Language that supplements the species provisions of NFMA is included in the discussion draft of a comprehensive oil and gas bill being reviewed by the House Natural Resources Committee. The latest discussion draft of H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act (CLEAR Act) was unveiled by chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.V) last year and discussed at a hearing on Wednesday. The proposal is getting a lot of attention and may be moving quickly because of its reforms of both onshore and offshore oil and gas management in light of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Section 228 of the draft relates specifically to Forest Service planning, and regulations that would be issued under this section are deemed to be NFMA regulations. It says that the Secretary of Agriculture or Interior in cooperation with State fish and wildlife agencies “shall plan for and manage planning areas under the Secretary’s respective jurisdiction in order to maintain sustainable populations of native species and desired non-native species within each planning area” consistent with (a) FLPMA, (b) NFMA, and (c) all other applicable laws. The definition of “sustainable populations” is similar to the 1982 planning rule viability language: “The term ‘sustainable populations’ means a population of a species that has a high likelihood of persisting well-distributed through its range within a planning area based on the best available scientific information, including information obtained through the monitoring program . . ., regarding its habitat and ecological conditions, abundance and distribution.” The Secretary would certify that each Forest Plan would comply with this provision. If there are factors affecting wildlife sustainability that are outside of the Agency’s control, the Secretary would certify that to the maximum extent practicable any project does not increase the likelihood of extirpation from the area covered by the Forest Plan.
The draft language would also require the monitoring of “focal species” to determine their population status and trend. The Forest Plan monitoring program would provide for both monitoring of habitats as well as population surveys. Focal species are defined as species whose “population status and trends are believed to provide useful information regarding the effects of management activities, or other factors, on the diversity of ecological systems to which they belong, and to validate the monitoring of habitats and ecological conditions.” This focal species concept is similar to what was used in the 2000 planning rule.
The language also requires coordination with state and local governments, other Federal agencies, and NGOs to maintain sustainable populations, develop strategies to address the impacts of climate change on species, establish linkages between habitats and discrete populations, and reintroduce extirpated species where appropriate.