First from the Environmental News Service (thanks to Terry Seyden). My comments in italics.
Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists
WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2012 (ENS) – The Obama administration today proposed a new forest planning rule that will guide the management of 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one prairie in the National Forest System.
The rule provides the framework for U.S. Forest Service land management plans. Once approved, the final rule will update planning procedures that have been in place since 1982, creating a planning process that the the Forest Service says reflects the latest science and knowledge of how to create and implement effective land management plans.
Hiker explores White Mountain National Forest in Maine. (Photo by Bob Nichols courtesy USDA)
But, although plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation, several conservation groups say the new rule weakens protections for wildlife on national forests.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service under its jurisdiction considered nearly 300,000 public comments on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued last February, to develop the agency’s preferred course of action for finalizing the planning rule.
“The most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history has resulted in a strong framework to restore and manage our forests and watersheds and help deliver countless benefits to the American people,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today. “Our preferred alternative will safeguard our natural resources and provide a roadmap for getting work done on the ground that will restore our forests while providing job opportunities for local communities.”
“This approach requires plans to conserve and restore watersheds and habitats while strengthening community collaboration during the development and implementation of individual plans,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
“Under our preferred alternative, plan revisions would take less time, cost less money, and provide stronger protections for our lands and water,” said Tidwell. “Finalizing a new rule will move us forward in managing our forests and grasslands, and will create or sustain jobs and income for local communities around the country.”
In the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, PEIS, for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule released today, the Forest Service requires that:
Plans must include components that seek to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.
Plans would include requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality, including clean drinking water, and the ecological integrity of riparian areas.
Plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation. These requirements are intended to keep common native species common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and protect species of conservation concern.
Plans would provide for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish.
Plans would be required to provide opportunities for sustainable recreation, and to take into account opportunities to connect people with nature.
Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration would be required throughout all stages of the planning process. The preferred alternative would provide opportunities for tribal consultation and coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies, and includes requirements for outreach to traditionally under-represented communities.
Plans require the use of the best available scientific information to inform the planning process and documentation of how science was used in the plan.
The planning framework provides a more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.
The new PEIS is the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to revise nationwide regulations governing national forests. All three previous attempts were challenged in court by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity and allies, and all three prior attempts were found to be unlawful.
Like the 2000, 2005 and 2008 rules, the Obama administration’s planning rule would decrease longstanding protections for wildlife on national forests.
This statement sounds like it’s news and not the opinion of some. Just sayin’, reasonable people could disagree.
“Today’s rule is a step up from the Bush administration’s rule, but its protections are still a far cry from Reagan-era regulations that the Forest Service has been trying to weaken for 12 years,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center.
“Our publicly owned national forests should be a safe haven for wildlife,” said McKinnon. “In the face of unprecedented global climate change and other threats to species, the Forest Service should be trying to strengthen, not weaken, protections for wildlife on our public lands.”
If climate change is unprecedented, all the regulations in the world are not going to keep plant and wildlife species where they are now. There is an inherent conceptual difficulty here. Even if the FS did nothing at all (no recreation, no whatever) under certain scenarios different species are going to exit.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, served as head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration. She is not satisfied with the PEIS released today, saying, “The administration deserves credit for the genuine effort that it made to respond to public comments. Although we strongly support this historic shift in direction, we remain concerned about the adequacy of its wildlife conservation provisions and worry that the forest-planning rule makes promises that it can’t fully deliver.”
A notice of availability for the PEIS will be published in the Federal Register on February 3 with a Record of Decision on the final rule to follow within 30 days.
Clark said Defenders of Wildlife will be reviewing the rule more closely with an eye on improvements that can be made to ensure stronger protections for wildlife before the rule is finalized.
I am curious about what these might be, maybe we can get copies of a letter if they send one.
Here’s one from the Asheville Times
unveils new forest
ASHEVILLE — Conservation groups
welcomed “with cautious optimism” news of
a new national forest planning rule unveiled
Thursday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom
In a media conference call, Vilsack
announced the release of the
environmental impact statement for the
new National Forest System Land
Management Planning Rule, saying there
would be a greater emphasis on science
and watershed protection while promoting
multiple uses such as logging and
recreation when developing new forest
“The general impression is that we’re
cautiously optimistic about the new rule. It
puts importance on maintaining and
restoring the ecological integrity of national
forests, and we like that,” said Josh Kelly,
public lands field biologist with the WNC
Alliance, an Asheville-based conservation
“I think the national forests do need a new
planning rule. Times have changed. But it’s
important that the rule is administered
correctly,” Kelly said. “It will require the
involvement of groups like the WNC Alliance
and the public to make sure the desired
Forests have been operating under a
planning rule in place since 1982. Local
forest management plans, revised every 15
years, guide the agency on how to manager
for timber, wildlife, water, recreation and
The planning rule provides the framework
for Forest Service land management plans
for the 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one
prairie in the National Forest System, which
make up 193 million acres and receive
more than 170 million visitors a year and
have a $13 billion economic impact on
local communities, Vilsack said.
The new planning rule comes at an
opportune time for Pisgah and Nantahala
national forests — two of four national
forests in North Carolina — that together
comprise about 1 million acres. The two
forests in Western North Carolina, which
receive some 5 million visitors a year,
operate under a joint management plan,
last revised in 1995.
“The Nantahala-Pisgah (plan) is up for
Advertisement revision, as it has been for a while. We’re
glad that it will be subject to the new
planning rule,” said Brent Martin, Sylva-
based Southern Appalachian regional
director for the Wilderness Society.
“We’re fairly pleased with the rule overall.
It’s a great improvement over the previous
rule,” he said. “This is what a lot of people
in the conservation community were waiting
to hear. Forest management is not just
about timber anymore. It’s about the
ecological services that forests provide.”
Strong public interest
The agency’s preferred course of action
was developed based on more than
300,000 comments received after the
draft plan was released to the public last
February, Vilsack said. A public forum in
Asheville last April drew about 80 people.
“This has undoubtedly has been the most
collaborative and transparent process used
in forest planning rules,” Vilsack said.
The new rules, which replace those thrown
out by a federal court in 2009, will focus
more on “solid science,” water quality,
forest restoration, wildlife, sustainable
recreation and the challenges of climate
change, while featuring greater public
collaboration and creating more jobs.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the
new planning rule also calls for allowing
individual Forest Service land management
plans to be completed more quickly, in
most cases cutting that time in half.
“In the past it took five-seven years to
develop a plan,” Tidwell said. “The new
planning process should cut that to three-
four years. It will be much more efficient.”
If approved, the new planning rules would
also provide for less expensive
management plans, said spokesman Stevin
Westcott. Instead of $5 million to $7
million, each plan revision would cost about
$3 million, he said.
A notice of availability for the planning rule
environmental impact statement will be
published in the Federal Register on Feb.
3, and Vilsack will issue a decision about a
month after that.
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore
1. weakening protections of 82
Center for Biological Diversity
2. not satisfied
Defenders of Wildlife
3. Cautiously optimistic
4. Fairly pleased; great improvement
Hmm. It seems so far that the regional groups interviewed were more positive than the national groups. It’s also interesting that the ENS chose to give CBD first crack at commenting, apparently because they litigated the previous rules. So litigation gives your opinion some kind of precedence in this media outlet? Worth thinking about. Let’s keep track for ourselves and see what kinds of patterns emerge.