national forests by separating them
                             among areas and over time. Therefore, while sustaining wildlife and fish
                             may be important to the long-term sustainability of other forest uses,
                             including timber production, the increasing emphasis on protecting and
                             restoring ecosystems and on sustaining wildlife and fish (1) conflicts with
                             the older emphasis on producing timber and underlies the Forest Service’s
                             inability to achieve the goals and objectives for timber production set forth
                             in many of the first forest plans and (2) will likely constrain future uses of
                             the national forests, such as recreational uses.

                             The volume of timber sold from Forest Service lands decreased from a
                             peak of over 11.3 billion board feet in 1988 to 3.1 billion board feet in 1994,
                             a decrease of about 73 percent. (See fig. 4.1.) Timber sold from Forest
                             Service lands in western Washington, western Oregon, and northern
                             California declined from 4.3 billion board feet in 1989 to 0.9 billion board
                             feet in 1994, a decrease of about 80 percent.

                             At the forest level, the Forest Service approved the forest plans for the
                             Deschutes and Mt. Hood national forests in Oregon and the Gifford

                             18
                              Private Timberlands: Private Timber Harvests Not Likely to Replace Declining Federal Harvests
                             (GAO/RCED-95-51, Feb. 16, 1995).



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Pinchot National Forest in Washington in 1991; however, the volume of
timber sold during fiscal years 1991 through 1993 (the first 3 fiscal years
covered by the plans) fell short of the plans’ timber goals by about 83
percent. (See table 2.1.) Similarly, at the Chattahoochee-Oconee National
Forest in Georgia, officials estimated that the costs per million board feet
to prepare timber sales and administer harvests rose by approximately
36 percent between 1988 and 1993, when the agency began to increase its
use of other, more costly and time-consuming harvesting methods to
comply with requirements in environmental laws and regulations. As a
result, less timber was prepared for sale than had been planned. (See table
2.1.)19

In addition, increasing attention to sustaining wildlife and fish will likely
constrain future uses of the national forests. For example, the demand for
recreation is expected to grow and may increasingly conflict with both
sustaining wildlife and fish and producing timber on Forest Service lands.

According to the Forest Service, the American public has increased its
recreational use of the national forests substantially, from about 25 million
visitor days in 1950 to nearly 350 million visitor days in 1995. (See fig. 4.3.)
This demand is expected to increase steadily over the next 50 years and
will require the agency to spend more time and resources reconciling the
demands for recreation and for sustaining wildlife and fish.20




19
 Forest Service: Factors Affecting Timber Sales in Five National Forests (GAO/RCED-95-12, Oct. 28,
1994).
20
 The Forest Service Program for Forest and Rangeland Resources: A Long-Term Strategic Plan, Draft
1995 RPA Program, USDA, Forest Service, Washington Office (Oct. 16, 1995.)



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Figure 4.3: Visitor Days in National
Forests, 1950-94
                                       Visitor days (millions)
                                       350


                                       300


                                       250


                                       200


                                       150


                                       100


                                        50


                                         0
                                             1950                1960              1970               1980                1990
                                                                                      Year


                                       Note: Data through 1964 are in “visits.” A visit equals one entry into a national forest. Data after
                                       1964 are in “visitor days.” A visitor day equals a 12-hour visit. For example, three people visiting a
                                       national forest for 4 hours each would equal one visitor day. In 1965, a visit averaged 0.83 visitor
                                       days.

                                       Source: Forest Service.




                                       For example, officials at the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin
                                       told us that recreational snowmobiling and all-terrain-vehicle use are
                                       rapidly increasing on the forest, posing ever more serious conflicts with
                                       the agency’s efforts to maintain or restore wildlife and fish habitat. The
                                       officials said they could not have anticipated this phenomenon when the
                                       forest plan was approved in 1986, and they anticipate that snowmobiling




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                      and all-terrain-vehicle use in the forest will likely have to be constrained in
                      order to sustain wildlife and fish.

                      Additionally, officials at the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest in North
                      Carolina told us that a very significant increase in rafting on rivers in their
                      forest and in other forests adjacent to it has forced the agency to restrict
                      and closely monitor this activity to prevent resulting stream bank erosion
                      that damages fish and riparian habitat. Similarly, consideration of the
                      potential effects of artificial snow-making on the levels and quality of the
                      lakewater needed for aquatic habitat in the White Mountain National
                      Forest in New Hampshire has limited the expansion of ski facilities on the
                      forest.

                      The demand for habitat to sustain wildlife and fish is expected to grow on
                      Forest Service lands, in part because the Department of the Interior has
                      adopted a policy that increases the federal land management agencies’
                      ultimate responsibility for protecting threatened and endangered species.
                      Specifically, under an August 1994 “no surprise policy,” the Fish and
                      Wildlife Service agreed, in exchange for commitments by nonfederal
                      landowners to adopt properly functioning habitat conservation plans
                      deemed adequate by Interior to protect threatened or endangered species,
                      that (1) it would not ask for more land or mitigation funding from the
                      private landowners or state or local governments even if a species
                      protected by such a plan continued to decline and (2) the subsequent
                      listing of a species as endangered or threatened under ESA would not result
                      in additional mitigation requirements. Rather, any additional mitigation
                      deemed necessary to protect a listed species covered by a habitat
                      conservation plan must first be accomplished on federal lands. Thus, some
                      Forest Service officials believe that the national forests will assume a
                      growing proportion of the responsibility for protecting wildlife and fish
                      and that endangered and threatened species and their habitats will
                      increasingly be concentrated on federal lands.


                      While the Forest Service continues to reduce its emphasis on consumption
Agreement Does Not    and increase its emphasis on conservation, the Congress has never
Exist on Which Uses   explicitly accepted this shift in emphasis or acknowledged its effects on
the Forest Service    the availability of other uses on the national forests. Disagreement over
                      the Forest Service’s priorities, both inside and outside the agency, is
Should Emphasize on   manifested in conflicting legislative incentives and congressional
Its Lands             expectations, differences in the beliefs of Forest Service personnel, and
                      legal challenges to the agency’s plans and projects.



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                        One result of the internal and external disagreement over the Forest
                        Service’s priorities is that budgeting decisions reflected in final
                        appropriations change the priorities of the forest plans during their
                        implementation.21 In a 1980 report,22 we noted that the balanced use and
                        development of resources on national forests had been hampered by a
                        continuing budgetary emphasis on timber production in the Forest
                        Service. As a result, other resources, such as wildlife and fish, had not
                        received needed management attention. A decade later, the Forest Service
                        stated that during the yearly budget review by the Secretary of Agriculture,
                        the Office of Management and Budget, and the Congress, money is added
                        to or subtracted from budget line items with little or no recognition that
                        the items are related. Consequently, (1) the congressional appropriation
                        and accompanying direction can comprise a very different mix of funding
                        than is called for by the forest plans and (2) “there is no point in the public
                        investing time negotiating plans if Congress acts to set bounds on
                        planning—through mandated timber sale targets, for example.”23 A report
                        issued by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 199224 reaffirmed
                        this concern, noting that “resulting appropriations bear little resemblance
                        to the integrated management presented in the forest plans.”


The Congress Has Sent   The requirements in planning and environmental laws—enacted primarily
Mixed Messages          during the 1960s and 1970s—have directed the Forest Service to place
                        increasing emphasis on sustaining wildlife and fish. However, legislative
                        incentives emphasizing timber production persist.

                        Despite the increasing emphasis on conservation in recent legislation, the
                        Forest Service still relies on timber production to fund many of its
                        activities. A substantial portion of the receipts from timber sales are
                        distributed into a number of funds and accounts that the agency uses to
                        finance various activities. According to OTA, these receipts accounted for
                        nearly one-third of the Forest Service’s budget annually. These receipts,
                        coupled with appropriated funds linked primarily to timber production,
                        constitute most of the agency’s operating funds. Therefore, many forest


                        21
                          Synthesis of the Critique of Land Management Planning, Vol. 1, Forest Service (FS-452, June 1990).
                        22
                         Changes in Public Land Management Required to Achieve Congressional Expectations (CED-80-82,
                        July 16, 1980).
                        23
                         Critique of Land Management Planning, Vol. 2, National Forest Planning: Searching for a Common
                        Vision, Forest Service, (FS-453, June 1990).
                        24
                          Forest Service Planning: Accommodating Uses, Producing Outputs, and Sustaining Ecosystems,
                        OTA-F-505 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 1992).



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managers have the opportunity to increase their own budgets by
increasing timber sales.25

For example, the Knutson-Vandenberg Act of 1930, as amended,
authorizes the use of timber sale receipts not only to reforest harvested
areas but also to improve and protect the land’s future productivity and
help fund regional and headquarters office expenses. The
Knutson-Vandenberg Trust Fund received about 25 percent of the total
timber receipts during fiscal years 1992 through 1994.26 In addition, NFMA
creates incentives for salvage sales through the Salvage Sale Fund, a
permanent appropriation. The Forest Service replenishes this fund
through salvage sale receipts. These receipts are then used to prepare and
administer future salvage sales and to pay for designing, engineering, and
supervising the construction of roads associated with such sales. The
Salvage Sale Fund received about 18 percent of the total timber sale
receipts during fiscal years 1992 through 1994.27 An October 1996 report28
by an interagency team states that, because salvage sales can be more
easily funded than other forest health activities, they are sometimes
selected over other activities that might be more appropriate in particular
circumstances.

The Congress has taken other actions that have emphasized timber
production in the short term. It has (1) limited the judicial review of
challenges to certain Forest Service decisions, usually timber sales;
(2) suspended the application of some environmental requirements; and/or
(3) mandated increases in the amount of timber to be offered for sale. For
example, section 2001 of Public Law 104-19—the Emergency Salvage
Timber Sale Program, known as the “salvage rider” or the “timber
rider”—went far beyond procedurally expediting salvage sales to improve
the forests’ health and allowed the sale of both green and salvage timber
from national forests. This rider exempted all such sales from
administrative appeals, limited judicial review, and deemed the sales to be
in compliance with environmental laws.


25
 Forest Service Management: Issues to Be Considered in Developing a New Stewardship Strategy
(GAO/T-RCED-94-116, Feb. 1, 1994).
26
 Forest Service: Distribution of Timber Sales Receipts, Fiscal Years 1992-94 (GAO/RCED-95-237FS,
Sept. 8, 1995).
27
  See footnote 20.
28
   Interagency Salvage Program Review, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (Silver Spring, Maryland: Oct. 8, 1996).
The agencies were the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land
Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency.



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                               According to OTA’s 1992 report, congressional efforts to change the judicial
                               review process “seem to be attempts to resolve substantive issues without
                               appearing to take sides.” The report concludes that “such changes are
                               unlikely to improve forest planning or plan implementation, or reduce
                               conflict over national forest management.” Moreover, increasing the
                               short-term production of timber may require the Forest Service to amend
                               or revise its forest plans to take into account the environmental effects of
                               the sales.29

                               As a result, the Congress continues to send a mixed message to the Forest
                               Service concerning which uses to emphasize and how to resolve conflicts
                               among competing uses on its lands. According to an analysis that grew out
                               of a 1993 symposium sponsored by the Society of American Foresters on
                               change in the Forest Service,30 the movement toward wildlife and fish was
                               mandated by the Congress through the National Environmental Policy Act
                               and NFMA. However, according to the analysis, “Ironically, Congress can
                               serve as a primary obstacle to the Forest Service’s implementation of the
                               very laws the Congress has enacted for it by setting unrealistic harvest
                               levels and not having appropriations in sync with the goals set through the
                               RPA and NFMA planning processes that Congress itself mandated.”



Priorities Within the Forest   The mixed message from the Congress about which uses to emphasize and
Service Are Mixed              how to resolve conflicts among competing uses filters down through the
                               Forest Service. For example, according to another analysis prepared in
                               response to the 1993 symposium on change in the Forest Service, over
                               20 percent of the agency’s personnel believe that timber still should be the
                               most important forest use and 60 percent believe that the agency still
                               considers timber to be the most important forest use. Additionally, a 1994
                               survey of Forest Service personnel stated that nearly half did not believe
                               that the current levels of uses in their forests could be sustained for 100
                               years, and about 70 percent said that the agency’s target-driven behavior
                               does not match its stated policy.31 Similarly, the interagency team that
                               reviewed the “salvage rider” timber program observed in 1996 that Forest
                               Service personnel implementing the program fell into three groups: Some


                               29
                                  The “Timber Rider”: Section 2001 of the Rescissions Act (CRS Report for Congress, 96-163A, Feb. 22,
                               1996).
                               30
                                “Change in the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and Its Consequences for
                               National Forest Policy,” Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 23, No. 2 (1995).
                               31
                                Policies and Mythologies of the U.S. Forest Service: A Conversation With Employees, Research
                               Report for the Director, Pacific Northwest Experiment Station and Chief, USDA Forest Service,
                               University of Washington, College of Forest Resources (Seattle, Washington: Feb. 1994).



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                             focused only on achieving additional salvage timber volume, others
                             focused only on protecting forest ecosystems, while still others focused on
                             balancing the two objectives.

                             During field visits, we found that timber production still often receives
                             more emphasis than other uses and still plays a significant role in
                             individual performance management, career development, and pay and
                             promotion. As one district ranger said, “of course, all targets are
                             important, but everyone understands which one is considered by the
                             agency to be the most important—timber.”

                             In August 1996, the Forest Service amended its forest planning and timber
                             management handbooks to give forest officials more flexibility and
                             discretion in developing forest plan alternatives. However, the handbooks
                             continue to emphasize timber, prescribing that the plans be developed
                             around combinations of small geographic units called “analysis areas,”
                             which are to be constructed from data on timber stands and categories
                             rather than from information on all forest uses. In our visits to national
                             forests, agency officials told us that developing plans around analysis
                             areas had contributed to an emphasis on timber in the original plans and
                             an inability to account accurately for timber’s interactions with other uses.


Stakeholders’ Expectations   Supporters or former beneficiaries of the Forest Service’s historical
Are Mixed                    emphasis on timber production may view the agency’s increasing
                             emphasis on sustaining wildlife and fish as a constraint to, rather than a
                             goal of, decision-making. Others who believe that sustaining wildlife and
                             fish needs to be emphasized may think that the agency is not moving
                             quickly enough to implement the shift in emphasis. Without agreement on
                             how the Forest Service is to resolve conflicts or make choices among
                             competing uses on its lands, proponents of both positions have looked to
                             the courts to decide which uses the agency should emphasize.

                             Our prior work has shown that dissatisfaction with an agency’s process for
                             public involvement often cannot be dissociated from dissatisfaction with
                             the outcome of the process.32 Thus, it is difficult to determine how many
                             of the over 1,200 administrative appeals and 20 to 30 new lawsuits
                             contesting the Forest Service’s decisions each year can be attributed to the
                             lack of agreement on the Forest Service’s priorities. However, parties
                             opposed to the emphasis given to a particular use can cause the Forest
                             Service to delay, alter, or withdraw projects by availing themselves of the

                             32
                               Restoring the Everglades: Public Participation in Federal Efforts (GAO/RCED-96-5, Oct. 24, 1995).



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                          opportunities for administrative appeal and judicial review that are
                          provided by statute or regulation.


                          GPRA  requires federal agencies, when developing their strategic plans, to
The Government            consult with the Congress and solicit the views of stakeholders. Full
Performance and           agreement among stakeholders on all aspects of an agency’s efforts is
Results Act Provides a    relatively uncommon because stakeholders’ interests can differ often and
                          significantly. However, to be successful, such a consultation between the
Framework to Reach        Forest Service and the Congress would need to focus on the issues of
Agreement                 long-term sustainability and conflict resolution rather than solely on
                          balancing multiple uses in the short term.


Efforts to Reach          Recently, several efforts have been made to reach agreement on how to
Agreement on Resolving    resolve conflicts. However, these efforts have merely reaffirmed the
Conflicts Have Not Been   agency’s broad multiple-use mission rather than provided the Forest
                          Service with clearer guidance for resolving conflicts or making choices
Successful                among competing uses on its lands.

                          For example, both the Chief of the Forest Service and Agriculture’s Under
                          Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment expressed their hope
                          that the Seventh American Forest Congress would produce new insights
                          and valuable ideas to guide the Forest Service into the next century.
                          Toward this end, the Forest Congress convened about 1,100 federal, state,
                          local, and tribal officials and representatives from environmental,
                          professional forestry, industry, and recreation groups in Washington, D.C.,
                          in February 1996. The focus of the convention was on identifying a
                          common vision for America’s forests and the principles needed to guide
                          the country toward this vision.

                          While the convention reaffirmed the Forest Service’s broad multiple-use
                          mission, it did not tackle the tough issue of how the Forest Service is to
                          resolve conflicts or make choices among competing uses on its lands. For
                          example, participants at the convention were allowed to treat each
                          principle as a “stand-alone point.” As a result, they could agree with
                          conflicting principles. For instance, they could recognize the special
                          importance of old-growth forests while agreeing that the remaining
                          publicly owned old-growth forests should not be protected for future
                          generations.33 Because the participants were never required to make hard
                          choices among competing uses, disparate groups—from supporters of

                          33
                            Final Report, Seventh American Forest Congress (Apr. 2, 1996).



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                             timber production to advocates of old-growth preservation—could
                             support the principle of multiple uses on national forests without
                             addressing or resolving the inherent conflicts it involves.


Consultation Should Result   Successful consultation between the Forest Service and the Congress
in Agreement on              would lead to agreement on the agency’s long-term strategic goals. If such
Long-Term Strategic Goals    agreement is to occur, the Forest Service will need to clearly outline the
                             logic and thinking behind its increasing emphasis on sustaining wildlife
                             and fish under its broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and
                             explain how it would resolve conflicts or make choices among competing
                             uses on its lands under its proposed long-term strategic goals. Toward this
                             end, both the Forest Service’s Chief and Agriculture’s Under Secretary for
                             Natural Resources and Environment have testified that the National Forest
                             System’s management now emphasizes the maintenance of ecosystems’
                             health to sustain the production of all goods and services derived from
                             national forests. According to them, management activities such as timber
                             sales serve as “tools” for improving the forests’ health. For example,
                             salvage timber sales are sometimes used to improve a forest’s health.


Performance Goals and        In a February 25, 1997, letter to the Director of the Office of Management
Measures Would Be Based      and Budget, the Speaker of the House, the House Majority Leader, the
on Long-Term Strategic       Senate Majority Leader, and key committee chairmen from both the House
                             and the Senate set forth their expectations for agencies’ consultations with
Goals                        the Congress under GPRA. In the letter, they stated that the consultation
                             process should result in a reasonable degree of agreement on the
                             performance measures that will be used to gauge success. If the four goals
                             in the Forest Service’s October 1995 draft long-term strategic plan remain
                             unchanged, the Congress could expect to see performance goals and
                             measures based on both desired future ecological outcomes and desired
                             outputs of goods and services. The Congress should be careful to ensure
                             that the agency does not use the same performance goals and measures it
                             used to pilot-test GPRA’s performance planning and reporting requirements
                             during fiscal years 1994 through 1996.34 These performance goals and
                             measures were linked both to the four goals in the Forest Service’s
                             October 1995 draft long-term strategic plan and to four very different goals
                             in the agency’s 1990 strategic plan: (1) enhancing recreation, wildlife, and
                             fisheries; (2) producing environmentally acceptable commodities;
                             (3) improving scientific knowledge of natural resources; and


                             34
                               GPRA Performance Reports (GAO/GGD-96-66R, Feb. 14, 1996).



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(4) responding to global resource issues.35 The four goals in the 1990 plan
resulted in planned annual timber harvests from national forests of
11.1 billion board feet while the four goals in the 1995 draft plan resulted
in planned annual timber harvests of 4.5 billion board feet, or less than half
the 1990 level. Performance goals and measures capable of assessing the
progress made toward achieving both sets of long-term strategic goals and
resulting planned annual timber harvest levels would, therefore, be
meaningless.

In commenting on our August 1994 report on ecosystem management, the
Forest Service agreed that effectively implementing this management
approach would require land managers to identify (1) the desired future
ecological conditions; (2) the types, levels, and mixes of activities that can
be sustained while still achieving these conditions; and (3) the distribution
of these activities over time among the various land units within the
ecosystem. Thus, implementing the Forest Service’s three long-term
strategic goals for ecosystems would require forest managers to first
identify desired future ecological conditions (outcomes); then identify the
types, levels, and mixes of activities (outputs) that can be sustained while
still achieving these conditions; and finally distribute these activities over
time among the various land units within the ecosystem. (See fig. 4.4.)




35
 The Forest Service Program for Forest and Rangeland Resources: A Long-Term Strategic Plan,
Recommended 1990 RPA Program, Forest Service (May 1990).



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Figure 4.4: Relationships Between the Forest Service’s Four Long-Term Strategic Goals and Practical Steps to Implement
Ecosystem Management


   Long-Term Goals and Strategies                                         Practical Steps/Actions

                                                                          Delineating Ecosystems

                                                                 Establish consistent boundaries for management.
                                                                 Establish boundaries at several geographic scales.

             Protect Ecosystems


                                                                Understanding Ecosystems' Ecologies
            Restore Deteriorated
                Ecosystems
                                                                 Identify structures, components, processes, and
                                                                     linkages among ecosystems.
                                                                 Identify current ecological conditions and trends.
                                                                 Identify minimum ecological conditions necessary
                                                                     to maintain/restore ecosystems.
                                                                 Identify effects of human activities on ecological
                                                                     conditions.




                                                                      Making Management Choices

     Provide Multiple Benefits Within the                        Identify desired future ecological conditions.
         Capabilities of Ecosystems                              Identify types, levels, and mixes of activities to meet
                                                                     these conditions.
                                                                 Identify distribution of activities among land units over
                                                                     time.




                                                              Adapting Management to New Information

           Ensure Organizational                                 Continue researching, monitoring, and assessing
               Effectiveness                                         ecological conditions.
                                                                 Modify management choices on the basis of new
                                                                     information.
                                                                 Revise ecosystems' boundaries as warranted.




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GPRA’s Requirements Must   The February 25, 1997, letter also stated that the consultation process
Be Integrated Into the     should include a discussion of the types of formats for strategic plans,
Forest Service’s           performance plans, and performance reports that best meet the
                           information needs of the Congress, federal line managers, and the general
Decision-Making Process    public. To comply with this directive, the Forest Service would have to
                           integrate the requirements of GPRA into its current decision-making
                           process.

                           The Forest Service is planning to develop two long-term strategic
                           plans—one to comply with the requirements of GPRA and another to
                           comply with the more extensive requirements of RPA. Hearings held by the
                           Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources during the 104th
                           Congress concluded that the plans developed under RPA have been
                           continually altered by other federal agencies and routinely ignored by the
                           Forest Service as a guide to the development of forest plans and
                           management activities. Similarly, a 1990 OTA report states that plans
                           developed under RPA are “of questionable usefulness to the agency, the
                           Administration, and the Congress” because they ignore requirements in
                           the act to discuss budget priorities and evaluate the plans’ implementation
                           in annual reports.36 In light of the current tight budget climate and the
                           annual competition for scarce resources within the agency, as well as the
                           overlap in the requirements for strategic planning under RPA and GPRA, the
                           Forest Service’s current intention to develop two strategic plans appears
                           to duplicate existing planning requirements rather than integrate GPRA’s
                           requirements into the agency’s decision-making process.

                           In addition, forest plans are intended to provide a key link between the
                           Forest Service’s long-term strategic goals and planned projects. (See app.
                           I.) However, many variables affect the outcomes of the agency’s decisions.
                           As a result, the Forest Service often cannot achieve the objectives in its
                           forest plans during the 10 to 15 years covered by the plans. To account for
                           the effects of variables such as changing natural conditions and funding,
                           as well as new information and events, that can prevent the Forest Service
                           from achieving the objectives in its forest plans, some agency officials
                           have suggested that the agency (1) shorten the periods covered by the
                           plans to 3 to 5 years, (2) link forest plans more closely to budgeting, and
                           (3) include objectives for goods and services and desired conditions for
                           resources at various funding levels in the forest plans. But rather than
                           adopt these changes, the Forest Service has proposed removing from its
                           forest plans measurable objectives for goods and services, such as
                           quantities of wood for lumber and forage for livestock and numbers of

                           36
                             Forest Service Planning: Setting Strategic Direction Under RPA (OTA-F-441, July 1990).



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              opportunities for recreation. Without measurable objectives for goods and
              services in the forest plans, the Forest Service must find another link
              between its (1) long-term strategic goal of providing multiple benefits to
              satisfy people’s needs for uses, values, products, and services within the
              capabilities of ecosystems and (2) annual performance goals and measures
              for gauging the progress made toward achieving the long-term goals and
              holding line managers accountable for their performance.

              The February 25, 1997, letter also stated that the federal agencies should
              be prepared to explain how the plans and reports required by GPRA will be
              used in the day-to-day management of the agency. We have found that
              integrating human resource management activities into the Forest
              Service’s organizational mission, rather than treating them as isolated
              support functions, could improve the implementation of GPRA.37 This sort
              of integration may include tying individual performance management,
              career development programs, and pay and promotion standards to the
              Forest Service’s strategic goals.


              As discussed in chapter 3, the failure of the Forest Service to give adequate
Conclusions   attention to improving accountability for its performance and results has
              resulted in long-standing deficiencies within its decision-making process
              that have contributed to increased costs and time and/or the inability to
              achieve planned objectives. GPRA, if implemented successfully, will
              strengthen accountability for performance and results within the agency
              and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its decision-making.
              However, as noted by the internal Forest Service task force on
              accountability, successful implementation of the act will depend on
              (1) strong leadership within the agency to change an organizational
              culture of indifference toward accountability and (2) sustained oversight
              by the Congress to provide the external attention to the issue needed to
              prompt corrective action.

              Successfully implementing GPRA includes consulting with the Congress.
              The desired outcome of the consultation between the Forest Service and
              the Congress would include an agreement on the agency’s long-term
              strategic goals. For such an agreement to occur, the Forest Service would
              need to clearly outline the logic and thinking behind its increasing
              emphasis on sustaining wildlife and fish under its broad multiple-use and
              sustained-yield mandate and indicate how it would resolve conflicts or

              37
               Transforming the Civil Service: Building the Workforce of the Future, Results of A GAO-Sponsored
              Symposium (GAO/GGD-96-35, Dec. 26, 1995).



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                make choices among competing uses on its lands under its proposed
                long-term strategic goals.

                The Congress could, in turn, accept or reject the agency’s increasing shift
                in emphasis from producing timber to sustaining wildlife and fish and
                acknowledge the effects of this shift on the availability of other uses on
                the national forests. Through consultation, the Forest Service and the
                Congress might also identify legislative changes that are needed to clarify
                or modify the Congress’s intent and expectations or to address changes in
                conditions and/or citizens’ needs that have occurred since the Organic
                Administration Act and Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act were enacted.

                If the four goals in the Forest Service’s October 1995 draft long-term
                strategic plan remain unchanged, the Congress could expect to see
                (1) performance goals and measures based on both desired future
                ecological outcomes and desired outputs of goods and services and
                (2) individual performance management, career development programs,
                and pay and promotion standards tied to the strategic goals. For its part,
                the agency could expect to see annual appropriations that are consistent
                with its mission priorities.

                The Congress and the Forest Service must also consider how best to
                integrate the requirements of GPRA into the agency’s current
                decision-making process. On the one hand, the Congress needs to consider
                the benefits and costs of the agency’s developing two long-term strategic
                plans—one to comply with the requirements of GPRA and another to
                comply with the more extensive requirements of RPA. On the other hand,
                the Forest Service needs to identify how it will link its long-term strategic
                goal of providing multiple benefits to satisfy people’s needs for uses,
                values, products, and services within the capabilities of ecosystems with
                its annual performance goals and measures for gauging the progress made
                toward achieving the long-term goal and holding line managers
                accountable for their performance if it removes from its forest plans
                measurable objectives for goods and services.


                In light of (1) the current tight budget climate, (2) the annual competition
Matter for      for scarce resources within the Forest Service, and (3) the questionable
Congressional   value of the agency’s current long-term strategic plan, we recommend that
Consideration   the Congress consider amending the Forest and Rangeland Renewable
                Resources Planning Act to eliminate its requirement that the Forest
                Service develop a strategic plan covering a period of a decade or more.



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                     The agency would still be required to develop a long-term strategic plan
                     covering a period of at least 5 years to comply with the requirements of the
                     Government Performance and Results Act.


                     Because the Forest Service has proposed removing from its forest plans
Recommendation to    measurable objectives for goods and services, such as quantities of wood
the Secretary of     for lumber and forage for livestock and numbers of opportunities for
Agriculture          recreation, we recommend that the Secretary of Agriculture direct the
                     Chief of the Forest Service to identify how the agency will link its
                     long-term strategic goal of providing multiple benefits to satisfy people’s
                     needs for uses, values, products, and services within the capabilities of
                     ecosystems with its annual performance goals and measures for gauging
                     the progress made toward achieving the long-term goal and holding line
                     managers accountable for their performance.


                     In commenting on our draft report, the Forest Service said that it intends
Agency Comments      to consult on its strategic goals with the Congress and the public, but
and Our Evaluation   neither it nor the Council on Environmental Quality commented on the
                     matter for congressional consideration.

                     In commenting on our draft report, the Forest Service did not directly
                     address our recommendation to the Secretary of Agriculture but identified
                     several actions that, if implemented, would improve the efficiency and
                     effectiveness of its decision-making process. These actions include
                     establishing strategic goals and related performance measures for
                     managers as well as working in partnership with other agencies more
                     closely and issuing revised regulations for implementing the National
                     Forest Management Act. However, the agency did not discuss either a
                     schedule to implement the improvements or a plan to closely monitor
                     progress and periodically report on performance, both of which GAO
                     believes are needed to break the cycle of studying and restudying issues
                     without any accountability or clear sequence for resolving them.




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                         Issues that transcend the Forest Service’s administrative boundaries and
                         jurisdiction also adversely affect the efficiency and effectiveness of the
                         agency’s decision-making. In particular, the Forest Service and other
                         federal land management agencies have had difficulty reconciling the
                         administrative boundaries of national forests, parks, and other federal land
                         management units with the boundaries of natural systems, such as
                         watersheds and vegetative and animal communities, both in planning and
                         in assessing the cumulative impact1 of federal and nonfederal activities on
                         the environment.

                         Over the past few years, several major studies have examined the need to
                         reconcile the differences in the geographic areas that federal agencies
                         must consider when reaching decisions. Among the options that have been
                         suggested are changes to the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ)
                         regulations and guidance implementing the provisions of the National
                         Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). According to CEQ officials, changes to
                         NEPA regulations and guidance are not being considered at this time.
                         Instead, CEQ plans to rely primarily on interagency agreements. However,
                         interagency agreements (1) have not been lived up to by agencies in the
                         past, (2) are generally not enforceable by outside parties, and (3) do not
                         provide a basis for common approaches among all agencies. Moreover,
                         since federal agencies sometimes do not work efficiently and effectively
                         together to address issues that transcend their boundaries and
                         jurisdictions and often lack the environmental and socioeconomic data
                         required to make informed decisions, strong leadership by CEQ would help
                         to ensure that interagency agreements accomplish their intended
                         objectives.


                         The Forest Service and other federal land management agencies have had
Differences Between      difficulty reconciling differences in the geographic areas that must be
Administrative and       considered in reaching decisions under different planning and
Ecological Boundaries    environmental laws. This difficulty has increased the costs, time, and
                         complexity of the Forest Service’s and other federal land management
Are Sometimes            agencies’ decision-making.
Difficult to Reconcile
                         The Forest Service and other federal land management agencies are
                         authorized by laws such as the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) to
                         plan primarily along administrative boundaries, such as those defining

                         1
                          Regulations issued in 1978 by the Council on Environmental Quality to implement the provisions of
                         the National Environmental Policy Act require federal agencies to assess the effects of a proposed
                         action on such resources as water, wildlife, and soils in combination with those of other past, present,
                         and reasonably foreseeable future actions occurring on both federal and nonfederal lands.



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forests, parks, resource areas, and wildlife refuges. Conversely,
environmental statutes and regulations require the agencies to analyze
environmental issues and concerns along the boundaries of natural
systems, such as watersheds, airsheds, soils, and vegetative and animal
communities. For example, regulations implementing NEPA require the
agencies to assess the cumulative impact of federal and nonfederal
activities on the environment.

Because the boundaries of administrative units and natural systems are
frequently different,2 federal land management plans have often
considered effects only on those portions of natural systems or portions of
their components—such as the habitats of threatened and endangered
species, the flyways of migratory birds, and wetlands—that exist within
the boundaries of the administrative units covered by the plans. For
example, a widely recognized boundary of the Greater Yellowstone
ecological unit in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho encompasses all or part
of seven national forests, two national parks, and three national wildlife
refuges—most of which are covered by different plans—as well as other
federal and nonfederal lands (see fig. 5.1)




2
 Ecosystem Management: Additional Actions Needed to Adequately Test a Promising Approach
(GAO/RCED-94-111, Aug. 16, 1994).



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Figure 5.1: Boundary Suggested for the Greater Yellowstone Ecological Unit




                                                     m   Boundary
                                                   te
                                                 ys
                                               os
                                             Ec




                                                                                     Gallatin             National
                                                                                                                      Custer
                                                                                                                         National
                                                                                                  Forest
                                                                                                                                 Forest                Montana
                                                                               Hebgen                                                                  Wyoming
                                                      Beaverhead                 Lake
                                                        National
                                                         Forest                                Yellowstone
                                                 Red Rock                                        National                   Shoshone
                                              Lakes N.W.R.
                                                             Montana                               Park
                                                                 Idaho

                                                                                                Yellowstone
                                                                              Targhee                                    National
                                                                                                       Lake
                                                                              National


                                                                                                      Jackson Lake
                                                                                                Grand
                                                                                                Teton          Bridger           Forest
                                                                                               National
                                                                                                 Park         Teton
                                                                                                       National                           Wind River
                                                                                Forest                 Elk Refuge


                                                                         Caribou
                                                                                                                                            Indian
                                                                      Grays
                                                                       Lake    National                                                   Reservation
                                                                     N.W.R.

                                                         Blackfoot                              National
                                                         Reservoir


                                                                                                                            Ec
                                                                                                                               os
                                                                                                                                   ys
                                                                                                                                     tem
                                                                                                 Forest                                    Bo
                                                                                Forest                                                       un
                                                                                                                                                da
                 National Parks                                                                                                                   ry
                                                                                     Wyoming
                                                                                      Idaho




                 National Forests

                 National Wildlife Refuges                                        Bear
                                                                                  Lake




                                              Source: Greater Yellowstone Coalition.




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                                 The effects of the resulting inconsistencies on management were evident
                                 in some of the forests we visited. The Tahoe National Forest in northern
                                 California, for example, is a checkerboard of federal and private lands,
                                 created when the federal government granted alternating sections of land
                                 to railroad companies. Tahoe officials told us that planning and managing
                                 for diverse plant and animal communities, as required by NFMA, is difficult
                                 when the boundaries of the forest are not consistent with those of species’
                                 habitats.

                                 Not analyzing the effects of decisions on natural systems and their
                                 components at the appropriate ecological scale can result in duplicative
                                 environmental analyses for individual plans and projects, increasing the
                                 costs and time required for analysis and reducing the effectiveness of
                                 federal land management agencies’ decision-making. In particular, federal
                                 land management plans and projects often consider effects only on
                                 portions of natural systems or portions of the habitats of wide-ranging
                                 species, such as migratory birds, bears, and anadromous fish (including
                                 salmon).3 According to an interagency task force chaired by CEQ,4 it is not
                                 uncommon for multiple environmental analyses to be filed for individual
                                 agencies’ actions, even though the activities occur in the same region or
                                 even at the same site.

                                 Similarly, two resolutions sent by the Western Governors’ Association in
                                 1996 to the President, federal agencies, and congressional committee
                                 chairs5 expressed concern over NEPA’s implementation. One cited
                                 “duplicative environmental analyses of projects by multiple federal
                                 agencies . . . each with its own set of NEPA regulations and processes which
                                 further adds confusion and complexity.” In a second resolution, the
                                 governors noted that the “current implementation of NEPA analysis at
                                 multiple levels has created a strain on resources of federal, state, and local
                                 governments and the private sector. Associated delays are counter to the
                                 interests of all levels of government.”

Cumulative Impact Is Difficult   Government, academic, business, and nongovernmental organizations that
to Assess                        participated in a study by CEQ of NEPA’s effectiveness, published in 1997,


                                 3
                                  See, for example, Final Report of Recommendations: Project-Level Analysis Re-Engineering Team,
                                 Forest Service (Nov. 17, 1995).
                                 4
                                  The Ecosystem Approach: Healthy Ecosystems and Sustainable Economies, Vol. II, Implementation
                                 Issues, Report of the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force (Nov. 1995).
                                 5
                                  Resolution 96-005, “Implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act,” and Resolution 96-011,
                                 “Future Management of the National Forests and Public Lands,” Western Governors’ Association
                                 (Omaha, Neb.: June 1996).



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underscored that assessing the cumulative impact of a decision “magnifies
the difficulty” of performing NEPA analyses.6 In addition, prior GAO work
has shown that the Forest Service and other federal agencies have, in
many instances, not complied with the requirement for assessing a
decision’s cumulative impact. For instance, in June 1990,7 we reported that
71 of 82 land-use plans and related environmental impact statements
covering Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands having
high oil and gas potential did not cite the cumulative impact of a
reasonably foreseeable development scenario. A number of the agencies’
decisions had been challenged and leasing suspended—primarily on
Forest Service lands—on the basis of inadequate information about
environmental effects. These actions had resulted in lost or delayed
federal revenues.

For example, the Forest Service’s Region 1, which covers 24 million acres
and includes 15 forests in northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and
northwestern South Dakota, suspended leasing in 1985 following a district
court’s decision that the Forest Service had not adequately assessed the
environmental effects of its leasing decisions.8 In 1990, we estimated that
about $9.6 million in rental revenue was lost annually on the 5.4 million
acres that the agency believed would have been leased in the region and
on leases that had been suspended because existing environmental studies
did not comply with NEPA’s provisions.

We found evidence during our current work that the Forest Service is still
experiencing difficulty in complying with the requirement for assessing
cumulative impact. For example, in a 1996 response to public comments
on a proposed salvage timber sale in the Idaho Panhandle national forests,
a Forest Service district ranger stated that the agency’s “analysis of direct,
indirect, and cumulative impact includes effects of management activities
on National Forest System lands only.” By contrast, NEPA regulations
require the agency to consider the effects on natural systems of past,
present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions occurring on both
federal and nonfederal lands.

Forest Service officials in headquarters and several field locations that we
visited during this review told us that compliance with the requirement for
assessing cumulative impact is often difficult because some effects cannot

6
The National Environmental Policy Act: A Study of Its Effectiveness After Twenty-Five Years, CEQ,
Executive Office of the President (Jan. 1997).
7
 Federal Land Management: Better Oil and Gas Information Needed to Support Land Use Decisions
(GAO/RCED-90-71, June 27, 1990).
8
 Conner v. Burford, 605 F. Supp. 107 (D. Mont. 1985).


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                     be adequately determined before a forest plan is approved or a
                     project-level decision is reached owing to scientific uncertainty and/or the
                     prohibitive costs of obtaining the necessary data. For example, officials
                     performing a broad-scoped environmental analysis for the Interior
                     Columbia River Basin9 told us that the basin contains 74 separate federal
                     land units, each with its own management plan and information database.
                     In addition, about 40 percent of the acreage within the basin is privately
                     owned and managed, further complicating assessments of cumulative
                     impact. As a result, some Forest Service officials believe that, for some
                     projects, enhanced monitoring and evaluation may be more efficient and
                     effective in assessing cumulative impact than additional NEPA analyses. As
                     stated in chapter 3, adopting this approach would require the agency to
                     identify how a decision would be modified when new information is
                     uncovered or when preexisting monitoring thresholds are crossed;
                     however, the Forest Service has historically not complied with the
                     monitoring requirements of NFMA.


                     Over the past few years, several major studies have examined the need to
Changes to           reconcile the differences in the geographic areas that federal agencies
Regulations and      must consider when reaching decisions and assessing the cumulative
Guidance Have Been   impact of federal and nonfederal activities on the environment.10 Among
                     the options that have been suggested are changes to CEQ’s regulations and
Suggested            guidance for implementing the provisions of NEPA. The Forest Service and
                     other federal agencies are currently allowed, but not required, to tier, or
                     link, plans and projects to broader-scoped studies. One option that has
                     been suggested is that CEQ amend its regulations to require that a NEPA
                     analysis accompanying a plan or project (1) be tiered to broader-scoped
                     studies and (2) concentrate on issues specific to the area covered by the
                     plan or project. However, according to CEQ officials, changes to NEPA
                     regulations and guidance are not being considered at this time.

                     To reconcile natural and administrative boundaries and to better assess
                     the cumulative impact of their decisions, as CEQ’s regulations require, the
                     Forest Service and other federal agencies are currently examining the
                     efficiency and effectiveness of using broader-scoped environmental
                     analyses. These analyses have been performed in areas such as the Interior
                     Columbia River Basin and the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.

                     9
                      The Interior Columbia River Basin covers 145 million acres—or 8 percent of the nation’s surface area.
                     It is located mainly in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana but also covers small portions of
                     northern California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. The basin includes 35 national forests, comprising
                     about one-fourth of the National Forest System’s lands.
                     10
                         See, for example, footnotes 2, 3, and 4.



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According to the Chief of the Forest Service, such analyses can result in
more efficient planning and a better understanding of conditions, trends,
and forests’ health, allowing ongoing projects to continue uninterrupted.
Similarly, the 1995 report by the interagency task force chaired by CEQ and
a 1995 report by a Forest Service reengineering team11 state that
broader-scoped analyses can be cost-effective in the long run because they
(1) eliminate the redundancy involved in performing many smaller
analyses for individual projects and (2) tailor the analyses, including those
addressing cumulative impact, to the appropriate ecological scale.

The task force and the reengineering team both believed that tiering
site-specific analyses to broader-scoped studies would allow agencies to
conduct project-level NEPA analyses more efficiently. When a
broader-scoped study has been performed, tiering allows the project-level
environmental analysis to concentrate on issues specific to the project and
to explain how the project relates to the issues discussed in the
broader-scoped study.

The task force noted other benefits that accrue from broad-scoped
interagency NEPA analyses. These benefits include (1) ensuring the
consideration of cumulative impact and management strategies at a scale
that may be overlooked in site-specific NEPA documents; (2) allowing
federal agencies to share resources and expertise and minimizing
agencies’ working at cross-purposes; (3) creating a baseline for sharing
information; (4) reorienting analyses toward proactive, preventive efforts
in anticipation of issues, such as the listing of a species under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA), before concrete proposals are made; and
(5) establishing coordinated monitoring approaches and avoiding
duplicative or ineffective monitoring at site-specific levels by different
agencies.

The task force also cited potential drawbacks of broader-scoped analyses.
These drawbacks include (1) possible inefficiencies and ineffectiveness in
the use of resources created by adding a level of NEPA documentation and
(2) the potential limited usefulness of such broader-scoped studies—and
their vulnerability to legal challenges—caused by uncertainty over such
issues as the appropriate ecological scale for analysis.

The task force suggested two options for broader-scoped studies:
(1) federal agencies could voluntarily conduct broader-scoped analyses,
which could then be used only as “guides” during the agencies’

11
  See footnote 3.



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decision-making processes and would not be subject to CEQ’s regulations
or (2) CEQ could revise its regulations to require tiering. The task force
noted that “CEQ’s views are entitled to substantial deference in the courts”
and that

“to improve implementation and reduce litigation risk, CEQ could issue regulations or
guidance, building upon its recent report on incorporating biodiversity into NEPA analysis. . .
.12 Among other things, the regulations or guidance could identify important ecological
assessment techniques and core ecological issues, including multiple ecological scales and
long-term ecological timeframes.”


Similarly, a 1996 report by a former CEQ official concluded that “CEQ has
never been more needed . . . for dealing with increasingly difficult
environmental problems” and “seeing to it that government efforts
produce results in an economically efficient manner and not just greater
bureaucracy, waste and frustration.” The report further noted that “CEQ’s
regulations will need periodic refinement and nudging” and echoed the
task force in stating that “courts give great deference to CEQ’s
regulations.”13

In addition, a 1996 report by 50 government, industry, and environmental
officials suggested that CEQ’s and federal land management agencies’
regulations be reviewed and appropriately revised to better address larger,
landscape-scale issues.14 Federal agency, industry, and environmental
experts with whom we spoke also identified the need for CEQ to require,
rather than allow, site-specific analyses to be tiered to broader-scoped
studies.

At an October 1995 hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee, the Chair of CEQ agreed to work with the
Committee to ensure that NEPA is implemented as efficiently and
effectively as possible. After the hearing, the Chairmen of two of the
Committee’s Subcommittees sent a letter to the Chair of CEQ expressing
their and other Committee members’ frustration with CEQ’s apparent
reluctance to streamline the NEPA process and suggesting that CEQ and the
Forest Service work together to revise their regulations so that they


12
 Incorporating Biodiversity Considerations Into Environmental Impact Analyses under the National
Environmental Policy Act, CEQ (Jan. 1993).
13
 Boyd Gibbons, “CEQ Revisited: The Role of the Council on Environmental Quality,” Henry M.
Jackson Foundation (1996).
14
 The Keystone National Policy Dialogue on Ecosystem Management: Final Report, The Keystone
Center (Keystone, Colo: 1996).



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                              prospectively identify (1) the scope of the environmental analysis and
                              (2) the NEPA documents required at each level of decision-making. In the
                              letter, the Subcommittee Chairmen strongly recommended that the
                              revision attempt to outline a system of tiered NEPA documentation showing
                              how the levels of analysis are related and at what level and under what
                              circumstances specific types of decisions are made.

                              CEQ’s study of NEPA’s effectiveness, published over a year after the two
                              Subcommittee Chairmen wrote their letter, does not directly discuss
                              amending CEQ’s regulations to require tiering and to identify the NEPA
                              documents required for decision-making. Instead, the study restates the
                              issues that the interagency task force identified in 1995 as important to the
                              efficient and effective implementation of the act. And, rather than make
                              recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA
                              process, the study promises that CEQ will embark on a third major effort to
                              reinvent the NEPA process over the next several years. According to CEQ
                              officials, this effort to reinvent NEPA will not consider changes to CEQ’s
                              implementing regulations.


                              Rather than change its NEPA regulations to require that site-specific
Efforts Will Continue         analyses be tiered to broader-scoped studies, CEQ plans to rely primarily on
to Rely Primarily on          interagency agreements as a means of resolving issues that transcend the
Interagency                   administrative boundaries and jurisdictions of federal agencies. Several
                              major studies of federal land management decision-making performed
Agreements                    during the 1990s have identified the benefits of better interagency
                              coordination. However, federal land management and regulatory agencies
                              sometimes do not work efficiently and effectively together to address
                              interagency issues. As a result, the interagency task force chaired by CEQ
                              recommended that CEQ expand its guidance and revise its NEPA regulations
                              to promote interagency coordination. However, according to CEQ officials,
                              they have no plans to do so.


Better Interagency            Our 1994 report on the four major federal land management agencies’
Coordination Is Critical to   implementation of ecosystem management15 states that broader-scoped
Improved Decision-Making      environmental analyses will require unparalleled coordination among
                              federal land management and regulatory agencies. Similarly, the 1995
                              report by the interagency task force chaired by CEQ and CEQ’s 1997 study of
                              NEPA’s effectiveness identified early interagency coordination as critical to
                              efficient and effective decision-making.

                              15
                                See footnote 2.



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                        Our current work also shows that involving federal regulatory agencies at
                        the beginning of the decision-making process and maintaining their
                        involvement throughout the process may expedite decision-making. For
                        example, the Forest Service involved the Fish and Wildlife Service in
                        developing alternatives for a major restoration project on the Wenatchee
                        National Forest in Washington State. These alternatives included timber
                        harvesting. Because the Fish and Wildlife Service was involved at the
                        beginning of the decision-making process when problems were identified,
                        data were gathered, and relationships were established and because it
                        remained involved throughout the process, it was able to quickly concur
                        with the Forest Service’s preferred alternative. The responsible Forest
                        Service district ranger estimated that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s early
                        and continuous involvement was a major reason why only about half as
                        much time was required to reach a decision for this project as for similar
                        projects. Similarly, the Fish and Wildlife Service has found that its
                        participation in an interagency information-sharing group in the Southern
                        Appalachian highlands (an area straddling the borders of Alabama,
                        Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) has
                        allowed it to inform the Forest Service and other federal land management
                        agencies about the potential effects of contemplated projects before
                        formal consultation becomes necessary.


Federal Agencies        Our 1994 report on ecosystem management, the 1995 report by the
Sometimes Do Not Work   interagency task force chaired by CEQ, CEQ’s 1997 study of NEPA’s
Well Together           effectiveness, and other studies and reports have found that the Forest
                        Service and other federal land management agencies do not always
                        involve other federal agencies at the beginning of their decision-making
                        processes and maintain the other agencies’ involvement throughout their
                        processes.

                        For example, in its January 1997 study of NEPA’s effectiveness, CEQ states
                        that many federal agencies have failed to involve all interested federal
                        agencies early and continuously in their decision-making processes.
                        Moreover, an interagency team that reviewed the “salvage rider” timber
                        program observed in 1996 that, while coordination was working well in
                        some places, in others “neither the letter nor the spirit of the collaborative
                        process envisioned by the [memorandum of agreement was] observed,
                        leaving significant conflicts unaddressed.”16



                        16
                           Interagency Salvage Program Review, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and
                        Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (Silver Spring, Md.: Oct. 8, 1996).



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                           Our work also showed that some delays in implementing forest plans and
                           reaching project-level decisions resulted from inadequate interagency
                           coordination at the beginning of and/or throughout the decision-making
                           process. Instead, some forests and districts limited the involvement by
                           federal regulatory agencies primarily to reviewing and commenting on
                           proposals that the forests or districts had developed. For example, the
                           Forest Service did not involve federal regulatory agencies at the beginning
                           of the decision-making process for the Thunderbolt salvage timber sale on
                           the Boise and Payette national forests in central Idaho, choosing instead to
                           have the agencies review and comment on the preferred alternative
                           developed by the forests. The Fish and Wildlife Service, the National
                           Marine Fisheries Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
                           could not agree with the Forest Service on the risk posed by the sale to
                           salmon-spawning habitat or the actions needed to mitigate the risk. The
                           agencies’ inability to agree delayed the project’s implementation. Because
                           salvage timber rapidly declines in value,17 the delay lowered the sale price,
                           reducing the revenues to the federal government.

                           Adequate coordination among the four major federal land management
                           agencies has also not always occurred. For instance, according to a
                           November 1996 report by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land
                           Management summarizing scientific findings on the ecological status of
                           the Interior Columbia River Basin,18 continuing the management
                           approaches established under existing land management plans would
                           produce declining trends in resource conditions on 95 percent of the lands
                           administered by the two agencies. The report attributes the declining
                           trends to the agencies’ having developed the existing plans with little or no
                           attention to coordinating their management.


CEQ Intends to Rely        The November 1995 report by the interagency task force chaired by CEQ
Primarily on Interagency   stated that the NEPA process provides a significant opportunity for
Agreements                 interagency coordination and consultation on individual agencies’
                           proposals. However, despite the opportunities it creates for interagency
                           collaboration, the NEPA process has not generally been used as a basis for
                           coordinating federal activities across natural systems. The task force
                           concluded that the process could be used more effectively to promote
                           collaboration and consensus-building among federal agencies and could

                           17
                            Public Timber: Federal and State Programs Differ Significantly in Pacific Northwest
                           (GAO/RCED-96-108, May 23, 1996).
                           18
                            Status of the Interior Columbia Basin: Summary of Scientific Findings, General Technical Report
                           PNW-GTR-385 (Nov. 1996).



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serve as an important procedural mechanism for interagency coordination
through, among other things, expanded CEQ guidance and revised NEPA
regulations. However, the task force directed its recommendations for
improving interagency coordination to individual federal agencies rather
than to CEQ, and, according to CEQ, it does not plan to expand its guidance
or revise its NEPA regulations to promote interagency coordination.

Instead, CEQ plans to rely on interagency agreements to improve
coordination. However, interagency agreements (1) have not been lived up
to by agencies in the past, (2) are generally not enforceable by outside
parties, and (3) do not provide a basis for common approaches among all
agencies. In its 1997 study of NEPA’s effectiveness, CEQ states that the
Forest Service and other federal land management and regulatory agencies
have signed various memorandums of agreement to improve interagency
coordination on forests’ health and timber sales. According to CEQ, these
agreements have resulted in a 50-percent reduction in the time needed for
environmental review, including a 75-percent reduction in the time
required for ESA consultations. Similarly, the interagency team that
reviewed the salvage rider timber program observed that continuing and
expanding early, collaborative involvement among the agencies reduced
the time required to plan and implement salvage timber sales. However, as
noted by the interagency salvage rider team, strong leadership will be
needed to ensure that interagency cooperation and collaboration occur.

Consistent with its plan not to consider changes to NEPA’s regulations and
guidance, CEQ conducted a 3-year study and issued a draft handbook in
September 199619 to identify the current state of the science and provide
practical direction on assessing cumulative impact in NEPA analyses. The
handbook (1) includes a disclaimer stating that it “is not formal guidance
nor is it exhaustive or definitive, but rather it should assist practitioners in
developing their own study-specific approaches” and (2) states in its
preface that its recommendations “are not intended to be legally binding.”

The draft handbook lays out eight principles for agencies to use in
analyzing cumulative impact, including using the boundaries of natural
systems. However, federal agencies have not agreed on how best to
delineate the boundaries of the natural systems to be studied. For
example, the Forest Service has developed a hierarchy for delineating
ecosystems, called the National Hierarchal Framework of Ecological
Units. (See fig. 5.2.) However, no other federal agency has officially

19
  Considering Cumulative Effects Under the National Environmental Policy Act, Final Draft,
Interagency Review Version, CEQ (Sept. 24, 1996).



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adopted this framework for use in its decision-making, and some agencies
have developed different hierarchies. (See fig. 5.3.)




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Figure 5.2: Forest Service’s National Hierarchal Framework of Ecological Units




               HAWAII




      PUERTO RICO
     VIRGIN ISLANDS




                                                                                                            Mountains
                                                                                                            Domain Boundary

                                                                                                            Division Boundary
                                       ALASKA
                                                                                                            Province Boundary



                                           Source: Forest Service.




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Figure 5.3: Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ecological Unit Map


                            1


                                                                                                                                                                     39
                                          5                       19                                                                                       40
                        1                                                                              22
                                                                                      20                                                                  37
                    2                                                                                                                                           38
                                                                                                                               24
                                                                                                             23                                           36
                                          6                                                                                                          41
                        3                                                           18
                                                             17                                        21
                                                                                                                                26
                        4                      7
                                                             9                                                                                       34
                                                                                                             25                      28
                                                                                           16
                                                        8         10                                                                           33
                                                                                                                  27
                                                                       12                                                29               31
                                                                                                 14                                 30
                                                                                         13
                                51            43                        11
                                 44                                                               15
                ALASKA
                                                   45                                                                                           32

                                     49                                                                                                                         PUERTO RICO
                                                                                                                                                               VIRGIN ISLANDS
                                                        47
                    50                                                                                                         42
                                                             46                                                                                                            35
                                              48                                                               HAWAII
                                                        52

   1.    North Pacific Coast                                                 19.   Upper Missouri/Yellowstone Rivers                      37.   Hudson River/New York Bight
   2.    Klamath/Central Pacific Coast                                       20.   Main Stem Missouri River                               38.   Connecticut River/Long Island Sound
   3.   Central Valley of California/San Francisco Bay                       21.   Lower Missouri River                                   39.   Gulf of Maine Rivers
   4.   South Pacific Coast                                                  22.   Mississippi Headwaters/Tallgrass Prairie               40.   Lake Champlain
   5.   Columbia River Basin                                                 23.   Upper Mississippi River/Tallgrass Prairie              41.   Chesapeake Bay/Susquehanna River
   6.   Interior Basins                                                      24.   Great Lakes                                            42.   Pacific Islands
   7.   Lower Colorado River                                                 25.   Ozark Watersheds                                       43.
   8.   Gila/Salt/Verde River                                                26.   Ohio River Valley                                      44.   Arctic Alaska
   9.   San Juan                                                             27.   Lower Mississippi River                                45.   Northwest Alaska
  10.   Middle and Upper Rio Grande                                          28.   Tennessee River                                        46.   Interior Alaska
  11.   Lower Rio Grande                                                     29.   Central Gulf Watersheds                                47.   Southeast Alaska
  12.   Pecos River                                                          30.   Florida Panhandle Watersheds                           48.   South Central Alaska
  13.   Edwards Plateau                                                      31.   Altamaha/Sunwanee Rivers                               49.   Bristol Bay/Kodiak
  14.   East Texas                                                           32.   Peninsular Florida                                     50.   Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
  15.   Texas Gulf Coast                                                     33.   Savannah/Suntee/Pee Dee Rivers                         51.   Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands
  16.   Arkansas/Red Rivers                                                  34.   Roanoke/Tar/Neuse/Cape Fear Rivers                     52.   Beaufort/Chukchi Seas
  17.   Upper Colorado River                                                 35.   Caribbean                                                    North Pacific/Gulf of Alaska
  18.   Platte/Kansas Rivers                                                 36.   Delaware River/Delmarva Costal Area




                                                                  Source: Fish and Wildlife Service.




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                        The Forest Service and several other federal agencies have agreed to
                        develop a common framework for delineating natural systems. However,
                        no such framework has been developed, and, although the agencies say
                        that they intend to use such a framework, the agreement does not require
                        them to do so for planning or for any other purpose. In addition, federal
                        agency, industry, and environmental experts with whom we spoke
                        identified the benefits of CEQ’s providing leadership—through regulations
                        and formal guidance—that would ensure that federal agencies use a
                        coordinated approach to delineating natural systems. However, CEQ is not
                        a signatory to the interagency agreement, nor does it have a defined role
                        under the agreement.


                        Effective interagency coordination is dependent on, among other things,
Complete and            comparable environmental and socioeconomic data that are useful and
Comparable Data         easily accessible to decisionmakers. Useful and comparable environmental
Could Improve the       and socioeconomic data would also allow CEQ to better meet its
                        responsibility under NEPA to provide the President and the Congress with
Agencies’ Ability to    annual assessments of national environmental conditions and trends, as
Conduct Studies and     well as evaluations of related federal programs and activities. However,
                        (1) the environmental and socioeconomic data gathered by federal
Coordinate Activities   agencies are often not comparable, and large gaps in the information exist;
                        (2) federal agencies may not know who has what information, how
                        existing data can be used, and how information can be made available
                        within agencies, across agencies, and to the public; and (3) information is
                        often not available because there is no mechanism for identifying,
                        locating, or assessing it or for determining its nature and quality.

                        A September 1995 report by the Environmental Law Institute20
                        recommends, as one option, that CEQ exercise its existing authority under
                        NEPA to promulgate regulations creating an interagency database.21 To
                        accomplish this, CEQ could require federal agencies to maintain and make
                        available consistent, adequate data for the agencies’ use in
                        decision-making and for CEQ’s use in developing statutorily required
                        annual assessments and evaluations. According to CEQ, it does not plan to
                        revise its regulations to require such data. Rather, it intends to rely on
                        several efforts already under way to develop the data.


                        20
                          The Environmental Law Institute is an independent research and education center funded by
                        foundations, government, corporations, law firms, individuals, and other sources to convene diverse
                        parties to work cooperatively to address environmental problems.
                        21
                          Rediscovering the National Environmental Policy Act: Back to the Future, Environmental Law
                        Institute (Sept. 1995).



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Available Data Are Not   According to the 1995 report by the interagency task force chaired by CEQ,
Comparable               analyzing environmental issues and concerns at the appropriate ecological
                         scale would require federal agencies to agree on the type of environmental
                         information to be contributed and the format needed to make it readily
                         accessible. The task force also concluded that environmental reviews
                         would benefit from a wider use of socioeconomic analyses. Finally, the
                         task force identified a critical need for an interagency database of
                         ecological and socioeconomic information to facilitate agencies’
                         compliance with informational requirements, such as the requirement for
                         assessing cumulative impact under NEPA, and to ease compliance with
                         requirements for interagency coordination.

                         However, as noted in our 1994 report on ecosystem management, available
                         data, collected independently by various agencies for different purposes,
                         are often noncomparable and insufficient for decision-making. Similarly,
                         the interagency task force’s report states that (1) frequently, the quality of
                         the available data is inadequate or unknown; (2) a lack of consistency and
                         comparability in collecting, analyzing, and storing data makes comparison
                         difficult and continues to impede the creation of common databases and
                         the sharing of existing data; and (3) the acquisition of software and
                         hardware is rarely, if ever, coordinated, even among units within a single
                         agency. For example, officials performing the broad-scoped environmental
                         analysis for the Interior Columbia River Basin told us that each of the 74
                         separate federal land units within the basin maintains its own information
                         database and that the databases are often not consistent or comparable. In
                         addition, assessment of the socioeconomic effects of federal land
                         management decisions was difficult because economic forecast data for
                         counties and communities within the basin were limited. Our 1994 report
                         on ecosystem management stated that many of the required
                         socioeconomic data—on employment, production, and commerce—are
                         gathered and/or maintained by federal, state, and local agencies; firms;
                         private researchers; and industry organizations for many different
                         purposes and are often noncomparable, insufficient, or uncertain.

                         CEQ’s 1997 study of NEPA’s effectiveness states that although obtaining
                         adequate environmental data is the key to a thorough scientific review of a
                         decision’s cumulative impact, the current lack of high-quality
                         environmental baseline data severely hampers the accomplishment of this
                         requisite. Just as we observed of the Forest Service (see ch. 3), CEQ’s study
                         found that the four major federal land management agencies do not know
                         the extent or location of archeological sites, wetlands, or other important
                         environmental features. Moreover, the Forest Service does not maintain or



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                           have access to a database containing the results of environmental analyses
                           conducted under NEPA by other federal agencies or even by national
                           forests or ranger districts. As a result, it does not know who has what
                           information or how the data could be used to assess cumulative impact or
                           other environmental effects.


Efforts Are Under Way to   Two statutes—the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 and the Paperwork
Improve Data               Reduction Act of 1995—provide a statutory framework and processes for
                           CEQ to address interagency data needs. Both acts require CEQ and other
                           federal agencies to examine and devise ways by which they can better
                           carry out their missions through the use of improved information systems,
                           including setting goals, establishing performance measurements, and
                           reporting on progress. Additionally, the Paperwork Reduction Act
                           provides that the Office of Management and Budget, also within the
                           Executive Office of the President, may (1) designate a central collection
                           agency, such as CEQ or another federal agency that CEQ might recommend,
                           to obtain information for two or more agencies with similar data needs;
                           (2) direct the sharing of information; and (3) require that agencies
                           participate in establishing and maintaining a service through which they
                           can locate, retrieve, and share commonly used information with one
                           another and the public.

                           Several efforts are under way to develop comparable environmental and
                           socioeconomic data that are useful and easily accessible to
                           decisionmakers. For example, the Forest Service and other federal
                           agencies have developed a common geographic information system (GIS)
                           for the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. The system is intended
                           to (1) provide consistent data; (2) reduce duplication of effort; and
                           (3) support the detailed environmental analyses needed for project-level
                           decisions, forest plans, and analyses of cumulative impact for an entire
                           region. The Forest Service and other federal agencies have also developed
                           a data system for the Interior Columbia River Basin, which is intended to
                           establish the relative ecological integrity and health of different areas as a
                           basis for devising management strategies. In addition, the Forest Service
                           and/or other federal agencies are developing data systems for other
                           regions of the nation, including the Southern Appalachian highlands and
                           the Great Lakes. However, differences among these systems may impede
                           the analysis and sharing of data.




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              A Federal Geographic Data Committee, chaired by the Secretary of the
              Interior, is developing a national spatial data infrastructure22 to improve
              the knowledge of and access to information. Specifically, the
              infrastructure is conceived to be an umbrella of policies, standards, and
              procedures under which organizations and technologies interact to foster
              the more efficient use, management, and production of geospatial data.
              Critical to the infrastructure’s success is the participation of data
              generators, such as the federal government. When completed, this
              infrastructure should greatly improve information in a wide range of areas,
              including the analysis of environmental information and the monitoring of
              species listed under ESA and of sensitive land areas, such as wetlands.23
              However, no agreement exists among the Forest Service and other federal
              agencies on a consistent approach for using this information to assess
              common problems and issues in the same geographic areas. Some Forest
              Service officials have asked CEQ to take the lead in developing a common
              approach for assessing the data; however, CEQ has not yet responded to
              their request.


              Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Forest Service’s
Conclusions   decision-making, as well as reducing the costs, time, and complexity of
              federal land management in general, will require federal agencies to
              adequately address issues that transcend their administrative boundaries
              and jurisdictions. In particular, they will need to reconcile the
              administrative boundaries along which they are authorized to plan with
              the ecological boundaries of the natural systems and components that they
              are required to protect and conserve.

              Studies have suggested that CEQ’s regulations for implementing NEPA be
              changed to require, rather than merely allow, federal agencies to tier plans
              and projects to broader-scoped studies and that CEQ’s regulations and
              guidance be changed to improve interagency coordination and
              collaboration and to provide federal decisionmakers with useful and
              comparable environmental and socioeconomic data. Among the benefits
              of changing the regulations and guidance would be a reduced risk that
              decisions would be challenged over issues such as the appropriate
              ecological scale for analysis.



              22
                Spatial or geographic data refer to information that can be placed on a map.
              23
                Management Reform: Implementation of the National Performance Review’s Recommendations
              (GAO/OCG-95-1, Dec. 5, 1994) and Management Reform: Completion Status of Agency Actions Under
              the National Performance Review (GAO/GGD-96-94, June 12, 1996).



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                         Instead of revising its regulations or issuing guidance, CEQ has chosen to
                         rely primarily on interagency agreements to address interagency issues.
                         However, interagency agreements (1) have not been lived up to by
                         agencies in the past, (2) are generally not enforceable by outside parties,
                         and (3) do not provide a basis for common approaches among all agencies.
                         Moreover, federal land management and regulatory agencies sometimes
                         do not work efficiently and effectively together to address issues that
                         transcend their boundaries and jurisdictions. While strong leadership by
                         CEQ would help to ensure that interagency agreements accomplish their
                         intended objectives, CEQ may also need to consider changes to regulations
                         and guidance in its planned effort to reinvent federal agencies’
                         implementation of NEPA.


                         To ensure that CEQ’s planned multiyear effort to reinvent NEPA’s
Recommendations to       implementation improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the NEPA
the Chair of the         process, we recommend that the Chair of CEQ
Council on
                     •   change CEQ’s regulations implementing NEPA to require, rather than merely
Environmental            allow, federal agencies to tier plans and projects to broader-scoped studies
Quality                  and
                     •   change CEQ’s regulations and guidance implementing NEPA to improve
                         interagency coordination; identify a baseline of comparable environmental
                         and socioeconomic data that are needed for agencies to implement the act;
                         and assume or assign responsibility for collecting, managing, and making
                         the data available to other users.

                         We do not recommend precise changes to CEQ’s regulations or guidance
                         because we believe such changes are better left to CEQ to determine on the
                         basis of its own internal study and evaluation of the outside views
                         solicited during its NEPA reinvention effort.


                         In its comments, CEQ agreed with the underlying goals articulated in our
Agency Comments          report for implementing NEPA but discussed different mechanisms that it is
and Our Evaluation       using to achieve these goals. These mechanisms include streamlining
                         procedures at individual agencies and examining issues on a
                         sector-by-sector basis (e.g., timber, grazing, and oil and gas). We agree
                         with CEQ that (1) differences among the cultures, organizations, and
                         institutional goals of various federal agencies, as well as the substantive
                         nature of their underlying missions, require CEQ’s regulations
                         implementing the act to be generic in nature and (2) regulatory changes



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often need to be tailored specifically to the agencies’ individual processes.
However, the thrust of our recommendation to the Chair of CEQ is intended
to ensure that the Council’s planned multiyear reinvention effort does not
prematurely or arbitrarily close off options for improving the efficiency
and effectiveness of the act’s implementation across federal agencies’
administrative boundaries and jurisdictions.




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                        Differences in the requirements of planning and environmental laws,
                        enacted primarily during the 1960s and 1970s, produce inefficiency and
                        ineffectiveness in the Forest Service’s and other federal agencies’
                        decision-making. Requirements to consider new information and events
                        and differing judicial interpretations of the same statutory requirements
                        have increased the costs and time of decision-making and have made it
                        difficult for the Forest Service and other federal agencies to predict when
                        any given decision can be considered final and can be implemented,
                        reducing the ability of the agencies to achieve the objectives in their plans.
                        Additional differences among statutorily required approaches for
                        protecting various resources—such as endangered and threatened species,
                        water, air, diverse plant and animal communities, and wilderness—have
                        also sometimes been difficult to reconcile.

                        Adequately addressing these and other concerns would require a
                        systematic and comprehensive analysis of the laws to avoid making
                        changes that would entail unintended consequences for the future.
                        However, statutory changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of
                        the Forest Service’s decision-making process cannot be identified until
                        agreement is first reached on which uses the agency is to emphasize under
                        its broad multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and how it is to resolve
                        conflicts or make choices among competing uses on its lands.


                        Responding to new information and events can lead the Forest Service to
Requirements to         recycle forest plan and project decisions. Under the National
Consider New            Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), federal agencies have an ongoing duty to
Information and         evaluate new information relevant to the environmental effects of
                        proposed actions. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), any new
Events Entail Ongoing   listing of a species as endangered or threatened, designation of habitat
Reviews of Plans and    deemed critical to a listed species’ protection, or discovery of new
                        information requires that plans and projects be reviewed to determine
Projects                their potential to affect listed species or their habitats.

                        For instance, the listing of a species as endangered or threatened under
                        ESA after a forest plan has been approved can require the Forest Service to
                        reinitiate formal consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service and/or
                        the National Marine Fisheries Service to amend or revise the plan. The
                        listing may also stop the agency from implementing projects under the
                        plan that could affect the species until the new round of consultations has
                        been completed.




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                       For example, recent federal court decisions1 required the Forest Service to
                       reinitiate formal consultations on several approved forest plans because a
                       species of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and a species of owl in the
                       Southwest were listed as threatened under ESA. The courts’ rulings
                       prohibited the agency from implementing projects under the plans that
                       might have affected the species until the new rounds of consultations with
                       the Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service
                       had been completed.

                       While new information and events can affect the outcomes of the Forest
                       Service’s decisions and prevent the agency from achieving the objectives
                       in its forest plans or from implementing planned projects, the agency
                       sometimes has not adequately anticipated the listing of candidate species
                       or the designation of critical habitat. (See ch. 4.) Had the agency been
                       better prepared, there would have been less likelihood that it would have
                       been surprised by the listing of species under ESA after the plans were
                       approved. For example, the Chief of the Forest Service informed us that
                       the agency could be producing more timber now in the Pacific Northwest
                       and Southwest regions if it had followed the advice of its specialists and
                       taken action to protect the habitats of candidate species, such as the
                       northern spotted owl and Mexican spotted owl, before they were listed
                       under ESA and the agency was required by the courts to reduce timber
                       harvests.


                       Additionally, through differing judicial interpretations of the same
Differing Judicial     statutory requirements, the courts have sometimes established conflicting
Interpretations Have   requirements. For instance, three federal circuit courts of appeals have
Created Conflicting    held that the approval of a forest plan represents a decision that can be
                       judicially challenged and prohibited from being implemented.2 Conversely,
Requirements           two other federal circuit courts of appeals have held that a forest plan
                       does not represent such a decision and that only a project can be judicially
                       challenged, at which time the adequacy of the plan’s treatment of
                       larger-scale environmental issues arising in the project can be
                       reconsidered.3 Federal circuit courts have also differed on the applicability


                       1
                        Pacific Rivers Council v. Thomas, 30 F.3d 1050 (9th Cir. 1994) and Silver v. Thomas, 924 F. Supp. 976
                       (D. Ariz. 1995).
                       2
                        Sierra Club v. Thomas, 105 F.3d 248 (6th Cir. 1997); Sierra Club v. Marita, 46 F.3d 606 (7th Cir. 1995);
                       and Idaho Conservation League v. Mumma, 956 F.2d 1508 (9th Cir. 1992).
                       3
                        Sierra Club v. Robertson, 28 F.3d 753 (8th Cir. 1994) and Wilderness Society v. Alcock, 83 F.3rd 386
                       (11th Cir. 1996).



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                         of NEPA to the designation of critical habitat for species listed as
                         endangered or threatened under ESA.4

                         In proposing revisions to its planning regulations in April 1995,5 the Forest
                         Service attempted to clarify its position that a forest plan does not
                         represent a decision and that only a project can be judicially challenged.
                         According to the proposed rule, forest plans are used to allocate lands and
                         resources within a plan’s area through management prescriptions
                         consisting of goals, objectives, standards, and guidelines. Hence, forest
                         plans do not compel the agency to undertake any specific projects, but
                         only, in the Forest Service’s view, establish limitations on actions that may
                         be authorized later when project-level decisions are made. In contrast,
                         during a project, according to the Forest Service, site-specific activities are
                         authorized and the agency reaches the threshold of an irreversible and
                         irretrievable commitment of resources. Thus, for the Forest Service,
                         challenges to the agency’s compliance with NEPA are appropriate only at
                         the project level.


                         Environmental laws generally address individual resources, such as
Different Approaches     endangered and threatened species, water, and air. Conversely, the Forest
to Protecting            Service’s planning statutes, including the National Forest Management Act
Resources Have Been      (NFMA), generally establish objectives for multiple resources, such as
                         sustaining diverse plant and animal communities, securing favorable water
Difficult to Reconcile   flow conditions, and preserving wilderness. These different approaches to
                         achieving similar environmental objectives—protecting individual
                         resources versus protecting multiple resources—have sometimes been
                         difficult for the Forest Service and other federal agencies to reconcile, at
                         least in the short term.

                         An interagency task force chaired by the Council on Environmental
                         Quality (CEQ) reported in 1995 that under some circumstances, the needs
                         of a single species listed under ESA may be inconsistent or difficult to
                         reconcile in the short term with the requirements for maintaining the
                         forests’ long-term health and sustaining diverse plant and animal
                         communities (biological diversity) established under NFMA.6 Maintaining
                         the forests’ long term health and sustaining biological diversity may also

                         4
                         Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 (9th Cir. 1995) (NEPA does not apply) and Catron County v.
                         U.S. Fish & Wildlife, 75 F.3d 1429 (10th Cir. 1996) (NEPA applies).
                         5
                          60 Fed. Reg. 18886 (Apr. 13, 1995).
                         6
                          The Ecosystem Approach: Healthy Ecosystems and Sustainable Economies, Vol. II, Implementation
                         Issues, Report of the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force (Nov. 1995).



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                       be difficult to reconcile in the short term with requirements to protect
                       other resources, such as air and water.

                       For example, nature relies on periodic small wildfires to create a variety of
                       habitats that sustain diverse plant and animal communities. However, until
                       recently, a federal policy required the suppression of all fires on federal
                       lands.7 As a result, fuels and abnormally dense undergrowth have
                       accumulated in many forests. The Forest Service now plans to prescribe
                       burning to restore the forests’ health and biological diversity and avoid
                       unnaturally catastrophic fires. However, as noted by the Congressional
                       Research Service in 1996, the standards for air quality required under the
                       Clean Air Act may at times preclude the Forest Service from achieving this
                       goal by limiting the timing, location, and amount of the prescribed
                       burning.8 In addition, the standards for water quality required under the
                       Clean Water Act and the requirement for conserving species listed under
                       ESA can limit the timing, location, and amount of the prescribed burning
                       because soils from burned areas wash into streams, modifying species’
                       habitats. Forest Service officials in the agency’s Intermountain Region and
                       in headquarters told us that they cannot implement recently proposed
                       increases in prescribed burning and still meet the standards for air and
                       water quality.

                       The Congressional Research Service’s 1996 report also noted that salvage
                       timber sales may sometimes be needed in combination with prescribed
                       burning and other activities to improve the forests’ health. However, water
                       quality standards required under the Clean Water Act may at times limit
                       salvage sales. For example, according to officials on the Idaho Panhandle
                       national forests, concerns about water quality in a particular watershed
                       had reduced a salvage sale’s achievement of its objectives of improving the
                       forests’ health.


                       Adequately addressing statutory requirements to consider new
A Systematic and       information and events, different judicial interpretations of the same
Comprehensive          statutory requirements, and different approaches to achieving similar
Analysis of the Laws   environmental objectives under various planning and environmental laws
                       would require a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the laws to
Is Needed              avoid making changes that would entail unintended consequences for the
                       future.

                       7
                        Federal Fire Management: Limited Progress in Restarting the Prescribed Fire Program
                       (GAO/RCED-91-42, Dec. 5, 1990).
                       8
                        Forest Health: Overview, Congressional Research Service (5-548 ENR, revised June 7, 1996).



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A report9 on a workshop held at the Yale School of Forestry and
Environmental Studies in October 1993 supports the concerns expressed
by Forest Service and other Agriculture officials. The over 100 resource
managers, scientists, and policy analysts—representing federal and state
agencies, major corporations, and environmental
organizations—concluded that the current statutory framework is a
“spotty patchwork” of many often competing, contradictory, and/or
conflicting laws and regulations involving multiple governments, agencies,
and purposes. Similarly, one federal court has described the current
framework of laws as a “crazy quilt of apparently mutually incompatible
statutory directives.”10

In addition, as examples in the preceding discussion have shown,
unintended consequences have often been the rule rather than the
exception in implementing planning and environmental statutes affecting
federal land management. Therefore, any proposal to change the current
statutory framework would require careful consideration to ensure that no
unintended consequences would occur. In particular, potential gains in
efficiency and effectiveness would need to be balanced against the policy
reasons that led to the existing framework of laws and organizational
structure.

For example, disagreements between the Forest Service and federal
regulatory agencies—including the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National
Marine Fisheries Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—on whether and how the requirements
of environmental laws and regulations can best be met sometimes delay
Forest Service plans and projects. These disagreements often stem from
differing evaluations of environmental effects and risks, which in turn
reflect the agencies’ disparate missions and responsibilities. For instance,
the Forest Service may be willing to accept a greater level of risk to the
recovery of a threatened or endangered species under its multiple-use and
sustained-yield mandate than would the Fish and Wildlife Service or the
National Marine Fisheries Service, both of which are charged
unambiguously with conserving and protecting species threatened with
extinction. For example, disagreements over protecting the spawning
habitat of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and protecting endangered



9
Building Partnerships for Ecosystem Management on Forest and Range Lands in Mixed Ownership,
Workshop Synthesis, Forest Policy Center (Oct. 22-24, 1993).
10
 United States v. Brunskill, No. S-82-666-LKK, unpublished op. (E.D. Cal. Nov. 8, 1984) aff’d, 792 F.2nd
938 (9th Cir. 1986).



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species’ habitat in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska have resulted in
delays at both the plan and project levels.

Therefore, even though transferring the responsibility for environmental
compliance from the regulatory agencies to the Forest Service might help
to expedite the implementation of forest plans and projects, any potential
gains in efficiency from such transfers would need to be weighed against
the policy reasons that led originally to separating the responsibility for
managing the nation’s forests for multiple uses from the responsibility for
ensuring regulatory compliance with environmental and other laws.
Moreover, other steps could be taken to expedite the implementation of
forest plans and projects, including the consolidation of responsibility for
environmental compliance in one federal agency. Such consolidation
would provide the Forest Service and other federal land management
agencies with what is sometimes referred to as “one-stop-shopping.”

Furthermore, even if proposed changes to the current framework of laws
were limited to legislation affecting the Forest Service, decisionmakers
would need to consider the consequences of these changes for other
federal land management agencies. Changes intended to help speed the
implementation of the Forest Service’s plans and projects could have a
rippling effect throughout the federal land management structure. For
instance, in developing a plan or reaching a project-level decision, the
Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management must assess the
cumulative impact of the decision when its effects are added to those of
other decisions occurring on both federal and nonfederal lands. Thus,
exempting the Forest Service from, or granting it waivers to,
environmental laws to increase the levels of goods and services produced
on national forests could require countervailing reductions in the levels of
goods and services produced on lands managed by the Bureau.

Some Forest Service officials, including the Chief, believe that an
independent, bipartisan commission similar to the Public Land Law
Review Commission11 may need to be established to thoroughly review the
current statutory framework. In its 1970 report to the President and the
Congress, the Commission recommended changes to laws.12 Similarly, in
its response to a 1996 survey on land management by the Western

11
 The Public Land Law Review Commission was a bipartisan group established by the Congress in 1964
with members appointed by both the President and the Congress. This commission was tasked with
conducting a thorough investigation of federal land management and reporting its findings to the
President and the Congress.
12
 One Third of the Nation’s Land: A Report to the President and to the Congress by the Public Land
Law Review Commission (Washington D.C.: June 1970).



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                         Governors’ Association, the Forest Service stated that “a serious and
                         bipartisan review” of the laws might “provide new insights and valuable
                         ideas,” and a draft report by the Forest Service and Agriculture’s Office of
                         General Counsel suggested that a legislative statement “outlining how ESA,
                         NEPA, NFMA, etc., fit together in a uniform coherent manner” might be
                         beneficial.


                         We have observed that no significant legislation was enacted on the basis
Lack of Agreement on     of the Public Land Law Review Commission’s proposals, in part because
the Forest Service’s     the proposals were not supported by a solid consensus for change.13 The
Mission Priorities Has   Forest Service’s decision-making process is clearly broken and in need of
                         repair, and a consensus for statutory change appears to be growing to
Delayed Needed           improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. However, any
Analysis of the Laws     legislation that may be needed to clarify or modify the Congress’s intent
                         and expectations requires that the Forest Service and the Congress reach
                         agreement on the agency’s long-term strategic goals, on the uses that the
                         agency should emphasize under its broad multiple-use and sustained-yield
                         mandate, and on how it is to resolve conflicts or make choices among
                         competing uses on its lands. (See ch. 4.)

                         Without agreement on the Forest Service’s mission priorities, we see
                         distrust and gridlock prevailing in any effort to streamline the agency’s
                         statutory framework. For instance, during his Senate confirmation hearing
                         in April 1995, the Secretary of Agriculture pledged to work with the
                         Congress to identify statutory changes to improve the processes for
                         implementing the Forest Service’s mission. The Forest Service suggested
                         options for changing the current statutory framework in 1995. However,
                         the Secretary has not sent to the Congress either the agency’s suggested
                         options or his analysis. Administration officials have said that they are
                         hesitant to suggest changes to the procedural requirements of planning
                         and environmental laws because they believe that the Congress may also
                         make substantive changes to the laws with which they would disagree.

                         Similarly, a draft Senate bill—entitled the Public Land Management
                         Responsibility and Accountability Restoration Act—was circulated late in
                         1996. The draft bill is designed to provide the Forest Service and the
                         Bureau of Land Management with the authority and ability to effectively
                         manage their lands in accordance with the principles of multiple use and
                         sustained yield and for other purposes. It would do this by supplementing

                         13
                          Federal Land Management: Streamlining and Reorganization Issues (GAO/T-RCED-96-209, June 27,
                         1996).



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              the agencies’ planning statutes and other laws that apply to lands managed
              by the two agencies. However, some environmental groups view the bill as
              an effort to emphasize timber production over other uses on federal lands.
              As a result, they predict that debate on the draft, if it is introduced as a bill,
              will end in a stalemate.


              Differences in the requirements of planning and environmental laws,
Conclusions   enacted primarily during the 1960s and 1970s, produce inefficiency and
              ineffectiveness in the Forest Service’s and other federal agencies’
              decision-making. Adequately addressing these differences would require a
              systematic and comprehensive analysis of the laws to avoid making
              changes that would entail unintended consequences for the future.
              Moreover, for this analysis to result in changes to laws, there must be a
              solid consensus for change. However, such a consensus depends on
              reaching agreement on the Forest Service’s long-term strategic goals, as
              well as on the uses that the agency is to emphasize under its broad
              multiple-use and sustained-yield mandate and on how it is to resolve
              conflicts or make choices among competing uses on its lands.




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Appendix I

The Forest Service’s Decision-Making
Process

                                             Decision-making in the Forest Service is a complex, multilevel process
                                             involving other federal agencies; state, local, and tribal governments; and
                                             the public. Many laws and regulations govern this process, and still more
                                             variables affect the final outcome—a decision to implement a project.
                                             Projects are “on the ground” activities, such as harvesting timber, restoring
                                             species’ habitats, and constructing campsites. The Forest Service’s
                                             decision-making process consists of a series of steps linking national,
                                             regional, forest, and district decision-making. This process becomes
                                             increasingly specific as planning progresses from the national to the forest
                                             and district level. Planning is iterative, requiring continuous monitoring,
                                             evaluation, and adjustment as information from the forest level flows up to
                                             the national level and down to the forest and district level. The four
                                             decision-making levels correspond to the agency’s four administrative
                                             levels (see fig. I.1).


Figure I.1: Forest Service Decision Levels



             National             Regional                Forest             District
              level                 level                  level              level


              RPA                 Regional                Forest              Project                  Project
                                   guide                   plan               decision             implementation




                                             At the national level, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources
                                             Planning Act of 1974 (known as RPA) establishes a long-range strategic
                                             planning process through which the Forest Service reviews the condition
                                             of the country’s long-range renewable resources. First, every 10 years the
                                             Forest Service conducts a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s
                                             renewable resources, including timber, range, water, wildlife and fish, and
                                             wilderness. The assessment examines resource conditions, trends in
                                             supply and demand, and opportunities to invest in resource production.
                                             Projections are made of future supply and demand for each resource for at
                                             least four decades. On the basis of these projections, the assessment



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                                   identifies the potential opportunities to meet the nation’s future needs.
                                   Then, every 5 years, the Forest Service prepares a program to respond to
                                   the trends and opportunities identified in the assessment. The program
                                   recommends a level of future outputs and associated costs and covers at
                                   least four decades. The assessment and the program are transmitted to the
                                   Congress along with a presidential statement of policy, which indicates the
                                   President’s intention to implement the program through the annual
                                   budgeting process. The Congress may accept or revise the statement of
                                   policy. Once approved, the statement of policy and recommended program
                                   serve as a guide to the Forest Service’s future planning and as a basis for
                                   future budget proposals. Finally, an annual report assesses the Forest
                                   Service’s accomplishments and progress in implementing the program.
                                   (See fig. I.2.)


Figure I.2: RPA Planning Process



                                                           Statement of
               Assessment              Program
                                                              policy                       Annual budget
             (every 10 years)       (every 5 years)
                                                          (every 5 years)




                                                                                           Annual report




                                   Source: Office of Technology Assessment.




                                   At the regional level, each of the Forest Service’s nine regions is required
                                   by the agency’s regulations to develop a regional guide. The primary
                                   purpose of the guide is to help link the agency’s strategic planning at the
                                   national level, through the RPA assessment and program, with forests’ and
                                   districts’ planning at more local levels. The Chief of the Forest Service




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assigns to each region its share of the level of future outputs and
associated costs recommended in the program. With this and other
information, each region develops a guide to address issues best resolved
at the regional level and to provide direction for managers in developing
individual forest plans. For example, a regional guide might designate a
transportation corridor running through a number of forests or prescribe
harvesting methods based on the biological requirements of tree species or
forest types. Regional guides also tentatively distribute resource targets
among individual national forests.

At the forest level, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA)
requires each forest or group of small adjacent forests to develop a land
and resource management plan, commonly called a forest plan. These
plans blend national and regional demands with local forests’ capabilities
and needs and serve as a basis for developing future budget proposals. The
plans also provide direction for project-level decisions—decisions about
on-the-ground activities—by establishing goals and objectives, standards
and guidelines, and management areas. Goals and objectives describe the
desired outcome of the forest plan, including the level of goods and
services to be produced from forest resources and the resulting physical
and biological changes. The goals and objectives also describe the desired
future condition of the forest (for example, after 10 and 50 years). The
description could include the age and composition of tree stands, acres of
roadless areas, miles of roads, and numbers and kinds of facilities.

Plans also include standards and guidelines that impose limitations on
how, when, and where activities can occur and usually protect a specific
resource, such as streams or wildlife. Standards and guidelines can apply
forestwide or to specific management areas. Management areas are areas
with similar management objectives that are managed in the same way,
such as wilderness, old-growth wildlife habitat, or national forest
monuments.

In developing plans, forest planners consider a broad range of alternatives
that, to the extent practicable, reflect the full range of major commodity
and environmental resource uses and values that could be produced from
a forest. The alternatives are formulated to provide different ways of
addressing the major public issues, management concerns, and resource
opportunities identified during the planning process. At least one
alternative is designed to meet the forest’s tentatively assigned share of
the RPA program’s goals; others have resource outputs that are above or
below the RPA program’s levels. After alternatives have been developed



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and evaluated, a preferred alternative is selected by the forest. The
regional forester is responsible for approving the plan. As figure I.3
illustrates, the public and outside agencies— including federal, state, and
local agencies; tribal governments; and others interested in the planning
process—are consulted at several points in the process. Later, if
circumstances warrant, the plan may be revised. Depending on the scope
of the revisions, the same or an abbreviated process may be used to amend
the plan. Plans must be revised at least every 15 years.




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Figure I.3: Developing Forest Plans



                                      Identify issues and opportunities to use                    Public and
                                               and develop resources                           outside agencies
           Identify issues                   Identify criteria to evaluate
           and criteria                           alternative plans


                                                     Collect data




                                         Evaluate planning area's ability to
                                            supply goods and services


           Develop and evaluate                  Develop alternatives
           alternatives
                                      Estimate physical, biological, economic,
                                          and social effects of alternatives

                                        Evaluate alternatives using criteria




           Predecision                   Recommend preferred alternative
                                                                                                   Public and
           actions
                                         Solicit and respond to comments                        outside agencies




           Decision and                 If plan approved, prepare decision
                                                                                                     Public
           notification                      document and notify public




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Plans are implemented on a project-by-project basis. Project decisions are
usually made at the district, the lowest administrative level in the Forest
Service. As figure I.4 indicates, the process of making a project decision
shares several features with the process of developing a forest plan.
Potential projects are identified that are consistent with the direction
provided by the forest plan. Through consultation with the public and
other agencies and governments, issues are raised, alternatives are
developed and considered, and a preferred alternative is chosen.




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Figure I.4: Making Project Decisions

                                                     Locate an area


                                          Determine desired future conditions                                      Public
    From plan
    to project
                               Compare with existing conditions to identify actions for                          Public and
                                                   improvement                                                outside agencies


                           Determine if proposed actions are consistent with forest plan



                              Issue statements explaining proposed action, intended
                                 consequences, and decision under consideration

    Identify
                                  Solicit comments and identify significant issues                               Public and
    issues
                                                                                                              outside agencies

                              Determine appropriate level of environmental analysis
                                                  (see fig. I.6)




    Identify                      Develop range of alternatives to address issues
    alternatives                             (for EAs and draft EISs)
    and their
                                   Identify environmental effects of alternatives,                            Outside agencies
    environmental
                                             including cumulative effects
    effects



    Predecision                  Select preferred alternative (sometimes optional)                               Public and
    actions                     Solicit and respond to comments on all alternatives                           outside agencies



                            Determine if "finding of no significant impact" if applicable
                                                    (see fig. I.6)
    Decision and
    notification                       Prepare final EIS if applicable (see fig. I.6)

                                   Prepare decision document and notify public                                      Public



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Regional guides, forest plans, and project decisions can be judicially and
administratively challenged. Administrative appeals must be exhausted
before cases are brought before a court. The process generally used to
appeal project decisions is different from the one generally used to appeal
major changes to plans and regional guides. However, both processes
provide an opportunity for the official who made the decision being
appealed to meet informally with the appellants and for other interested
parties and the public to become involved. Figure I.5 shows the process
generally used for appealing project decisions.




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Figure I.5: Process for Appealing Project Decisions




                                                Decision made




                                             45-day appeal period


             End of appeal period
                                                                                                End of appeal period
                (appeal filed)
                                                                                                  (No appeal filed)



            Documents transferred
             to appeal reviewing
                                                                                                   Wait 5 business days
                   officer



            Appeal reviewing officer's                                                            Implement project
            recommendation sent to
             appeal deciding officer

                                                               Responsible officer
                                                               offers to meet with
             Appeal decision made                                  appellants
              by appeal deciding
                    officer
                                                      No resolution                           Resolution


             Appellant notified by             Notify appeal deciding
            appeal deciding officer           officer and proceed with              Appellant withdraws
                                                   appeals process                appeal by letter to appeal
                                                                                      deciding officer


                                                                                    Implement project or
                   Wait 15 days
                                                                                      revise project per
                                                                                  agreement with appellant


              Implement project if
                   approved



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An appeal must be filed within 45 days of a project decision. When a
decision is appealed, the official who made the decision (the responsible
officer) must offer to meet with the appellant and attempt to informally
resolve the appeal. The responsible officer is often a district ranger or
forest supervisor. If this effort is not successful, the appeal reviewing
officer, a Forest Service official of equal or higher grade and not otherwise
involved, reviews the case. On the basis of his or her assessment of the
documentation developed by the responsible officer in reaching the
decision, the issues raised in the appeal, and comments submitted by
interested parties, the appeal reviewing officer makes a recommendation
to the appeal deciding officer. The appeal deciding officer is the Forest
Service official responsible for rendering the final decision on an appeal
and is generally the regional forester or his or her designate. The appeal
deciding officer may affirm or reverse the responsible official’s decision, in
whole or in part, and may include instructions for further action.

Appeals of regional guides and national forest plans are generally subject
to different Forest Service regulations. Depending on the type of decision
being appealed, appeals must be filed within 45 or 90 days of the date
specified in the legal notice announcing the decision. Appeals are filed
with an official at the administrative level above that of the official who
made the decision being appealed. For example, if the decision is made by
a forest supervisor, the notice of appeal is filed with the regional forester;
if the decision is made by a regional forester, the notice of appeal is filed
with the Chief of the Forest Service. If the decision is made by the Chief of
the Forest Service, the notice of appeal is filed with the Secretary of
Agriculture. This is the only level of appeal available unless an official
above the official with whom the appeal was filed exercises the discretion
to call for a second-level review.

Although decisions made at the national level provide direction for plan-
and project level-decisions, numerous laws also have a substantial effect
on developing and implementing these decisions. Chief among these are
laws protecting natural, cultural and historic resources, including the
Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Historic Preservation Act,
the Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty
Act. Two of the most significant laws affecting the Forest Service’s
decision-making are the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the
Endangered Species Act (ESA).

NEPA is a procedural law. As such, it does not establish any substantive
standards or thresholds for permissible environmental effects. Its



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implementing regulations require that high-quality environmental
information be available to public officials and citizens before decisions
are made and before actions are taken. NEPA requires all federal agencies,
including the Forest Service, to prepare detailed environmental impact
statements (EIS) for major federal actions that may significantly affect the
quality of the human environment. The Forest Service is required to
prepare EISs for forest plans and some project decisions.

The heart of an EIS is an analysis of the environmental effects of a
proposed action and alternative actions that provides a clear basis for
choice by the decision-maker and the public. In preparing an EIS, the
Forest Service (like all agencies) must consider the direct, indirect, and
cumulative effects on the environment of the proposed action in
conjunction with past, current, and reasonably foreseeable future
activities on Forest Service land, other federally and nonfederally owned
government land, and privately owned land. If gaps in information about
significant adverse effects exist, the Forest Service must identify them and
describe how they will be dealt with. As figure I.6 demonstrates, if the
Forest Service is not sure whether the effects of the proposed action are
“significant,” it conducts an environmental assessment (EA) to determine
whether an EIS is warranted. A proposed action may also be categorically
excluded from further analysis if the action falls into a predetermined
category of activity that has no or minor environmental impact.




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Figure I.6: NEPA Process



                                                   Proposed action



                                                Are effects significant?




                   Yes                                Unknown                                         No


                                                    Environmental                           Categorical exclusion
                                                     assessment


                                             Are effects significant?
                                                                                                Decision memo




                                  Maybe                                      No




              Notice of intent

                                                                       Finding of no
                                                                     significant impact
            Draft environmental
             impact statement
                                                                        Decision notice

            Final environmental
             impact statement


            Record of decision




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ESA requires all federal agencies, including the Forest Service, to ensure
that their actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of
species listed as threatened or endangered or to adversely modify habitat
critical to their survival. To fulfill this requirement, the Forest Service
must consult with either the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (for
freshwater and land species) or the National Marine Fisheries Service
(NMFS) (for marine species) when a plan or project could affect a listed
species. The goal of this consultation is to identify and resolve conflicts
between (1) the protection and enhancement of the listed species and
(2) the actions proposed in the forest plan or project.

The process usually begins with informal discussions and/or
correspondence between the Forest Service and FWS/NMFS (called
“informal consultation”) to assist the Forest Service in determining
whether formal consultation is required. FWS/NMFS may suggest
modifications to plans or projects to avoid adverse effects on listed
species or critical habitat. These modifications may require the Forest
Service to repeat some steps in the decision-making process, including
developing a new EIS. The Forest Service proceeds to formal consultation
if its actions may affect listed species or their habitat. However, the Forest
Service need not formally consult if FWS/NMFS has confirmed, during
informal consultation, that the proposed plan or project is not likely to
adversely affect the listed species or their habitat. At the conclusion of the
formal consultation, FWS/NMFS issues a “biological opinion” that reviews
the potential effects of the proposed action on the listed species and/or
critical habitat. FWS/NMFS must base the opinion on the best available
biological information. FWS/NMFS issues a “no jeopardy” biological opinion
if it finds that the proposed action is not likely to jeopardize the continued
existence of the listed species or adversely modify their habitat. If
FWS/NMFS finds that the action would appreciably reduce the likelihood of
the species’ survival and recovery, it issues a “jeopardy” biological
opinion. Jeopardy opinions can include reasonable and prudent
alternatives that define modifications to the Forest Service’s plan or
project that enable it to continue and still be consistent with ESA’s
requirements for protecting the species. Following the issuance of the
biological opinion, the Forest Service determines whether it will comply
with the opinion or seek an exemption from the act’s requirements.




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Figure I.7: ESA Consultation Process
                                                                             Agency informs FWS/NMFS of
                                                                               a proposed federal action



                                                      Action is a major                                      Action is not a major
                                                     construction activity                                   construction activity


                                              FWS/NMFS determines whether                                Agency determines whether
                                                listed or proposed species                                 action may affect listed
                                                  or critical habitat may be                               or proposed species or
                                                 present in the action area                                     critical habitat


                                             No species              Species                          Action may               Action will
                                              or critical            or critical                     affect species            not affect
                                               habitat              habitat may                        or critical              species
                                             are present            be present                           habitat               or critical
                                                                                                                                habitat


                                                End                                                                              End
                                             consultation                                               Options               consultation



                                                 Agency prepares biological
                                               assessment of project's impact                   Informal consultation:
                                                FWS/NMFS concurs or does                       modify proposed action
                                                   not concur with results


                                               Action is              Action is
                                             not likely to             likely to
                                               adversely              adversely
                                            affect species'        affect species'
                                            critical habitat       critical habitat



                                                End                 Conference               Formal consultation
                                             consultation       (proposed species)             (listed species)


                                                                                            FWS/NMFS prepares
                                                                                             biological opinion



                                                                                      No jeopardy              Jeopardy
                                                                                        opinion                  opinion
                                                                                                            (opinion almost
                                                                                                            always includes
                                                                                         End
                                                                                                            reasonable and
                                                                                      consultation
                                                                                                                 prudent
                                                                                                              alternatives)




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In addition to the decision-making process, the annual Forest Service
budget has a substantial effect on the national forests’ management.
Budgets affect the total funding available to implement forest plans and
the character of the projects implementing the plans. Before Forest
Service officials develop their budget requests, they receive instructions
from Forest Service headquarters providing guidelines for meeting the
long-term policies determined in the RPA planning process and for
implementing forest plans to the extent practical within prescribed
funding constraints. Each forest then develops a budget estimate, basing it
on the projects anticipated for the fiscal year being budgeted. Because
anticipated projects are based on forest plans, they are intended
collectively to reflect an approach to implementing the forest plans.
However, because the Congress appropriates funds by resource activity,
these integrated requests must be converted into budget requests by
resource activity. The budget for each resource activity is subject to
modification by the administration and the Congress. Following reviews
by the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress and the
enactment of an appropriation bill, the appropriations are allocated to the
regions and then to the forests. The appropriation for each resource
activity must be converted back into multiple-use projects—not an easy
task, because the appropriation is unlikely to provide for the balanced mix
of resources needed to implement forest plans.

Figures I.8 and I.9 summarize the Forest Service’s decision-making
process. Figure I.8 combines the charts and other material discussed
above into one summary chart, and figure I.9 graphically represents all the
participants in the Forest Service’ decision-making process.




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Figure I.8: Summary of the Forest Service’s Decision-Making Process




                                                   Appeals process
                                                      (fig. I.5)



                                                                                  Project
             RPA                Regional              Forest plan                                           Project
                                                                                  decision
           (fig. I.2)            guide                 (fig. I.3)                                       implementation
                                                                                  (fig. I.4)


                                                                  ESA consultation
                                                                     process
                                                                      (fig. I.7)

                                                                    Clean Air Act,
                                                                  Clean Water Act,
                                                                   other resource
                                                                   protection laws

                                                                    NEPA process
                                                                      (fig. I.6)


                               Budget




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Figure I.9: Participants in the Forest Service’s Decision-Making Process




                                                 Council on
                                                Environmental                    Native
                                                   Quality                      American
                                                                                 tribes



                              States
                                                                                                  Local
                                                                                               governments




                                                           Forest Service
                                                          decision-making
                     Public

                                                                                                   International
                                                                                                      treaties




                                  Federal
                                regulatory
                                 agencies                                           Congress
                                                                                    (budget)

                                                           Courts




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Appendix II

National Forests Visited


               Northern Region (Region I)

               Clearwater National Forest (Idaho)
                 Powell Ranger District

               Deerlodge National Forest (Montana)
                 Deer Lodge Ranger District

               Flathead National Forest (Montana)
                 Swan Lake Ranger District

               Rocky Mt. Region (Region 2)

               Black Hills National Forest (South Dakota)
                 Bearlodge Ranger District
                 Custer-Elk Mountain Ranger District
                 Harney-Pactola Ranger District
                 Spearfish-Nemo Ranger District

               Southwest Region (Region 3)

               Carson National Forest (New Mexico)
                 Camino Real Ranger District
                 El Rito Ranger District

               Cibola National Forest (New Mexico)

               Intermountain Region (Region 4)

               Boise National Forest (Idaho)
                 Cascade Ranger District
                 Lowman Ranger District
                 Mountain Home Ranger District

               Pacific Southwest Region (Region 5)

               Tahoe National Forest (California)
                 Sierraville Ranger District

               Pacific Northwest Region (Region 6)

               Mt. Hood National Forest (Oregon)



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National Forests Visited




Wenatchee National Forest (Washington)
 Chelan Ranger District
 Entiat Ranger District

Southern Region (Region 8)

Nantahala - Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)
  French Broad Ranger District
  Toecane Ranger District

Ouachita National Forest (Arkansas)
  Choctaw-Kiamichi-Tiak Ranger District
  Cold Springs Ranger District

Eastern Region (Region 9)

Chequamegon National Forest (Wisconsin)
  Glidden/Hayward Ranger District
  Park Falls/Medford Ranger District
  Washburn Ranger District

Nicolet National Forest (Wisconsin)
  Eagle River/Florence Ranger District
  Laona and Lakewood Ranger District

North Central Forest Experiment Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory
(Wisconsin)




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Appendix III

Organizations Contacted


               American Forest and Paper Association, Washington, D.C.

               American Forests, Washington, D.C.

               American Institute of Biological Sciences, Washington, D.C.

               Appalachian Trail Conference, Asheville, N.C.

               Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

               Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission

               Association of Consulting Foresters of America, Inc., Bethesda, Md.

               ATOKA Engineering and Environmental Consulting, Hot Springs, Ark.

               B.A. Mullican Lumber and Manufacturing Company, Maryville, Tenn.

               Balanced Resource Solutions, Woodbridge, Va.

               Black Hills Regional Multiple Use Coalition: Members include
               representatives from the following organizations:

               Continental Lumber Co., Inc., Hill City, S. Dak.
               Intermountain Forest Industries Association, Coeur
               d’Alene, Idaho
               Off Road Riders Association, Black Hawk, S.Dak.
               Pope & Talbot, Inc., Spearfish, S.Dak.
               South Dakota Trail Riders, Rapid City, S.Dak.
               Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Sundance, Wyo.

               Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field, Madison, Wis.

               Boise Cascade, Inc., Emmett, Idaho

               Boise Cascade, Inc., La Grande, Oreg.

               Boise County Commission, Idaho City, Idaho

               California Department of Fish and Game

               California Department of Natural Resources



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Appendix III
Organizations Contacted




California Forestry Association, Sacramento, Calif.

California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Lahontan Region

Carson Forest Watch, Taos, N.Mex.

Cascade Checkerboard Project (Sierra Club), Seattle, Wash.

Center for Market Pocesses, Inc., Fairfax, Va.

CH2M Hill, Portland, Oreg.

Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association, Cable, Wis.

City of Salem, Oreg.

Columbia Carolina Corporation, Old Fort, N.C.

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Pendleton, Oreg.

Defenders of Wildlife, Portland, Oreg.

Defenders of Wildlife, Washington, D.C.

Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.

Duke City Lumber Company, Inc., Espanola, N.Mex.

Earth Satellite Corporation, Rockville, Md.

Eastside Ecosystem Management Project, Walla Walla, Wash.

Ecological Society of America, Washington, D.C.

Endangered Species Coalition, Washington, D.C.

Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C.

Environmental Policy Network, Alexandria, Va.

Forest Conservation Council, Santa Fe, N.Mex.




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Appendix III
Organizations Contacted




Forest Guardians, Santa Fe, N.Mex.

Forest Inholders Guarding Habitat Together (FIGHT), Parks, Ark.

Forest Trust, Santa Fe, N.Mex.

Friends Aware of Wildlife Needs, Georgetown, Calif.

Governor’s Federal Forest and Resource Policy Team, Salem, Oreg.

Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Odanah, Wis.

Greater Ecosystem Alliance, Bellingham, Wash.

Green Bay Packaging Inc., Morrilton, Ark.

Hanson Environmental Consultants, Englewood, Colo.

Huron River Watershed Council, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Idaho Conservation League, Boise, Idaho

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

International Joint Commission, Detroit, Mich.

Jim Crouch and Associates, Russelville, Ark.

Karuk Tribe of California, Orleans, Calif.

Labat-Anderson, Inc., Arlington, Va.

Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Lac du
Flambeau, Wisc.

Land-of-Sky Regional Council, Asheville, N.C.

Lane County Commissioner, Eugene, Oreg.

Las Truchas Community Representatives, N.Mex.




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Appendix III
Organizations Contacted




Lewis and Clark College, Graduate School of Professional Studies,
Portland, Oreg.

Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University,
Syracuse, N.Y.

Mead Corp., Escanaba, Mich.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan State University, Department of Forestry, Lansing Mich.

Mississippi Forestry Commission, Jackson, Miss.

National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Board on
Biology and Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources, Commission on
Life Sciences, Washington, D.C.

National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Board on
Environmental Studies and Toxicology, Washington, D.C.

National Association of State Foresters, Washington, D.C.

National Audubon Society, Rapid City, S.Dak.

National Audubon Society, Walla Walla, Wash.

National Resource Defense Council, Washington, D.C.

National Wildlife Federation, Portland, Oreg.

Natural Resources Services, Eureka, Calif.

North Carolina Council of Trout Unlimited, Asheville, N.C.

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Northwest Forest Resources Council, Portland, Oreg.

Northwest Forestry Association, Portland, Oreg.

Northwest Timber Workers Resource Council, Emmett, Idaho



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Organizations Contacted




Office of the Governor, State of Idaho

Office of the Governor, State of Oregon

Office of the Governor, State of California

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Oregon Forest Industries Council, Salem, Oreg.

Oregon Natural Resources Council, Portland, Oreg.

Ouachita Watch League, Sims, Ark.

Pacific Lumber & Shipping Co., Seattle, Wash.

Pacific Meridian Resources, Emeryville, Calif.

Pacific Rivers Council, Eugene, Oreg.

Pacific Watershed Associates, Arcata, Calif.

Paul Bunyan Snowmobile Club, Lakewood, Wisc.

Pinchot Institute for Conservation, Washington, D.C.

Plum Creek Timber Co., Seattle, Wash.

Quincy Library Group, Quincy, Calif.

Resource Issues, Inc., Wayland, Mass.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Custer, S.Dak.

Rogue Institute for Ecology and Economy, Ashland, Oreg.

Save America’s Forests, Washington, D.C.

Seventh American Forest Congress, New Haven, Conn.

Sierra Club, Nevada City, Calif.




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Organizations Contacted




Sierra Club, North Carolina Chapter

Sierra Club, Rapid City, S.Dak.

Sierra Pacific Industries, Redding, Calif.

Sipapu Ski Area, Vadito, N.Mex.

Skagit County Commissioner, Mount Vernon, Wash.

Smithsonian Institution, Biodiversity and Environmental Affairs,
Washington, D.C.

Society of American Foresters, Bethesda, Md.

Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, Asheville, N.C.

Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Project, Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Southern Appalachian Multiple Use Council, Waynesville, N.C.

Southern Timber Purchasers Council, Atlanta, Ga.

Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, Tuscon, Ariz.

Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, Washington, D.C.

T & S Hardwood Corp., Sylva, N.C.

The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Va.

The Ruffed Grouse Society, Rice Lake, Wis.

The Willapa Institute, Seattle, Wash.

Trinity County Planning Department, Weaverville, Calif.

Umatilla Forest Resources Council, Walla Walla, Wash.

Union County Commissioner, La Grande, Oreg.

University of Arizona, Water Resources Research Center, Tuscon, Ariz.



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Organizations Contacted




University of Florida, Urban and Regional Planning, Gainesville, Fla.

University of Kansas Law School, Lawrence, Kans.

University of Michigan, Department of Natural Resources and Forestry,
Ann Arbor, Mich.

University of Oregon, Labor Education and Research Center, Eugene,
Oreg.

University of Utah, College of Law, Salt Lake City, Utah

University of Wisconsin, Botany Department, Madison, Wis.

Vallecitos Community Representatives, N.Mex.

Vilas County Forestry Department, Eagle River, Wis.

Western Ancient Forest Campaign, Stanwood, Wash.

Western North Carolina Alliance, Asheville, N.C.

Western States Foundation, Washington, D.C.

Wheelabrator Shasta Energy Company Inc., Anderson, Calif.

Wilderness Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Wilderness Society, Washington, D.C.

Wildlife Management Institute, Washington, D.C.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

WNC Pallet & Forest Products Company, Candler, N.C.

World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.




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Appendix IV

Comments From the Forest Service


Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.




                             Page 130   GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
                 Appendix IV
                 Comments From the Forest Service




See comment 1.




See comment 2.




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                 Comments From the Forest Service




See comment 3.




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                 Comments From the Forest Service




See comment 4.




See comment 5.




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                 Comments From the Forest Service




See comment 6.




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                 Comments From the Forest Service




See comment 7.




See comment 8.




See comment 9.




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               Appendix IV
               Comments From the Forest Service




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Forest Service’s letter dated
               April 21, 1997.


               1. Our report does not state that the agency’s multiple-use mission is
GAO Comments   difficult to reconcile. Rather, our report cites numerous examples of
               disagreements, both inside and outside the Forest Service, over (1) which
               statutorily specified uses the agency should emphasize and (2) how it
               should ensure sustainability and resolve conflicts among uses under its
               broad legal mandate to provide for both the multiple use and the sustained
               yield of resources on its lands. While the agency’s intention to consult with
               the Congress on its long-term strategic goals as a part of its
               implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) is
               in accord with our report’s recommendation, as the agency’s comments
               themselves go on to note, this process is not yet complete. The ongoing
               disagreements, noted in our report, over the goals in the agency’s 1995
               draft long-term strategic plan suggest that this consultation process faces
               unresolved obstacles and that the lack of agreement on goals, needed for
               good management, has hampered the agency’s efficiency, effectiveness,
               and accountability. Thus, we do not believe that our report is erroneous or
               premature in noting the existence of disagreements over the agency’s
               strategic goals.

               2. The examples of strategic goals for implementing GPRA identified
               prospectively in the Forest Service’s comments do not include, as does the
               agency’s 1995 draft long-term strategic plan, the goal of ensuring
               organizational efficiency and effectiveness. This goal is identified in our
               report as the central one for measuring the agency’s progress in taking the
               actions that are needed to improve the agency’s decision-making. In part
               because the Forest Service needs to better integrate GPRA’s processes into
               its own decision-making process, our report also suggests that the
               Congress needs to consider the costs and benefits of the Forest Service’s
               developing two separate long-term strategic plans.

               3. We agree that the ecological systems within which the Forest Service’s
               management activities take place are inherently dynamic, and our report
               notes that this dynamism, among other factors, affects the predictability of
               planning outcomes. However, our report also identifies several actions,
               suggested to enhance predictability, that the Forest Service has not
               undertaken. These include monitoring, obtaining better data, and
               strengthening public involvement, as well as shortening planning periods
               and better linking budgets and plans.



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Appendix IV
Comments From the Forest Service




4. We concur that large-scale assessments, such as that being undertaken
in the Interior Columbia River Basin, are intended to address issues that
transcend the boundaries of individual management units. Our purpose in
discussing these efforts is precisely to indicate that they provide a basis
for applying unified direction on these issues across multiple land
management plans.

5. Our report recognizes that the time for conducting some consultations
has been reduced. However, our report also cites an October 1996
interagency team’s analysis and other studies that identify ongoing serious
problems with interagency coordination. Additionally, our report does not
attribute inefficiency in complying with section 7 of the Endangered
Species Act to overlapping jurisdictions; instead, it merely states that
delays in implementing forest plans and reaching agreement on
project-level decisions have been caused by inadequate interagency
coordination.

6. We agree that the stated tenets of this model are largely consistent with
our report’s findings and recommendations. However, as our report states,
our own observation of a field test of this model showed that, without
adequate data—which were lacking during the test we observed—the
model was difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Moreover, as our
report also notes, the Forest Service has decided that the implementation
of the model by its field units will be voluntary.

7. We agree that the ongoing debate over how national forests should be
managed is a healthy and important part of the democratic process. We
also agree, both as a general rule and in this instance, that statutory
changes should not be undertaken until after it has been shown that
regulatory or other executive branch actions cannot efficiently and
effectively resolve identified problems. However, our report does not state
that there is a growing consensus for new legislative mandates due to
conflicting laws, nor does it recommend changing environmental laws.
Rather, it cites evidence of (1) growing concerns by several parties, both
inside and outside the agency, over difficulties in resolving differences
among the requirements of some statutes and (2) increasing support
among a wide spectrum of observers for undertaking an analysis of the
laws to identify what statutory changes, if any, may be needed.

8. While the Forest Service may not have exercised its full discretion under
existing laws to correct the management and decision-making problems
identified in our report, it does not identify the source of such unused



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Appendix IV
Comments From the Forest Service




discretion or indicate how exercising full discretion might obviate the
usefulness of analyzing statutory provisions. As our report notes, in recent
years the agency has not revised its procedures for monitoring, collecting
data, and involving the public, as its own studies have repeatedly
suggested, to resolve problems.

9. Overall, we believe that implementing the actions proposed generally
here and elsewhere in the agency’s comments would improve the
efficiency and effectiveness of its decision-making process. However, our
report notes that although the Forest Service can and does identify
problems, without external attention it often fails, as its own analysis
indicates, to take corrective action. In this case, for instance, we note that
the agency’s comments do not discuss either a schedule to implement the
proposed improvements or a plan to closely monitor progress and
periodically report on performance. We believe both are needed to break
the cycle of studying and restudying issues without any accountability or
clear sequence of steps for resolving them.




Page 138                            GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
Appendix V

Comments From the Council on
Environmental Quality

Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.




See comment 1.




See comment 2.




                             Page 139   GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
                 Appendix V
                 Comments From the Council on
                 Environmental Quality




See comment 3.




                 Page 140                       GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
                 Appendix V
                 Comments From the Council on
                 Environmental Quality




See comment 4.




See comment 5.




See comment 6.




See comment 7.




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                 Appendix V
                 Comments From the Council on
                 Environmental Quality




See comment 8.




See comment 9.




                 Page 142                       GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
               Appendix V
               Comments From the Council on
               Environmental Quality




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Council on Environmental
               Quality’s letter dated April 17, 1997.


               1. GAO agrees with the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) that
GAO Comments   (1) differences among the cultures, organizations, and institutional goals
               of various federal agencies, as well as the substantive nature of their
               underlying missions, require the Council’s regulations implementing the
               act to be generic in nature and (2) regulatory changes often need to be
               tailored specifically to the agencies’ individual processes. However, the
               thrust of GAO’s recommendation to the Council’s Chair is intended to
               ensure that the Council’s planned multiyear reinvention effort does not
               prematurely or arbitrarily close off options for improving the efficiency
               and effectiveness of the act’s implementation across federal agencies’
               administrative boundaries and jurisdictions.

               2. We agree that defining the optimal level of decision-making and analysis
               for every federal agency and for all types of actions in a single rulemaking
               would be problematic, and our report does not recommend such an effort.
               Rather, we believe that CEQ is in the best position to determine, on the
               basis of the findings of its reinvention analysis, the manner and number of
               additional rulemakings or guidance issuances under the National
               Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that would best meet the needs identified
               in our report.

               3. We agree that the examples cited by CEQ of its work with other agencies
               indicate many differences in the missions, issues, and circumstances these
               agencies face. However, we also note several points that these
               streamlining and analytical efforts have in common, such as simplified and
               improved public participation, expanded categorical exclusions, and
               reduced duplication of effort, which our report identifies as improvements
               also needed in CEQ’s work with the Forest Service. Our recommendation
               that CEQ consider additional guidance and rulemaking is directed to
               resolving these problems, which affect many agencies—not to addressing
               problems that are unique to particular agencies.

               4. We agree that not all proposed changes to the Forest Service’s
               regulations for implementing NEPA should be applied “across the board to
               all other federal agencies.” However, our report does not suggest this.
               Rather, it suggests that CEQ needs to ensure consistent treatment under
               NEPA of the same or related issues arising among multiple land
               management agencies operating in the same geographic areas, instead of



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Appendix V
Comments From the Council on
Environmental Quality




pursuing a disaggregated agency-by-agency approach. This same
consideration applies to CEQ’s disaggregated ’sector-by-sector’ approach
mentioned in the third paragraph of CEQ’s comments, since interactions
among separate activities that disturb soil, vegetation, or wildlife habitat
(e.g., timber harvesting, grazing, or oil and gas development) in the same
geographic area (e.g., the same watershed) need to be considered under
NEPA, as does their cumulative impact.


5. We have modified the language in our draft report to state more clearly
that a potential weakness of such voluntary broad-scale analyses is that
agencies would not be able to tier their site-specific decisions to such
analyses under NEPA.

6. We do not recommend precise changes to regulations or guidance to
improve interagency coordination or address other issues because we
believe such changes are better left to CEQ to determine on the basis of its
own internal study and evaluation of the outside views solicited during its
effort to reinvent federal agencies’ implementation of NEPA.

7. We recognize that CEQ already has regulations and guidance requiring
cooperative consultation among agencies before analyses are prepared, as
well as addressing other aspects of interagency coordination. However,
our report points out that these regulations and guidance are often not
followed, and our recommendation calls on CEQ to make its directives
clear and precise enough to ensure that this does not continue.

8. We agree that a common set of data would not be appropriate for all
scales of decision-making and recognize that different data may be
applicable to different scales. However, our report—which cites, among
other authorities, the 1995 findings of the interagency task force chaired
by CEQ—emphasizes that CEQ needs to clarify what different kinds of data
are needed at which scales and how the data should be related to different
types of tiered decisions.

9. We do not disagree that CEQ’s current resources may not be sufficient to
adequately implement our recommendation. However, although our report
cites the 1996 study of CEQ’s role prepared for the Henry Jackson
Foundation, which noted that CEQ needed additional resources to
adequately carry out its responsibilities under NEPA, an analysis of such
needs was beyond the scope of our review. Additionally, our report does
not recommend that CEQ itself necessarily collect all ecological and
socioeconomic data. Rather, it says CEQ should identify what data are



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Appendix V
Comments From the Council on
Environmental Quality




needed and includes the option that CEQ assign others to collect the data
as appropriate. Finally, as our report notes, the Forest Service’s internal
reengineering team report indicated that the establishment of centralized
or jointly administered databases would ultimately reduce costs by
eliminating duplication of effort among and within agencies.




Page 145                           GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
Appendix VI

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Charles S. Cotton
Energy, Resources,      Alan J. Dominicci
and Science Issues      Brian W. Eddington
                        Charles T. Egan
                        Elizabeth R. Eisenstadt
                        Chester M. Joy


                        Doreen Stolzenberg Feldman
Office of the General   Alan R. Kasdan
Counsel




(140541)                Page 146                     GAO/RCED-97-71 Forest Service Decision-Making
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