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FOREST SERVICE: Agency chief says no ‘redraft’ for planning rule (06/14/2011)
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today said he has no plans to scrap the agency’s draft planning rule for the nation’s forests and grasslands, as urged last month by a group of nearly 60 lawmakers who warned the proposal could draw unwanted lawsuits.
But he also made no indication whether the agency would follow the recommendations of conservationists who have argued the agency’s new planning proposal lacks regulatory teeth to protect and monitor wildlife and their habitats.
He said the agency is hard at work analyzing more than 300,000 comments it received in the three months since the draft was released in mid-February. The agency still expects to finalize the rule by the end of the year, he said.
“As we look through the comments, if there’s something that we missed, we’ll look to make those changes,” he said. “What I’m not OK with is the status quo. The planning rule back in 1982 was a very good rule, yet so many things have changed between 1982 and today that we need a different rule so that we’re able to move forward and restore these national forests and provide for the services that these communities need.”
Tidwell said there are no plans to “redraft” the rule, as proposed by 59 lawmakers in a letter late last month that warned of likely lawsuits from environmental groups (Greenwire, June 6).
“It’s my expectation that with the final rule, first of all, there will be less of a need for folks to litigate and that also it will be easier for us to defend,” he said. “I don’t have any indications from anything I’m aware of in the proposed rule that we need to do [a redraft].”
But the lawmakers, most of them Republicans, say the draft planning rule is overly burdensome and would bog the agency down in environmental lawsuits.
“By adding more process requirements and introducing more technical terms, you are increasing the likelihood that, like previous attempts at reform, the proposed rule will be tied up in court for years,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.).
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson (R) said he was particularly concerned about a “viability” provision in the proposed rule that requires consideration of both vertebrate and invertebrate species on the agency’s 198 million acres of forests and grasslands. He was more succinct in describing the rule today at the U.S. Capitol: “It sucks.”
Simpson said he is meeting with Tidwell this afternoon at the chief’s request and expects to discuss the planning rule and the Forest Service’s 2012 budget, among other things. He was not certain what Tidwell had planned to discuss.
The planning rule seeks to revamp how the agency updates land management plans for 175 national forests and grasslands by speeding planning efforts, incorporating best available science, engaging the public and ensuring forests’ resilience to climate change, pests and other threats (E&ENews PM, Feb. 10).
The two previous administrations tried to revise the rule but ultimately had their efforts stymied in court.