Center for Biological Diversity on the New Planning Rule

For Immediate Release, March 23, 2012

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713 or tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

Obama’s Forest Service Weakens Protections for Wildlife on All National Forests

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Forest Service today released its new final rule to govern the nation’s 193-million-acre national forest system. The new rule significantly weakens longstanding protections for fish and wildlife species on national forests. While the Forest Service was previously required to ensure the viability of those populations, the new rule largely defers to local Forest Service officials.

“The Forest Service today completed what it’s been trying to do for 12 years, which is to weaken wildlife protections and public accountability on our national forests,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These forests, owned by the American people, are vitally important habitat for hundreds of species now vulnerable to climate change — yet the Forest Service is weakening, rather than strengthening, the safety net that keeps them alive.”

Congress enacted the National Forest Management Act in 1976 to guide management of the national forest system, which consists of 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. In 1982, the Forest Service adopted national regulations to provide specific direction for activities such as logging, mining, livestock grazing and recreation. Those rules included strong, mandatory protections for fish and wildlife, requiring the Service to monitor and maintain viable populations.

The new rule represents the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to weaken those 1982 regulations. All three previous attempts were challenged in court by the Center and allies; federal courts found all three unlawful. Like the 2000, 2005 and 2008 rules, the Obama administration’s rule would decrease protections for wildlife and increase the discretion of local Forest Service officials.

The Forest Service’s 1982 regulations required that the Forest Service maintain viable populations of fish and wildlife; that requirement applied to both forest plans and site-specific projects. The new rule requires that the Forest Service only maintain viable populations of species “of conservation concern,” and only at the discretion of local forest supervisors; plan protections set forth for those species can be voluntary “guidelines” rather than mandatory “standards.” The new rule also replaces the longstanding administrative appeal process with a pre-decision objection process; it eliminates opportunities for post-decision administrative solutions, leaving litigation as the public’s only means to correct harmful and unlawful decisions.

“At a time when the emergency room is already overflowing with endangered species, weakening preventative care is exactly the wrong approach,” said McKinnon. “But by making species protection voluntary rather than necessary, that’s exactly what today’s rule does.”

4 Comments

  1. Thanks Matthew, I was trying to post this and my internet was having problems.

    Re: the point CBD is making about objections. The point of objections is that you have a draft decision and then people can object to it. We actually got that far under the 05 and the 08 rule. Not sure what the big concern is to have it post decisional (appeals) rather than predecisional (objections). Except meetings to discuss objections are open to the public?

    • I don’t like the predecisional objections process. I argued in an earlier post that

      [At best the objections process is] a minor variation on a theme that could have as easily been made to work under the more-familiar appeals process. At worst, it proves a means to dodge public deliberation responsibility—to deny collaborators an opportunity to seek redress for surprise changes in proposed action as it becomes “federal action.” The only redress then becomes court challenge. It seems to me that in an attempt to streamline the process, the forest service only made things worse.

      You noted in comments to that post that “the idea of ‘no surprises'” is embedded in the process. If so my quibble becomes a non-starter.

      I aired major heartburn over three other things in that post that are no doubt still in the 2012 NFMA Rule:

      First, the three levels of decision making—national strategic, forest administrative unit, project or activity—belie underlying realities of power and decision-making in the Forest Service. In short it stretches the imagination that important Forest Service decisions regarding ecosystems are to be made at the “forest administrative unit”, except for maybe the Tongass, The National Forests of Texas, and so on.

      Second, desired (future) conditions are ineffectually dealt with at the forest or project scale, and often cry-out for contexts that don’t fit well under the category “national strategic.” Admittedly, the Forest Service has left itself an “out” re: broader scale assessments, but it is doubtful that many such efforts will yield substantive results.

      Third, “standards” are better structured/set in contexts far from forest-level planning. I’ll be watching, but I can’t right now think of any meaningful standards that ought to be made in the development or revision of a forest plan.

      There is probably no legal recourse to pursue re: my three areas of heartburn, but I fear that this round of planning, like all earlier rounds since 1979, is headed for disaster as I’ve argued in many posts on this blog and earlier blogs.

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