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 this report, we provide the policy framework for designating ORV trails and areas on federal lands, along with a series of recommendations based on recent case law and ten case studies from the Forest Service, BLM, and National Park Service that demonstrate both agency failures to comply with the executive order minimization criteria and good planning practices that could be incorporated into a model for application of the criteria.
  • Chart of offshore oil well blowout incident rates illustrates the need for stronger federal regulations to improve human safety and decrease environmental risk.

  • This fourth in a series of Easy to Start, Impossible to Finish reports analyzes four major transportation and energy projects in the planning stages in the state of Alaska. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker stopped discretionary spending on these four projects–the proposed Ambler Road in the Arctic Interior, Juneau Access, the Knik Arm Bridge and the Susitna-Watana Dam–soon after he took office in 2014. During 2015, Gov. Walker reversed course and allowed these projects to continue spending money on studies.