As some of you may be aware, the US Forest Service is required to develop and maintain a Land Management Plan that guides management directive over a 15 year period. In 2012, a new planning rule was developed through the most collaborative rulemaking effort in Agency history. Within the South Atlantic region, two ‘middle adopter’ forests of the planning rule-the Francis Marion National Forest (NF) and the Nantahala-Pisgah NF-are working with an interdisciplinary team and the public to develop a new forest plan under the 2012 forest planning rule. The new planning rule emphasizes collaboration, improved transparency and strengthens the role of public involvement throughout the planning process. It also requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decision making.

Early last week I had the opportunity to join the Forest Service staff of the Francis Marion NF and members of the planning team at a workshop aimed at gathering input on stakeholder and community ideas and values related to forest benefits, outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities. In addition, the workshop also provided the public an opportunity to learn about Crowdbrite (CB), a new interactive web-based tool that offers real-time updates of public input and comments. This technology will help the Francis Marion create a forest plan that truly captures and considers all kinds of values and ideas for forest management.

As an all-around helper and note taker at the meeting, I am excited to report how impressed I was with the inclusive nature of the meeting and the encouraging conversations I was able to take part in. Before participants in the workshop broke into smaller groups to discuss a series of focused questions, Mary Morrison (Forest Planner) delivered a presentation on the Forest Plan Revision Process, followed by discussion on “Sustainable Recreation Management” by Amy Fore (Program Manager for Lands and Special Uses). Stakeholders then broke into several small groups were they were able to openly discuss what benefits they received from the forest, identify places that were their favorite places to recreate or ‘special’ to them in any way, chat about some of the experiences they have had on the Francis Marion, and discuss what could make their visit to the forest better. Some of the conversations I overheard resulted in a renewed appreciation for a certain site, revealed new recreational opportunities, and prompted several debates over the future challenges being faced by the Francis Marion National Forest.

Overall, the meeting design resulted in an inclusive and participatory approach to forest planning that encouraged conversation and promoted listening. I feel privileged and thoroughly lucky to have had the opportunity to sit in during this workshop and hear several emerging themes that will guide future management actions for the forest. Keep a lookout for future updates on how the planning process is going!

To learn more about the planning efforts on the Francis Marion, please >>click here!

If you would like help plan the forest’s future, between February 11 and April 11, you can easily submit your comments online. Click here to begin!

More pictures of this meeting can be seen by >>viewing Lori’s Album!