Expanding outreach efforts for forest plan revisions

Out of the box and off the forest:

image of a word cloud

Summer is in full swing and so is the 90-day, public comment period for the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and draft forest plans for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. The public and tribes can expect multiple opportunities to engage with us as we move forward on this effort!

During past public comment periods, Region 5 held one public meeting and one tribal forum on each forest to engage the communities most directly involved. This approach focused outreach in the forests’ neighborhoods, but we realized that these forests are also destinations for people who live in California’s urban centers. So we decided to take our outreach up a notch and engage with as many people as possible. We are hosting two rounds of public meetings and tribal forums on each forest as well as three urban meetings (two in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco) and two webinars (one internal for all forest service staff and one external for all interested publics) throughout the summer.

Beyond additional locations, we’re also trying different formats. We’re using new and different ways to generate conversations among participants such as interactive GIS mapping and word-cloud exercises. These approaches offer attendees real-time information about forest resources and provide a view into what others value in their forests.

The GIS mapping stations are staffed by Forest Service employees and equipped with a laptop and projector to help people zoom into key areas of interest. Not only does this approach help inform the public, it also helps forest staff understand how the public uses maps and the type of information they are interested in. By using interactive GIS mapping tools rather than just poster maps, the Forest Service can begin to reduce the amount of paper waste it generates with each meeting as well. The word-cloud exercise consists of an online and mobile text application asking the public to answer a question with one word. As more people weigh-in, the application generates a cloud of words based on the submitted answers with varying text sizes. The larger the font of the word, the more common it is in the respondents’ answers. This is a quick, interactive and visual way of determining common themes among groups.

During the meeting at El Pueblo Historic Monument in Los Angeles, a group of more than 50 youth (all under the age of 25 years old) participated in a word-cloud exercise to determine what they would most like the forest to provide for future generations. The results were telling. While trees, waterfalls and paradise were among the top requests, the indisputable top item they wanted forests to provide was water.

We hope these interactive exercises will engage the public to hold their own dialogue and understand one another’s concerns.

So far we’ve completed the first round of forest meetings and tribal forums, all three urban meetings, both webinars, and reached nearly 400 members of the public. But we’re not done yet. Our public comment period ends August 25. We are hosting a second round of public meetings and tribal forums on each forest. Additionally, many Forest Service staff are attending county board of supervisors’ meetings, partner groups’ meetings, and other community-hosted events to discuss forest plan revisions. We continue to update our project website and send electronic updates to our stakeholders as new information is available.

If you’re interested in learning more about this project, please visit the project website.