Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont. Courtesy ForestWatch.
Feb. 16 was one of the proudest days in my 25 years working for The Wilderness Society. That was the day we completed and sent to the U.S. Forest Service a 95-page comment letter that represents our best thinking about how our country’s 193 million-acre National Forest System should be managed to meet the challenges and demands of the 21st Century.
I worked on the letter with a large team of Wilderness Society staff with broad expertise in forest ecology, economics, and policy. We live in different regions and deal with a variety of forest-related issues, from logging in soggy Southeast Alaska to fire management in sunny California.
Yet, we all care deeply about the future of the National Forests and Grasslands, both near our homes and far away.
We composed our letter specifically in response to a Forest Service request for comment on how the agency should re-write the rules to implement the National Forest Management Act of 1976. The NFMA is one of the most important public land laws that Congress has ever passed. It requires the Forest Service to involve citizens and scientists in designing the management plans for each National Forest and Grassland.
In our comments, we urged the Forest Service to discard its old timber-oriented management plans and replace them with science-based plans that emphasize protection and restoration of the forests’ many valuable resources.
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During the coming weeks, you will be able to hear from some of The Wilderness Society’s expert staff blogging about the key points in our detailed comment letter, including the paramount issues of watershed protection, climate change, wildlife, recreation, and economics. These blogs will present the basic elements of The Wilderness Society’s vision for the future of our National Forests and Grasslands.
In our vision, the National Forests will be a magnificent system of public lands managed to maintain and restore the health and integrity of ecosystems, providing all Americans with an outstanding natural legacy that will be passed along unimpaired to future generations. Primary objectives will be to protect environmental values such as clear water, clean air, wildlife habitat, and biological diversity and to provide the nation with an ample source of wilderness, undiminished open spaces, and access to outdoor recreation. The National Forests will serve as the cornerstone for large-scale ecosystem protection and conservation of an interconnected network of wildlands in America.
After doing battle with the Forest Service for most of the past quarter century, I sincerely hope that The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups will be able to work more constructively with the agency as it develops its new planning rule. We certainly have been hearing promising statements from the new leaders of the Forest Service, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
Our National Forest System faces many difficult challenges ahead, with climate change looming as probably the greatest single threat. Nonetheless, I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to set a better course for the future of these remarkable public lands.
photo: Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont. Courtesy ForestWatch.