Citizens across country speak up for greater protection for national forests

May 18, 2010

Now it’s the Obama administration’s turn to show they listened

What Happened: It didn’t make much news in light of the Gulf Coast oil spill and thwarted terror plot in New York City, but citizens across the U.S. accomplished something important over the past six weeks: They got involved in a federal decision making process and told Obama administration they want greater protection for our national forests. Speaking up at 33 regional public meetings from Atlanta, Georgia to Juneau, Alaska, that wrapped up on May 12 in Washington D.C., they called on the agency to apply sound science to the process, preserve supplies of clean drinking water, protect fish and wildlife and address climate change.

Why This Matters: At the end of the day, the citizen involvement may go a long way toward changing the Forest Service’s priorities on developing a new national forest management planning rule that should be completed in 2011. The Forest Service has also announced its intention to host one more public meeting sometime this summer.

“What happens on our national forests affects everyone in the country, from the water we drink to the places we turn to for recreation,” said Mike Anderson, a senior resource analyst with The Wilderness Society who has long been on the front lines of the forest management process. “This public hearing process gave citizens the chance to urge the Forest Service to establish the strongest possible protection for water, trees and other natural resources needed by people and wildlife alike.”

Why Everyone Should Care About How Forests Are Managed: Anderson added that the shift in thinking shouldn’t be a surprise because of the widespread love for the forests. More than 200 million people visit national forests and grasslands annually. These publicly owned lands produce clean water for millions of Americans, provide habitat for many of our most treasured and imperiled species, offer unparalleled recreational opportunities, and are key drivers of local economies by providing and supporting thousands of jobs and small businesses that together makeup a recreational economy worth over $110 billion nationwide.

What We’re Encouraging You To Write: Your editorial board has a chance to reinforce the conservation messages that were delivered throughout the public process. We’re encouraging you to commend citizens for getting involved and to call on the Obama administration to listen to what was said and use sound science to develop a strong rule with clear national standards to protect water quality and wildlife habitat on our national forests. The Forest Service is expected to issue a draft of the new role by December of 2010.

What’s Different About This Issue Now: Some participants in the meetings noted that they represented a paradigm shift in what are often hotly contested discussions about America’s 155 national forests and grasslands.

“For years, forest policy pitted timber interests against environmental advocates,” said Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton. “But now the 'timber wars' feel long gone, and remarkably, there is little trace of this historic disagreement. Instead, the conversation has rightly centered on how to responsibly manage our national forests to protect values like clean water and wildlife in an era of climate change.”

Learn more: Visit the forest planning rule section of the Forest Service’s Web site for background information. Click on the Web site of a coalition of conservation organizations for additional resources and insight.

This is a joint Editorial Board Memo from The Wilderness Society, The Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife.