FAQs on Proposed Rule

Here are some common questions the Forest Service has received on the planning rule revision process.  If you have a question that isn't answered below or through other material on our website, please contact the webmaster.

Questions and Answers on the Proposed Planning Rule


General

Jobs and the planning rule

Content of the proposed rule

Rule development and next steps

Science and collaboration in planning

 

What is the action being taken by the Department?

The Department is publishing a proposed planning rule to guide development, revision, and amendment of land management plans for the National Forest System, accompanied by a draft programmatic environmental impact statement (DEIS), a Civil Rights Impact Analysis and a Cost Benefit Analysis.  Through publication of this Proposed Planning Rule, the Forest Service is requesting public comment to help create a final rule for management of the National Forest System to meet modern and future needs.

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. The requirement for a planning rule is set out in the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16 USC 1604 (g)).

The National Forest System consists of 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. Land management plans for each forest and grassland provide a framework for integrated resource management and guide 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 desired conditions and guidance for forest health and resilience, recreational opportunities, protection of threatened and endangered species and their habitats, sustainable communities and other multiple uses.

Why do we need a new planning rule? Why are we taking this action now?

On June 30, 2009, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California invalidated the 2008 planning rule, holding that it was developed in violation of National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.  This latest ruling followed other attempts to rewrite the 1982 planning rule.  The Department has determined that a new planning rule is the best way forward.

National Forests and Grasslands are a vital part of the solution to a number of environmental and social challenges facing the nation, including restoring forests, protecting watersheds and habitat, addressing climate change, sustaining local economies, improving collaboration, and working across landscapes.  A new planning rule provides the opportunity to help protect, reconnect, and restore national forests and grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural resources.

The 1982 planning rule procedures 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 rule is often time consuming and cumbersome, it has been a challenge for units to keep plans current. Instead of updating plans as conditions on the ground change, units often wait and make changes all at once during the required revision process every 15 years. This can result in a drawn-out, difficult, and costly revision process. Plans in the interim lose much of their utility because they no longer reflect the reality on the ground.    

The instability created by the history of the planning rule has had a negative impact on the Agency’s ability to manage the NFS and on its relationship with the public. At the same time, 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 planning framework that allows the Agency to respond to new challenges and management objectives for NFS lands.

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” the Act 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, after working with a committee of scientists, the Department issued a final rule to replace the 1982 regulations.  However, this rule was litigated, 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. The 2000 rule, including 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 Agency now has an urgent need to establish a stable, modern planning rule that is consistent with the current science and that protects, reconnects, and restores national forests and grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural resources.

What’s different about this proposed rule? How is it different from the 1982 rule?

The proposed rule creates a 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. The proposed rule would 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.

Highlights of the proposed rule include:

  • A more effective and efficient framework that would make planning more adaptive and responsive to the needs of the land and communities. Because planning under the 1982 rule is often time consuming and cumbersome, it has been a challenge for units to keep plans current.  The agency expects planning to be more efficient under the proposed rule.
  • 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 new provisions to restore and maintain the structure, function, composition, and connectivity of healthy and resilient ecosystems.
  • Increased protections for water resources, aquatic ecosystems, and watersheds, including by identifying watershed for priority restoration and protecting riparian areas, public water supplies, groundwater, rare aquatic communities, lakes, streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water.
  • More effective and proactive requirements to provide for diverse native plant and animal species, including by focusing on providing healthy, resilient and connected habitat conditions, targeting additional provisions for at-risk species, and recognizing the need to work across land management boundaries to protect a species across its range.
  • New 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 distinctive roles and contributions of the unit within the broader landscape.
  • Updated provisions for sustainable recreation, considering opportunities and access for a range of uses on land, water and in the air.
  • Requirements to provide for integrated resource management of range of multiple uses and values on National Forest System lands, including timber, mining, grazing, energy, outdoor recreation, water quality, habitat, and ecosystem services, as well as cultural and historic resources, special designation areas (like wilderness and wild and scenic rivers) and areas of tribal importance.
  • New requirements for a local and landscape-scale monitoring program that are based on the latest science, strengthening the role of monitoring so that units can better track changing conditions and determine whether they are making progress toward their desired conditions and objectives.

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 which were developed between 1983 and 1993 and should have been revised between 1998 and 2008.

 

Jobs and the planning rule

How would the proposed rule impact jobs and small businesses?  How would it affect rural America?

There is a commitment in the rule to contribute to social and economic sustainability.  The resulting management from this requirement should enhance jobs and income opportunities for local communities and rural America.

Plans written under the proposed rule would provide opportunities and access for a range of uses, including sustainable recreation, which would contribute to the social and economic health of communities. Planning would consider the full suite of multiple uses, including ecosystem services, energy, minerals, outdoor recreation, grazing, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, wilderness, and other resources, uses and values relevant to the plan area.

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 with land management activities, such as highly diverse public recreation opportunities, woody biomass utilization, timber harvesting, and restoration opportunities.

Management activities can directly contribute through contracting with local enterprises 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.

Finally, the proposed rule would create a more efficient and effective process through an adaptive framework for land management assessment, planning and monitoring. This framework would allow us to use resources more effectively and focus on implementing plans.

 

Content of the proposed rule

What is the framework for management set out in the proposed rule?

The rule proposes 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 is intended to move the Agency toward a more adaptive system with more frequent amendments that can keep plans current between revisions.

The proposed 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 would:

(1) Assess conditions, stressors, and opportunities on the NFS unit within the context of the broader landscape and identify any need for changes to a plan;
(2) Revise or Amend land management plans based on the need for change in the plan; 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 proposed rule would create a collaborative and science-based planning process so that plans and their amendments reflect public values and the best available scientific information. It is intended to ensure that managers understand the role and contribution of their units and the context for management 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.

How would the rule help national forests and grasslands restore lands and promote resilient ecosystems?

The objective of the proposed 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. Restoration and resilience are highlighted throughout the proposed rule, and would be a main focus throughout the land management planning process.

Land management plans would include components to maintain or restore the structure, composition, processes, and connectivity of healthy and resilient terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area, protect key ecosystem elements (including water resources), and provide for plant and animal diversity, taking into account the potential impacts of climate change, wildfire, and other stressors on the unit.

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, for example: 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 broader spectrum of sources and users, and a framework that can facilitate adaptation. The new requirements in the proposed 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 promote resilient systems on the unit.

How would the 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 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 requirements of this proposed rule recognize the importance of maintaining those watersheds and aquatic resources that are in good condition and restoring those that are not. The proposed rule would require all plans to include direction to maintain or restore the structure, function, composition, and connectivity of healthy and resilient 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 would be required to include components to maintain, protect or restore public water supplies, groundwater, rare aquatic communities, lakes, streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water. Plans would also have to include components to maintain, protect, or restore riparian areas.

The proposed rule would require that plans identify watersheds that are a priority for restoration.  Assessments would be required to include information needed to provide plan components for water resources, and the monitoring program would include a requirement to monitor watershed conditions.

Specific decisions for how to protect and restore clean water and watershed health would occur at the local level.  Each unit would collaborate with the public and use the best available scientific information for that area to protect and enhance water resources, reflecting the unique ecological features of the watershed.

How does the proposed rule address the diversity requirement of NFMA?  Does the proposed rule represent stronger or weaker protections for species and wildlife than the 1982 rule?

The proposed rule addresses the diversity requirement by focusing on factors within agency control and using the best available scientific information to design a robust and achievable diversity standard. The proposed rule strongly protects species and wildlife, and in many ways goes further than did the 1982 rule by extending provisions beyond native and non-native vertebrate species to all plant and animal communities, and by updating diversity protections to reflect new science.

To maintain the diversity of native species, the proposed rule requires plan components for maintaining or restoring structure, function, composition, and connectivity of healthy and resilient terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds.  The proposed rule also requires that plan components provide the ecological conditions to contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species; conserve candidate species; and maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern on the unit, where it is within agency authority and the capability of the land area to do so.

These requirements represent a “coarse filter/fine filter” approach to providing for plant and animal diversity.  This is a well-developed concept in the scientific literature and has broad support from the scientific community and many stakeholders. The coarse filter would provide habitat for the long-term persistence of the vast majority of species within the plan area. The fine filter would identify specific habitat needs of species with known conservation concerns or whose long-term persistence in the plan area is at risk, and for which the coarse filter protection is insufficient.

The proposed 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 the Agency’s 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 proposed rule requires that the Agency provide plan components to maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area for that species, to contribute to the extent practicable to a viable population across its range. Additionally, the responsible official would reach beyond NFS boundaries to land managers who have authority where the species exists, to coordinate management for the benefit of a species across its range. These requirements reflect the need for an all-lands, cooperative approach to address the needs of some species.

Monitoring of both ecosystem and watershed conditions, and of a select group of focal species, is required by the proposed rule.  Information about these ecosystem, watershed, and species conditions would also be considered during the assessment portion of the planning framework and used to develop plan components to provide for diversity.

The proposed rule also includes two additional provisions for habitat protection for species, beyond those included to provide for diversity.  To the extent doing so is consistent with the diversity requirements, plans would also be required to protect rare aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal communities, and to consider habitat conditions for wildlife, fish, and plants commonly enjoyed and used by the public, such as species that are hunted, fished, trapped, gathered, observed, or needed for subsistence.

How would the proposed rule help national forests and grasslands address climate change in land management?

The proposed rule creates a framework that would allow adaptive land management planning in the face of climate change. Each phase of the framework addresses climate change.  In the assessment phase, the proposed rule would require evaluating the potential impacts to the unit of climate change and other stressors, in order to understand the context for planning. In the planning phase, managers would be required to develop components to maintain or restore ecosystem and watershed health and resilience.  In developing those components, land managers would need to take into account potential system drivers, stressors, disturbance regimes, including climate change and how they might affect ecosystem and watershed health and resilience and the ability of the systems on the unit to adapt to change. Plans would also include requirements to monitor measurable changes on the unit as a result of climate change, as well as carbon stored in above ground vegetation.  These requirements will help build national forests and grasslands address climate change in planning and in management.  

Use of the Forest Service Climate Change Performance Scorecard, administered annually to each National Forest, will also support the planning framework and bolster the ability of forests and grasslands to address climate change. The Scorecard would support each phase of the planning process: vulnerability assessments, carbon assessments, and integrated science and management are relevant for the assessment phase; adaptation activities, carbon assessments and management, sustainable operations, and integrating science and management are relevant for the plan revision and amendment phase; monitoring for the scorecard will support unit monitoring plans; and requirements to build organizational capacity and external partnerships around climate change will provide a foundation for management.

How is recreation addressed in the proposed rule? 

The high value placed on recreation has been a common theme throughout the public participation process leading to the proposed 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. 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.

The proposed rule recognizes the importance of sustainable recreation as a multiple use, and integrates recreation concerns and provides for the unique needs of the recreation resource throughout the planning process, including in the assessment and monitoring phases. The proposed rule would require the responsible official to assess recreational needs and uses, and to monitor visitor use and progress towards meeting recreational objectives.

Plans would be required to include plan components to provide for sustainable recreation, considering opportunities and access for a range of uses. Plans should identify recreational settings and desired conditions for scenic landscape character. Sustainable recreation is defined in the rule as the set of recreational opportunities, uses and access that, individually and combined, are ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable, allowing the responsible official to offer recreation opportunities now and into the future. Recreational opportunities can include non-motorized, motorized, developed, and dispersed recreation on land, water, and air.

How would the proposed rule affect multiple uses, including traditional uses of the National Forest System such as timber, grazing, or minerals?

NFS lands provide economic, social, and cultural sustenance for local 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 or benefits 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.

Under the proposed rule, national forests and grasslands would continue to provide a diverse range of resources and benefits for the American people.  The proposed rule would require the development of a set of plan components that provide for integrated resource management. The proposed rule would require plan components to help units contribute to both social and economic sustainability.  Plans written under the proposed rule would consider the full suite of multiple uses, including ecosystem services, grazing, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, wilderness, renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources, and the sustainable management of infrastructure on the unit, such as transportation and utility corridors.  There are additional requirements in the multiple use section that require components to provide for sustainable recreation.

Under the proposed rule, timber is addressed in a separate section, reflecting the specific direction included in 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 proposed rule includes requirements that will guide management of timber on NFS lands.

 

Rule development and next steps

How was the proposed rule developed?

The proposed rule was developed using an open, collaborative process. The proposed rule 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.

After publication of the proposed rule, how would public input on the new planning rule be captured?

The public will be able to review the proposed rule and DEIS and submit comments during the 90-day public comment period. The agency will also host public meetings to discuss the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement. These meetings will be held across the country during the public comment period. Comments received during the comment period will be considered and used to develop the final rule.

 

Science and collaboration in planning

How does the proposed rule address the role of science in planning?

The proposed rule would require the responsible official to take into account the best available scientific information throughout the planning process and document how this was done in the assessment report, the plan decision document, and the monitoring evaluation reports.  In doing so, the responsible official would determine what information is the most accurate, reliable, and relevant to a particular decision or action. 

Through this requirement, the Agency seeks to ensure that scientific information is considered throughout the planning process and used to increase understanding of the risks, assumptions, and uncertainties involved in land management decisions. The requirement would also provide transparency and an explanation to the public as to how scientific information was used and how the responsible official arrived at important decisions.

While the appropriate interpretation and application of scientific information would provide the foundation for planning, the Agency recognizes that other forms of information, such as local and indigenous knowledge, public input, agency policies, results of monitoring, and the experience of land managers must also be taken into account.

How would the rule increase public involvement and collaboration?

The proposed rule would require the responsible official to reach out to a diverse group of individuals and communities and provide opportunities for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of the planning process.

More specifically, the responsible official would be required to reach out to individual members from the public and entities; private landowners; youth, low-income populations and minority populations; and other Federal agencies, States, counties, and local governments. Non-federally recognized Indian Tribes would be included in these public participation opportunities.  The public would be provided opportunities to be engaged in all phases of the planning framework (assessment, revision or amendment, and monitoring).

Additionally, the responsible official would be required to provide public notice and invite participation at least four times during the planning process: at the beginning of an assessment; when development of the plan proposal begins; to provide comment on DEIS prepared for the plan proposal; and at the beginning of the objection period on the final plan proposal.  The responsible official would also be required to involve the public in the development of the monitoring program.

How is the agency addressing concerns of federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations?

The proposed rule would honor the trust and treaty rights of Tribes and would recognize the government-to-government relationship between the Federal government and Tribes by requiring the responsible official to offer opportunities for Tribal consultation during the planning process.  Tribes would also have opportunities to participate in the public participation opportunities that would occur throughout the planning process.  

The responsible official would be required to conduct consultation with federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations and meet the requirements of Executive Order 13175, which establishes consultation requirements for the Federal government.  In addition, the responsible official would be required to encourage participation by Tribes in the overall public involvement effort throughout the planning process and request information about native knowledge, land ethics, cultural issues and sacred and culturally significant sights to be used in the planning process.  Federally recognized Tribes would also be encouraged to seek cooperating agency status, which would provide them with further opportunities to be engaged throughout the land management planning process.

Questions and Answers on the 2009 Notice of Intent