Now for some nitty-gritty. Here’s language that fleshes out the first task of plan revision: “(1) Decide the vegetation management and timber harvest program, including the proportion of probable methods of tree removal.”
Most of the proposed rule is taken verbatim from the NFMA itself. The biggest change from the status quo is that vegetation management decisions would be made in the forest plan revision and not revisited in a second project-level decision and associated NEPA review. The proposed rule includes a strong incentive for doing so — it eliminates the site-specific notice, comment and appeals process for vegetation management/timber harvest activities. That’s because the forest plan revision would now make these site-specific decisions.
The vegetation management and timber harvest program component of forest plans would be revised more frequently (every 1 to 3 years) because the program makes site-specific decisions. But with only one NEPA document for each plan revision, this proposal would reduce by 90% (my guesstimate) the Forest Service’s vegetation-related NEPA document production.
36 CFR 219.2: Vegetation Management and Timber Harvest Program.
(a) The vegetation management and timber harvest program (“program”) shall include all site-specific vegetation management activities, including the sale of timber, purchase of vegetation management services by stewardship or other contractual method, and fire use necessary to meet the plan’s goals and objectives for a period of one to three years. An environmental impact statement shall be prepared for the program, if required by Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. The program can be amended at any time. All amendments shall comply with NEPA procedures.
(b) A vegetation management activity included in the program shall not be subject to the notice, comment or appeal requirements of the Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act, 16 U.S.C. 1612 (notes), but shall be subject to the objection procedures contained in this subpart.
(c) Program activities shall be conducted only on lands suitable for the activity.
(d) Program activities shall maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native species in the planning area.
(e) Program activities shall be consistent with the plan’s standards and guidelines, or the standard or guideline shall be revised pursuant to this subsection.
(f) Before stands of trees are harvested, the stand’s average annual growth shall have culminated calculated on the basis of cubic measurement or other method at the discretion of the responsible official. Stands can be thinned before growth has culminated. Salvage or sanitation harvesting of timber stands that are substantially damaged by fire, windthrow or other catastrophe, or that are in imminent danger from insect or disease attack, can be harvested before growth has culminated.
(g) Timber will not be harvested where soil, slope, or other watershed conditions will be irreversibly damaged.
(h) Timber will not be harvested where adequate restocking within five years is not assured.
(i) Timber will not be harvested where water conditions or fish habitat are likely to be seriously and adversely affected by detrimental changes in water temperatures, blockages of water courses, or deposits of sediments.
(j) The timber harvest system will be selected based upon meeting the plan’s goals and objectives and not primarily upon the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit of output of timber.
(k) Timber harvest designed to regenerate an even-aged stand of timber will be used only where:
(1) For clearcutting it is the optimum method to meet the plan’s goals and objectives;
(2) For other even-aged methods it is appropriate to meet the plan’s goals and objectives;
(3) The harvest activity is included in the program and has been assessed pursuant to this subpart;
(4) Cut blocks, patches, or strips are shaped and blended to the extent practicable with the natural terrain;
(5) The area to be cut in one harvest operation (e.g., one cut block) does not exceed the maximum size limit established by the land management plan. If the plan has no maximum size limits, even-aged harvest cannot proceed until the plan is revised to include maximum size limits. Maximum size limits may be exceeded after public notice and review by the responsible Forest Service officer one level above the Forest Service officer who normally would approve the harvest activity. Maximum size limits shall not apply to the size of areas harvested as a result of natural catastrophic conditions such as fire, insect and disease attack, or windstorm; and,
(6) The even-aged harvest protects soil, watershed, fish, wildlife, recreation, and esthetic resources, and assures the regeneration of trees.