What is Forest Planning

Can you imagine trying to manage 155 very different and unique children? Well, that is what the U.S. Forest Service does with our many national forests.

Our national forests are the backbone of America’s public lands system. And creating plans for each of them takes time, money and community participation. Forest planning looks at everything from logging to protecting threatened species. Because forests transcend centuries, the plans need to be thoughtful of the next generation and the long-term needs of the community and land.

The National Forest Management Act or NFMA is the basic law that the Forest Service must follow in developing forest planning rules to manage national forests. Passed in 1976, the Act has three special features:

  • The Forest Service is required to involve the public in forest planning.
  • The Forest Service must develop and update a 10 to 15 year plan for how it would manage the land and resources in each individual national forest.
  • All management activities in the national forest must be consistent with the forest plan.

National forest planning rule

As it turns out, in the history of the Forest Service, there has only been one successful forest planning rule. While it is effective, the rule dates back to 1982, and does not address 21st century forest planning issues like sustainable recreation and climate change.

Accordingly, the Obama administration revised the 1982 rule, and after much public input, replaced it with one that addresses the current needs of our forests and surrounding communities.

Planning directives

Planning directives explain the nitty-gritty details and requirements the Forest Service must adhere to when implementing the new planning rule. While many of us will never read a planning directive, they are what guides the detailed development of forest plans and are relied on heavily by Forest Service employees and stakeholders. The directives are comprised of the Forest Service Manuals and related Forest Service Handbooks. 

National advisory committee

The Forest Service is setting up a national committee to help guide the initial implementation of the new planning rule. The committee’s official title is the “National Advisory Committee for Implementation of the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule.” 

Helpful links

  • In the first of a three management plans to be released in 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Colorado missed a great opportunity to protect some of Colorado's most treasured landscapes—including the Dolores River, lands surrounding Mesa Verde National Park and recreation hub

  • When school was out for the summer in the suburbs of Manhattan where I grew up, my mom packed our little Subaru hatchback with sleeping bags, a tent, a cooler filled with fruit and sandwich meat, hiking boots, rain gear, and three kids, and headed West.  Like generations before and since, w

  • The Forest Service recently released a plan that could protect much of Colorado’s Thompson Divide from new oil and gas leasing. For years, this spectacular area has been threatened by oil and gas development.