"Not Supported by Current Science": the National Forest Management Act and the lessons of environmental monitoring for the future of public resources management
Environmental monitoring remains a persistent challenge for natural resources management, illustrating the difficulty of incorporating dynamic science into relatively static law and regulation. One such management statute, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), required that “wildlife and fish, and wilderness” be among the multiple uses embodied in the forest land use plans. NFMA’s implementing regulations fulfilled this mandate by requiring forest managers to implement a particular monitoring strategy—Management Indicator Species (MIS)—in making land-use decisions. The regulations’ fundamental assumption was that a small suite of these MIS could and would provide feedback as a kind of ecosystem gauge that foresters could use to inform their decisions. Decades later, MIS remain an aspect of management in most National Forests, while the science of environmental monitoring has long since moved on. In this article, we examine the MIS requirement in light of its animating ecological literature and subsequent scientific work on monitoring. We find that even on its face, the MIS provision did not fill the requirements of an effective environmental monitoring tool. We then look to the future, distilling lessons from the forestry regulations and applying these lessons to environmental monitoring in the next large-scale public resource horizon: the ocean.