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Land Management Plans

What is a Land Management Plan?

A land management plan is similar to a city or county comprehensive plan that helps guide land use and development. In the same way that your town, county, or city is planned to designate where particular uses (such as industrial and residential uses) may occur, national forests plans identify areas intended for specific uses such as timber harvest, primitive recreation, or rare plant protection. Just as a county's comprehensive plan might prohibit the construction of a commercial facility in an area that has been identified for residential use, a forest plan could identify an area as not suitable for timber production due to legal (e.g., Congressionally designated area such as wilderness) or technical reasons (e.g., slope). The 2012 Planning Rule guides the development, amendment, and revision of land management plans for all units of the National Forest System, consisting of 155 national forests, 20 grasslands, and 1 prairie.

Sometimes land use designations overlap each other, such as when streams with protected areas around them flow through lands suitable for timber production or grazing. Carefully balancing multiple uses is an important part of forest planning to protect resources, support sustainable uses, and maintain healthy ecosystems. Planning in our national forests, prairie and grasslands ensures balanced and thoughtful use and protection of the many resources on our public lands.

Land management plans set the overall management direction and guidance for each of our national forests, prairie and grasslands. Many of us are more familiar with site-specific Forest Service projects that occur on a single ranger district or in a particular watershed. In contrast, land management plans do not provide site-specific direction, such as the facility design for a recreation day-use area or the design of a specific timber sale, but instead guide management activities at a wide scale, providing direction of uses within each national forest, prairie and grassland.

Overview of the Land Management Planning Process


Image of a chart showing the land management planning process.

The land management plan revision and planning process is a cycle that includes three primary phases: assessment, plan development, and monitoring the effectiveness of the plan. The core concept behind this cyclical process is known as adaptive management. During the assessment, the Forest Service will identify and evaluate existing economic, social, and ecological conditions of the national forest, grassland or prairie undergoing plan revision. Plan development uses information from the assessment combined with input from the public and other entities gathered through comments, collaboration, tribal consultation, and offers opportunities for engagement to revise a plan. Once the plan is approved, it will guide project-level decisions such as recreation facility design and timber sale design. During implementation of the plan, monitoring of conditions on the ground helps determine whether the plan is achieving intended desired conditions and objectives. Monitoring information helps managers determine whether they need to propose amending or revising the plan.