Proposed changes to the NFMA planning rule species viability provision were presented to the public at last week’s National Roundtable on the proposed planning rule in Washington D.C. The viability provision, intended to fulfill the diversity requirement of the National Forest Management Act, has been the most contentious element of previous attempts to change the NFMA planning regulations (or rule).
The proposal would make five major changes to the species viability requirement of the existing 1982 rule.
1. The requirement would apply to all species, not just vertebrates. The following categories of species would need specific attention in a forest plan: (1) contribution to recovery of Threatened or Endangered species; (2) conservation of “species at risk” to preclude listing (species at risk are candidate, proposed, and other species for which loss of viability is a concern across the range of the species); (3) conservation of “species of concern” to prevent extirpation from the plan area (“species of concern” are rare within the plan area but are relatively secure throughout their range.)
2. The plan would need to provide “ecological conditions” (rather than “habitat”) to support viable populations of native species in the plan area. Ecological conditions would include components of the biological and physical environment that could affect diversity of plant and animal communities and the “productive capacity of ecological systems.” The components could include not only habitat, but roads and other developments, human uses, and non-native invasive species.
3. Rather than selecting “management indicator species” to monitor, there would be a “strategic” selection of a “small set” of focal species. Focal species would be those whose status and trends are likely to be responsive to changes in ecological conditions, permit inference to the integrity of the overall ecosystem, and provide meaningful information regarding the effectiveness of the plan in maintaining diversity of plant and animal communities. The rule would require two levels of monitoring – the first level would be specific to the forest, and the second level would require coordination between the Forest Supervisor, Regional Forester, and Station Director for those species whose range is wider than a forest.
4. The rule would contain language similar to the 2005/2008 rule that provided for species at two levels or “filters.” The first level, is the “ecosystem level”, and the plan would guide the maintenance or restoration of structure, composition, processes and diversity of healthy and resilient ecosystems (lots of buzzwords there – new terms of particular importance are “restoration” and “resilience” – the rule attempts to relate those two terms by explaining that the goals of restoration are to assist in the recovery of resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems) Also, the idea is intended to be consistent with NFMA’s diversity provision that uses the notion of “community.” The second level would be the species level, but like the 2005/2008 rule, the intent is that most plan direction would respond to the first level and not the second.
5. Specific language would be added to the rule to explain that the species viability obligation is “within the authority of the Forest Service” and the “capability of the land.” This addresses cases where factors affecting viability are outside of the agency’s control. Note that these provisions may also be relevant when changes in climate would change the capability of the land.
The draft proposed rule will begin the clearance process in the Forest Service and the Department throughout August and Sepctmber. In October, it will be submitted to OMB and other federal agencies. The proposed rule and DEIS will be published in December, with public comment from January to March.
Further information is available on the planning rule website.