assessment of sustainability of our forests

Southern Forest Resource Assessment

led by the USDA Forest Service's Southern Region and Southern Research Station in collaboration with the USEPA, US Fish & Wildlife, TVA, and state forestry agencies of the Southern United States

May, 2000

Plan for Citizen Participation

Introduction to the Southern Forest Resource Assessment

Why it's Critical to Southern Forest Management

In recent years, the demand for southern forest products and amenities has continued to escalate to the point where many wonder whether the forests can continue to meet that demand for the long term. In response to this critical concern, several federal and state agencies have teamed up to conduct a two year study aimed at measuring whether the South's forests can continue to meet these growing demands while sustaining overall forest integrity. The Forest Service is leading the Assessment, working in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency. The team will also closely coordinate with southern state forestry, water quality and  fish & wildlife agencies.

It will take about two years to complete the assessment, which officially began in the Spring 1999.  It will be conducted in four phases, and will be issue and question-driven.  Issues and resulting questions to be evaluated are being identified and selected with broad input from the public.  The Assessment Team members, called Question Managers, will be responsible for addressing the final Assessment questions.  They will be federal agency subject experts.  They will be expected to utilize the best available, credible information and data in answering their Assessment question(s).  Information may be from public or private sources, but must be technically sound and defensible.

What will the Assessment Mean to the Public?

When it's completed in the summer of 2001, the Assessment will provide public land managers, as well as private land owners, policymakers and other interested publics,  critical foundational information about the condition of southern forests. This document will give consistent benchmark information to help landowners and managers make sound decisions on how to address the demands facing their land bases.

Why is Citizen Involvement Critical to the Assessment?

The demand for forest products and amenities potentially impacts all  southern forests and most importantly, the people of this region. It`s an issue that is important to a lot of people.  Thus, it is critical that all citizens have ample opportunities  to provide input at critical junctures of the study.  Moreover, involvement from a cross-section of different public interests will make sure the study is balanced and covers the full gamut of activities that impact southern forests.

The Goal  of  the Citizen Participation Plan--We Want to Keep the Assessment Fair and Open

A Citizen Participation Plan is needed to guide the way citizens can be involved throughout this Assessment. It codifies our commitment to offer an array of opportunities for people to participate  in the process. In essence--it's our contract with citizens.

We have crafted a plan for citizen participation that  coincides with each phase of the Assessment. It offers a number of activities aimed at allowing citizens to monitor the entire process, provide input at critical junctures and interact routinely with Assessment leaders. The  plan is designed  to ensure the Assessment is fair and that the process is open to the public.  Team meetings will be open--for the most part--to allow citizens a firsthand  view of its process and discussions around it. The plan includes mechanisms to provide regular updates to the public on the Assessment process and provides avenues for the public to work with  its leaders.

The overall objective of obtaining effective public participation in the Assessment is to ensure that it address the relevant questions regarding southern forest resource productivity, diversity and sustainability and that the questions be addressed in a scientifically sound and objective manner.  If  successful, findings contained in the Assessment will be considered credible and fair, and their utility will be maximized.

Citizen Participation Plan is a Work in Progress

This plan is a work in progress. Our aim is to ensure that it be flexible and fluid. If  there are additional needs for public input, we can adjust the plan to meet those needs. We welcome suggestions from citizens who have additional ideas for conducting public involvement activities to support this Assessment. It will take a commitment from all of us to make this effort work.

Please Send Your Ideas to...

If you have ideas that will make this plan for citizen involvement more responsive to your needs, please send your comments to:

Southern Forest Resource Assessment,

c/o John Greis, USDA Forest Service

USDA Forest Service
c/o Florida Division of Forestry
3125 Conner Blvd.
Tallahassee, FL 32399
attn: John Greis

Or you can send them via our web site comment form (no longer available)

Are you on the Assessment's Public Mailing List?

We have already put together a mailing list of citizens and/or organizations who have expressed an interest in the Assessment. If there are others who would like to get regular updates, please contact us at the above address or via the mailing list request form (no longer available).

The Citizen Participation Plan and the Assessment Process

The Assessment  is organized around  four primary phases (listed below).  Each contains one or more steps, and each offers opportunities for  citizens to participate. There are also products that will be created in each phase. Target dates for both the products and opportunities for public involvement are included in this Plan. They of course are estimates and may be adjusted at a later date.

Phases of the Assessment

  1. Definition of Assessment Questions
  2. Development of Work Plans
  3. Technical Analysis and Identification of Small-Area Assessment Sites
  4. Final Synthesis and Reporting

Phase I--Team Defines What the Assessment Will Examine

During this First Phase, the  interagency Planning Team defines the questions to be addressed.   These questions form the foundation on which the final report will be based.  The questions are organized within five broad categories:  (1)  Landscapes/Terrestrial Ecosystems,  (2)  Social and Economic Factors,  (3)  Timber Markets and Forest Management,  (4)  Forest Extent, Condition and Health,  and (5)  Watersheds, Aquatic/Riparian Ecosystems, and Forested Wetlands.

It is imperative that the questions  be inclusive enough to  address the full breadth of concerns regarding forest sustainability.  At the same time, it is important that they be specific so they can focus the efforts of the Assessment Team.

This phase of the assessment was completed in February 2000. 

Citizen Participation Activities in Phase I--

This phase of the assessment was initiated during the summer of 1999, and included several opportunities for public participation.  These are summarized below: 

1. Citizens Provide Written and Oral Input on the Questions the Assessment would Address-- To address the inclusiveness of the questions, the public was invited (via mail and web site) to provide feedback on a preliminary set of  questions generated from a meeting of resource experts from within federal and state government.  The public was invited to comment on these 22 questions through ten public meetings, an interactive web site, or in writing.  A series of meetings took place across the South in August 1999.  In a forum fashion, citizens provided their suggestions on what  the Assessment  team should cover in their study. Citizen input from these  meetings provided the basis for revising the assessment questions. Meetings took place in  Shreveport, LA; Starkville, MS;  Knoxville, TN;  Raleigh, NC;  Tifton, GA.

Completed:  October 1999 

2. Citizens Comment on Revised Assessment Study Questions. Assessment team leaders  took the several hundred comments, compiled and evaluated them in each of the five broad categories listed above.  As a result, the Assessment questions were revised and sets of critical issues and concerns attached to each.  These Proposed Assessment Questions were presented for additional public review and input via mail and the interactive web site.

Completed: January 2000

Updated Questions Provided to the Public for Review during February Assessment Team Meeting February 15-17--  Prior to the team's adoption of the final list of questions to be addressed, citizens were provided a final opportunity to comment on them during the Assessment Team meeting.

Completed:   Feb. 15 , 2000

Where: Clarion Hotel, Airport, Atlanta

Phase II-- The Team Develops Work Plans and Schedule for Conducting Analysis for the Assessment

When the Assessment Questions are finalized, the Assessment Team will develop work plans for each.   They will lay out in detail how the question will be addressed, what information and data sources will be used, methodology for synthesizing the information, and time lines for addressing the question.

To initiate the development of work plans, a meeting of the Assessment Team will be conducted.  The Assessment Team consists of Question Managers, each of whom is responsible for addressing their respective question. The work plans will be developed in two distinct steps; the draft plan development in conjunction  with other team members and final drafting following an opportunity for public comment.

 Citizen Participation Opportunities in Phase II

1. Public Invited to Attend Assessment Team's Meeting to Develop Work Plans;  Citizens May Offer Comments and Observe Proceedings-- The Assessment Team meeting will be open to the public. The public will be provided opportunities to offer input  and interact with team members at scheduled intervals during the meeting, but will otherwise observe the team's deliberations. The format for the meeting will include plenary sessions with a series of small group sessions. An agenda for the meeting has been posted on the Assessment's Web Site.

Date of Meeting: Feb. 15-17, Atlanta, Ga.

Place: Clarion Hotel, Airport

Time: 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15-Noon Thursday, Feb. 17

Completed:  February 2000

2. Draft Work Plan Posted for Public Review on the Web Site: Final Assessment Questions and Draft work plans have been posted promptly on the web site and public input welcomed as study plans are finalized by the Question Managers.

 ProductFinal Assessment Questions and Draft Work Plan for each question.

 Completion Date:  February, 2000

 Comment Period:  March – April 2000 (30 days)

3. Team Finalizes Schedule and Work Plan for Completing Analysis for Assessment's Questions. The Question Managers will refine Work Plans based on the additional input from the public  and subject matter experts

Completion Date:  May  2000

Phase III--Team Gathers Technical Information and Analyzes Data Identifies Smaller Sub-Regional Areas for Further Study

This phase of the Assessment will involve compiling and organizing data and conducting analyses defined by the work plans. As data sets are being compiled, an Assessment Team meeting will be conducted to coordinate and share data, and disclose progress on questions.

Based on selection criteria and preliminary data, one or more smaller, sub-regional areas will be identified for further study. The sub-regional focus area candidates will be areas that are experiencing a trend of particularly rapid forest change or may have forest characteristics especially worthy of further examination.

Citizen Participation in Phase III

1. Public May Provide Input Toward Data Collection--  The public will be welcome to provide data/information for consideration by Question Managers. 

Input should be provided via the web site or in writing to the Question Managers. A list of those managers and their addresses has been provided on the web site.

Completion Date: June  2000

2. Public Invited to Attend  Assessment Team Meeting  Where Members will Discuss Data Collection and Provide Progress Reports on Assessment--The format for the meeting will be a work session setting.  The public will be provided opportunities to provide input during the meeting at scheduled intervals, but will otherwise observe the Team's deliberations.

Date of Meeting: July 18-20,  2000

Place/Time: Union Station Hotel,Nashville, TN

3. Public Invited to Provide Input on Sub-regional Focus Areas. Based on information gathered during the Assessment  and public input, the Planning Team will select sub-regional areas for closer, more detailed analysis. The aim is to examine cause and effect relationships of particular activities on forested areas or determine why particular conditions exist. Citizen input on the criteria for choosing sub-regional focus areas and on candidates themselves is welcome.

Selection Criteria Drafted:  July 18-20

Citizen Comment Period: August 2000 (30 days)

Candidates Identified by Assessment Team Through Screening Process: October 2000

Citizen Comment Period: October - November (30 days)

Areas Selected: November, 2000

4. Citizens Receive Regular Updates Provided on the Web and News Mailing --As the analysis phases continues, the public will receive regular updates on the Team's progress. At least two mailing updates will be provided between March and July. Team leaders will be available to answer questions on the analysis. Additional updates will be provided as needed.

News Update/Web updates:

5. Public Conference on Evaluating Sustainability of Southern Forests

During the latter part of Phase III a conference on evaluating forest resource change and sustainability at broad and fine scales will be conducted.  It will provide a forum for evaluating the efforts of various researchers addressing aspects of these issues around the South, and may provide an opportunity to discuss initial Assessment findings.  The meeting will result in proceedings on methods of evaluating forests and their sustainability and other information presented at the conference.

The public will be invited to attend the conference.  A call for papers will be issued.

Activities:  Conference on evaluating forest sustainability in the South

Completion Date: November, 2000

Location: TBA

Phase IV: -- Analyzing the Data, Releasing Findings, Taking a Closer Look at Selected Southern Forests With an Examination of Sub-regional Areas

The Fourth  phase will begin the conclusion of the Assessment. The Team will complete data analysis and  disclose findings about the conditions and trends in southern forests and general prognosis about their status.  At the conclusion of this phase, a final report will be issued.

Following choice of sub-regional areas to be evaluated, Team members will craft work plans for each. Depending on the time needed to conduct them, these analyses could, and likely will conclude some months after the general report of the Southern Forest Resource Assessment is completed.

Proposed Citizen Participation in Phase IV

1. Team Develops Work Plan for Each Sub- Regional Focus Area.  Public is given opportunity to review work plans.

Date: November -January 2001

* Note: The work plan will include estimated completion date. Based on the work plan's specified schedules, findings will be released for each individual area upon completion.

2. Public Review and Comment on Draft Report  Following internal agency review, the Assessment Report will be reviewed by a variety of external subject experts and the general public.   Comments will  be considered when finalizing the Assessment report.

Products:  Draft Assessment Report

Completion Date (Draft): March 2001 

Completion Date  (30 day Review):  April 2000

3. Final Report Preparation:  When the analysis for the regional Assessment has been completed and citizen input has been considered, the results will be compiled and reports will be finalized. Three major products are envisioned: 1) the Assessment report which will address each of the assessment questions, 2) data sets used to conduct the analyses, and 3) proceedings from the conference on evaluating sustainability in the South.

Completion Date: June 2001

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