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Forest Service Releases New Planning Rules
Today the Forest Service issued its final rules that direct how each of the 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands covering 193 million acres across the country will manage our public lands. These rules guide the development and publication of Land Management Resource Plans (e.g. Forest Plans) and, as is most often the case with agency actions, contain both positive and negative aspects.
On January 26, 2012, the Forest Service released these final regulations, which went into effect with today’s announcement. We offer a full review of some portions in our Spring Equinox edition of the Road RIPorter.
The new rule replaces those established in 1982 and follows many attempts to replace them. While not as strong as the old regulations, the new rule has some good qualities such as:
- A requirement for the use of the best available science
- Incorporation of the ecological integrity concept, which is much better than “forest health”
- Recognition of ecosystem services as a multiple use
- Emphasis on forest restoration
- It directs the establishment and protection of riparian areas
Of course there are some bad qualities as well, which include, but are not limited to:
- No requirements to protect watersheds
- No requirements for road removal or implementation of the minimum road system
- Weakens protections for soils and requirements for soil productivity
It does require the use of standards and guidelines, which is good, but does not clarify when to use them,
- Offering the option between the two is problematic since guidelines are legally less enforceable than standards, thereby potentially weakening any provisions that rely on guidelines alone
- Introduces the “sustainable recreation” concept that requires a balance of ecological, economic and social factors, but lacks clear direction as to how this will be achieved
- Gives way too much discretion to forest supervisors
- Weakens wildlife viability requirements
- Limits the public process and opportunities to challenge decisions
Overall, the new planning rules are a mixed bag, but much better when compared to past attempts to update them during the previous Bush Administration. Still, they are much weaker than the Regan era planning rules, much of which should have been retained.