U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell testified today before Congress on the strengths and efficiencies of the agency’s draft new Planning Rule that, when finalized, will provide a framework for how all of the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands will be managed in the future.
“We need a planning rule that has less process and costs less, with the same or higher level of protections,” said Tidwell.
In his testimony before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Tidwell discussed how the new rule will decrease the costs of forest planning while delivering better protections for forests, wildlife and water resources and supporting ecosystem services and multiple uses of the National Forest System. The new rule would update planning procedures for 155 national forests and 20 grasslands that have been in place since 1982.
“What started as a very strong proposed rule will now be even better thanks to the hundreds of thousands of constructive comments we received from people and groups across the country,” Tidwell said. “We firmly believe the final rule will deliver an efficient planning process that will reduce costs, facilitate the restoration and management of our forests and watersheds, safeguard natural resources and help deliver a sustainable flow of benefits to the American people.”
Tidwell noted that the new rule will greatly reduce the amount of time required by individual forests and grasslands to revise a plan, which will ultimately save time and money at the ground level. The proposed rule would direct plans to conserve and restore watersheds and habitats and would strengthen community engagement and collaboration during the development and implementation of individual plans.
“Ultimately, the new rule will help forests and grasslands get work done on the ground, producing social, economic and environmental benefits for local communities,” Tidwell said. “The proposed rule also places strong emphasis on the importance of recreation such as hunting, fishing, motorized and non-motorized uses.”
The 1982 planning rule procedures have guided the development, amendment, and revision of all existing Forest Service land management plans. However, Tidwell noted that since 1982, much has changed in the understanding of how to create and implement effective land management plans. He also said that planning under the 1982 rule often takes five to seven years to be revised on average, with some plan revisions taking a decade. The new rule, in contrast, would create a more adaptive planning process that helps units respond to changing conditions, so they can better focus their efforts on the most important work facing their unit.
Under the new rule, Tidwell said that planning would emphasize collaboration, assessment, and monitoring activities. Plan revisions would take less time because the new rule would eliminate many complex and outdated analysis requirements present. The emphasis on collaboration would also help resolve issues at earlier stages in the planning process with the goal of reducing costly litigation.
The Forest Service received around 300,000 comments on the proposed rule and the draft environmental impact statement during the 90-day comment period held earlier this year. The agency has sought public participation to help develop a final rule that will have broad support and endure over time.
Tidwell also noted that the Forest Service had announced yesterday the intention to form a Federal Advisory Committee that will provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on the implementation of the new Planning Rule.