If there is one thing the Forest Service should have learned from the last round of forest planning, it is that they should put realistic projections of timber volume in their forest plans. These numbers are going to create expectations for the timber industry and Congress that will translate into pressure to produce that amount. It’s when they try to plan timber programs and sales that are more intensive than are appropriate for other resources (i.e. wildlife) that they often end up in litigation.
Unfortunately, what I’ve seen in the few revised plans that have gotten this far looks like a continuing tendency to declare as many acres as possible to be suitable for timber management (defined as growing a regulated crop of trees), and to be evasive about how much future volumes would be reduced because of the presence of at-risk wildlife species (and the standards and guidelines required to provide their habitat).
In addition, there is a greater emphasis on the role of agency in budgets in determining the amount of timber that will be produced, to the point that forest plan alternatives may differ as much in their assumed budgets as they do in actual management direction. This is despite the fact that forest plans do not make budget decisions.
I get the feeling that there is a lack of transparency developing about the real tradeoffs involved in national forest management so that the Forest Service can once again promise everything for everyone, and then give itself the most flexibility to find timber sales on the largest possible suitable land base.