Washington, DC -- Collaboration and a greater reliance on science are the keys to the Obama administration's new guidelines in managing about 193 million acres of national forest. Juggling the competing interests of industry and conservation, the administration says the new rules will protect watersheds and wildlife while promoting uses ranging from recreation to logging. The guidelines, which are expected to take effect in early March, represent the first meaningful overhaul of forest rules in more than 30 years.
The United States Department of Agriculture and Forest Service carefully considered the nearly 300,000 comments received on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement (EIS) issued last February. The ACA, and our partners in the Outdoor Alliance (OA), commented on the draft rule. OA supported the majority of the draft bill and applauded its acknowledgement of the importance of recreation, including a new concept of "sustainable recreation.” As a group, we encouraged better recognition of recreational opportunities and settings, more proactive language for river protections and those that are eligible for Wild and Scenic designation, as well as a stronger reliance on the best available technology.
The result of more than two years of work, the USDA and USFS has devised a preferred alternative that Secretary Vilsack is calling "the most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history.” He says, "Our preferred alternative ill 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.”
Unlike the previous forest planning rules, that were out-of date or arduous and tedious processes, the new planning process strives to be more efficient and cost-effective by emphasizing collaboration, utilizing the best available scientific information, and strengthening the role of public involvement throughout the planning process.
USFS Chief Tom Tidwell says, "this approach requires plans to conserve and restore watersheds and habitats while strengthening community collaboration during the development and implementation of individual plans. Under our preferred alternative, plan revisions would take less time, cost less money, and provide stronger protections for our lands and water. 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.”
Opponents of the new planning rules argue that they will negatively affect jobs and introduce excessive layers of bureaucracy and costly procedural requirements. Tidwell argues that they "expect to see less litigation with this process.” Some also think that they fall short when it comes to wildlife protection. For many, though, the new forest planning rules are welcomed and long overdue. A big-picture process for forest planning that allows for adaptive management and flexibility is expected to yield much more efficient and cost effective system.