The Obama administration yesterday proposed a new forest planning rule that will guide the management of 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one prairie in the National Forest System, which makes up 193 million acres and receive s more than 170 million visitors a year.
Earlier this month I wrote here about the administration’s decision to ban any new mining claims near the Grand Canyon for the next 20 years, a decision that protects over 1 million acres of public lands, including National Forests. Let’s hope the spirit of conservation has guided this ruling also.
From The Washington Post:
In announcing the new procedures, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were crafted to enhance the nation’s water supplies while maintaining woodlands for wildlife, recreation and timber operations. The lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s drinking water, according to the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the Agriculture Department.
“Restoration is the philosophy, with a focus on forest health and our water,” Vilsack told reporters in a conference call, adding that the rules require that planning decisions be “driven by sound science.”
The New Blueprint
Here’s a look at some of the main guidelines in the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, or PEIS, for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule released January 26:
• Plans must include components that seek to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.
• Plans would include requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality, including clean drinking water, and the ecological integrity of riparian areas.
• Plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation. These requirements are intended to keep common native species common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and protect species of conservation concern.
• Plans would provide for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish.
• Plans would be required to provide opportunities for sustainable recreation, and to take into account opportunities to connect people with nature.
The guidelines, which will take effect in early March, represent the first meaningful overhaul of forest rules in 30 years. The George W. Bush administration had issued a management-planning rule for national forests in 2008, but a federal court struck it down the next year on the grounds that it did not provide adequate protection for plants and wildlife.
As a frequent visitor to National Forests and National Parks, which often sit side-by-side, I am excited to see these new rules, especially as they mention specifically outdoor recreation, and the need to connect people with nature.
The debate over how best to manage forests, especially in regions such as the Pacific Northwest, has pitted timber companies against environmentalists and some scientists for decades. So how did both sides respond to this new plan?
“Cautious Optimism” From Conservation Groups
Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, served as head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration. She is not satisfied with the PEIS released today, saying, “The administration deserves credit for the genuine effort that it made to respond to public comments. Although we strongly support this historic shift in direction, we remain concerned about the adequacy of its wildlife conservation provisions and worry that the forest-planning rule makes promises that it can’t fully deliver.”
Other environmental groups also expressed some hesitation to fully embrace the proposals, particularly as regards wildlife management, but were pleased to see an emphasis on protection and restoration, rather than commodity extraction.
A Chilly Response From The Other Side
From The Washington Post:
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the concerns that he and other lawmakers expressed about the planning rule’s impact on jobs “apparently fell on deaf ears.”
“These new Obama regulations introduce excessive layers of bureaucracy that will cost jobs, hinder proper forest management, increase litigation and add burdensome costs for Americans,” Hastings said.
Officials at the American Forest & Paper Association, which represents pulp, paper, packaging and wood products companies along with forest landowners, said they were “still reviewing” the blueprint. But the group had concerns “regarding the costly procedural requirements in the proposed rule,” said vice president and general counsel Jan Poling.
Hopefully, if the company is so concerned about the costs, they’ll stop trying to cut down our National Forest trees.
Photo Credit: Robert Lz