The 'Inimim Forest
In a somewhat remote portion of Nevada County, on San Juan Ridge, lies the 'Inimim Forest. It consists of ten parcels of public land totaling about 1,800 acres. Each parcel of government land is surrounded by private property.
The name "Inimim" is the Maidu Indian word for "ponderosa pine." As might be expected from the name, the vegetation on the ridge is a mixed coniferous forest which includes ponderosa pines. It is not a pristine area, having been heavily impacted by gold mining, logging and wildfires. Although the land itself is relatively undistinguished, not much different from surrounding forest lands, the 'Inimim Forest is the focus of a most unusual experiment in natural resource planning and management.
Like many other Mother Lode areas these days, San Juan Ridge has a sizable residential community, many of whom came to the region during the early 1970s. Some of these people are retired. Others live there, but work in the urban areas down in the Central Valley. Still others, primarily craftsmen, work out of their residences, but sell their products outside the area. The phrase "urban-wildlands interface" is a fair description of conditions on San Juan Ridge.
What makes the area different from similar places is the way local citizens approach the inherent problems of living in a forest. The forest management plan for the 'Inimim is a grass roots product in every sense of the word. The local community produced it, and they must live with the consequences of its implementation.
Federal Land-Use Planning
All BLM lands, including those on San Juan Ridge, are covered by a land use plan. Plans are periodically updated to accommodate changing conditions.
Conventional land use planning under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (94th Congress, 1976) and the National Environmental Quality Act of 1969 (91st Congress, 1970) is a complex process. It consists of first holding public scoping meetings to define the issues. Next, resource inventories are conducted by BLM specialists. The inventory includes geology, vegetation, wildlife, cultural values, and land use history. Then, in the office, BLM planners develop a series of management alternatives (Bureau of Land Management, 1984). One of the alternatives is selected as the preferred action, and a draft management plan and environmental assessment are written. These are sent out for formal public comment. The public comments are used to formulate the final plan. Often, the final plan will be a modification of the preferred alternative.
This process has been the focus of a great deal of public dissatisfaction that has often resulted in administrative appeals to management plans and more than a few lawsuits. One of the major sources of dissatisfaction seems to be the wide-spread perception that local citizens do not have a significant voice in either the developement of the plan or in the decision-making. In its simplest form, people feel as if the federal government is dictating to them how their lives will be lived, regardless of how or what they think about it. In recent years, there has been much public acrimony over land use planning, not only between citizens and the agencies, but also between the citizens themselves. In their attempts to satisfy all points of view, the agencies seem to have managed only to intensify the conflicts.
'Inimim Forest Land-Use Planning
On San Juan Ridge, two groups of residents, the Yuba Watershed Institute and the Timber Framer's Guild of North America, joined forces to work together in an effort to influence the management of the federal lands surrounding their own properties. To begin the process, the two organizations entered into a Cooperative Management Agreement (CMA) with the BLM. The long-range objective of this agreement was to encourage the re-creation of an old growth (late seral stage) forest through management practices consistent with the natural process of forest succession (Yuba Watershed Institute, 1990).
To achieve the objectives listed in the CMA, both the resources inventory and development of a management plan became the responsibility of the community, working through the Watershed Institute and the Guild. The role of the BLM was to act as a partner and a coach in the effort.
Essentially, they were told that if they could produce a draft management plan for the 'Inimim Forest that was within the constraints set by federal law, policy, and regulations, the BLM would then formally present it through the NEPA process to the public for possible official acceptance. The community responded with enthusiasm. After a lot of field work, much study, many long discussions, and numerous meetings with neighbors--all of it on their own time--they completed their task. True to its word, the BLM did an Environmental Analysis of the plan, held a public review and comment period, and then officially adopted the plan, with some modifications, in June, 1995.
The focus of the plan is on resource sustainability, the reduction of wildfire potential, and on the maintenance of biological diversity. There is an emphasis on non-exploitive use of local labor, with the goal of generating profits from high-quality forest products to provide as much income to the local community economy as possible (Yuba Watershed Institute, 1995).
Reasons for an Unconventional Approach
The conventional land use planning process was designed with large, uninhabited tracts of Federal wildlands in mind. This does not work well in general, and seemed especially inappropriate in the urban-wildlands interface zone of the Sierra Nevada. Part of the problem is the small size and scattered nature of the federal parcels. Another part is the very close proximity of neighbors. To them, the BLM-administered parcels are an integral part of their residential neighborhood, not an abstraction off in the distance.
The scattered nature and limited acreage of the public lands has also made the BLM much more dependent on close working relationships with local and state agencies than in more conventional situations. Both State and County authorities provide basic services other BLM offices do for themselves. Fire protection, for example.
Early on, it seemed apparent that other planning processes needed to be explored. It seemed beneficial that planning reflect the unique character of each community. Since BLM land use plans can effect the economic, ecological and cultural character of communities and impact a community's quality of life, affected communities should be substantially involved throughout the entire process. Also, land use debates are better conducted in the community arena than in public hearings with individuals pitted against agencies.
With all this in mind, we envisioned a procedure that included direct public involvement throughout the entire process, including goal setting, inventory, alternative development, plan writing, decision making and plan implementation with a focus on communities as the primary public involvement element.
The Legal Basis for the 'Inimim Forest Plan
Anytime a federal agency departs from the conventional way of doing things, legal questions arise. The key question is how does the 'Inimim experience meet the requirements of environmental law?
Primary legal guidance for public land management comes from the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) passed in October 1976. FLPMA directs the BLM to inventory resources, develop land use plans, manage natural resources on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield, and involve the public.
Public involvement is defined in FLPMA Sec. 102 (d) as "the opportunity for participation by affected citizens in rulemaking, decisionmaking, and planning with respect to the public lands, including public meetings or hearings held at locations near the affected lands, or advisory mechanisms, or such other procedures as may be necessary to provide public comment in a particular instance.
The intent of the Federal Land Management and Policy Act was to involve the public in the agency's planning and decisionmaking. It also provided some degree of latitude by referring to advisory mechanisms or "other procedures as may be necessary." Clearly, FLPMA anticipated public involvement to be public comment, however, if this form of participation is ineffective, I believe Legislative History of FLPMA shows that it is within the intent of Congress for BLM to find an effective means to carry out the intent of the law (Secretary of the Interior, 1978). This is what led us to try community-based planning.
Conversly, there is no law that prohibits such planning. Some believe the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) could apply (92nd Congress, 1972). This Act set rules for establishing advisory committees and for reviewing the necessity of advisory committees. Sec. 4 (C) states that "nothing in the Act shall be construed to apply to any local civic group whose primary function is that of rendering a public service with respect to a Federal program." This restriction to the application of FACA would seem to apply to our case.
There is room for debate on these issues but it is clear that there are agency, public, and political interest in finding more effective means of land use planning as an alternative to the adversarial nature of current planning efforts. I've seen agencies criticized for lack of public involvement, but I've never seen any criticized for too much public involvement. (That criticism usually comes from staff!)
What about multiple use and sustained yield, the guiding principles of public land management? If, as I believe, multiple use and sustained yield can be viewed as points along a continuum, then there is a wide range of legal acceptability. For example, some communities might define multiple use and sustained yield near the end of the continuum closest to preservation. Another community might place it further along the scale toward utilization. Under community-based planning, multiple use and sustained yield would vary by community and be defined by the values of each community.
A fundamental question was about the appropriateness of communities being given special standing in the planning process when the public resources belong to all citizens of the United States. Two comments on that; first, no one was deliberately excluded from the process. Individuals living outside the planning area had an ample opportunity to participate. Secondly, care was taken to ensure the plan was consistent with all appropriate federal laws and policies, thus ensuring the interests of all American citizens were respected.
Another major question, which turned out to be hypothetical, had to do with the possibility of a community optimizing their short-term economic interest at the long-term expense of ecological values. Actually, this is more of a political question than a legal one. It seems the NIMBY principle applies to rural residential areas as well as the urban. Since the community clearly understood they would be living with the results of their effort, it didn't happen.
The Bureau of Land Management will remain responsible for the public lands of the 'Inimim Forest, and will retain all its management authority. Management actions, such as prescribed burns, will not be turned over to private citizens, but will be conducted by the BLM in close coordination with adjacent property owners. Any timber sales must be placed out for bid with no special breaks for the local community. There is no legal authority for the local manager to delegate responsibility for public land management (Bureau of Land Management, 1996).
If community customs, culture, economic and ecological concerns are to be considered in public land management, then changes must be made in the way plans and decisions are made. This is one attempt at such change. At the heart of this change, is allowing community values to be the underlying factor in the planning process, within the bounds of the constraints provided by federal law and policy.
Bureau of Land Management
Mother Lode Field Office
1. 94th Congress
1976, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, P.L. 94-597
2. 91st Congress
1970, National Environmental Policy Act, P.L. 91-190
3. Bureau of Land Management
1984, Resource Management Plan Manual Part 1600
4. Yuba Watershed Institute and Timber Framer's Guild of North America
1990, Spring Creek and Shady Creek Cooperative Management Agreement
5. Yuba Watershed Institute
1994, 'Inimim Forest Management Plan
6. 92nd Congress
1972, Federal Advisory Committee Act, P.L. 92-463
7. Secretary of the Interior
1978, Legislative History of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976
8. Bureau of Land Management
1996, Delegation of Authority, California Supplement