The Wilderness Society gives new forest planning rule a much improved B

Feb 10, 2010

More homework needed to boost water, wildlife protection to an A plus

The Wilderness Society issued a mid-term grade of a much improved “B” on the Forest Service’s proposed new rule released today that governs how the nation’s 193-million-acre National Forest System will be managed in the future.

“We give the Forest Service a mid-term grade of a solid ‘B’ for developing a 21st century proposal for a new forest planning rule,” TWS President William H. Meadows said of the agency’s revision to the planning rule required by the National Forest Management Act. “The Forest Service has made a tremendous improvement over the failed policy of the past decade by improving protection for supplies of clean drinking water, recreational access and wildlife habitat. The magnificence of our national forests, however, are too important to settle for that grade. The Wilderness Society and all of our supporters will be staying after class to give the agency all the extra credit assignments it needs to boost its final grade to an ‘A plus’.”

While The Wilderness Society is still studying the 94-page rule at press time, it highlighted a number of issues leading to the B grade for the Forest Services’ proposal for managing 155 national forests and grasslands visited by more than 200 million people a year:

  • Preserving clean supplies of drinking water: The rule goes further than previous rules but doesn’t include explicit protections required to truly protecting America’s drinking water. 
  • Saving America’s outdoor legacy: The Forest Service has taken a major step towards ensuring quality recreation opportunities for all by requiring that forest plans include a sustainable recreation element. The initial proposal falls short on critical details, but provides a solid foundation on which we can build to connect current and future generations to the great outdoors.
  • Protecting fish and wildlife habitat: The provisions for protecting fish and wildlife aren’t strong enough. There’s too much power given to local managers to overlook the needs of fish, wildlife and plant species.
  • Addressing climate change: For the first time, the issue of climate change is woven into the planning rule – ensuring that forest plans look ahead and anticipate potential climate disruptions. This is an important first step.
  • Harvesting timber: The Forest Service has a troubled logging history. This rule needs additional work to address shortcomings.
  • Protecting Wilderness: We’re concerned that there aren’t enough requirements that would identify worthy Wilderness areas on national forests.

“What happens on our national forests affects everyone in the country, from the water we drink to the places we turn to for recreation,” Meadows said. “Our national forests are American treasures. It’s imperative for the Forest Service improve the rule even more so that the plans are as great as the national forests.”

The immediate next steps for the forest planning rule start when the agency formally publishes the rule in the federal register on Feb. 14. That will launch a 90-day comment period in which the public can provide feedback to the agency about the changes it would like to see. A national public roundtable will take place on March 10 in Washington D.C., where the public will have a chance to make comments on the rule (the event will also be broadcast on the Internet). A number of other public meetings will follow in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, Oregon, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Alaska, though the dates have yet to be determined.

The Wilderness Society hopes people across the country will make their voices heard.
“Coloradans love their national forests,” said Suzanne Jones, the Central Rockies regional director for The Wilderness Society, who has a long history of involvement in the forest management process. “From supplying the water we drink to the treasured places we turn to for recreation, Colorado’s forests are the key to our great quality of life.”

Learn more: Visit the Forest Service’s forest planning rule Web site at: www.Fs.usda.gov/planningrule