The U.S. Forest Service today announced eight national forests that will be the first to revise their land management plans using a new National Forest System Planning Rule, after it is finalized in the months ahead.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest 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 shortly after a final rule is selected.
This announcement follows Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s release last week of the agency’s intended course of action for finalizing a planning rule, included as the “preferred alternative” in the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule.
“These forests will demonstrate straight out of the gate what we’ve been talking about in terms of collaboration,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “People will see that under a new rule, public engagement increases and process decreases, all while providing stronger protections for our lands and water.”
The preferred alternative is grounded in science and public input, and seeks to deliver stronger protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic vitality of our rural communities. It requires providing opportunities for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of the planning process, as well as opportunities for Tribal consultation and coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies.
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. They will emphasize strong science, collaboration, strengthened protections for land, wildlife and water, and opportunities for sustainable recreation and other multiple uses that support jobs and economic vitality as they begin the process to revise their plans.
“There are 14 million acres of national forest at risk of fire in California, so this new approach to forest planning is vital,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California). “I am encouraged that a new planning rule will build on existing efforts like the one in the Sierra National Forest that bring together scientists, timber harvesters and environmental groups to reduce hazardous fuels. We need more of that type of cooperation to reduce fire risks and prevent harm to people and property.”
“We have seen how collaboration is bringing divergent viewpoints together in Idaho under the Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC) and the development of the Idaho Roadless Rule. I note the Forest Service’s active collaboration in both of these processes and I recognize its commitment to collaboration in this new rule,” said U.S Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho. Crapo worked with local residents and the Forest Service to convene the CBC in 2008 as a national model for collaborative land management.
Crapo continued, “It is important to note that the new planning rule does have its critics and is controversial in the view of many affected interests. Those concerns need to be respected and managed to a successful outcome. So while I have a mixed view of this rule, I will work with the Forest Service and the affected parties to make this effort successful and achieve the many objectives of collaborative management of our public forests. Any collaborative process should decrease the potential for litigation and provide opportunities for consensus-based management activities on our public lands. I look forward to working with Chief Tidwell and hearing concerns, questions and comments about the new rule.”
The planning rule provides the framework for U.S. Forest Service land management plans for the 155 forests and 20 grasslands. USDA will issue a record of decision selecting a final planning rule no less than 30 days following publication of the PEIS in the Federal Register this Friday, February 3, 2012. Early adopter forests will begin the plan revision process in the months following a final decision.
Members of the public will have a number of opportunities to continue to be involved after a final planning rule is selected, in addition to participating in the plan revision process for the national forests announced today. The Forest Service also will be revising and issuing new directives for public notice and comment that will provide further guidance in implementing a final rule.
A new federal advisory committee for implementation of a final planning rule will provide another opportunity to collaborate in National Forest System land management planning. Interested members of the public are encouraged to seek nomination to the committee: the call for nominations was published in the Federal Register on January 5, 2012 and will close on February 21, 2012.
A final rule planning rule, when selected, would update planning procedures that have been in place since 1982, creating a modern planning process that reflects the latest science and knowledge of how to create and implement effective land management plans. Revisions of land management plans would take less time and cost less money under the preferred alternative than under the current 30-year-old procedures, while achieving better results for people and the environment.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.