The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a proposed planning rule to guide future planning rules. The plan will update procedures that have been in place since 1982. The new proposed planning process will, reportedly, use the latest in science-based approaches to management of lands, such as recognizing and preparing for climate change.
Nancy Upham, public information officer for the Inyo National Forest, called the new planning plan “a framework for integrating resource management.”
The proposed plan will reportedly give the public a greater role to play in future planning processes. The Forest Service will be accepting comments on the proposed plan until May 16, 2011.
According to a press release, the proposed plan is a split between finances and forests, and would provide a framework for ever-changing conditions, as well as ecological and economical sustainability.
There are some new items in the planning plan, Upham said. One of the requirements of the new plan would be for the Forest Service to work with local governments and agencies to sustain economic viability of the forest and other managed lands. She said there are no details included in the plan as to how individual forests are supposed to do just that.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the press release, “This proposed planning rule seeks to conserve our forests for the benefit of water, wildlife, recreation and economic vitality of our rural communities. Healthy forests and economically strong rural communities form a solid foundation as we work to win the future for the next generation.”
Associate Chief Forester Mary Wagner said in a video press release on YouTube, “We need a new rule, one that addresses today’s needs in the 21st century. We’re proud to present we’re almost there.”
Upham explained that the Forest Service was mandated to revise planning regulations in 2008, but those proposals were found unacceptable by Federal Courts. She explained this recent proposal is a “second try” at those regulations.
According to the summary of the plan available online at http://fs.usda.gov/planningrule , highlights of the new plan include:
• More efficient and effective plan that would allow land management to adapt to, and have improved ability to respond in the face of climate change
• Increased public collaboration and involvement in all stages of land management planning
• Increased protections for water resources
• Proactive requirements for providing for diverse flora and fauna
• Guide the contributions of a National Forest or Grassland to social and economic sustainablity
• Provide integrated resource management for a range of uses from outdoor recreation to timber and mining
• Monitoring programs based on the latest science
“The proposed rule would strengthen the role of public involvement in the planning process and provide numerous opportunities for meaningful public participation and dialogue,” states the summary.
The proposed plan is the result of dozens of public meetings and more than 25,000 comments from the public.
Vilsack told The New York Times that the new plan and public input process should require less time for the plan to move forward than in the past, from 7-8 years down to three. “We want less time in the courts and more in forest,” he said.
The planning process for the proposed plan’s framework will have three parts: assessment, plan revision or amendment and monitoring. This fluid planning process allows for changes to management as new information becomes available, according to the summary.
The summary also states that the proposed rules of the framework would “require that the best available scientific information be taken into account and documented.”
The new plan would reportedly provide more jobs to rural communities. According to the plan’s website, “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.”
Another new part of the planning plan, Upham said, is that individual forest plans will be prepared and approved by a local Forest Supervisor instead of the Regional Forester.
The proposal, made public Feb. 11, is already receiving criticism from environmental groups. “They give too much discretion to individual forest supervisors” without specific directions, Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, told the Washington Post. “We don’t know that they’re going to protect species or not. There is no question that this is a rollback to required protection to wildlife habitat.”
“We have to get away from focusing on our own narrow niche of what we want the world to be and recognize that we have to share the world with other folks who have interests that need to be recognized,” Vilsack told the Associated Press.
Upham said the final report on the planning plans should be out by the end of this year. She also expects INF will begin making revisions to its management plans.
The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of forest and grasslands nationwide. One-fifth of the nation’s drinking water comes from the Forest Service system.
Additional information about the Proposed Planning Rule is available at http://fs.usda.gov/planningrule . Information about how to submit a comment is available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/planningrule/HowToComment .
Comments can also be submitted through the public participation portal at http://www.govcomments.com/  or at http://www.regulations.gov .
Written comments can be submitted to Forest Service Planning DEIS, C/O Bear West Company, 132 E 500 S, Bountiful, UT 84010; or via facsimile to (801) 397-1605. Please identify written comments by including “planning rule” on the cover sheet or the first page.
All comments, including names and addresses, when provided, are placed in the record and are available for public inspection and copying. The public may inspect comments at http://contentanalysisgroup.com/fsrd/ .