Leveraging Federal Land Plans into Landscape Conservation
The George Washington Journal of Energy and Environmental Law, Vol 6, No. 3, Winter 2016
11 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2016 Last revised: 8 Mar 2016
Date Written: 2016
Spurred by the statutory reforms to the organic acts governing public lands, federal agencies began in the 1970s to devote substantial energy to planning for units, such as individual national forests. These unit-level plans guide management for periods generally exceeding a decade. The unit-level plans apply system-wide statutes, rules, and policies to particular places, creating “law of the land.” Unfortunately, the unit-level plan has proven inadequate to achieve broader national objectives for conservation. Typically, the unit-level plan steps down broad principles to guide management for a specific place but does little to step up or link place-based contributions to a region or landscape. In this respect, planning is a one-way street, allowing movement only from broad to narrow. Recent literature in conservation management suggests useful tools to facilitate two-way communication that includes unit-level plans considering and contributing toward broader, landscape-level aims.
The raison d’être of organic legislation is to orchestrate management of units into a conservation system that achieves more than the sum of its parts. Yet, the primary planning focus on individual units undermines this goal by creating disparate management regimes with little attention to what is happening beyond the unit boundary. Modern conservation science emphasizes ecosystem management, adaptive management, and climate change resilience. All three require coordination over a spatial scale larger than the public land unit. The great paradox of organic mandates for planning is the misfit between the actions mandated by statutes and the planning scale necessary to achieve the organic objectives.
This Article explores how unit-level plans required by organic legislation can achieve better landscape-scale outcomes. It discusses the ways that public land planners can integrate broader considerations into their management prescriptions to project conservation benefits beyond unit boundaries. This Article draws upon the experience of the national wildlife refuge system, which has the most recent set of unit-level plans. The refuge unit plans display some current practices that can be adapted by other land managers. The plans also highlight gaps between conservation scholarship and agency implementation. This Article proposes building on emergent tools to expand the focus of plans beyond the boundaries of federal lands.
Keywords: public lands, conservation, climate change, planning
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