Collaboration – July 2010 concepts

We heard loud and clear from the science forum and the regional and national roundtables that proactive, substantive dialogue and collaboration must be an integral part of the land management process. The many NFS units that are currently actively engaged in collaborative efforts, along with all of us in the Agency, know that our partners and publics have valuable ideas, knowledge, opinions and needs that inform and improve our processes and the management of our National Forests and Grasslands.  The creation of the planning rule itself is actively being informed by our dialogue with the public: our efforts to ensure that the process of developing this rule is open, transparent and participatory—in keeping with the planning rule’s status as one of the US Department of Agriculture’s two Open Government initiatives—have again demonstrated how valuable open engagement and dialogue is, and we will take the principles we are modeling in this process and in many units across the country through to the proposed rule itself.

The proposed 2011 planning rule will require a planning process that engages the public early and often in an open, transparent, and substantive manner.  The proposed rule will include direction to Forest and Grassland Supervisors that emphasizes our commitment to openness, public engagement, and collaborative principles and processes.

The process of partnering enables us all to work together more effectively in an open and transparent manner for the benefit of the resources we care for in common. By collaborating early in the planning process and reaching out to engage diverse partners and publics, we can enhance stewardship, improve land management at each unit, develop a shared understanding of existing conditions and management challenges, build an effective monitoring program, and make the NEPA process more efficient, effective and transparent. Through collaboration, the Agency hopes to develop long-lasting relationships that can support the new framework.

What kind of “collaboration” are we talking about?

“Collaboration” in the context of development of plans would fall within the full spectrum of public engagement described in the Council on Environmental Quality’s publication: Collaboration in NEPA – A Handbook for NEPA Practitioners (available online at  This means that we will use a full suite of actions to engage the public in active and meaningful dialogue; share information and increase transparency; involve the public in a substantive way early and throughout the framework process; and actively support collaborative processes and groups. It is important to note, however, that the Forest Service retains final decision making authority and responsibility for decisions throughout the process.  The Forest Service is also responsible for ensuring that local, national, and long-term needs are considered as decisions are made.

We envision collaboration, public engagement and dialogue as integral to each of the three proposed phases of the forest planning framework (Assess, Revise/Amend, Monitor).  The responsible official will work jointly with interested entities, tribes, governments, and individuals, towards a common purpose by sharing knowledge, ideas, and resources.

 (1) Assess: In the assess phase, the responsible official will work with the public to review existing and predicted conditions and management needs on the ground, in the context of the broader landscape.  One goal of this phase is to develop upfront collaborative relationships among the Forest Service, other government entities, tribes, private landowners, and other partners and interested parties in order to develop a shared understanding of the context for management.  Therefore, the responsible official will reach out early to engage other interested federal, state and local government agencies, tribes, local landowners, citizen groups, and the public in proactive dialogue and collaboration to:

  • Assess and consider existing and predicted ecological, social and economic conditions and trends relevant to a plan area and to the resiliency of the unit;
  • Develop mutual understanding of the unique role and contribution of the forest or grassland in the context of the broader ecological, economic and social landscape;
  • Jointly identify the need for changes to the land management plan and determine how a new plan should be proposed;
  • Bring diverse parties together to forge common understanding of what is needed from the unit and from management.

(2) Revise:  After evaluating information provided by assessments, NFS units will work with interested publics and partners and appropriate Federal agencies, States, Tribes, local governments, and other entities to assist the Agency in preparing a proposed plan revision, or amendment based on the need for change. This phase would include the creation of proposed actions and alternatives in accordance with NEPA.  Responsible officials will be expected to reach out early and often to support and facilitate collaborative groups and processes, share information and engage with interested parties on the front end of the revision/amendment process, and engage the public in substantive dialogue throughout the process of developing, completing, and implementing the plan revision or amendment. In this phase, responsible officials would identify unit and management goals, objectives, and requirements, working with the public and using input provided throughout the process. We will expect responsible officials to go beyond formal notice-and-comment in order to make the process open, transparent and participatory. 

(3) Monitor: We would expect managers to engage the public in designing and implementing programs for both unit-level and landscape scale monitoring.  Monitoring will be designed to detect changes on the unit and across the broader landscape and to evaluate the ability of management actions to produce desired conditions and outcomes identified in the plan.  Collaborative processes could be used to: select specific outcomes or conditions to test, identify what to monitor, design the monitoring program, implement the monitoring program, evaluate the data, and determine what to feed back into the adaptive management loop envisioned in the planning framework, triggered by new information or changing conditions or needs. Unit managers will also be expected to collaborate extensively with one or more forest or grassland supervisors, regional foresters, research station directors, tribes and other government entities, private landowners, and other stakeholders to determine how monitoring on the unit can contribute to landscape-scale monitoring programs.  Data will often be collected by and always shared with partners and the public. The Forest Service will conduct periodic evaluations and share those results with partners and the public as well.

 Is there a catch?

We know that partnering and collaboration take time, effort, commitment, and energy to be successful over the long term, and that there are many barriers to effective collaboration. But we are committed to ensuring that responsible officials actively and substantively engage the public in each stage of the planning framework.  We want each part of the framework to be open, transparent and participatory.  We will ask over and over again: Are we communicating and following through? Are we keeping commitments to make collaboration work? Are we keeping issues and relationships alive as conditions and expectations change? Are we staying accountable? We think it’s worth the effort and investment to share different kinds of experience, expertise, enthusiasm, and resources with partners and stakeholders in order to achieve shared goals for the landscape.

14 Responses to “Collaboration – July 2010 concepts”
  1. M Armstrong says:

    The concept of “collaboration” is inconsistent with the Congressional intent and direction of the National Forest Management Act of 1976. Section 1604 (a) of the Act establishes that the Secretary of Agriculture shall develop, maintain and revise management plans for units of the national Forest System “coordinated with land and resource management planning processes of State and local governments and other Federal agencies. ” 1604(e)(1) provides for multiple use and sustained yield to “include coordination of outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, and wilderness;”

    In implementation of the statute, the existing 1982 Planning Rules Section 219.7 “Coordination with other planning efforts.” (a) states that “The responsible line officer shall coordinate regional and forest planning with the equivalent and related planning efforts of other Federal agencies, State and local governments, and Indian tribes.” (c) states that “The responsible line officer shall review the planning and land use policies of other Federal agencies, State and local governments and Indian tribes. The results of this review shall be displayed in the environemental impact statement fore the plan..The review shall include –
    (1) Consideration of the objectives of other Federal, State and local governments, and Indian tribes, as expressed in their plans and policies; (2) An assessment of the interrelated impacts of these plans and policies; (3) A determination of how each Forest Service plan should deal with the impacts identified; and, (4) Where conflicts with Forest Service planning are identified, consideration of alternatives for their resolution.”

    (d) Requires the responsible line officer to “meet with the designated State official (or designee) and representatives of other Federal agencies, local governments, and Indian governments at the begining of the planning process to develop procedures for coordination..”

    (e) States that: “In developing the forest plan, the responsible line officer shall seek input from other Federal, State and local governments, and universities to help resolve management concerns in the 0planning process and to identify areas where additional research is needed. This input should be included in the discussion of the research needs of the designated forest planning area.”

    As stated in CA Resource Agency v. USDA (US District Ct. N. CA. case No. C 08-3884 MHP:
    ” …Those regulations require a number of specific actions, including: giving notice to state
    agencies, 36 C.F.R. § 219.7(b) (1982); reviewing the State’s planning and land use policies and
    documenting the results of such review, id. § 219.7(c); meeting with responsible state officials, id.
    § 219.7(d); seeking state input regarding management concerns and areas where additional research
    is needed; id. § 219.7(e); and giving consideration to the effects of National Forest management on
    nearby lands, including those managed by the State, id. § 219.7(f).”

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  2. Brian Power says:

    I also am somewhat encouraged by the concept of collaboration. However, as an ordinary citizen of a western forest community I am very skeptical that any empowerment of local interests will result. In the present climate of competing national and international interests, the interest of any individual or community is certain to be overlooked.

    The formation of committees to oversee or direct the decision making process is also likely guaranteed to disenfranchise local interests. Interested Career professionals (lobbyists, environmentalists, land managers) are certain to wear down ordinary citizens, or their representatives elected for short terms, and dominate any committee.

    For many of us rural westerners, the idea of planning at the regional or national level is no longer acceptable. True collaboration should not be a top-down management style, it should be bottom-up. It may be democratic for all national interests to have a stake in deciding the disposition of the land I live in, but it’s hardly fair (have someone locate grizzley bears or wolves in the backyard where your children play, and see how you feel about it). Ours is the greatest democracy in the history of the planet not because we have the most democracy, but because of the limits we impose on our democracy when it impacts individual rights and freedoms. Having a meaningful say in the use of our local environment should be a natural right.

    I would ask you to recognize that right, and encorporate it into your rulemaking. Perhaps it’s time for a radical rethinking of the way forest planning is done. Community Based Natural Resource Management is now in place in many countries, and on many tribal lands within the US, and it’s functioning effectively.

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  3. slucero says:

    Collaboration must be consistent with and coordinated with consultation protocols developed with tribal input. Consultation cannot be solely based on notice and comment, it must include actual face to face discussions.
    Consultation must include the responsible official. The people that are implementing or drafting up the agreements and contracts for implementation must be in the room. Key points made by Tribes must be conveyed into the actual implementation.

    Collaboration should occur with Tribes and tribal communities before public meetings. Collaboration strategies must be consistent with consultation strategies without diluting the tribal rights to government to government consultation.

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  4. slucero says:

    Any collaboration work must coordinate with a policy on consultation, any collaboration cannot dilute the Forest Services government to government consultation obligations. Tribes must have input on how collaboration and consultation will work together in the future development implementation of the Forest Planning Rule.

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  5. Cindy Buxton says:

    I’m encouraged by the renewed enthusiasm and the upholding of RAREII areas. However there should be clearer guidelines for roadless areas that do not have RAREII status, especially those which were purchased after the designation came into being. Also the notion of a stake holder needs serious review. In my experience it was an excuse to throw out civil rights in the name of collaboration. What power do you give “ah stakeholder” you have not reviewed? Is it just a men’s club or popularity contest ?

    What happened in our area in my perspective, is that interest groups “developed”, in our case (San Diego) climbers hammer drilled thousands of climbing bolts into the face of Eagle Peak, an official RAREII area. We have them on video early on. However the forester had a collaborative but those of us who went to Eagle Peak were not allowed to participate. The announcement to allow the climbers to climb during potential Eagle nesting season came on December 18th, 2008. There were no women present.

    I know the Cleveland National Forest in both the greater Eagle Peak / San Diego River Gorge areas and in the Hauser thru Bell Bluff areas very well. However , I’m a “girl”. Ive been told by people inside and out “they hate it when you say you know a place and they don’t.”

    Well if you have never been there and I have, what else can I say? They come up with every thing from the Blair Witch project to enormous transmission lines in places they have never seen that are unspoiled and if not unroaded, very nearly so. I keep telling them their, -rather, -our, forest is absolutely gorgeous and should stay that way and they get all bent out of shape. Do some of you guys have a hard time when a “girl” has the power of knowledge? I apologize in advance for the lack of grace but if you “boys” want collaboration you need enough maturity to get along with women and minorities as well.

    All I want and all Ive ever wanted out of this debaukle is for “them” to get off their duff and have enough respect to come with me and look at the awesome places they have. They do it for the guys. Once people get in there, the rare few, it never, ever fails, they love the stuff; I’m totally confident.

    A woman says there are all of these waterfalls, pools, cascades, you need to see this , its awesome. They won’t budge. I say hey someone released wild Russian boars and they are like “how do you know its Russian Boars, how do you know you were in the forest? ” They don’t question guys and pigs but they do girls? Well I did know and two years later there is a lot more of them too.
    After 2 years of the Eagle peak collaborative, the regional biologist suggested taking all of us to the base of the peak to learn how to monitor for Eagles. Nice idea, except when we got there after 3 months of delays and 24 hours of notice, he took off with one the financers of the rock climbing coolition and we got little info on eagles. When I suggested a route through the streams, he said “why would I want to go there” ? Surely it would destroy his career and his macho reputation, to be receptive to the token female in front of all of that testoserone.

    Please, Mr Forester before you have too many brilliant ideas, can we just take a hike? I know you guys like to fix problems for us, but some places aren’t broken; you could still come along, though. Some of us girls think doing nothing to all of that beauty as well as going there and doing nothing IN all of that beauty is a viable option. We should have some input too.

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  6. W.V. (Mac) McConnell says:

    1. There are currently some 60 Forest Service Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) in existence and their number is increasing. They constitute a large body of concerned and knowledgeable local citizens representing all interests. They are an authentic collective voice of the local people and could contribute immeasurably to the quality of Forest Service planning. They currently serve only to recommend projects for Title II funding under PL 106-393.
    N.F. Planning Teams are now limited to forest staff and line officers and the most persuasive and persistent staff person has the advantage in the battle of the competing resources (Believe me. I’ve been there). While the “public” voice is heard in the scoping and comment process, too often the loudest of these voices are sincere individuals motivated by the “talk radio” rhetoric of special interest groups whose agendas are far removed from the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run. The RAC would provide a balanced public view representing all interests and with knowledge of local conditions as well as recognition of regional and national concerns. They would be a real asset to the planning team.
    The question arises: should not RACs be a part of each National Forest’s Planning Team?
    2. While collaborative planning may result in better plans, the results – the plan’s application on the ground – are the test of how well the system serves the public. Over the past 67 years as a practicing forester, 30 of which were in the Forest Service, I have seen (and been a part of) the preparation, and too often the failed implementation, of dozens of plans. It seems to me that, under the existing system, collaborative planning stops when the Forest’s Land and Resource Management Plan is approved. The public plays no role in the annual planning that puts the Plan into action on the ground. Local voices have no say in the selection of projects considered for the year’s plan of work nor in the allocation of the funds (always inadequate) that are made available to the Forest.
    For comprehensive collaborative planning it would seem that RACs should be part of the implementation process. RAC participation in the annual budgeting and project selection process would make known the public’s wishes to the Supervisor and staff and help him/her prioritize the many programs and projects to which each forest is committed under the Plan.

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  7. Randy Keller says:

    It is good to see such an attempt to open the planning process to a variety of viewpoints. While at the federal level it may be as good as planning can get, from the viewpoint of local government, collaboration falls short in several areas.

    First, it is a NEPA concept and collaboration is generally confined to the NEPA process. Many California counties are interested in coordinating with the USFS, which is a concept that is larger and not contained within NEPA concepts. Rather than a NEPA collaborative process in which the USFS would listen to comments, try to reach a consensus amoung interest groups, and then make its decision; coordination implies a recognition that local government plans are already a consensus of local viewpoints, are of equal status to USFS plans, and that consistency between the USFS plan and the local plan should be achieved, unless such consistency is unlawful. Coordination may precede the NEPA process, in that early coordination should precede even a project description; and may extend outside of normal NEPA public outreach. Certainly coordination implies much greater weight than normally afforded public comments in a NEPA process.

    Second, while collaboration is a welcome outreach to members of the public and various interest groups, local governments are not members of the public and are not interest groups. They are representatives of all the various interests and viewpoints that comprise a local community and reflect the compromises of these viewpoints at the community level. Therefore, the plans of local government are due much greater deference than the collected and distilled views of various interest groups. This deference should be reflected in the rule. While collaborative processes may be effective outreach, they are not governance.

    Third, coordination with local government is the only effective way of ensuring vital communities when those communities are impacted by public lands, such as in Inyo County. If a goal of the planning rule is to ensure the vibrancy and vitality of communities associated with forests, then those communities must have a strong voice in the process. The national or regional level is not the place to determine the type of community a local people will be. This rule must give local government a formal, defined role in forest planning of equal stature to the federal government, and of greater stature than mere special interest groups, no matter how well organized those interest groups are on the national level.

    Fourth, collaborative decision-making at the regional or federal level is destructive to local decision-making on local issues, and therefore contrary to encouraging healthy local government. When a well organized environmental or other group finds success incorporating its favored policies at the federal level, it need not engage at the local level, particularly when its viewpoints may represent a minority in its community. Rather than engaging in consensus building and democratic debate with its neighbors, such a group will lobby at the national level to impose its policies, and has no need to participate in local decision making, which inevitably involves compromise. This weakens local government and skews federal decisions.

    Fifth, local USFS planners will not coordiate their planning with local plans unless they are required to. It is only natural for federal land managers to try to retain complete control over the federal lands, with no obligation to incorporate local desires. This impulse of retaining ultimate control is well stated in the blog above. However, on matters that affect the culture and economies of local communities, the only way to achieve a legitimate plan is to recognize and respect the local government, which is the only point at which the community comes together. Collaboration is ultimately a strategy to avoid lawsuits. Coordination is a means to good government.

    This comment is not intended to denigrate the effort make this planning process more transparent, but we feel it is important to recognize that to be successful ultimately, any planning process needs the legitimacy that only local government brings to it. As our county (as well as many others) has been saying, it is vital that this rule incorporate a formal government-to-government coordination process to allow local communities a strong say in the nature of their communities, which are so dramatically affected by federal policies. Rather than imposing national policy on local communities to their detriment, it is past time to incorporate local comminities into the plan.

    This need not be as painful as forest managers seem to fear; they need only speak with their brethren in the BLM for a good example. The BLM has formal rules about coordination. The USFS might also look at their policies regarding their relations with indian tribes for examples of government-to-government coordination. Certainly the population of a town or county should have as much say in the nature of their community as natives have in their communities. That type of respect would make local, native and national communities healthier.

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    • Randy Keller says:

      First, having attended the recent roundtable in D.C., I would say I was very impressed with the outreach by the USFS staff and the willingness, even eagerness, to hear a variety of viewpoints. I think if this attitude and approach were to percolate to the Forest level, it would lead to much better planning and much improved relations with local people and their government (which I represent).

      I also want to acknowledge that I was a bit unfair in characterizing collaboration as a NEPA concept confined by that statute. That sentiment is more accurately applied to a “cooperating” agency under NEPA, a concept that is occasionally proposed as a means to fulfill the obligation to coordinate with local government. While cooperating agencies are allowed early opportunites to participate in the NEPA process, the statuts does not address the concept that the two governments should coordinate their plans by achieving consistency between them.

      The national collaboration process we particpated in far exceeds any requirements under NEPA and the USFS should be commended for its efforts. I know I was impressed and will encourage our local forest to engage in the same sort of processes.

      As to the nuts and bolts of collaboration, at the recent roundtable we (Inyo County) suggested some changes to the proposed collaboration language as it applies to local governments. Although I am sure the language was captured, it could not hurt to include it here to be sure:

      Page 17 of 62, replacement for paragraph “Engaging state, counties, and other local governments and Federal agencies.

      Engaging State, counties and other local governments and Federal agencies. The responsible official shall coordinate Forest Service planning efforts undertaken under this subpart with those of state, county and other local governments, with a view toward achieving consistency between Forest and local plans. The responsible official shall also provide early opportunities for other government agencies to be involved to collaborate, and to participate in planning for the National Forest System (NFS)lands. In addition to the coordination process, the responsible official shall seek assistance and encourage participating as cooperative agencies, where appropriate, from states, counties, and other local governments, Federal Agencies, and scientific and academic institutions to help address management questions or opportunities. If the state, county or other local government and the Forest Service are unable to agree whether the plans are consistent, the decision document prepared for the plan shall explain why consistency cannot be achieved. To enhance the effectiveness of planning on the NFS unit, the responsible official should participate in planning efforts of states, counties, other local governments, and other Federal agencies.

      Page 30 of 62, The framework for land management planning

      · Assessment. An assessment must be conducted for the development of a new plan or a plan revision. It uses public collaboration, coordination with local government, science, and an evaluation of relevant information related to multiple-use management opportunities, such as consideration of climate change; demographics; local economic conditions; recreational experiences; landscape resilience; social values, beliefs, and attitudes; threats to ecosystem or species; and watershed health to prepare an assessment report that sets the context for planning. After evaluating information provided by assessments or the annual evaluation reports, the responsible official determines the need to change the plan that begins the process for plan development, plan amendment, or plan revision.

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  8. Fotoware says:

    Collaboration falls apart in our situation when we can’t even agree on the assessments made about the sorry state of our forests. Preservationists want you to think that 200 million dead trees are “natural” and that there is no such thing as a “catastrophic wildfire”, hence, no action is needed, other than to turn as much of our National Forests into designated Wilderness.

    Preservationists prefer to do nothing, believing some magical entity will protect and renew our unhealthy and overstocked forests. The Obama Administration seems to have bought into concept, ignoring some of the best forest scientists in the world. “Wilderness protection” isn’t restoration. Setting aside millions of acres of dead forests in “wildlife corridors and wilderness areas won’t “restore” anything. Actually, in the Rockies, that decision would lock in low-quality lodgepole forests that die, rot and burn about every 100 years.

    There needs to be a way to mandate good faith collaboration, consensus and compromise. Litigation standing should be controlled, and if you don’t practice those three “C’s” in good faith, you’ll forfeit your right to litigate. We NEED to get out of the courts and back into the forests, restoring and mitigating.

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  9. Staci Heaton says:

    While I appreciate that this is just an initial draft of concepts, I do hope the concept of “collaboration” will be fleshed out in much more detail in the near future. California counties remain concerned that future planning efforts will continue to be inconsistent by region, and that some will continue to largely disregard our concerns about coordinating forest plans with our already-approved land use plans.

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  10. Michael Harper says:

    Like a previous commentator, there is much to like about this approach — it is forward looking and creates the opportunity for partnerships. One idea that I stressed in meetings that I attended is that a cooling off period after the adoption of a revision is needed. Adopting a revision, then immediately accepting amendments doesn’t allow the revised plan an opportunity to be tested for success, and it diverts USFS resources away from implementation to constant evaluation/analysis.

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  11. Julie Allen says:

    There is much to like here—- the scope of expected collaboration and the insistence on transparency at every stage. However, I would like to see the revise /amend stage emphasize the idea that collaboration is not just mutual understanding and the sharing of goals and objectives. I would like to see explicit language regarding collaborative creation of alternative futures———–in practice, working together/workshopping to create the proposed action and alternatives. This is a very tough piece, but anything less is less than collaborative development of a forest plan. Obviously I am presupposing a standard NEPA format. If that is not in the offing, then I would like a reasonable adaptation of this idea, the point being that partners are part of the creation of the future scenario(s).

    I really like that you did the series of public workshops and are now getting back to us with some of what you heard and how it might be used. I spent 30+ years in USFS planning and only wish we were here those many years ago! Keep on keeping on!!

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  12. M Armstrong says:

    NEPA declares:
    “…that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments,” “…to use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to the end that the Nation may— ” ”…assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings;” and “…preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity and variety of individual choice.”

    Federal Land Policy and
    Management Act, 43 USC § 1701, and 43 USC § 1712, regarding the coordinate status of
    a county engaging in the land use planning process, and requires that the “Secretary of the
    Interior [Secretary] shall . . . coordinate the land use inventory, planning and management
    activities . . . with the land use planning and management programs of other federal
    departments and agencies and of the state and local governments within which the lands
    are located”

    16 USC § 1604, the National Forest Management Act, requires the Forest Service to coordinate its planning processes with local government units.

    Considerable concern was expressed by the forest counties of California that the new planning rule fully recognize the necessity of engaging in a government to government relationship and coordinating with local governments. (See also CA Resources Agency v. U.S.DA (In the US District Court for the Northern District of CA – decision supporting coordination) I see no indication that this process has acknowledged this need.

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  13. LeRoy Booth says:

    I fail to see any form of collaboration from Region 6. I have repeatedly tried to ask if the current Transpiration management plan was fixed or was it still open to comment. In every case I failed to receive an answer. My issue is that region six from what I can tell is acting in a manner that is contrary to the direction of the USDA.

    I have emails in which I have asked questions only to have them appear to fail on deaf ears. Maybe this is an issue just in Region 6. I sure hope so.

    I do welcome the possiblity to actuly have a meaningfull open conversation with the USDA as it relates to the Forest Plans. I realize there are a number of groups that have their own agenda and I realize the you have to be open to each group and design a compromise that will work for everyone.

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