In January 2012, the USDA Forest Service released the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the 2012 Planning Rule. This Planning Rule governs land management planning for the National Forest System across the United States. As the Forest Service encounters newly emerging issues such as climate change, recreation management, threatened and endangered species, and forest restoration, the agency is committed to creating a Rule that is widely supported by the public and endures over time. After many attempts to create a Planning Rule over the past 30 years that became mired in litigation, the 2012 Rule was developed through what the Forest Service has called the "most collaborative rulemaking effort in Agency history."

In 2010, the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution assisted the Forest Service in designing a collaborative process to engage the public, Indian tribes, scientists, government agencies, and Forest Service employees across the nation. The 2012 Planning Rule development was one of the flagship projects of President Obama's Open Government Initiative.

Some of the Planning Rule process highlights included the following:

  • A National Assessment. To determine what kind of collaborative process would meet stakeholder needs, the U.S. Institute conducted an assessment that included more than 50 interviews with a representative group of stakeholders, Forest Service employees, and Indian tribes. These interviews helped shape the collaborative process.

  • National Collaborative Roundtables. The U.S. Institute worked with the Meridian Institute to design, convene, and facilitate four large, high-profile national roundtable meetings in Washington, D.C., at which stakeholders discussed relevant national forest planning issues and provided input to the Forest Service regarding the content of the new Planning Rule. Each meeting involved between 75 and 110 participants representing a wide array of interests and perspectives, as well as additional individuals who viewed the proceedings via live video stream.

  • Regional Collaborative Roundtables. In 2010, more than 40 public roundtables as well as meetings specifically for tribal governments and counties were held across the country so that each unique region of the Forest Service could have a voice on what was needed for forest planning. The Meridian Institute coordinated nine separate facilitator teams from the U.S. Institute's Roster of ECR Professionals working together in different Forest Service regions to streamline planning for the events and share ideas on how to make them most effective.

  • The Federal Interagency Working Group. The U.S. Institute served as the convener and facilitator for the Federal Interagency Working Group, a group of representatives from federal agencies with an interest in the topics the Planning Rule addressed, including the Bureau of Land Management, the NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Council on Environmental Quality. The group met throughout the Rule development process and allowed for other agencies' interests and perspectives to inform the development of the Rule.

This collaborative process aimed to not only create a better Planning Rule that endures over time, but it also was aimed to improve working relationships among stakeholders and provide a venue to collaboratively learn and develop a shared understanding of relevant issues and perspectives. In a continued spirit of collaboration, the Forest Service recently announced the formation of a national advisory committee for implementation of the Rule, where stakeholders will be nominated to serve in an advisory role as individual National Forests begin their planning processes under the new Rule.

The U.S. Institute's Public Lands Team, comprised of Larry Fisher, Margaret McCaffrey, Kimberly Caringer, and Gail Brooks, and directed by Cherie Shanteau-Wheeler, the U.S. Institute's Director of Programs, worked together to manage this two-year effort. Caelan McGee, senior program manager/senior facilitator, will be leading future efforts on this project.

For more information, please contact Caelan McGee at