Here’s the Missoulian:
Obama administration releases new national forest management rules
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012 6:15 am
A proposed planning rule for managing national forests puts new emphasis on watershed health and recreation, but also strives to keep loggers in the woods, U.S. Forest Service officials said Thursday.
The national rule will guide local forest supervisors when they make their more specific forest management plans. Those plans govern where trees can be cut, the kinds of wildlife to watch out for, activities allowed in campgrounds and the backcountry, and how people can challenge forest decisions.
“The rule needs to take into consideration those multiple uses, be resilient to climate change over time, focus on restoration of forest health, reduce the threat of catastrophic fires and supply timber products to local mills,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a conference call Thursday.
The meeting unveiled the final environmental impact statement on the proposed plan. After it’s published in the Federal Register on Feb. 3, a final version of the rule will be selected by Vilsack within 30 days.
“We really appreciate that the agency is trying to get projects out more quickly and with less expense,” said Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association. “That really seems to be what they think they’ve accomplished with this. Our biggest concern is whenever you have this expensive a document, what it turns out to be is a blueprint for those who like to litigate. It goes beyond the scope of any planning document ever designed. We focus on simplicity and clarity, and our big concern is this goes exactly the opposite direction.”
The new rule replaces guidelines the Forest Service has depended on since 1982. Many forests, including the Lolo National Forest based in Missoula, haven’t updated their management plans since the late 1980s. The Kootenai National Forest issued a new forest plan in January, but it’s based on the 1982 rule.
A Bush administration revision of the rule was struck down in court in 2009, one of three revisions that failed to pass court muster in the last decade.
The law firm Earthjustice helped overturn that Bush administration draft. Earthjustice attorney Kirsten Boyles said the new version has much better language for protecting national forest watersheds, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s drinking water. But she doesn’t like the planned changes in wildlife management.
“The rule puts a great deal of attention on species that are already threatened or endangered, but it does nothing for species that are doing all right,” Boyles said. “How do we help them to continue to be healthy so we don’t have a train wreck? Elk are generally healthy, and they’re not listed as threatened or endangered. But we think the Forest Service should pay more attention to make sure those populations stay healthy and viable.”
Rather than appeal the 2009 court decision, the Obama administration opted to restart the process. That involved numerous public scoping meetings, including one in Missoula. It also accepted almost 300,000 public comments.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the new rule will make it considerably easier to write, update and amend forest management plans.
“It cuts the time in half,” Tidwell said. “It took five to seven years to develop plans in the past. With the new rule, we should be able to do that in three to four years, or less. That will leave more time and money to get restoration done.”
Putting greater emphasis on watershed health and recreation will present challenges to the Forest Service budget. The agency intends to expand the use of stewardship contracts that essentially trade sawlogs for restoration work like stream rehab or trail construction.
“The Forest Service budget will have to pay for some of those things,” Acting Northern Region Forester Tom Schmidt said in Missoula. “Revenues from timber sales won’t be adequate to pay for all of that.”
But the Forest Service is experimenting with a new way of mixing budget lines together to get more landscape-wide projects done, according to the agency’s Leslie Weldon, director of national forest systems.
“We’re taking things like vegetation management, wildlife, fish, hazardous fuels, roads dollars, and put those into one budget line item,” said Weldon, who headed the Northern Region in Missoula before being promoted to Washington, D.C., in January. “We’re experimenting with that this year and will hope for permanent authority to use it. The goal is to use a suite of tools like timber sales and stewardship contracting to produce revenues that can be reinvested. Then we have a mixture of funds that contribute to restoration.”
That could also include more partnerships with volunteers, non-government organizations and businesses to maintain and expand campgrounds, trails and visitor centers, Weldon said.
“We’re experiencing an increasing emphasis on recreation,” she said. “That calls on us to find different avenues to leverage the dollars we are investing.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Missoulian- why interview Kirsten Boyles from the Earthjustice Seattle office? Knowledgeable conservationists abound in Montana! Do elk really need more FS attention?
Here’s one from Phoenix.
Forest Service unveils new planning guidelines for national forest uses
by Salvador Rodriguez/Cronkite News (January 27th, 2012 @ 5:00am)
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Forest Service unveiled new planning rules Thursday that it said will emphasize the protection of forest and watersheds while maintaining and creating forest-industry jobs.
“People want us to have a planning process that takes less time, that it costs less, but at the same time provides the same level of protections or higher level of protections for our forests and our watersheds and for wildlife habitat,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “And I feel that this � does that.”
The new rules will take effect in March and have an immediate impact on two-thirds of the country’s 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands.
But in Arizona, officials said only the Tonto National Forest will be affected by the new rules as it revises its land management plan. All of the other national forests in the state are in the late stages of revising their plans and will be grandfathered in under current rules.
Plans for Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Coronado, Kaibab and Prescott national forests are expected to be complete within the next year, said Bob Davis, director of planning for the Forest Service’s Southwestern Region. They would only be affected by the new rules if they made subsequent revisions or amendments to those plans.
“At this point, what we will see is various national forests that are in the process of updating their forest plan that will be using these new guidelines,” said Matt Skroch, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.
Current national forest management plans were developed under procedures that have been in place since 1982. The Bush administration tried to update the rules, but a federal court threw out that plan in 2009.
“Congress has provided pretty clear direction that management plans should be updated every 10 to 15 years, but unfortunately we’ve waited almost 30 years for many forest plans to be revised,” Skroch said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he believes the new rules will help restore forests and leave them in better condition for future generations.
“We are hopeful and confident that there is support for this rule and that we can move forward to update our management plans,” Vilsack said as he announced the plan.
Businesses and timber and mining trade groups on Thursday guarded their reactions, saying they want to carefully examine the entire plan.
The American Forest Resource Council, a lumber trade group, said it hoped the Forest Service had listened to its comments and made changes “to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
“We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests,” said council President Tom Partin in a news release.
The group said it would review the new rules, talk with the agency and its members before deciding how to proceed.
Environmentalists and conservation groups generally approved of the new rules. Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, said Arizona will benefit from the plan’s emphasis on protecting national forest watersheds.
“We get a lot of our water from the national forest, their watersheds, for many of the people in Arizona,” she said. “If we want flowing rivers and clean drinking water, protecting those watersheds, keeping water from being contaminated, those are important benefits for all of us.”
Bahr also applauded the plan’s reliance on science, saying “we could use a lot more science and less politics in our decision-making” on forests.
Jim deVos, director of conservation affairs for the Arizona Elk Society, said he likes the plan because it invites public input on decisions.
“Organized groups have people that do things like read the Federal Register, and they become informed that way. But by using the Internet and other communication tools that are more modern, it allows the general public to become more informed,” he said. “It’s a step forward, in our view.”
The Forest Service said it received nearly 300,000 comments on the plan after issuing a proposed rule last February.
Skroch said the Arizona Wilderness Coalition likes the fact that the new rules could protect potential wilderness areas. But he thought they could have gone further, noting that the new rules retain criteria that exclude any such areas where “you may see or hear things outside of the wilderness area that are not compatible with that wilderness.”
He also said the new rules do not do enough to protect wild species.
But deVos said the Forest Service did a good job balancing social, cultural, ecological and economic conditions in many parts of the new rules. As a result, he believes they will likely satisfy most people.
“Certainly any document that serves the diverse American public and the diverse American forest has got to have some give and take,” deVos said. “It appears to me to be a nice workable plan that doesn’t side too heavily with any particular user group.”
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont’d)
8. Montana Logging Association concern over complexity of document
Earthjustice – Kirsten Bayles of Seattle- thumbs up watershed, wildlife concerns (repeat of #3-5)
American Forest Research Council triangle (repeat of #3-6)
9. Sierra Club water good, science good
10. Arizona Elk Society public involvement good, nice workable balanced
11. Arizona Wilderness wilderness, wildlife concern
Sharon’s notes: I italicized “environmental and conservation groups generally agreed with the new rules,” in this piece, which is completely opposite to the ENS piece (Media Watch #2) “Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists.” Depends on who you interview, doesn’t it?
My “local interviews yield different results” seems to be holding up.
And let’s give a special shoutout to newspapers who interview local folks, and to those groups who admitted that it would take them time to read it, talk about it, and understand it, before they comment.
January 27, 2012, 10:07 am
How to Manage U.S. Forests, Version 3.1
By FELICITY BARRINGER
In the high-tech world, new versions of programs are released to fix new bugs. In the federal regulatory world, new versions of management blueprints are released to address legal problems. Each is generally judged by a simple metric: did the fixes work, or will they have to be redone?
By that standard, efforts to update a land management planning rule for the National Forest System have not exactly been a success.
The Bush Administration’s attempt to overhaul it were rejected by a federal judge who said it did not provide adequate safeguards for flora and fauna. When the Obama administration unveiled its first attempt at adjusting the rule 11 months ago, environmentalists criticized it as weak in terms of protecting water purity and biodiversity. So on Thursday, the administration released “a new version.
The rule, a broad blueprint to be followed by individual forest supervisors — many of whom are working with 15-year-old planning documents at the moment — is likely to become final within five weeks.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is in charge of the Forest Service, struck a conciliatory note in a conference call Thursday, saying that wide public participation will be crucial to the success of future forest management. He said that the revised rules focused on restoring the ecological health of forests and watersheds, particularly conserving and improving the quality of freshwater in the forests.
Noting that 20 percent of Americans drink water that comes from national forests, Mr. Vilsack said that management of the watersheds would be based on the “best available science.”
He and the chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, also emphasized a desire to ensure that the forests are open to all uses, including timber harvesting and recreation.. With the new rule and a greater emphasis on cooperative planning with various interest groups, Mr. Tidwell said, plans governing individual forest plants could be written twice as fast — in three or four years, as opposed to the current five, six or seven.
Forest policy is a difficult arena. It’s not just that the forests face natural challenges like invasive beetles or fierce wildfires, challenges exacerbated by climate change. Managing the forests can pit timber harvesters against environmentalists in clashes like the drawn-out one over the northern spotted owl two decades ago.
The point that Mr. Vilsack repeatedly made echoed a line from President Obama’s State of the Union address. He said he wanted a forest-based economy “built to last.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice offered guarded praise for the Forest Service’s intentions. “It’s a smart bunch of public-minded people” at work, said Niel Lawrence, a forest expert at the N.R.D.C., and they “are trying to produce a durable rule that will work.They get high marks for their vision of protection and restoration of federal forests.”
Then came the big “but.” The rule contains a small change in wording that he said would weaken a former requirement on keeping widely distributed populations of local plants and animals in a forest. “These rules are set up to allow the agency actively to squeeze wildlife out,” he said. “That’s a recipe for a wildlife zoo, not a healthy ecosystem.” He called the language “a loophole that threatens to undo all their good work.”
Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice took a similar tone: some great ideas here, but problems remain. Her concern was that the section on protecting animals gave too much flexibility to forest managers.
Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, said in a statement: “We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests.
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont.)
5. Concerns about flexible managers
6. Hopes for an equilateral triangle
American Forest Council
7. High marks for vision BUT oh those loopholes
Thanks to the Wildlife Society for providing the following. There are 16 Federal agencies on the steering committee and I assume that USDA is one of those.
Obama proposal battles climate change impact on wildlife
Western Farm Press
In partnership with state, tribal, and federal agency partners, the Obama administration released the first draft national strategy to help decision makers and resource managers prepare for and help reduce the impacts of climate change on species, ecosystems, and the people and economies that depend on them. MORE
First from the Environmental News Service (thanks to Terry Seyden). My comments in italics.
Obama’s New Forest Planning Rule Fails to Satisfy Conservationists
WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2012 (ENS) – The Obama administration today proposed a new forest planning rule that will guide the management of 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one prairie in the National Forest System.
The rule provides the framework for U.S. Forest Service land management plans. Once approved, the final rule will update planning procedures that have been in place since 1982, creating a planning process that the the Forest Service says reflects the latest science and knowledge of how to create and implement effective land management plans.
Hiker explores White Mountain National Forest in Maine. (Photo by Bob Nichols courtesy USDA)
But, although plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation, several conservation groups say the new rule weakens protections for wildlife on national forests.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service under its jurisdiction considered nearly 300,000 public comments on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued last February, to develop the agency’s preferred course of action for finalizing the planning rule.
“The most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history has resulted in a strong framework to restore and manage our forests and watersheds and help deliver countless benefits to the American people,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today. “Our preferred alternative will safeguard our natural resources and provide a roadmap for getting work done on the ground that will restore our forests while providing job opportunities for local communities.”
“This approach requires plans to conserve and restore watersheds and habitats while strengthening community collaboration during the development and implementation of individual plans,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
“Under our preferred alternative, plan revisions would take less time, cost less money, and provide stronger protections for our lands and water,” said Tidwell. “Finalizing a new rule will move us forward in managing our forests and grasslands, and will create or sustain jobs and income for local communities around the country.”
In the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, PEIS, for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule released today, the Forest Service requires that:
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.
Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration would be required throughout all stages of the planning process. The preferred alternative would provide opportunities for tribal consultation and coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies, and includes requirements for outreach to traditionally under-represented communities.
Plans require the use of the best available scientific information to inform the planning process and documentation of how science was used in the plan.
The planning framework provides a more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.
The new PEIS is the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to revise nationwide regulations governing national forests. All three previous attempts were challenged in court by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity and allies, and all three prior attempts were found to be unlawful.
Like the 2000, 2005 and 2008 rules, the Obama administration’s planning rule would decrease longstanding protections for wildlife on national forests.
This statement sounds like it’s news and not the opinion of some. Just sayin’, reasonable people could disagree.
“Today’s rule is a step up from the Bush administration’s rule, but its protections are still a far cry from Reagan-era regulations that the Forest Service has been trying to weaken for 12 years,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center.
“Our publicly owned national forests should be a safe haven for wildlife,” said McKinnon. “In the face of unprecedented global climate change and other threats to species, the Forest Service should be trying to strengthen, not weaken, protections for wildlife on our public lands.”
If climate change is unprecedented, all the regulations in the world are not going to keep plant and wildlife species where they are now. There is an inherent conceptual difficulty here. Even if the FS did nothing at all (no recreation, no whatever) under certain scenarios different species are going to exit.
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.”
A notice of availability for the PEIS will be published in the Federal Register on February 3 with a Record of Decision on the final rule to follow within 30 days.
Clark said Defenders of Wildlife will be reviewing the rule more closely with an eye on improvements that can be made to ensure stronger protections for wildlife before the rule is finalized.
I am curious about what these might be, maybe we can get copies of a letter if they send one.
Here’s one from the Asheville Times
unveils new forest
ASHEVILLE — Conservation groups
welcomed “with cautious optimism” news of
a new national forest planning rule unveiled
Thursday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom
In a media conference call, Vilsack
announced the release of the
environmental impact statement for the
new National Forest System Land
Management Planning Rule, saying there
would be a greater emphasis on science
and watershed protection while promoting
multiple uses such as logging and
recreation when developing new forest
“The general impression is that we’re
cautiously optimistic about the new rule. It
puts importance on maintaining and
restoring the ecological integrity of national
forests, and we like that,” said Josh Kelly,
public lands field biologist with the WNC
Alliance, an Asheville-based conservation
“I think the national forests do need a new
planning rule. Times have changed. But it’s
important that the rule is administered
correctly,” Kelly said. “It will require the
involvement of groups like the WNC Alliance
and the public to make sure the desired
Forests have been operating under a
planning rule in place since 1982. Local
forest management plans, revised every 15
years, guide the agency on how to manager
for timber, wildlife, water, recreation and
The planning rule provides the framework
for Forest Service land management plans
for the 155 forests, 20 grasslands and one
prairie in the National Forest System, which
make up 193 million acres and receive
more than 170 million visitors a year and
have a $13 billion economic impact on
local communities, Vilsack said.
The new planning rule comes at an
opportune time for Pisgah and Nantahala
national forests — two of four national
forests in North Carolina — that together
comprise about 1 million acres. The two
forests in Western North Carolina, which
receive some 5 million visitors a year,
operate under a joint management plan,
last revised in 1995.
“The Nantahala-Pisgah (plan) is up for
Advertisement revision, as it has been for a while. We’re
glad that it will be subject to the new
planning rule,” said Brent Martin, Sylva-
based Southern Appalachian regional
director for the Wilderness Society.
“We’re fairly pleased with the rule overall.
It’s a great improvement over the previous
rule,” he said. “This is what a lot of people
in the conservation community were waiting
to hear. Forest management is not just
about timber anymore. It’s about the
ecological services that forests provide.”
Strong public interest
The agency’s preferred course of action
was developed based on more than
300,000 comments received after the
draft plan was released to the public last
February, Vilsack said. A public forum in
Asheville last April drew about 80 people.
“This has undoubtedly has been the most
collaborative and transparent process used
in forest planning rules,” Vilsack said.
The new rules, which replace those thrown
out by a federal court in 2009, will focus
more on “solid science,” water quality,
forest restoration, wildlife, sustainable
recreation and the challenges of climate
change, while featuring greater public
collaboration and creating more jobs.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the
new planning rule also calls for allowing
individual Forest Service land management
plans to be completed more quickly, in
most cases cutting that time in half.
“In the past it took five-seven years to
develop a plan,” Tidwell said. “The new
planning process should cut that to three-
four years. It will be much more efficient.”
If approved, the new planning rules would
also provide for less expensive
management plans, said spokesman Stevin
Westcott. Instead of $5 million to $7
million, each plan revision would cost about
$3 million, he said.
A notice of availability for the planning rule
environmental impact statement will be
published in the Federal Register on Feb.
3, and Vilsack will issue a decision about a
month after that.
Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore
1. weakening protections of 82
Center for Biological Diversity
2. not satisfied
Defenders of Wildlife
3. Cautiously optimistic
4. Fairly pleased; great improvement
Hmm. It seems so far that the regional groups interviewed were more positive than the national groups. It’s also interesting that the ENS chose to give CBD first crack at commenting, apparently because they litigated the previous rules. So litigation gives your opinion some kind of precedence in this media outlet? Worth thinking about. Let’s keep track for ourselves and see what kinds of patterns emerge.