Document Type



Harvard Environmental Law Review




The public land use planning process is broken. The land use plans of the principal multiple-use agencies—the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”)—are unnecessarily complex, take too long to complete, monopolize the time and resources of public land management agency staffs, and fail to engage the general public in any meaningful way. Moreover, the end result is too often a plan that is not sufficiently nimble to respond to changing conditions on the ground, a problem that appears to be accelerating due to climate change.

It might seem easy to chalk up these problems to the inherent complexity of public land management. But what if public land management were not so complicated? What if the relevant agencies could rethink their current planning models and break down their decisions into more accessible and more manageable chunks?

In this article, I suggest a new public land use planning framework with the potential to make planning more logical, more efficient, and more effective at achieving the goal of the smart management of our public lands that everyone wants. Moreover, this new approach can be carried out in a way that makes planning more accessible to interested members of the general public, thereby enhancing opportunities for meaningful engagement with public land decision-makers.

The ideas proposed here should not be viewed as final or inviolate. Rather, they are offered as an opening bid worthy of testing and debate. We cannot address the crisis facing the current land use planning program if we are unwilling to try new things. Perhaps the ideas presented in this article, even if tried, will be found wanting. But it is my hope and belief that we can and will learn much from rethinking the current public land use planning process.