National Forest Planning Rule

Forest Service road wash out
The Forest Service recently revised its all-important forest planning rule that governs how national forests are managed.

The previous planning rule dated back to 1982, and it did not address 21st century forest planning issues like sustainable recreation, conservation biology and climate change. The revised rule attempts to modernize how we manage our national forests.

The US Forest Service manages each national forest per the direction set forth in its land management plan.  Land management plans are revised every 10 to 15 years, and must follow a specific framework and requirements laid out in the Forest Planning Rule. 

Why do we need a national forest planning rule?

Forests need to work for everyone:

  • The people who depend on them for drinking water, clean air, recreation activities and jobs
  • The plants and animals that call the forests home
  • The air that is filtered through the leaves
  • Our Earth – our forests help mitigate the effects of global warming

The history of the national forest planning rule

Starting in the late 1990’s the Forest Service unsuccessfully tried three times to update the 1982 planning rule. Under the Clinton administration, the Forest Service attempted to modernize the rule,  but the Bush administration suspended it when it took office. 

In 2005, the Bush administration instituted its own rule that weakened environmental protections and left out public input, two critically important elements in forest planning.

Fortunately, the courts understood this, and found that the Bush rule was in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock conservation law. The administration and the courts went back-and-forth for the remainder of Bush’s presidency without ever successfully finalizing a rule. Meanwhile, the Forest Service continued to update and revise its plans based on the outdated 1982 rule.

New day for the National Forest Planning Rule

In August 2009, under the Obama administration, United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack instructed the Forest Service to develop a new planning rule with the goal to:

  • Protect our water and wildlife
  • Mitigate against the effects of climate change
  • Create economic opportunities

Gathering input for new planning rule

Over the next two years, the Forest Service asked for the public’s opinion on the new planning rule. The public process was in-depth. It included:

  • Four national roundtables
  • Thirty-three regional roundtables
  • Submission of 300,000 comments on the proposed rule and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

The Wilderness Society submitted detailed comments.

So, what does the new forest planning rule say?

After reviewing the new forest planning rule, The Wilderness Society praised it for incorporating modern planning concepts and being science-based, recognizing that public participation in upcoming forest plan revisions will be essential to ensure that the rule’s goals are met and that forest plans reflect up-to-date scientific thinking.

Here’s why: 

  • Addressing climate change: For the first time, the issue of climate change is woven into the planning rule.
  • Preserving clean supplies of drinking water
  • The rule requires plans to protect and restore entire watersheds as well as the land closest to streams.
  • Saving America’s outdoor legacy
  • The rule aspires to ensure quality recreation opportunities for all by requiring that forest plans include a sustainable recreation element.
  • Protecting fish and wildlife habitat
  • The provisions for protecting fish and wildlife reflect the latest science.  The Forest Service has to do what it can to keep the forest hospitable for all types of native plants and animals.
  • Protecting Wilderness

People will have the opportunity to nominate worthy additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System on national forests.

The national forest planning rule today

The national forest planning rule will be used to guide the planning and management of America’s 155 national forests that host more than 200 million visitors every year.

The Wilderness Society will continue to work with the Forest Service and communities to ensure that our national forests are working for the people and the land.

Helpful link:

The revised national forest planning rule modernizes our forest management system and guides it into the 21st century.

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