Contributed by Andy Stahl
There are two kinds of Forest Service land use actions. No, I don’t mean “ones I like” and “all the others.” First are those the Forest Service wants to do. Second are actions that someone else puts forward. This second category is called “special uses.”
I have argued previously that NFMA plans must include the planned timber sale program; in fact, that’s all the law requires of forest plans. The timber sale program is an example of the first category of decisions – those proposed by the Forest Service.
So what about special uses? Should NFMA plans zone land or prescribe rules regarding the myriad of uses someone else might propose. The range of special uses is broad. They include every use except noncommercial recreational activities, such as camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, boating, hunting, and horseback riding. If you want to build a ski area, put a driveway into your in-holding, run a commercial guiding business, film a movie, or bury a natural gas pipeline, yours is a “special use” and requires a Forest Service permit.
Big-league commercial interests have long sought to require that NFMA plans make allowance for their special uses. Energy companies ensured that previous incarnations of the NFMA rules require forest plans to identify corridors along which the companies could string their power lines or bury their fiber optic cables. Ski corporations have worked hard to persuade the Forest Service to zone land to accommodate future ski area expansion. These special interests want first dibs on national forest land by getting their nose under the Forest Service’s planning tent.
If the purpose of NFMA is to comprehensively forecast possible futures, then, by all means, forest planners should anticipate who might want each national forest acre for their own special use, and plan accordingly. I suggest that’s a fool’s errand, and certainly not the mission Congress directed in NFMA.