Interview with Taylor McKinnon by Bob Berwyn here. My comments in italics.
SUMMIT COUNTY — With more than half the country’s 155 national forests operating under outdated management plans, the U.S. Forest Service is eager to start implementing a new planning rule that was finalized March 23.
But like several previous attempts to revise the existing 1082 rule, this latest version may face a legal test. Now that the rule is final, the Center for Biological Diversity is evaluating whether to pursue a courtroom challenge, said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaign director for the organization.
McKinnon said his organization is scrutinizing the rule for compliance with the National Forest Management Act and will also take a close look at the biological opinion accompanying the rule to see if meets federal standards for protecting plants and wildlife.
“This rule reflects the work of a lot of federal lawyers,” McKinnon said, referring to the perception that the rule was designed at least in part with the idea of repelling potential legal challenges.
Hmm. Should federal lawyers not be involved in developing regulations? That sounds like a recipe for illegality.. if you look at CBD’s staff here, you’ll find that there are many lawyers, who conceivably think that courts are a good place to promote agendas. Seems to me that if you choose courts to promote agendays, you should expect to see a great deal of federal lawyers, it’s a natural consequence. Just sayin’
The way the Center for Biological Diversity sees it, the latest version of the rule represents the fourth attempt to weaken wildlife protection.
but at least this time they can’t claim any partisan reasons.. is there a message in that both parties are going in the same direction?
The Forest Service was not able to successfully defend its previous attempts to update the planning rule.
Top agency officials say the rule includes stronger protections for water and wildlife, and touted the rule as providing a path toward long-term forest restoration.
“This new rule provides the framework we need to restore and manage our forests and watersheds while getting work done on the ground and providing jobs,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. Listen to a previous teleconference on the planning rule here.
According to the Forest Service, the new planning rule includes requirements to keep common native species common; contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species; conserve proposed and candidate species, and protect species of conservation concern.
But McKinnon said the new rule only includes mandatory conservation requirements for species of concern, while the old rule included broader standards aimed at maintaining viable populations of all native species.
Wasn’t it all vertebrate species? While this one includes thing from prions to petunias?
And reiterating a concern expressed by conservation advocates throughout the rule-making process, McKinnon said the new rule gives local Forest Service officials too much leeway in deciding whether individual plans offer adequate protection.
“They’ve taken mandatory protections and make them discretionary,” he said.
Altogether, the Forest Service received more than 250,000 comments on the rule during the process. The agency says it strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. It also requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions.
“We are ready to start a new era of planning that takes less time, costs less money, and provides stronger protections for our lands and water”, said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This new rule will bring 21st century thinking to a process that is sorely needed to protect and preserve our 193 million acres of amazing forests and grasslands.”
Conservationist concerns over loss of species shouldn’t be taken lightly. Leading biologists have been warning for years that the current global wave of species extinctions is a serious threat to the web of life. with each loss affecting greater ecosystems in ways that are as-yet little understood.
I have three counters to this. First, those assertions are based on assumptions and models about how many species are gone (there’s a chapter in Aynsley Kellow’s book on this). Second, some places are resilient to loss of some species (e.g., most notably the American Chestnut). In fact, the idea that “ecosystems will unravel” is based on the idea of an “ecosystem” which is a human construct, and the reification of that concept Ithink leads to a variety of fuzzy thinking (but that will probably be a post after I retire, inasmuch as it would require more time). Third, and most importantly, species that are close to extinction (or not, in some cases, but someone has made the case that they are) are protected by ESA, not NFMA. BLM land does not have NFMA viability clauses and they seem to be doing fine with protecting species based on ESA. At least I don’t think anyone has claimed that BLM land has seen species extinctions due to lack of an viability regulation?
That’s a tough thing for Forest Service planners and bio-crats to grasp as they focus on technicalities and on making sure that their plan is legally foolproof.
This seems a bit pejorative about hard-working federal employees (but it sounds like this is Bob and not Taylor) , and additionally, others (perhaps AFRC?) have gone on record as thinking that this rule opens many other areas to future new, and potentially equally difficult, case law.
In areas other than species conservation, the new rule has garnered favorable reviews, especially in its push for restoration of forests and watersheds. If the agency is successful in healing scarred ecosystems, those efforts could do more to maintain healthy plant and animal communities than legal battles over individual species or projects.