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New Direction in Agency Planning Efforts

Okay, I am going to unload a few tid-bits I have been collecting the past few months concerning new actions pending with land management issues.

BLM:  State-wide (California), BLM does not have a good inventory of routes nor do they have good mapping data.  To their credit, they are working to build a standard database of routes that reflects the management plans developed by the various field offices.

Forest Service:  Everyone is painfully familiar with the route designation process and the various gyrations over the past couple of years.  Well, the FS is at least trying to build a good database of their actions. I have used the term "database".  Specifically, this refers to the respective agencies moving into planning efforts using data that is coded into Geographic Information Systems (GIS) layers.

What this means is that for every route designated on the ground, there are a number of attributes that are recorded and stored in a database.  So, each route is described by coordinates and specific features associated.

FS is also experimenting with technology in presenting planning efforts (scoping and public comment periods) to the public.

For example, the Inyo NF will be releasing their Draft EIS for travel management about Jan 23 with a Jan 30 Federal Register publication and a 60 day comment period.

They WILL NOT be releasing paper maps to the general public.  A limited number of paper maps will be produced and placed at certain sites where the public can walk in and review them.

A complete set of detailed maps is 90 pieces of paper.  An overview set is 15 pieces of paper.  Cost factors are driving the Forest Service to re-evaluate their document distribution system.

What Inyo will be providing to the public is a complete set of maps on CD that the public can have printed if they desire.  And, the alternatives will be formatted using the newer Adobe Reader technology of "clickable" layers.  In other words, the Adobe pdf file will contain all of the alternative maps with a selection feature that can turn on or off a layer for display.  With this feature, you can display any combination of alternatives in order to visually see the difference between them.

Inyo will also be providing a limited number of CDs containing the GIS data files.

Okay, what are GIS datafiles???  Well, those are the Geographic Information Systems layers that contain all of the attribute data associated with a particular route (or line on a map).

The agencies have standardized on ARCView as their GIS software program.  They have not standardized on map datum and coordinate system.

If you deal with BLM, you need to be conversant in map datum NAD83 and coordinate system UTM.  If you deal with Forest Service, you need to be conversant in map datum NAD27 and NAD83 and coordinate system Decimal degrees.  (Note:  FS has recently adopted NAD83 as a standard; however, not all of their data reflects that map datum.)

So, what is a map datum and what are coordinate systems?  If you have a GPS, you really need to check your system settings as consumer GPS systems (as a rule) default to WGS84 map datum and degrees/minutes coordinate system.

What does this mean?  Well, it means that if you try to locate a spot using data from your GPS and correlate it to a spot on a map from the Forest Service or BLM, you will be off their designated trail.

The next bit of technology coming in the very near future (March) involves GIS, Multi-criteria Decision Support, NetWeaver, and Ecosystem Management Decision Support.  (For more information, see:  http://rules-of-thumb.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EMDS and http://www.esri.com/)

March will see the release of the Giant Sequoia National Monument Notice of Intent for public scoping.  That NOI will solicit public comment through a series of steps on a web site.  I participated in a trial test of that concept last summer (summer 2008) and have been meeting with stakeholders that have been working to refine the information that will be displayed for the public to provide comments.

In short, the technology steps being used by Inyo NF and Sequoia Monument are supported by Region 5 and USFS Washington headquarters.

Of immediate impact is that pending FS travel management plans have a high probability of being released using electronic copy of maps.

And, future land management plans will be prepared under the GIS/MCDS/EMDS/NetWeaver format.

Based on working with the Forest Service for almost 18 months on this project, I see many positives.  Basically, it will force the agency to provide a more transparent decision process where data will be used to determine the final decision.  This concept has long been known as "modeling".

Yes, it is possible to build a model that is faulty.  However, faulty or poorly constructed models will be easy to spot.

And, it is possible to "game" the system to achieve a desired outcome during the public comment period.  However, statistically, these efforts may not achieve the desired outcome.

In short, changes are coming to the decision process that pose challenges.  These challenges can be alleviated by more involvement in the beginning stages of any project.

Those that show up and work with the agencies will be part of the decision process.  Changes is coming.....

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