Saturday, April 07, 2012

U.S. Forest Service Finalizes Planning Rule

The AGI Geopolicy Monthly Review reports that
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1604) governs the land management plans for every national forest or grassland managed by the Forest Service and requires that land management plans must be revised no later than every 15 years. The Forest Service finalized the 2012 Planning Rule, the process of developing and revising the management plans, in March 2012. [Right, national forests in Arizona. Credit, USFS]

The final planning rule was developed after more than two and a half years of public input, including more than 300,000 public comments. The final planning rule will require management plans to include components to maintain and restore ecosystem and watershed health and resilience; protect water, air, and soil resources; provide for plant and animal diversity; provide for sustainable recreation; and address water quality and riparian area protection and restoration. The final planning rule creates a new two-tiered strategy for monitoring at the unit level and on a broader scale. This new approach is designed to allow land managers to track changing conditions and measure management implementation effectiveness. The Forest Service will begin implementing the new rule to develop, revise, and amend plans 30 days after it was published in the Federal Register.

My quick reading of the Plan summary shows an emphasis on ecological preservation and restoration, threatened and endangered species, watershed protection, plant and animal diversity.

The needs to plan for multiple use activities including recreation, grazing, timbering, and energy and mineral resource development are acknowledged. The new plan seems to continue a long-term trend to manage forest lands increasingly for their biological characteristics.

Forest officials are told to "take into account" the best scientific information, but "other sources of information, such as public comments, local and Tribal knowledge, agency experience, and monitoring data, will also be used in plan decision making."

For better or worse, this allows forest managers to base or justify decisions on public relations campaigns that flood their offices with postcards and emails on a particular topic.

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