Planning Rule Published!

Congratulations to all who participated in this 2.5 or so year effort, Forest Service workers, members of the public, members of stakeholder groups, other agencies!

USDA Publishes Final Rule to Restore the Nation’s Forests Through Science and Collaboration

Here’s the link to the press release and here to the rule itself and miscellaneous related documents.

Secretary Vilsack announces publication of the final land management planning rule

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2012 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final Planning Rule for America’s 193-million acre National Forest System that includes stronger protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities.

This final rule – which follows USDA’s Feb. 3 publication of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement – replaces the 1982 rule procedures currently in use, and provides a new framework to be used for all individual management plans for 155 national forests and grasslands across the country. Over half of Forest Service units are currently operating with plans that are more than 15 years old.

“This new rule provides the framework we need to restore and manage our forests and watersheds while getting work done on the ground and providing jobs,” said Vilsack. “The collaboration that drove this rulemaking effort exemplifies the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to foster conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people.”

The USDA and the Forest Service carefully considered over a quarter million comments received on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued in February to develop today’s final rule, which emphasizes collaboration, sound science and protections for land, water and wildlife.

The final rule strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. It also requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions.

“We are ready to start a new era of planning that takes less time, costs less money, and provides stronger protections for our lands and water”, said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This new rule will bring 21st century thinking to a process that is sorely needed to protect and preserve our 193 million acres of amazing forests and grasslands.”

Land management plans under the final rule will include:

Mandatory components to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.
Requirements to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation. The 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.
Requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality including clean drinking water, and the ecological integrity of riparian areas.
Requirements for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish.
Requirements to provide opportunities for sustainable recreation, and to take into account opportunities to connect people with nature.
Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of the planning process. The final rule provides opportunities for Tribal consultation and coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies, and includes requirements for outreach to traditionally underrepresented communities.
Requirements for the use of the best available scientific information to inform the planning process and documentation of how science was used in the plan.
A more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.

Continuing the strong emphasis that has been placed on public engagement throughout this rule-making effort, USDA is forming a Federal Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary and the Chief on implementation of the final rule. The nomination period closed on February 21, 2012 with committee members to be announced this spring.

The Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests in Idaho, the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico, El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico and California’s Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests will begin revising their plans using the final rule this spring. These eight national forests were selected because of their urgent need for plan revisions, the importance of the benefits they provide, and the strong collaborative networks already in place.

4 thoughts on “Planning Rule Published!”

  1. “to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people”.

    The Chugach National Forest (which is too remote and too pristine for its own good) needed to be the guinea pig for 21st century conservation, like a pig “needs” to supply its bacon to those needy folks sitting in boardrooms.

    After all, their primary purpose in life is the eternal quest for the next fat hog to carve up at the public’s expense. That job is made SO much easier when you can get the locals in on the 21st century feast of conservation and call that “collaboration”.

  2. Soooo, when can the eco-lawyers start new litigation, as promised?!?! Also, there is no mention of “climate change”, as it relates to forests. It appears that the Forest Service is QUITE content in going to court on each and every timber salvage/rehabilitation project, seemingly happy with a badly broken system, not mentioned during the Rule-making process.

    “This new rule will bring 21st century thinking to a process that is sorely needed to protect and preserve our 193 million acres of amazing forests and grasslands.”

    So, what will this rule “protect” forests FROM!?!?!? Lumber mills continue to close, or are now excluded from making a small profit from beneficial thinning projects. The Sierra Nevada National Forests are expected to not sell ANY new timber in the next few years, adding to the unhealthy and overstocked conditions, during the start of a new drought/bark beetle/firestorm cycle.

    Additionally, we currently have more than 33,000 square miles of dead and dying forests, with no new salvage guidelines in place, setting the stage for newer, more intense firestorms, destroying irreplaceable wildlife habitats and critical endangered species nesting sites.

    Welcome to the new millennium, Forest Service. How many multi-millions were spent on this plan, while completely disregarding how the Rule can be implemented? There currently is a decided lack of expertise in field crews to do the increased labor-intensive work. They rely on a revolving door of inexperienced temporary employees to do the essential field work of increasingly complex rules, laws, policies and techniques. I call this practice “Federal McForestry”, because of the fast-food mentality of hiring “warm bodies”, to see if they sink or swim.

  3. Yes climate change is in there.. you can just get the pdf of the rule and search on climate change.

    I hope hope hope that no one litigates.

    • I would say that it is a certainty, as they have already said that if wildlife issues weren’t resolved to their satisfaction, that they would sue to keep the old Rule. My prediction is that they will cherry-pick a few of the initial Forest Plan revisions, and use the new loopholes to block the easiest ones. Why attack the Rule when you can individually attack, and win many battles. They will surely have strategized ways to wring out the most monetary victories, with military precision.

      Mainly, I was talking about the press release’s lack of mention of “climate change”, as well as the use of “discretion”. It made me wonder if there were some behind-the-scenes bait and switch. It wouldn’t be out of character for the eco-groups to work from both ends. However, Secretary Vilsack seems to want to stick to doing the right thing, avoiding the idealogue’s mindset.

      If the Forest Service cannot come up with a new Rule, with few loopholes, I rather doubt that Congress can do anything better, within any meaningful time frame. It seems that it will take another major series of fiery disasters to tip the scales, and marginalize those who embrace rural public sufferings.


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