BLM encourages feedback for proposed planning processWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Planning 2.0 is an initiative from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to review the way in which the agency develops and updates Resource Management Plans (RMPs). Shasta Ferranto, the Planning 2.0 project manager for BLM’s Washington Office, described changes in the proposed planning rule on March 21, during a live webcast.
“Under the last four years of developing resource management plans under the federal land and policy management act (FLPMA), we gained a lot of experience, and we have learned many lessons and also many best practices of planning in collaboration with our partners and with the public,” she stated.
The Planning 2.0 proposed rule aims to develop RMPs that are responsive to issues and opportunities within planning areas.
“We’ve learned that collaboration is most effective when it happens early and often,” mentioned Ferranto.
Proposed changes have been developed to address best practices and address collaboration efforts, including those that cross administrative boundaries, such as migration routes that cover multiple states or concerns that affect multiple agencies.
“Although BLM recognizes the need for a landscape approach to resource management, we also acknowledge the importance of local issues and the important role that local partners play in the planning process. Our proposed landscape approach is meant to enhance local planning and involvement, not to replace it,” she added.
The proposed rule has also been designed to acknowledge changes that inevitably occur in resource management scenarios.
“Whether it be environmental change, ecological change, social change, economic change or changes in the best available science or management techniques we have available to us, when change occurs, we need to be ready for it, and we need to be able to respond quickly and meaningfully,” she explained.
BLM’s mandate to develop land use plans comes from the Federal Land Use and Policy Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976.
FLPMA directs BLM to provide for public involvement when developing those land use plans, and to coordinate with state, local and tribal governments. It also directs BLM to seek consistency with state, local and tribal land use plans to the extent practical.
“Planning 2.0 will revise two key components of BLM’s planning policy that implements FLPMA,” noted Ferranto.
Both the land use planning regulations and the land use planning handbook will be updated if the current proposed rule goes into effect.
“Regulations provide the framework for developing resource management plans, as required and directed by FLPMA. Although minor changes were made to these regulations in 2005, the last major revision occurred in 1983, making our current planning regulations over 30 years old,” she explained.
The new handbook will be based on how procedures are described in the final regulations and provide details about how to implement procedures. A draft of the handbook is expected to be available by next summer or early next fall.
“We began this process formally in the fall of 2014. At that time, we hosted two public listening sessions, and we accepted written comments,” Ferranto stated.
Input from BLM staff, the public and other stakeholders was considered for the proposed rule, which was formally published on Feb. 25, 2016 in the Federal Register. The proposed rule is out now through April 25 for public comment, and BLM encourages feedback.
One proposed change is an overall planning framework that would describe the content of RMPs, as well as supporting documents included with the plans.
“The goal of our proposed changes to the planning framework is to improve the BLM’s ability to apply adaptive management approaches and also to focus BLM management on achieving desired conditions in the planning area,” Ferranto commented.
Planning components and implementation strategies are two key categories that would be adapted in accordance to the proposed rule. Plan components include land use decisions, and implementation strategies would assist in implementing the land use plan.
“The plan components would be required for every single land use plan and would provide ‘planning level management direction,’” she noted.
Implementation strategies and contrast would be developed as needed and would be updated on an ongoing basis to incorporate new information and the best available science.
The six kinds of components described in the proposed rule include goals, objectives, monitoring and evaluation standards, designations, resource use determinations and lands available for disposal. Of those, goals and objectives will be achieved through the direction of the other four components.
“The intent is that the goals would be landscape-minded and responsive to cross-boundary concerns when it is appropriate, or the goals might focus on a small area and unique local concerns when that is appropriate,” remarked Ferranto.
Objectives would be required to be specific and measurable, while also intending to be aligned with specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, or SMART, objectives.
Key attributes and indicators would be implemented to address the outlined goals and objectives and a revised planning handbook would provide detailed guidance for those factors.
“To the extent that it makes sense, we would like to align with national indicators in coordination with BLM’s Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring program, also known as the AIM program,” Ferranto continued. “That being said, for some resources, we won’t be able to use national indicators, and we’ll develop them locally for that particular planning effort.”
A number of new steps would also be included in the planning process, including planning assessments, information gathering and other steps designed to involve the public and other stakeholders as early as possible in the planning process.
“It’s going to be additional work, and it’s going to be additional time for the BLM upfront. But, we believe this is going to be time well spent, and ultimately, it’s going to result in a better plan and probably some efficiencies,” Ferranto explained.
By gathering more information upfront, BLM hopes to develop more robust draft plans that have already considered issues that impact RMP development.
Changes in the protest process have also been proposed, with the intention of creating a system that is easier for protesters to use, so BLM is able to receive quality and timely feedback.
Other procedural changes have been proposed, as well, and BLM strongly encourages the public and other entities to review the proposed rule and provide feedback about Planning 2.0.
Ferranto suggests that feedback should be specific with reference to specific section numbers and concise explanations about why certain aspects are supported or not supported.
“We would really like to know what people think and why,” she said.