Forest Service publishes new Planning Rule
December 22, 2004
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service released its final rule that provides the framework for individual forest management plans governing the 155 national forests and 20 grasslands on Wednesday, December 22. For the first time, an Environmental Management System (EMS) will be used during the planning process to improve performance and accountability. The rule establishes a dynamic process to account for changing forest conditions, emphasizes science and public involvement, and ultimately will help local forest managers provide future generations with healthier forests, cleaner air and water, and more abundant wildlife while sustaining a variety of forest uses.
The agency will adopt an EMS for each forest and grassland—a management tool used widely by the public and private sector both nationally and internationally that includes internationally-accepted standards. EMS connects planning with implementation so that plans can be dynamic, and outcomes of project-level decisions can be assessed for continuous improvement. A key feature of the EMS is the requirement for independent audits of the Forest Service’s work. This new review and oversight of agency performance will help the Forest Service more fully account for its management of more than 192 million acres of public land.
The new rule will make forest planning more timely and cost effective. Currently, the forest planning process generally takes 5-7 years to revise a 15-year management plan. Desired land conditions will be outlined in each management plan, and local managers will be held accountable for their efforts to achieve them. This will make planning more relevant to on-the-ground practices and outcomes. The new rule directs forest managers to take into account the best available science to protect air, water, wildlife, and other important natural resources at a landscape-level. Plant and wildlife protections will be provided first by conserving ecosystems as a whole, with more targeted protections for listed species and other species of concern. Management decisions will consider ecological, social, and economic sustainability, consistent with broadly accepted international standards.
The new rule neither promotes nor discourages any particular forest use, such as recreation, grazing, timber harvest, or mineral development. Decisions regarding such uses will be made on a forest-by-forest basis and will be informed by local conditions, science and public input. Guidelines on activities, such as timber harvesting, will be placed in the directives.
The new rule and the proposal identifying how plan development, amendment and revision will comply with NEPA are expected to be forwarded to the Federal Register today, December 22, for publication. Both documents are available at www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma. The public will have 60 days to comment on the NEPA proposal. Written comments may be sent to: Forest Service Content Analysis Team, P.O. Box 22777, Salt Lake City, Utah 84122. Comments also will be accepted by electronic mail to email@example.com or by fax to 801-517-1015.