This undertaking offers an excellent opportunity to improve on the previous planning short-comings. As I stated, I was encouraged by the lengthy study completed by the University of Montana, but I found some important steps missing. The first step that is all to often passed over is the need for the unit manager to carefully identify the all potentially affected interests and effectively search out their participation. A favorite tactic of some of the fringe interests, is to avoid early participation so they can "lob distractions" into the planning process at a later date. This step is vital, as simply inviting the public is insufficient. Relying on staff or contractors to identify the potentially affected interests usually results in missing some important interest. Remember you are identifying"potentially affected" interests. This may result in identifying some people or groups that fail to recognize the impact the final plan may have on them.
We must next remember that the participation of the unit manager in all public meetings is vital to the development of trust for future controversial discussions. Utilizing contractors to facilitate public meetings is acceptable as long as they do not become involved in the discussions. Their role is to simply keep the discussions focused and record the comments.
One concern I had with the U. of M. study report was their comments on "educating the public". Educating on the planning process is one thing but, all to often these words get interpreted as, " If only we could educate the public they would agree with our decisions". This can be a dangerous mistake. There is no such thing as the "silent majority". As soon as someone realizes they may be effected by a proposal, they will search out others or groups that fit with their conclusions and desires.
Finally, we must use the initial meetings to identify goals and objectives and avoid tools and techniques. Goals and objectives define desired future conditions we want for our forests. Tools and techniques are the management actions used to achieve the accepted goals and objectives.
These few key steps will help develop some degree of informed consent and allow your planning process to conclude with some acceptance for the needs of our valuable forested lands.