Planning Rule- Missoulian

Opinions mixed on new U.S. Forest Service planning rule

Read more:

The U.S. Forest Service’s recently released planning rule could turn the agency into a more efficient decisionmaker or create a department of perpetual planning, depending on who you listen to.

“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,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in an email announcing the final version of the rule. “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.”

Critics have been equally expansive. Andy Stahl of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics predicted the process “would die of its own weight.”

“Anyone who thinks this rule will make forest plans quicker to develop is naive,” Stahl said. “It requires more process than its predecessor. To somehow think it’s going to be quicker and able to anticipate the future better — we’re lousy at being able to anticipate the future. The Forest Service has become a planning agency, while the only thing it does is fight fires, which now consumes half its budget. And the irony is the one thing the forest planning rules don’t address is fire management.”

In the Forest Service way of doing business, the planning rule tells individual forest supervisors how to construct their forest plans. Those plans in turn guide what can be done, for example, in the Lolo National Forest around Missoula.


A recent example in the news involved a proposed ski area below Lolo Peak. The developer wanted permission to lease Forest Service land above his private property. But the snowy basin contained a resource management area protecting some wildlife habitat. The Lolo forest plan said such areas aren’t suitable for recreation development.

Forest Service Region 1 spokesman Brandan Schulze said the new rule would require more public collaboration on how recreation or protection decisions are made in a future Lolo forest plan. That’s not to say ski areas or habitat sanctuaries would get preference at the rule-making level, but that the priorities would get set in a different way.

“Some of those designations may change based on what happened since the last time the plan was done (in 1982),” Schulze said. “The rule would guide how a new collaborative process would go forward. It’s much more working up front to building the plan, as opposed to building the plan and getting the public involved after or toward the middle.”

The new rule also requires national forests to protect watersheds and water supplies on national forests; balance multiple uses including recreation, timber-cutting, wildlife management and range use; get more people involved in outdoor recreation; and document the use of “best available science” in decisionmaking.

The rule also changes the way people fight the Forest Service. In the past, opponents of forest projects appealed a supervisor’s decision through an internal review, and then took the case to court if the outcome wasn’t satisfactory.

The new objection format requires more up-front participation by people or groups interested in a project. Those participants have the opportunity to object to a project in its planning stage and argue for changes. But those outside the process have much smaller openings to challenge a Forest Service decision, either internally or in court.

The rule has won commendations from many environmental and conservation groups, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Defenders of Wildlife, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club.

It’s also garnered a thumbs down from the Center for Biological Diversity, whose public lands campaign director Taylor McKinnon said it made species protection voluntary instead of necessary.

“The Forest Service today completed what it’s been trying to do for 12 years, which is to weaken wildlife protections and public accountability on our national forests,” McKinnon said in a statement. “These forests, owned by the American people, are vitally important habitat for hundreds of species now vulnerable to climate change — yet the Forest Service is weakening, rather than strengthening, the safety net that keeps them alive.”

Retired Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, a Missoula resident, said the rule was a much-needed advancement from its 1982 predecessor.

“Back in the 1980s, the Forest Service was sawing 12 billion board-feet of timber,” Bosworth said. “Today what the Forest Service is doing is focused on restoration. The rule needs to reflect the things the service is doing today.”

“There’s no question that the processes we’ve had in place have gotten so burdensome, it’s very difficult doing work on the ground,” Bosworth added. “A lot of money gets spent on planning. Spending seven or eight years to develop a 15-year forest plan doesn’t make sense. I’m sure there’s people on all sides who say this isn’t exactly what they want, but we need to move on.”

Read more:

Note from Sharon:I appreciate that someone was quoted with a critique besides CBD. I’m with Dale, though, “I’m sure there’s people on all sides who say this isn’t exactly what they want, but we need to move on.”

10 thoughts on “Planning Rule- Missoulian”

  1. Sharon, the reason CBD is stepping out as the primary critic is probably because the organization’s primary mission is to protect species diversity, and the group’s comments are aimed at specifically those parts of the rule that address that issue.

    I noticed that most of the statements of support that were issued by other groups were very general, and as you know, forest planning is about nitty gritty nuts and bolts.

    Today I’m hoping to interview Mark Squillace, hardly the voice of radical environmentalism, who has some very similar concerns, based on a written review he shared.

    There are some potential problems with the way the rule deals with species conservation. I know it’s tough to acknowledge that, given the amount of time that’s been invested in developing the rule.

    Let’s hope that the advisory group will find ways to address those concerns in its recommendations on implementation. That might avert a legal challenge so we can “move on.”

  2. Bob, that’s a very insightful comment regarding CBD’s reaction to the planning rule compared with the very general statements of support from groups such as TRCP, TNC, TWS, etc.

    Of course, it being an important election year (and the new planning rule being issued by a Democratic president) basically guarantees that you’ll be seeing generic, vague statements of support from the larger, well-funded, more political (pro-Democratic Party), more inside-the-Beltway organizations. It would certainly be interesting to witness, in a parallel universe, how these same exact groups would react to the same exact new planning rules if they were released by a President McCain or a President Romney.

    Suffice to say, it’s not just the CBD that has concerns with the new rule, as many forest activists that either work or volunteer for smaller organizations around the country are also speaking out against certain aspects of the new rule. Perhaps their comments aren’t making it into the news media for whatever reasons, but the comments are being shared via listserves, etc.

    It may also be interesting to view the reactions to the new planning rule in the context of Dr. Burke’s study, which we discussed at length earlier in the month:

    I don’t know about other people, but I certainly see a connection between the findings of Burke’s study and the public reaction to the new planning rule.

  3. Fear of the past, and partisan politics should not block the future. Alas, many people put their politics on a pedestal, ahead of transparency, collaboration, consensus and compromise. The shift of some eco-groups represent a desire to break the gridlock and follow science to achieve on-the-ground goals, in the face of “climate change”, dying forests, partisan politics and distrust. Indeed, some groups have dropped the “not one stick” meme, instead, adopting a strategy to control every aspect of every project, despite the overwhelming public opinions. Make no mistake that their Plan A is litigation, if they don’t get everything they want. Also, some groups will continue to sue to eliminate ALL timber projects, regardless of science, public safety or rural economies.

  4. Larry, can you please identify who you are talking about here:

    “some groups will continue to sue to eliminate ALL timber projects, regardless of science, public safety or rural economies.”


    “some groups have dropped the “not one stick” meme, instead, adopting a strategy to control every aspect of every project, despite the overwhelming public opinions.”


    • Chad Hanson still continues to pursue the elimination of ALL logging on ALL lands, public AND private. He even opposes Roadside Hazard Tree projects on public roads, rejecting safety issues. Roads that his Prius cannot drive are not worthy of being made safe, is his rationale. Groups like the CBD use lawsuits to block projects that don’t meet their narrow views. The Sierra Club used to oppose all timber projects but, they now have a “Resilient Forests” program that seeks to control the parameters of timber projects, instead of blanket opposition. Indeed, blanket opposition has affected the dwindling donations, as more people have abandoned preservationism, in favor of conservation and careful stewardship.

    • I also agree with Andy’s quote, as there are more loopholes and “tank traps” than ever, embedded within the Rule. Most certainly, the added transparency will expose any (alleged) abuse of the added “discretion”, whether it is really “abuse”, or not. Some of industry would rather stick with the old Rule, as they know where those “landmines” lay. The extremes on both sides seem to prefer the old Rule, opposing uncertainties.


Leave a Comment