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U.S. Forest Service holds open house on new planning rule

Forest Service sets March 21 open house for new forest planning rule

A proposed new national forest planning rule will play a critical role in the management of Summit County's natural resources.

Forest health and restoration is at the heart of a new national forest planning rule.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A broad new rule for national forest plans has been out in draft form for several weeks now, with the Forest Service taking public comment through the middle of May. In the next few weeks, residents of the Rocky Mountain region will have a chance to learn about the new rule in person at several public forums, including a March 21 session at the agency’s regional office on Lakewood (1 pm. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.).

A coalition of environmental and wildlife advocacy groups is also calling on the public to attend the meeting and learn about the proposed rule’s wildlife provisions — which they claim are not protective enough.

The groups want the Forest Service to change the rule in several key areas, saying the new regulations must include:

  • Requirements that forest plans include protections for healthy fish and wildlife populations and their habitats.
  • Secure safe, clean water by creating mandatory management standards to protect and restore streams, rivers and watersheds.
  • Require that plans and projects conform to the best available science at all levels of national forest planning.

The new rule is based on a “bottom-up” effort at gathering input, according to Harris Sherman, under secretary for natural resources and environment.

“We were very including of tribal, state and local governments,” Sherman said, adding that the agency considered more than 26,000 public comments in developing the draft version and held 40 public meetings with 3,000 participants.

Best available science

Sherman said the new rule differs from the existing version by expanding options for public input and by requiring that the best available scientific information be used in formulating individual forest plans.

“The 1982 rule requires that plans be revised every 15 years … 67 forest plans are currently outdated … our hope is we’ll be able to do plan revisions in under three years and that the revision process will not be as extensive,” Sherman said during a recent interview in Aspen.

Together with White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, Sherman said the proposed rule would be based on adaptive management, including an emphasis on monitoring and assessment, with more frequents amendments and updates. In that vision, the plans wouldn’t need a total makeover at the end of their 15-year lifespans.

Streamlined decision-making

Fitzwilliams said the new process should be more cost-efficient and require less in the way of human resources.

“The thought of a forest plan revision is one of the most painful things there is  … it’s bad policy, and people dread it. We can’t afford it as a country, budgets being what they are,” he said, referring to the high cost of a major overhaul. The last update of the White River National Forest plan cost several million dollars.

Fitzwilliams said a new pre-decisional objection process and less opportunity for administrative appeals should help streamline the forest plan decision process.

“Through an adaptive management framework, we’ll continually update the plans and info … we won’t be facing a plan that 15 years of of date,” he said, adding that, when the White River forest started its most recent plan revision, there were critical information gaps that required the agency to go out and conduct in-depth studies. The ongoing monitoring and assessment required by the proposed rule will prevent that situation the next time around,” he claimed.

Wildlife concerns

The environmental coalition is concerned that the new rule currently ignores scientific recommendations on wildlife diversity protection, misses opportunities to protect watersheds and makes longstanding requirements for the Forest Service to maintain wildlife populations largely optional.

Sherman said the Forest Service tried to cover all the bases in the proposed rule.

“With respect to protection of animal and plant species, this expands the requirement of 1982 rule to cover plant species, and it recognizes the importance of habitat connectivity,” he said. “The heart of the new rule is focused on restoration, making forests resilient, and maintaining and restoring ecosystems and watersheds … it includes 150 mandatory, non-discretionary requirements,” he explained, adding that, under its multiple-use mandate, the Forest Service also has to factor in economic and social sustainability,  “Multiple uses that are important to communities, like recreation, grazing, timber, water uses,” Sherman concluded.

Additional meetings:
Thursday, March 24 – 6:00 to 8:00 pm – Kiwanis Community House, 4603 Lions Park Drive, Cheyenne, WY.
Wednesday, April 6 – 4:00 to 6:00 pm – GMUG Forest Supervisor’s Office 2250 Highway 50 Delta, CO.

More Information:

  • Full text of the proposed Planning Rule, instructions to provide comment and the Planning Rule blog and more can be found at: www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

  • To register and download an agenda for forums hosted throughout the Rocky Mountain Region, please visit: www.fs.usda.gov/r2 (click on “Planning Rule” under Quick Links).

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