FAQs on 2012 Planning Rule

Questions and Answers on the 2012 Planning Rule

General

Jobs and the Preferred Alternative

The Framework for Planning

Ecological Sustainability and Restoration, Water, Wildlife and Climate Change

Social and Economic Sustainability and Multiple Uses

Objection Process

Science and Transparency in Planning

Public Participation in Planning

Rule Development and Next Steps

Q&A's on the Proposed Rule

Q&A's on the 2009 Notice of Intent

What is the action being taken by the Department?
USDA Undersecretary Harris Sherman has signed the 2012 National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule. The 2012 planning rule is available on the planning rule website and will be published in the Federal Register soon. The 2012 planning rule was developed after more than two and a half years of public input, including more than 300,000 public comments. It will be in effect 30 days following publication.

What is the 2012 planning rule?
The Secretary of Agriculture has selected Modified Alternative A, with clarifications, as the 2012 planning rule. Modified Alternative A was the preferred alternative displayed in the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).  The Notice of Availability of the PEIS was published in the Federal Register on February 13, 2012 (77 FR 5513).

What is different between the preferred alternative and the 2012 planning rule?
There are no substantive differences between the preferred alternative included in the PEIS released in February, 2012 and the 2012 rule. A few clarifications were made to better represent the intent of the preferred alternative: these clarifications do not substantively change the rule. They include:

  • Changes made in the section on New plan development or plan revision (§219.7(e)(1)(iv)) and Project and activity consistency with the plan (§ 219.15(d)(3)) to clarify that compliance with both standards and guidelines is mandatory: a standard requires strict adherence to its terms, while a guideline allows for flexibility so long as the purpose for the guideline is achieved.
  • Changes made in the section on Diversity of plant and animal communities (§219.9(b)(1)) to clarify that the responsible official must determine whether the ecosystem plan components ((§ 219.9(a)) provide the necessary ecological conditions, or whether additional species-specific plan components must be included in the plan.
  • Changes made to the definition of designated areas in § 219.19 to clarify that the examples of designated areas included in the preferred alternative were not intended to be exclusive.
  • Changes made throughout Subpart B (Pre-decisional Administrative Review Process) to clarify that organizations, States and Tribes are among the entities that may object to a plan decision.

How can the public be involved now that the planning rule is final?
The Forest Service and USDA have appreciated the input and feedback we’ve received from the public throughout the process of developing the planning rule. There will be several ways that the public can continue to be engaged and contribute to the planning process now that the planning rule has been finalized. The Forest Service is developing directives to provide specific guidance on how to implement the 2012 planning rule. There will be a comment period, giving the public an opportunity to have input before the directives are finalized. Most importantly, forests and grasslands will begin revising and amending their plans under the 2012 planning rule and the public will have opportunities to be involved throughout all stages of planning.

In January the Secretary announced a new Federal Advisory Committee to advise the Chief and Secretary on implementation of the 2012 planning rule. This committee will continue the collaborative nature that has made this rulemaking process so successful. Over 220 people from 34 states have applied to serve on the committee, and selected members will be announced in late spring. The committee will begin meeting in summer 2012 and all committee meetings will be open to the public. 

Which forests will be the first to revise plans under the new rule?
Eight national forests have been selected to be “Early Adopters” and the first to revise their land management plans using the 2012 planning rule.

The Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests in Idaho, the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico, the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico and California’s Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests will begin revising their plans this spring and summer.

What makes a planning rule important? What does it do?
A planning rule is a statutory requirement that outlines the procedures to amend, revise, and develop land management plans, and establishes minimum content requirements for these plans. The requirement for a planning rule is set out in the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (at 16 USC 1604 (g)).

A planning rule establishes requirements and constraints for land management planning and for land management plans. Each land management plan establishes a framework to guide all natural resource management activities on a forest or grassland. Just as a planning rule establishes requirements and constraints for land management planning, individual land management plans establish requirements and constraints for on-the-ground management decisions within a plan area.

The National Forest System consists of 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. The land management plan for each forest and grassland provides a framework for integrated resource management and guides project and activity decision-making on the unit. The National Forest System planning rule provides the overarching framework for individual forests and grasslands in the National Forest System to use in developing, amending, and revising land management plans. Forest and Grassland Supervisors use these procedures to develop land management plans that set forth specific desired conditions and guidance, for example, for forest health and resilience, species and habitat protection, contributions to sustainable communities, and recreational opportunities and other multiple uses.

Why do we need a new planning rule? Why are we taking this action now?    
National Forests and Grasslands are a vital part of the solution to a number of environmental and social challenges facing the nation. Such challenges include restoring forests, protecting watersheds and habitat, addressing climate change, sustaining local economies, improving collaboration, and working across landscapes. The 2012 planning rule provides the opportunity to help protect, reconnect, and restore national forests and grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural resources.

Planning rule procedures from 1982 have guided the development, amendment, and revision of all existing Forest Service land management plans. However, since 1982 much has changed in our understanding of how to create and implement effective land management plans, and in our understanding of science and the land management challenges facing Forest Supervisors. Because planning under the 1982 procedures is often time consuming and cumbersome, it has been a challenge for units to keep plans current. Plans in the interim lose much of their utility because they no longer reflect the reality on the ground. 

The Forest Service has been attempting to modernize the planning rule since the early 1990s. The vastly different context for management and improved understanding of science and sustainability that has evolved over the past three decades creates an urgent need for a durable and adaptive planning framework that allows the Agency to respond to new challenges and management objectives for NFS lands.

Under the 2012 planning rule, the Forest Service should complete plan revisions more quickly at reduced cost, while using current science, collaboration, and an all-lands approach to produce better outcomes for people and the environment.

What is the history of the Forest Service planning rule?
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requires regulations “under the principles of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, that set out the process for the development and revision of the land management plans, and the guidelines and standards” that  NFMA prescribes (16 USC 1604 (g)).

In 1979, the Department first issued regulations to comply with this statutory requirement. The 1979 regulations were superseded by the 1982 planning rule, which has guided the development and revision of all existing land management plans. Recommendations from a review of the 1982 rule and the Agency’s experiences with planning led the Agency to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for a new rule in 1991, and two proposed rules, in 1995 and 1999. In 2000, the Department issued a final rule to replace the 1982 regulations. However, this rule was challenged in federal district court, and at the same time, internal review in the spring of 2001 concluded that the 2000 rule would be too difficult to implement. The results of the review led the Department to issue a new planning rule in 2005, and a revised version again in 2008, but each of those rules was held invalid by a federal district court. Because the courts never ruled on the validity of the  2000 rule, that rule, including its transition provisions allowing the Agency to continue to use 1982 rule procedures, legally came back into effect when the 2008 rule was set aside in 2009.

The 2012 planning rule is expected to bring stability to planning. It will facilitate planning under modern methods and consistent with current science. This rule will help the Agency protect, reconnect, and restore national forests and grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural resources.

What is the current state of National Forest System land management plans?
There are 127 land management plans for National Forest System lands. Sixty-eight of these plans are past due for revision; most of these plans were developed between 1983 and 1993 and should have been revised between 1998 and 2008.

How is the 2012 planning rule different from the 1982 rule procedures?
The 2012 planning rule creates an adaptive framework that will allow the Forest Service to meet modern and future needs, taking into account new understanding of science, land management, and the all-lands context for managing resources. It focuses on outcomes, rather than outputs, and will help units identify their unique roles in the broader landscape and create land management plans to guide proactive contributions to ecological, social, and economic sustainability. The 2012 planning rule emphasizes collaboration, requires improved transparency, and 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.

Highlights of the 2012 planning rule as compared to the 1982 rule procedures include:

  • A more effective and efficient framework, creating an adaptive planning process based on science, public values, and effective land management practices. The agency expects plan revisions will take less time and cost less money under the 2012 planning rule, while achieving better results for people and the environment.
  • Increased requirements to strengthen the role of public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of land management planning, while also retaining the traditional notice and comment procedures under NEPA.
  • Improved ability to respond to climate change and other stressors through an adaptive framework of assessment, planning and monitoring and new provisions intended to improve resiliency of ecosystems on each unit.
  • An all-lands approach to land management planning for NFS lands, based on the recognition that many management issues, such as fire, water, and wildlife, will require an understanding of what is happening both on and off the National Forest System.
  • An emphasis on the need to restore NFS land and waters, including requirements to maintain and restore ecological integrity, and to consider opportunities for landscape-scale restoration and restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems.
  • Increased protections for water resources, watersheds, and riparian areas, including requirements to identify watersheds for priority restoration; maintain and restore aquatic ecosystems, watersheds, water quality and water resources including public water supplies, groundwater, lakes, streams, and wetlands; maintain and restore riparian areas; and provisions for best management practices for water quality.
  • Updated, science-based requirements to provide for plant and animal diversity and the persistence of native species by providing for ecosystem integrity and diversity, and by targeting additional provisions for at-risk species. Plan components will be designed to provide the ecological conditions (habitat) to keep common species common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, conserve candidate and proposed species, and maintain species of conservation concern.
  • Strong support for vibrant rural communities, including provisions to guide the contributions of a forest or grassland to social and economic sustainability, taking into account the social, cultural, and economic conditions relevant to the area influenced by the plan and the contributions of the unit to jobs and the economy.
  • Requirements to provide for multiple uses and integrated resource management on National Forest System lands, considering a full range of uses and values including timber, mining, grazing, energy, outdoor recreation, watershed, wildlife and fish.
  • An emphasis on sustainable recreation as an important multiple use and as a contributor to social and economic sustainability, including requirements that plans provide for sustainable recreation. Sustainable recreation includes settings, opportunities and access, for a range of uses, on land, water, and in the air. Responsible officials must also consider habitat to support hunting and fishing when providing for multiple uses.
  • Requirements to provide for ecosystem services, protect cultural and historic resources, protect wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers, and appropriately manage other designated areas and areas of Tribal importance.
  • New requirements for a unit and landscape-scale monitoring program based on the latest science, strengthening the role of monitoring so that units can better track changing conditions and measure progress towards meeting objectives in the plan.
  • New requirements to use and document the use of the best available scientific information to inform the assessment, plan decisions, and monitoring program.

Will the 2012 planning rule be more efficient and streamline the planning process, as compared to 1982 rule procedures? 
Under the 2012 planning rule the agency should be able to revise more plans with the same amount of money. The 2012 planning rule should reduce the amount of time (3-4 vs. 5-7 years) and the amount of money ($3-4 vs. $5-7 million) that it takes to revise individual forest and grassland land management plans, as compared to the current 1982 procedures. Reducing the time and cost involved in plan revision and instituting a more adaptive framework for planning will allow the Agency to update more plans using the same amount of resources. We should be able to keep more plans current so they more accurately reflect new information and changing conditions on the ground.

What will happen to land management plans that are already under way using the 1982 rule procedures?
The 2012 planning rule includes a transition provision that would allow each national forest or grassland that began its plan revision using the 1982 procedures either to continue and complete revision under 1982 planning rule procedures or to use the new rule.  

How will the 2012 planning rule impact jobs and small businesses? How will it affect rural America?
Under the 2012 planning rule, plans will include direction to contribute to social and economic sustainability and provide for multiple use-management of the National Forest System. The resulting management from these requirements should enhance jobs and income opportunities for local communities and rural America.

Plans developed under the 2012 planning rule will provide opportunities and access for a range of uses, including sustainable recreation, which will contribute to the social and economic health of communities. Planning will consider a full range of uses, resources and values relevant to the plan area. Plans will also provide for ecosystem services, such as clean drinking water, that support the economic sustainability of local communities and businesses.

By managing for sustainable uses of forests and grasslands, national forest management provides opportunities for businesses that benefit from goods and services associated with NFS lands. National forest management also provides opportunities for sustainable uses of forests and grasslands such as a wide range of recreation opportunities, woody biomass utilization, timber harvesting, and restoration opportunities.

Management activities can directly contribute to job creation through contracting with local businesses for services, such as campground construction, road and trail maintenance, streambed restoration, hazardous fuel reduction, and other types of services. The public’s use and enjoyment of National Forest System lands greatly contributes to local economies through the revenue generated by the more 173 million recreational visits made annually to national forests and grasslands.

Traditional and new uses and services will continue to provide jobs, income, and ways of life for many Americans. There are many factors that influence the level of various uses on and off National Forest System lands, including increasing population, changing cultural and social values, changing rural and global economies and economic conditions and demands, and conflicting and competing resource concerns. We will engage with communities to help ensure that a broad spectrum of values and uses relevant to each forest or grassland are considered as plans are being developed.

How will the 2012 planning rule help get work done on the ground?
The 2012 planning rule will create a more efficient and effective process through an adaptive framework for land management assessment, planning and monitoring. This framework should help the Forest Service to use resources more effectively and focus on achieving desired conditions and objectives.

The 2012 planning rule incorporates many of the best practices the Forest Service is already using across the National Forest System. It supports restoration, and provides a platform for collaboration that has proven effective in allowing stakeholders to move beyond conflicts of the past to find agreement for accomplishing work on the ground. In addition, the 2012 planning rule is designed to complement and reflect work currently being done for the Agency’s Climate Change Scorecard, Watershed Condition Framework, the Sustainable Recreation Framework, National and Visitor Use Monitoring, and other programs of work.

What is the framework for management set out in the 2012 planning rule?
The 2012 planning rule includes a framework for adaptive management and planning that reflects key themes from the public, as well as experience gained through the Agency’s 30-year history with land management planning.

The framework consists of a three-part cycle: 1) assessment, 2) revision/amendment, and 3) monitoring. The phases of the framework are complementary and are intended to create a feedback loop that allows the Forest Service to adapt management to changing conditions and to improve plans based on new information and monitoring. Throughout implementation of the cycle, the Forest Service will:

(1) Assess conditions, stressors, and opportunities on the NFS unit within the context of the broader landscape by rapidly identifying and evaluating relevant existing information from a variety of sources;
(2) Develop, Revise or Amend land management plans, and
(3) Monitor to detect changes on the unit and across the broader landscape, to test assumptions underlying management decisions, and to measure the effectiveness of management activity in achieving desired outcomes.

Through this framework, the 2012 planning rule will create a collaborative and science-based planning process so that plan revisions and amendments are informed by public values and the best available scientific information. The framework is intended to ensure that managers understand the context for management of the units within the broader landscape. It is also designed to facilitate adaptation in response to climate change and other impacts to resources on the unit, allowing responsible officials to respond to new information and changing conditions.

The 2012 planning rule includes direction about plan components. What is a plan component?
Plan components are the essence of the plan. They are the elements (standards, guidelines, desired conditions, etc.) that guide future project and activity decision making. Plan components can apply to the entire plan area or to specific geographic or management areas, depending on what is specified in the plan. Standards, guidelines, desired conditions, objectives, and suitability of lands are all required plan components. Goals are an optional plan component.

How will the 2012 planning rule help national forests and grasslands restore lands and promote resilient ecosystems?
The objective of the 2012 planning rule is to guide the collaborative and science-based development, amendment, and revision of land management plans that promote healthy, resilient, diverse, and productive national forests and grasslands. NFS lands provide among the highest quality habitat and the cleanest water of all lands in the country. The 2012 planning rule provides for the maintenance of those lands. There are also millions of acres of NFS lands are degraded or are at risk of becoming degraded, and need restoration. From large scale pine beetle outbreaks in the Intermountain West, to hazardous fuels near communities, there are many restoration needs on NFS lands. The 2012 planning rule provides a framework and includes requirements for restoration of those lands and ecosystems.

Under the 2012 planning rule, land management plans will include components to maintain or restore the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area, including by maintaining or restoring their structure, composition, function, and connectivity; maintain or restore air, soil, water resources and riparian areas in the plan area; and provide for plant and animal diversity, taking into account the potential impacts of climate change, wildfire, and other stressors on the unit. Relevant existing information will be identified and evaluated during the assessment phase. The monitoring program will track ecological and watershed conditions and measure progress towards meeting desired conditions and objectives.

Comments from, and discussions with the public, as part of this rule-making effort revealed growing concern about a variety of risks and stressors impacting resources, services, benefits, and uses on NFS lands. Issues included: climate change; insects and disease; recreation, timber, and shifts in other local demands and national market trends; population growth and other demographic shifts; water supply protection; and other ecosystem support services. Addressing these types of issues and risks requires a larger landscape perspective, information from a broad spectrum of sources and users, and a framework that can facilitate adaptation. The new requirements in the 2012 planning rule should increase Agency and unit capacity for adapting management plans to new and evolving information about risks, stressors, changing conditions, and management effectiveness, in order to restore and promote resilient systems on the unit.

How will the 2012 planning rule help national forests and grasslands promote watershed health and clean water?           
One of the original purposes for establishing the NFS was to protect our Nation’s water resources. National Forest System lands contain 400,000 miles of streams, 3 million acres of lakes, and many aquifer systems that together serve as the source of drinking water for more residents of the United States than any other source. The Agency protects and improves habitat for more than 550 rare, threatened, and endangered aquatic species; provides outdoor recreation to more than 130 million visitors per year near streams, lakes, and other water resources; and supports access and operations for more than 200 hydroelectric facilities. National forests alone provide 18 percent of the Nation’s supply of drinking water and over half the water in the West. The Organic Act, Weeks Act, MUSYA, and the NFMA all discuss the protection of water and/or watersheds.

The 2012 planning rule includes a strong set of requirements associated with maintaining and restoring watersheds and aquatic ecosystems, water resources, and riparian areas in the plan area. It incorporates the protective mitigation requirements of the 1982 rule procedures, but goes beyond the 1982 rule procedures in requiring a proactive approach for maintaining and restoring terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, watersheds, water resources and riparian areas in the plan area. The increased focus on watersheds and water resources in the 2012 planning rule reflects the importance of this natural resource, and the Department and Agency’s commitment to stewardship of our Nation’s waters.

The requirements of the 2012 planning rule recognize the importance of our water resources. The 2012 planning rule requires that plans identify watersheds that are a priority for restoration and maintenance. The 2012 planning rule requires all plans to include components to maintain or restore the structure, function, composition, and connectivity of aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area, taking into account potential stressors, including climate change, how they might affect ecosystem and watershed health and resilience. Plans are required to include components to maintain or restore water quality and water resources, including public water supplies, groundwater, lakes, streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water. The 2012 planning rule requires that the Chief establish best management practices for water quality, and that plans ensure implementation of those practices.

Plans are also required to include direction to maintain and restore the ecological integrity of riparian areas. Because riparian resources across NFS units are very diverse, the 2012 planning rule retains the 1982 rule requirements to give special attention to land and vegetation within approximately 100 feet of all perennial streams and lakes and to prevent management practices that have serious or adverse impacts, but does not require a uniform national width for riparian management zones.

Assessments are required to include relevant existing information, and the monitoring program will include a requirement to monitor watershed conditions. Specific decisions for how to protect and restore clean water and watershed health will occur at the local level. Each unit will collaborate with the public and use the best available science to inform plan decisions relating to water resources.

What process will be used to identify priority watersheds?
We intend to use the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF) to identify priority watersheds, develop watershed action plans, and implement projects to maintain or restore conditions in priority watersheds.

We realize that priority areas for potential restoration activities could change quickly due to events such as wildfire, hurricanes, drought, or the introduction of invasive species. Therefore, the 2012 planning rule includes priority watersheds as plan content, so that an administrative change could be used to quickly respond to changes in priority. The public would be kept informed of a watershed’s priority for maintenance and restoration work.

How does the 2012 planning rule address the diversity requirement of NFMA? Does the 2012 planning rule protect wildlife and habitat?
The National Forest Management Act requires that plans provide for diversity of plant and animal communities (16 USC 1604 (g)(3)(B)). The 2012 planning rule contains a strong, implementable approach to provide for the diversity of plant and animal communities and the persistence of native species in the plan area.

This approach requires that plans use a complementary ecosystem and species-specific approach to maintaining the diversity of plant and animal communities and the persistence of native species in the plan area. The intent is to provide the ecological conditions (habitat) necessary to keep common native species common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and maintain a viable populations of each species of conservation concern within the plan area.

This approach is often called the “coarse filter/fine filter” approach. It is a well-developed concept in the scientific literature for maintaining biological diversity and has broad support from the scientific community and many stakeholders.

Specifically, the 2012 planning rule requires that each plan include plan components to maintain and restore ecosystem integrity, including structure, function, composition and connectivity; and ecosystem diversity, to maintain and restore the diversity of ecosystems and habitat types throughout the plan area. The ecosystem integrity requirements or “coarse filter” will provide habitat for the persistence of the vast majority of species within the plan area and for the diversity of plant and animal communities. Where the "coarse filter” alone is not enough to support a species at risk, the 2012 planning rule requires that plans include additional plan components to provide the necessary ecological conditions. The species specific plan components or “fine filter” will identify specific habitat needs of species with known conservation concerns or whose long-term persistence in the plan area is at risk (threatened, endangered, proposed, and candidate species and species of conservation concern), and for which the coarse filter conditions are insufficient.

The 2012 planning rule also recognizes that there are limits to what the Agency can do related to maintaining species diversity. These limits arise from the fact that some factors influencing ecosystems and species are outside of the Agency’s authority or control, such as climate change, extreme disturbance events, and urbanization on lands outside of or adjacent to NFS lands. At times, these factors could prevent the Agency from being able to maintain a viable population of a species of conservation concern within the plan area. In such cases, the 2012 planning rule requires that the Agency provide plan components to maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable population of that species across its range. In doing so, the responsible official will coordinate, to the extent practicable, with other land managers.

The 2012 planning rule also includes additional provisions to consider habitat conditions for species commonly enjoyed and used by the public, such as species that support hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing or subsistence use.

The 2012 planning rule requires monitoring of ecosystem and watershed conditions, focal species, and specific ecological conditions necessary for at-risk species. Information about these ecosystem, watershed, and species conditions would be identified and evaluated during the assessment portion of the planning framework and used to develop plan components to provide for species diversity.

How does the 2012 planning rule provide protections for threatened and endangered species?
The 2012 planning rule requires that plans provide the ecological conditions necessary to contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, and to conserve candidate and proposed species. In addition, the requirements for restoration and ecological sustainability are intended to reduce the risk that species will become listed as threatened or endangered in the future.

Threatened and endangered species and designated critical habitat on National Forest System lands would also continue to have Federal protections as mandated under the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service will continue to contribute to recovery plans for threatened and endangered species.

What is considered a species of conservation concern? Who within the Forest Service is responsible for identifying species of conservation concern?
A species of conservation concern is a species, other than federally listed threatened or endangered species or candidate species, which is known to occur in the plan area, and for which the best available scientific information indicates substantial concern about the species’ capability to persist over the long term in the plan area. Additional direction for identifying these species will be included in the agency directives for implementation.

We expect that species of conservation concern will be similar to the list of species currently maintained by regional foresters, but would likely not be as broad as State lists, which are for all habitats, not just forests and grasslands, and which include species that may not occur on a given forest or grassland.

Under the 2012 planning rule, the regional forester is responsible for identifying species of conservation concern. In the proposed rule the forest or grassland supervisor was the responsible official for identification of species of conservation concern. We received many comments about this issue and agree that consistency will be improved if the regional forester is the responsible official for identification of species of conservation concern. This should also increase efficiency as many species occur across several forests or grasslands.

How will the 2012 planning rule help national forests and grasslands address climate change in land management?
The 2012 planning rule is based on a planning framework that will facilitate adaptation to changing conditions and improvement in management based on new information and monitoring. There are specific requirements for addressing climate change in each phase of the planning framework, including in the assessment and monitoring phases, and in developing, revising, or amending plans. The 2012 planning rule emphasizes restoring the function, structure, composition, and connectivity of ecosystems and watersheds to adapt to the effects of a changing climate and other ecosystem drivers and stressors, such as fire and insect and disease infestations. A baseline assessment of carbon stocks required in the assessment phase and monitoring will check for measureable changes in the plan area related to climate change and other stressors.

The requirements of the Forest Service’s Climate Change Roadmap and Scorecard and the requirements of the 2012 planning rule are mutually supportive and provide a solid framework for responding to changing conditions over time.

How will the 2012 planning rule contribute to social and economic sustainability and provide for multiple use management of the National Forest System?
National Forest System lands provide economic, social, and cultural benefits for local and regional communities; for Tribes; and for people across the Nation. Products and services generated on NFS lands continue to sustain traditional livelihoods, provide for subsistence uses, and provide new economic opportunities, jobs and benefits, such as those generated through sustainable recreation and tourism, restoration activities, ecosystem services, and renewable energy. National Forest System lands are also of immense social and cultural importance, enhancing quality of life; sustaining scenic, historic, and culturally important landscapes; sustaining traditional life ways; and providing places to engage in outdoor recreation, improve physical and mental health, and reconnect with the land.

The 2012 planning rule recognizes and supports the multiple use mandate for management of NFS lands. Plans are required to contribute to social and economic sustainability, taking into account multiple uses, such as recreation, that contribute to local, regional, and national economies in a sustainable manner. Plans are required to provide for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish. To meet this requirement and provide for integrated resource management, responsible officials will consider a range of uses, values, and benefits that may be important to communities and relevant to the unit, such as outdoor recreation, range, timber, water, wildlife, wilderness, energy, minerals, and ecosystem services; as well as issues such as sustainable infrastructure needs, opportunities to work with neighboring landowners, habitat conditions needed for hunting, fishing, subsistence, public drinking water supplies, and reasonably foreseeable risks to sustainability.

The 2012 planning rule requires plans to provide for sustainable recreation, including recreation settings, opportunities and access. Recreation opportunities include activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, ORVing, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoe and kayaking, driving for pleasure, bird watching, and other recreational uses of the NFS. It also requires protection and appropriate management of wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, other designated areas, cultural and historic resources, and areas of tribal importance.

In the assessment phase, information must be identified and evaluated regarding social, cultural and economic conditions in the area; benefits people obtain from NFS lands; multiple uses and their contributions to the economy; recreation; energy and mineral resources; infrastructure, and land use and access. In the monitoring phase, questions and indicators must assess progress towards meeting desired conditions and objectives in the plan, including for providing for multiple uses.

The 1982 rule had a number of resource-specific provisions and requirements, which at times led to fractured management and analysis processes that were irrelevant or did not have great value on many units. The 2012 planning rule focuses on integrated management and outcome requirements. It does not rank multiple uses; rather, the focus is on integrated management and a framework that will respond to the desires and needs of present and future generations of Americans for the multiple uses of National Forest System lands. Plans developed under the 2012 planning rule will provide guidance for a sustainable flow of benefits, services, and uses, while maintaining the long-term health and productivity of the land.

Does the 2012 planning rule weaken the role of multiple uses and their active management in plans?
The 2012 planning rule does not weaken the role of multiple uses and active management in land management plans. Section 219.10 of the 2012 planning rule requires providing for integrated, sustainable multiple uses on the planning unit as mandated by the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act and the National Forest Management Act. Under the 2012 planning rule, recreation, timber production, grazing, and other uses and benefits will continue to provide jobs, income, and ways of life for many Americans. Land management plans under the 2012 planning rule will emphasize the importance of the continued delivery of sustainable multiple uses of National Forest System lands.

How will the 2012 planning rule impact jobs and small businesses?
The 2012 planning rule emphasizes restoration and provides opportunities for a broad range of sustainable recreation and multiple uses that will result in jobs and will support the vitality of rural communities. In addition, the 2012 planning rule requires providing for ecosystem services, like clean drinking water, that support the economic sustainability of local communities and businesses.

The Agency understands the importance of contributing to the economic health of our country. By managing for the sustainable uses of forests and grasslands, we can provide economic opportunities and can help sustain businesses and jobs.

How is recreation addressed in the 2012 planning rule?
The high value placed on recreation has been a common theme throughout the public participation leading to the 2012 planning rule. Americans make over 170 million visits to national forests and grasslands each year. These visits provide an important contribution to the economic vitality of rural communities as spending by recreation visitors in areas surrounding national forests amounts to nearly 13 billion dollars annually. By managing for sustainable recreation on forests and grasslands, national forest management provides opportunities for new small businesses, such as restaurants, lodging and other tourism-related enterprises close to National Forest System lands, and can help sustain current businesses and jobs associated with recreation. Recreation is also a critical part of social sustainability, connecting people to nature, providing for outdoor activities that promote long-term physical and mental health, enhancing the American public’s understanding of their natural and cultural environments, and catalyzing their participation and stewardship of the natural world.

Under the 2012 planning rule, all plans will provide plan components for sustainable recreation, including recreation settings, opportunities and access, and for scenic character. Recreation opportunities may include non-motorized, motorized, developed and dispersed recreation on land, water and in the air. For example, the public enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, skiing, off-highway vehicle use, camping, picnicking, bird and other wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, geocaching, and many more recreational opportunities on the National Forest System. In providing for multiple uses, plans will also consider aesthetic values, ecosystem services (such as recreational experiences), and habitat conditions specifically for species used and enjoyed to support activities such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, and subsistence. Plans will also consider placement and management of recreational facilities in providing for multiple use management.

During the assessment phase, responsible officials will identify and evaluate existing information relevant to recreation settings, opportunities, and access, in addition to recreational infrastructure, benefits to people from the plan area, and the contributions of recreation to the local, regional and national economies. Visitor use and satisfaction, as well as progress towards meeting recreation objections, will be monitored as part of the plan monitoring program.

What does “sustainable recreation” mean?
When we use the term sustainable recreation, we mean a range of recreational settings, opportunities, and access that can be sustained over time. On National Forest System lands, recreational opportunities include non-motorized, motorized, developed, and dispersed recreation on land, water, and in the air.

What is the relationship between the planning rule and the travel management rule?
The 2012 planning rule does not modify the travel management rule. However, the 2012 planning rule requires that resource plans, such as the travel management plans, developed by the Forest Service be consistent with land management plans. Where travel management plans are already in place, they must be evaluated for consistency with land management plans and amended if necessary.

How does the 2012 planning rule address timber harvest on NFS lands and the timber requirements of NFMA?
Under the 2012 planning rule, timber is recognized and included as a multiple use in the multiple use section (§ 219.10), and is also addressed in a separate section (§ 219.11), reflecting the specific direction included in the NFMA for timber management. Management and use of timber harvest on NFS lands continues to evolve. Today, harvest of timber on NFS lands occurs for many different reasons, including restoration for ecological resilience, community protection in the wildland urban interface, habitat restoration, protection of municipal water supplies, biomass energy, and wood production. Timber harvest also supports economic sustainability and provides employment and tax revenue in many counties throughout the country.

The 2012 planning rule includes requirements for plan direction on the management of timber on NFS lands, including guidance for identifying lands not suitable for timber production, timber harvest for the purpose of timber production and for purposes other than timber production, and over-arching limits on timber harvest.

Land management plans will identify expected timber harvest levels, outline a planned timber sale program, and describe the proportion of probable methods of forest vegetation management practices expected to be used. Plans will also have plan components that establish the quantity of timber that can be removed in perpetuity, which relates to long-term sustained yield and sets an upper limit for timber production.

Would planning under the 2012 planning rule consider livestock grazing in addition to ecological sustainability and other uses?
The Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act specifically provides that range is one of the purposes for which the national forests and grasslands are managed, and the 2012 planning rule recognizes and includes direction for providing for multiple uses including range. The appropriate levels, locations, times, and other elements of range use and grazing in the plan area are best determined in individual plans and at the site-specific level, so that direction is appropriate to the conditions in the plan area.

How does the 2012 planning rule address energy development and mineral exploration?
Planning under the 2012 planning rule will consider renewable and non-renewable energy and mineral resources and development. We recognize the demand for minerals and energy, including renewable sources. When developing plan components for integrated resource management, the responsible official will consider renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources, land status, and the appropriate placement and sustainable management of infrastructure. The 2012 planning rule also requires compliance with existing laws and regulations governing mineral exploration and development on Federal lands.

Does the 2012 planning rule include an appeal process or a pre-decisional objection process? Will the public be able to appeal a final forest plan decision?
The 2012 planning rule does not include an appeal process. Instead, the individuals and entities that submitted substantive formal comments during the development of a plan, revision, or amendment will be able to use the objection process to work with a reviewing officer before a decision to approve a plan, revision, or amendment is made. This process has worked well in other areas such as Healthy Forest Restoration Act projects. The 2012 planning rule encourages people to participate early in the planning process when input can have the greatest impact and value. In response to comments on the proposed rule, the 2012 planning rule extends the time available to file an objection.

How will you ensure that the best available science is used in forest planning?
The 2012 planning rule requires the responsible official to use the best available scientific information to inform the assessment, the development of the plan, including plan components, and the monitoring program. It also requires that responsible officials document how the best available scientific information was used. Documentation must identify what information was determined to be the best available scientific information, explain the basis for the determination, and explain how the information was applied to the issues considered.

Under the 2012 planning rule, could the responsible official choose to disregard the best available science?
The responsible official will not have the discretion to disregard the best available scientific information in making a decision. We listened to public concerns about how best available scientific information should be used during land management planning, specifically regarding the proposed rule's wording that the responsible official must "take into account" the best available scientific information. The 2012 planning rule clarifies that the responsible official must use the best available scientific information to inform the planning process and plan decisions. We also modified the requirements for documentation of the use of the best available scientific information to be more manageable for individual units. The 2012 planning rule strikes the appropriate balance for using scientific information as an integral and foundational, but not sole, influence on planning. Other sources of information, such as public comments, local and Tribal knowledge, agency experience, and monitoring data, will also be used in plan decision making.

Would the requirements for best available science create complexity in land management plans and risk litigation that would prevent forests from actively managing land?
We want the planning process to be informed by scientific information, and we believe that this will lead to better and more supportable decisions that will improve the Agency’s ability to effectively manage NFS lands. The 2012 planning rule provides clarity and consistency regarding how to use scientific information during planning and clearly defines the process. Because the responsible official is required to document how the best available scientific information was used, we anticipate increased transparency and more supportable decision making across all Forest Service units.

How does the 2012 planning rule support increased transparency in decision-making?
The 2012 planning rule supports increased transparency by increasing the role of the public in participating throughout the process, requiring an assessment report and monitoring evaluation reports and documentation of the use of the best available scientific information, adding additional public notification requirements, and improving public access to both the planning process and information, including by requiring that responsible officials post notices online.

How will the 2012 planning rule increase public involvement and collaboration?
The 2012 planning rule requires the responsible official to reach out to a diverse group of stakeholders and provide opportunities for public involvement throughout all stages of the planning process. Specifically, the responsible official is required to encourage participation by interested individuals and entities; private landowners; youth, low-income populations and minority populations; Tribes; and other Federal agencies, States, counties, and local governments. In designing opportunities for public participation, responsible officials are required to consider the accessibility of the process as well as the discrete roles, jurisdictions, responsibilities and skill of interested and affected parties.

The 2012 planning rule will provide greater opportunity for people to engage early and throughout the process, and to interact directly with the decisionmaker, than under current rule procedures.

How does the 2012 planning rule encourage coordination and cooperation beyond National Forest System boundaries?
Many management issues, including fire, water and wildlife, will require an understanding of what is happening both on and off Forest Service lands. The Agency is committed to working across boundaries with our neighbors to save time, money, and improve engagement. The 2012 planning rule emphasizes working across boundaries so that plans reflect an understanding of management in the context of the larger landscape. The Forest Service will be engaging other agencies, state and local governments, Tribes, and the public earlier in the process than previously required, inviting these stakeholders to participate in the assessment process and development of the proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision instead of waiting until the proposed plan is released for comment. Forests and grasslands will leverage their resources and knowledge with that of other agencies to make planning, monitoring and implementation more efficient.

Will responsible officials coordinate land management planning with county planning efforts?
The 2012 planning rule directs the responsible official to coordinate land management planning with other planning efforts. However, land management plans developed under the 2012 planning rule need not be consistent with county-level plans. National forests and grasslands often have different missions and land bases than do counties. Land management plans must be flexible to address the diverse management needs on National Forest System lands and regional and national interests on Federal lands. We will encourage counties to participate throughout the planning process, and where appropriate, to work with us as cooperating agencies. We will also review planning and land use policies of state and local governments during the planning process and consider opportunities to contribute to joint objectives and reduce or resolve conflicts.

How will land management plans impact adjacent landowners?
Under the 2012 planning rule, we will highlight opportunities to meet shared objectives or reduce conflicts across land ownership boundaries. Adjacent or otherwise impacted private landowners will be invited to participate in our land management planning efforts. The 2012 planning rule explicitly recognizes and supports the connectedness of landscapes and communities.

How is the Agency addressing concerns of federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations?
The 2012 planning rule recognizes treaty rights and that the federal government has certain trust responsibilities and a unique legal relationship with federally recognized Indian Tribes. The 2012 planning rule requires the responsible official to honor the government-to-government relationship between federally recognized Indian Tribes and the Federal government.

The responsible official is required to conduct consultation with federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations consistent with the requirements of Executive Order 13175, which establishes consultation requirements for the Federal government, and 25 U.S.C. 450 note, which requires that Federal agencies consult with ANCs on the same basis as Indian Tribes under the Executive Order. In addition, the responsible official is required to encourage participation by Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations in the overall public involvement effort throughout the planning process and to request information about native knowledge, land ethics, cultural issues and sacred and culturally significant sites to inform the planning process. Federally recognized Tribes will also be encouraged to seek cooperating agency status where appropriate, which will provide them with further opportunities to be engaged throughout the land management planning process.

How was the 2012 planning rule developed?
The 2012 planning rule is the result of the most participatory, open process for rule development in Agency history. The proposed rule published in February 2011 was informed by 26,000 comments to the Notice of Intent, a science forum, regional and national roundtables held in 35 locations with over 3,000 people in attendance, national and regional tribal roundtables, 16 Tribal consultation meetings, Forest Service employee feedback, and over 300 comments posted to the Planning Rule blog. The agency considered the feedback received through these efforts, and used public input, science, and agency expertise to develop the proposed rule. By the end of the public comment period on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement, the Agency received nearly 300,000 public comments. Forest Service and USDA staff used these comments, along with consultations with other Federal agencies and with Tribes, to make changes to rule text and organization, resulting in the preferred alternative included as Modified Alternative A in the PEIS. Following the release of the preferred alternative and PEIS, the Department reviewed the PEIS and alternatives in order to issue a final decision. Several people, organizations, and other entities provided additional comments to the Department or the Agency after the release of the PEIS, and these comments were also considered in the 2012 planning rule making.

What requirements are in the 2012 planning rule for which the public can hold the Agency accountable?
The 2012 planning rule includes requirements for how plans will be developed, revised or amended and what must be included in plans. The agency will be held accountable by the public for meeting these requirements in every planning effort. In addition, under the 2012 planning rule, the Chief of the Forest Service will establish and administer a national oversight process for accountability and consistency in land management planning.