How You Can Influence Land Management Planning To Protect Rivers
There are many places during the land management planning process to influence its outcomes. If you’re not familiar with how planning works, learn more about Forest Service National Forest planning and BLM land management planning. See the quick reference below for a summary followed by more detail.
BEFORE THE PLAN REVISION BEGINS
- Gather your facts early, know your river
- Gather your supporters—the more diverse and credible the better
- Know your federal agency’s plan revision calendar
* Submit detailed comments and recommendations early, including during “pre-assessment” planning phases
DURING THE PLAN REVISION PROCESS
- Attend advance public meetings and open houses; introduce yourself and your resources; get acquainted with key agency staff – early in the process, sometimes before formal plan revision begins (as in forest plan “pre-assessment” phase)
- Submit scoping/assessment comments – usually first stage in the revision process
- Comment on draft wild and scenic eligibility report – 2-3 months after scoping
- Comment on range of plan alternatives or proposed action; be sure protection for your river is included in at least one alternative – 4-6 months after scoping
- Review final wild and scenic eligibility report; highlight inadequacies (rivers missing, inaccurate assessment, need for details about wild and scenic qualifications, etc.) – 2-4 months after draft report
- Comment on draft wild and scenic suitability analysis – usually published as an appendix to the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) accompanying the draft plan
- Negotiate suitability decisions affecting select rivers; consider options other than suitable and not-suitable, in order to gain broader support for strong river protections (including continuing eligibility status)
- Comment on draft management plan and accompanying draft EIS – 12 months or longer after scoping
- Protest/object proposed plan if essential river protections, including wild and scenic missing suitability findings – 6-12 months after draft plan
- Contact your governor to highlight your concerns during governor’s consistency review of the proposed plan – for BLM plans, review begins with release of proposed plan
- Review final plan and final EIS – 6-12 months after proposed final plan
AFTER PLAN IS COMPLETED
- Monitor implementation of the plan; be sure that the plan proves adequate for protecting key rivers and that river protections are properly applied
OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUR INPUT AND INFLUENCE (Forest Service and BLM)
Nearly every major stage of the planning process affords some form of public input, some in the form of official comment periods, others more informal.
- Scoping comment period—Press the agency to include a complete list of potential wild & scenic rivers and to undertake a robust analysis of their values and the importance of protecting those values; provide a comprehensive list of rivers that should evaluated (and protected).
- Preliminary wild & scenic rivers eligibility list—Whether the agency formally offers the opportunity to review or to comment on its list of potential rivers, ask to review that list; recommend additional rivers, if necessary.
- Draft wild and scenic eligibility report—The agency will offer a formal comment opportunity once it has published its draft eligibility report; press for inclusion (and analysis) of additional rivers, if necessary; provide additional information, if available, about specific values that individual rivers possess (on your list or on theirs).
- Final wild and scenic eligibility report—If the final report is, in your judgment, incomplete or contains inaccuracies, highlight those to the agency right away; prepare to continue pressing those oversights during the next review phase.
- Draft plan (and draft EIS, with draft suitability report) comment period—Provide specific comments, technical information, protection recommendations for all high-value rivers on which you have experience and views; comment on whether the range of protection alternatives for rivers is sufficient (including one with expansion of the eligibility list, if necessary); recommend additional protections; recommend specific changes in one or more alternatives (particularly the environmental protection alternative and the agency-preferred alternative).
- Draft wild and scenic suitability analysis (part of draft plan/draft EIS)—Provide strong comments of support for rivers the draft analysis proposes for wild and scenic suitability; advocate findings of suitability for additional rivers, if necessary; provide additional technical information—and correct inadequate agency information—about the values of select rivers.
- Proposed-plan protest or objection period—Submit formal protest of priority shortcomings in the proposed plan’s provisions for rivers—in general and for select individual streams; look especially for rivers that were found eligible but that do not have adequate protection for the outstandingly remarkable values identified for them.
OPTIONAL OR INFORMAL COMMENTS
- Pre-planning—Get acquainted with agency planning staff; let them know your interest and expertise; highlight wild and scenic rivers protection as your interest.
- Planning criteria preparation—The agency will sometimes offer a public comment period, public meetings, or both; in any case, provide your recommendations on criteria that should be used to identify key high-value rivers for review; recommend specific rivers for review.
- Inventory and data collection/assessment—Ask to review the agency’s collection of data; provide additional information, if available and if necessary, to showcase key high-value rivers.
- Analysis of management situation—The agency will sometimes offer a public comment opportunity, public meetings, or both; in any case, ask to review the agency’s analysis; provide additional analysis, if available and if necessary.
- Range of alternatives—The agency will sometimes offer a public comment opportunity, public meetings, or both; in any case, review the proposed range of alternatives, and insist that at least one alternative provide wild and scenic suitability protection for all high-value rivers you are championing.
- Effects of each alternative—Ask to review the agency’s description of effects; provide additional information and perspectives, if available and if necessary.
- Implement, monitor, evaluate—Once the final plan is approved, your continued vigilance is important; your field knowledge of key rivers, and your observations on the agency’s management actions affecting those rivers, can keep the agency accountable and can provide opportunity to press for adjustments and improvements to the plan or to its implementation.
- Maintain, amend, revise—Whether on your own initiative or in response to formal agency initiatives to adjust the management of key rivers, actively participate to be sure that rivers protection is maintained or improved.
KEY CONTACTS AND RELATIONSHIPS (BOTH AGENCIES)
All aspects of your participation in federal land management planning will be enhanced by positive relationships with key government staff (and sometimes contractors). Get to know them early, and stay in touch frequently through the planning process. Examples of people you will need to know, and influence, include:
- BLM field office manager, forest supervisor
- Planning coordinator and planning team members
- Wild and scenic rivers coordinator (sometimes combined with wilderness)
- Aquatics/watershed specialists
- Recreation specialist
- State office, forest regional wild and scenic coordinator/specialist
WILD AND SCENIC SECTIONS (BOTH AGENCIES)
Where to look in management plans and in the plan revision process (location, order, and titles may vary).
POTENTIAL WILD AND SCENIC RIVER ANALYSES
- Potential rivers list
- Eligibility report
- Suitability determination
MANAGEMENT OF ALREADY-DESIGNATED RIVERS
Rivers already designated by Congress as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System must have individual management plans to fulfill the protections required under that designation. Often, these river-specific plans are created through a separate planning process. Sometimes, individual river plans are created, or updated, as part of the overall land management plan; watch for that opportunity as well.
TERMINOLOGY, ANALYSIS, AND DECISIONS
Eligibility—Once the land-managing agency (typically in the course of the management plan revision) finds a river eligible for wild and scenic protection, the agency undertakes several interim administrative measures intended a) to protect the values for which a river was determined eligible and b) to preserve the integrity of the preliminary wild and scenic classification (wild, scenic, or recreational), including:
- Maintain a river corridor boundary of at least ¼ mile from the ordinary high-water mark on both sides of the river;
- Seek protection of river values on adjacent private land using voluntary agreements and partnerships (no regulatory authority on private land);
- Maintain river’s free-flowing condition, using available authorities;
- Retain federal lands within the river corridor;
- Protect outstandingly remarkable values (included in eligibility determination) using available authorities (no new wild & scenic-specific authority).
It is important to NOTE that wild and scenic eligibility may provide the only long-term basis for management and protection for key rivers. It is therefore essential, and timely, to press for the strongest and most complete version.
Suitability—Once the land-managing agency (often, but not always, in the course of a management plan revision) declares a river suitable for addition to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the agency continues the protective measures applied to an eligible river. These measures are supplemented by conferring with other federal agencies that might consider projects that could impact the river’s values, seeking modifications that will reduce those impacts.
Deferral of suitability decision—Historically at this stage, the agency has determined that particular rivers are either suitable or non-suitable. In recent years, some management plan processes have included a deferral of the suitability decision.
Under that approach, consideration of suitability is postponed while other factors are allowed to play out—e.g. management plan protections, land acquisitions, streamflow protections, community management/protection plans. Sometimes, the agency simply postpones the suitability analysis until compelled to undertake it—e.g. new dynamics or proposed activities pose threats to river flow and/or values, interest or pressure from communities, advocates, or public officials.
It is important to NOTE that, under current directives or tradition in both agencies, a river found non-suitable loses its eligibility status, and the agency correspondingly loses its obligation to protect the streamflow, river values, and river-corridor values that prompted the eligibility finding; that is, wild and scenic values may be lost to development, damage, or other impacts.
Conversely, a finding of wild & scenic suitability may provide the only long-term basis for management and protection for key rivers. It is therefore essential, and timely, to press for the strongest and most complete version.
As a result, the suitability decision becomes a priority point of focus for river-protection advocates. Securing either a determination that the river is suitable or a deferral of the suitability decision (thus preserving the eligibility status) is critical to retaining continued administrative protection for key river values.
Recommendation—The determination of suitability provides the basis for the agency’s decision to recommend, to the President and to Congress, wild and scenic designation (or non-designation) of particular streams, if undertaken.
EFFECTIVENESS OF THE PLAN
In general, the extent, effectiveness, and enforceability of wild-and-scenic protections using administrative measures (in the land management plan) are less specific, and may be less reliable, than those afforded a river that is actually designated (typically by Act of Congress) as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This is due to two basic factors:
- Management plans rely heavily on standards, guidelines, target conditions, and monitoring standards, all of which are somewhat subjective and subject to in-the-field interpretation; and
- Management plans, and select portions of them (e.g. eligibility or suitability standing), can be amended or revised administratively, albeit requiring a review and public comment sequence comparable to a full plan revision.
Nevertheless, the plan—and its interim management protections for potential wild and scenic rivers—is the enabling and guiding document for all management agency decisions and actions. Decisions and actions that do not comply with the plan—do not ensure protection for a river’s identified free-flowing condition and outstandingly remarkable values, for example—can be challenged, both administratively and in court. The agency is therefore motivated to maintain proper protections. Securing administrative protections (through the management plan or otherwise) is worth the effort, and it warrants continuing monitoring and accountability during the life of the plan.