Friday, February 11, 2011

U.S. Forest Service Revises Forest Management Rule

The Obama administration unveiled a U.S. Department of Agriculture U.S. Forest Service proposal Thursday (Feb 10) to give directors of national forests more discretion over managing endangered wildlife.  The rule reverses a decades-old rules that left the sensitive decisions to officials in Washington. This sounds like a reasonable decision to us.  It puts decision-making closer to the ground and will probably lead to more efficient and faster operations.  Of course, it also increases the possibility for abuse by unscrupulous directors.

The proposed planning rule provides a collaborative and science-based framework for creating land management plans that would support ecological sustainability and contribute to rural job opportunities. The proposed rule is intended to provide the tools to the Forest Service to make forests more resilient to many threats, including pests, catastrophic fire and climate change. The proposed rule includes new provisions to guide forest and watershed restoration and resilience, habitat protection, sustainable recreation, and management for multiple uses of the National Forest System, including timber.

The Center is particularly interested in the climate change, catastrophic fire and timber portions of the rule.  The new rules will hopefully enhance our planned Green Electric biomass plant in Mississippi.  Hopefully, the new rule will also enhance our wildfire prevention and Green Electric biomass plant plans in California.  The Center is also interested in the rule as it relates to our Evaluation Criteria For Hydraulic Fracturing projects, particularly involving the effects of this practice on groundwater.

There is some disagreement as to whether the rule will expand or water down the definition of protected wildlife to plants and better preserve clean water on some of the nation's most pristine lands. The 94-page proposal amends wildlife protections adopted nearly 30 years ago by the Reagan administration. The original plan has been amended numerous times since its introduction in 1982.

The Forest Service said that while planning the new rules it held 40 public meetings during which 3,000 participants logged more than 25,000 comments. The public has until May 16 to comment on the rule. The Forest Service will develop a final rule by year's end. To encourage public engagement, the Forest Service is hosting an open forum to discuss the proposed rule on March 10, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The meeting will be Web cast to allow for national participation, and there will be additional public forums held throughout the country.

Highlights of the proposed planning rule include:

A more effective and efficient framework that would allow adaptive land management planning in the face of climate change and other stressors.

Increased requirements for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of land management planning.

Improved ability to respond to climate change and other stressors through provisions to restore and maintain healthy and resilient ecosystems.

Increased protections for water resources and watersheds.

More effective and proactive requirements to provide for diverse native plant and animal species.

Provisions to guide the contributions of a National Forest or National Grassland to social and economic sustainability.

Updated provisions for sustainable land, water and air-based recreation.

Requirements to provide for integrated resource management of a range of multiple uses and values including outdoor recreation, range, timber, water, wildlife, wilderness, energy, mining, and ecosystem services.

New requirements for a local and landscape-scale monitoring program that are based on the latest science.
The USDA Forest Service manages 193 million acres of forests and grasslands across the country. Drinking water for approximately one in five Americans comes from the National Forest System. The service manages 155 national forests, 20 grasslands and a prairie that together compose about 195 million acres rich in wildlife, timber, clear water, natural gas and other resources. American forests, including those in the National Forest System, also capture and store enough carbon every year to offset 11 percent of the nation's industrial greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, hundreds of millions of Americans visit National Forests and Grasslands annually, with 98 percent of these lands offering free access.  (USDA Press Release, Wash Post, 2/11/2011)

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