Welcoming a new era for the Forest Service

Dome Peak Roadless Areas in White River National Forest. Photo by Harlan Savage.

When Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stepped to the podium at a park in Seattle last week, he didn’t just make a speech about the Obama administration’s vision for managing national forests in the 21st century: He ushered in a whole new era for the Forest Service – one that makes restoring the health of our forests the top priority for the agency.

“It was a momentous occasion to see a secretary of Agriculture state that restoring forests will be the top priority for the Forest Service,” said Mike Anderson, a Wilderness Society senior resource analyst who attended the event. “He recognized the connection between healthy forests and healthy communities. Investing in our forests today will pay countless dividends in the future. First and foremost, it will safeguard supplies of clean drinking water.”

Vilsack then announced the first step the Obama administration would take to demonstrate that commitment, stating that it will not appeal the June 2009 federal court ruling that invalidated President Bush’s 2008 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) planning rule. (The NFMA is the guiding policy the Forest Service must use in developing forest planning rules to manage national forests, which should include using science and public input. The court found that the 2008 rule violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.) Vilsack also said that he is instructing the Forest Service to develop a new forest planning rule that will emphasize restoration.

“We are especially pleased that the administration decided to refrain from appealing the court ruling that invalidated the Bush administration’s forest planning rule,” Anderson said. “That decision by a federal court in California gave a huge victory to wildlife and public involvement by negating Bush’s attempts to roll back protections for forests.”

Turning his attention to the ongoing legal battle surrounding the protection of our national roadless forests, Vilsack reiterated the Obama administration’s recent announcement that the Obama administration will appeal an injunction placed on the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule by a federal district court judge in Wyoming. He also said that if the courts aren’t able to resolve roadless rule conflicts, the Obama administration will initiate a new roadless rule process.

“President Obama and Secretary Vilsack have clearly recognized that roadless forests play a vital role in providing recreational opportunities for people, protecting habitat for wildlife, and providing a defense against global warming,” Anderson said.

photo: Dome Peak Roadless Areas in White River National Forest. Photo by Harlan Savage.