Science-Policy Interactions: Idaho Forest Practices Act Rules and Regulations

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies


Public Administration

Major Advisor

John Freemuth


The interactions of research science and regulatory policy were evaluated with regard to the Idaho Forest Practices Act Rules and Regulations governing timber harvest and forest road construction. The rules and regulations are the designated "best management practices" (BMPs) for control of nonpoint source pollution from forest practices, under the provisions of section 208 of the federal Clean Water Act.

Reports of all Idaho research studies relevant to the 188 individual BMPs were assembled and summarized. The research was evaluated to determine how thoroughly individual BMPs had been investigated, and whether the research results showed the BMPs to be effective means of protecting water quality. Audit results on BMP effectiveness were also reviewed. Research scientists were interviewed to determine their interactions with the advisory committee responsible for formulating the rules. The use of science by this committee was evaluated by attending a meeting, reviewing meeting minutes, and interviewing individuals who had been involved with the committee.

When formulating rules, the committee must balance technical considerations of BMP effectiveness with practical considerations regarding ease of understanding, application, and enforcement. Research science is only one of several considerations that may be taken into account when considering rule changes; it is seldom the impetus behind rule changes.

The audits show that the BMPs are highly effective in preventing delivery of pollutants (primarily sediment) to streams. The research also generally supports the effectiveness of the BMPs. However, scientific research on individual BMP effectiveness is often lacking or incomplete. Despite the gaps, the research provides a useful information base for decision making. The scientists have placed priorities on many of the same topics and geographical areas of the state that have been identified by the policy makers as being of special concern.

Scientists have been responsive to policy makers when asked; however, neither the research reports nor the expertise of the researchers has been utilized systematically or optimally by the committee. Often the research-policy link is an indirect one. Both internal and external scientific expertise have been used informally throughout the history of the committee; the trend appears to be towards greater use of research science, especially in the subcommittee process. The expertise of the committee in hydrology and biology has increased over time.

The interactions of research science and regulatory policy in the Idaho forestry BMP process have historically been informal, nonsystematic, and suboptimal. However, most of the BMPs are highly effective in protecting water quality when implemented. Thus lack of implementation of existing BMPs represents a greater threat to water quality than does lack of applicable research data, or failure to incorporate existing research results into policy.

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