Here’s the Missoulian:
Obama administration releases new national forest management rules
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 6:15 am
A proposed planning rule for managing national forests puts new emphasis on watershed health and recreation, but also strives to keep loggers in the woods, U.S. Forest Service officials said Thursday.
The national rule will guide local forest supervisors when they make their more specific forest management plans. Those plans govern where trees can be cut, the kinds of wildlife to watch out for, activities allowed in campgrounds and the backcountry, and how people can challenge forest decisions.
“The rule needs to take into consideration those multiple uses, be resilient to climate change over time, focus on restoration of forest health, reduce the threat of catastrophic fires and supply timber products to local mills,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a conference call Thursday.
The meeting unveiled the final environmental impact statement on the proposed plan. After it’s published in the Federal Register on Feb. 3, a final version of the rule will be selected by Vilsack within 30 days.
“We really appreciate that the agency is trying to get projects out more quickly and with less expense,” said Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association. “That really seems to be what they think they’ve accomplished with this. Our biggest concern is whenever you have this expensive a document, what it turns out to be is a blueprint for those who like to litigate. It goes beyond the scope of any planning document ever designed. We focus on simplicity and clarity, and our big concern is this goes exactly the opposite direction.”
The new rule replaces guidelines the Forest Service has depended on since 1982. Many forests, including the Lolo National Forest based in Missoula, haven’t updated their management plans since the late 1980s. The Kootenai National Forest issued a new forest plan in January, but it’s based on the 1982 rule.
A Bush administration revision of the rule was struck down in court in 2009, one of three revisions that failed to pass court muster in the last decade.
The law firm Earthjustice helped overturn that Bush administration draft. Earthjustice attorney Kirsten Boyles said the new version has much better language for protecting national forest watersheds, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s drinking water. But she doesn’t like the planned changes in wildlife management.
“The rule puts a great deal of attention on species that are already threatened or endangered, but it does nothing for species that are doing all right,” Boyles said. “How do we help them to continue to be healthy so we don’t have a train wreck? Elk are generally healthy, and they’re not listed as threatened or endangered. But we think the Forest Service should pay more attention to make sure those populations stay healthy and viable.”
Rather than appeal the 2009 court decision, the Obama administration opted to restart the process. That involved numerous public scoping meetings, including one in Missoula. It also accepted almost 300,000 public comments.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the new rule will make it considerably easier to write, update and amend forest management plans.
“It cuts the time in half,” Tidwell said. “It took five to seven years to develop plans in the past. With the new rule, we should be able to do that in three to four years, or less. That will leave more time and money to get restoration done.”
Putting greater emphasis on watershed health and recreation will present challenges to the Forest Service budget. The agency intends to expand the use of stewardship contracts that essentially trade sawlogs for restoration work like stream rehab or trail construction.
“The Forest Service budget will have to pay for some of those things,” Acting Northern Region Forester Tom Schmidt said in Missoula. “Revenues from timber sales won’t be adequate to pay for all of that.”
But the Forest Service is experimenting with a new way of mixing budget lines together to get more landscape-wide projects done, according to the agency’s Leslie Weldon, director of national forest systems.
“We’re taking things like vegetation management, wildlife, fish, hazardous fuels, roads dollars, and put those into one budget line item,” said Weldon, who headed the Northern Region in Missoula before being promoted to Washington, D.C., in January. “We’re experimenting with that this year and will hope for permanent authority to use it. The goal is to use a suite of tools like timber sales and stewardship contracting to produce revenues that can be reinvested. Then we have a mixture of funds that contribute to restoration.”
That could also include more partnerships with volunteers, non-government organizations and businesses to maintain and expand campgrounds, trails and visitor centers, Weldon said.
“We’re experiencing an increasing emphasis on recreation,” she said. “That calls on us to find different avenues to leverage the dollars we are investing.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at [email protected].
Missoulian- why interview Kirsten Boyles from the Earthjustice Seattle office? Knowledgeable conservationists abound in Montana! Do elk really need more FS attention?
Here’s one from Phoenix.
Forest Service unveils new planning guidelines for national forest uses
by Salvador Rodriguez/Cronkite News (January 27th, 2012 @ 5:00am)
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Forest Service unveiled new planning rules Thursday that it said will emphasize the protection of forest and watersheds while maintaining and creating forest-industry jobs.
“People want us to have a planning process that takes less time, that it costs less, but at the same time provides the same level of protections or higher level of protections for our forests and our watersheds and for wildlife habitat,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “And I feel that this � does that.”
The new rules will take effect in March and have an immediate impact on two-thirds of the country’s 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands.
But in Arizona, officials said only the Tonto National Forest will be affected by the new rules as it revises its land management plan. All of the other national forests in the state are in the late stages of revising their plans and will be grandfathered in under current rules.
Plans for Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab and Prescott national forests are expected to be complete within the next year, said Bob Davis, director of planning for the Forest Service’s Southwestern Region. They would only be affected by the new rules if they made subsequent revisions or amendments to those plans.
“At this point, what we will see is various national forests that are in the process of updating their forest plan that will be using these new guidelines,” said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.
Current national forest management plans were developed under procedures that have been in place since 1982. The Bush administration tried to update the rules, but a federal court threw out that plan in 2009.
“Congress has provided pretty clear direction that management plans should be updated every 10 to 15 years, but unfortunately we’ve waited almost 30 years for many forest plans to be revised,” Skroch said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he believes the new rules will help restore forests and leave them in better condition for future generations.
“We are hopeful and confident that there is support for this rule and that we can move forward to update our management plans,” Vilsack said as he announced the plan.
Businesses and timber and mining trade groups on Thursday guarded their reactions, saying they want to carefully examine the entire plan.
The American Forest Resource Council, a lumber trade group, said it hoped the Forest Service had listened to its comments and made changes “to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
“We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests,” said council President Tom Partin in a news release.
The group said it would review the new rules, talk with the agency and its members before deciding how to proceed.
Environmentalists and conservation groups generally approved of the new rules. Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said Arizona will benefit from the plan’s emphasis on protecting national forest watersheds.
“We get a lot of our water from the national forest, their watersheds, for many of the people in Arizona,” she said. “If we want flowing rivers and clean drinking water, protecting those watersheds, keeping water from being contaminated, those are important benefits for all of us.”
Bahr also applauded the plan’s reliance on science, saying “we could use a lot more science and less politics in our decision-making” on forests.
Jim deVos, director of conservation affairs for the Arizona Elk Society, said he likes the plan because it invites public input on decisions.
“Organized groups have people that do things like read the Federal Register, and they become informed that way. But by using the Internet and other communication tools that are more modern, it allows the general public to become more informed,” he said. “It’s a step forward, in our view.”
The Forest Service said it received nearly 300,000 comments on the plan after issuing a proposed rule last February.
Skroch said the Arizona Wilderness Coalition likes the fact that the new rules could protect potential wilderness areas. But he thought they could have gone further, noting that the new rules retain criteria that exclude any such areas where “you may see or hear things outside of the wilderness area that are not compatible with that wilderness.”
He also said the new rules do not do enough to protect wild species.
But deVos said the Forest Service did a good job balancing social, cultural, ecological and economic conditions in many parts of the new rules. As a result, he believes they will likely satisfy most people.
“Certainly any document that serves the diverse American public and the diverse American forest has got to have some give and take,” deVos said. “It appears to me to be a nice workable plan that doesn’t side too heavily with any particular user group.”
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont’d)
8. Montana Logging Association concern over complexity of document
Earthjustice – Kirsten Bayles of Seattle- thumbs up watershed, wildlife concerns (repeat of #3-5)
American Forest Research Council triangle (repeat of #3-6)
9. Sierra Club water good, science good
10. Arizona Elk Society public involvement good, nice workable balanced
11. Arizona Wilderness wilderness, wildlife concern
Sharon’s notes: I italicized “environmental and conservation groups generally agreed with the new rules,” in this piece, which is completely opposite to the ENS piece (Media Watch #2) “Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists.” Depends on who you interview, doesn’t it?
My “local interviews yield different results” seems to be holding up.
And let’s give a special shoutout to newspapers who interview local folks, and to those groups who admitted that it would take them time to read it, talk about it, and understand it, before they comment.