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Loggers, off-roaders sue USFS over new planning rule

Groups claim agency can’t base planning on ecological sustainability

Industrial users challenge national forest planning rule.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Timber, ranching and off-road motorists are suing the U.S. Forest Service over a recently adopted national planning rule. The groups claim that the Forest Service illegally adopted ecological sustainability as a primary purpose of forest management, and that rule includes an unlawful mandate to provide ecosystem services.

Careful readers will hear the faint echoes of the paranoid black-helicopter crowd in the background, for example when the lawsuit mentions a UN-sponsored report that discusses forest ecosystem services such as carbon storage, along with “educational, aesthetic, spiritual and cultural heritage values.”

That’s all apparently a bit to touchy-feely for the hoof and chainsaw crowd, who have asked the federal District Court for Washington, D.C. to overturn the rule. Read the lawsuit here.

The groups also have taken aim at the planning rule’s requirements that the Forest Service use the best available science for planning decisions, apparently under the motto of “second-best is good enough” for the country’s 193-million-acre national forest system.

The lawsuit drew an immediate attack from conservation advocates, who at some point considered whether they should challenge the rule because it eliminated previous standards aimed at protecting wildlife and other natural resource values.

“The timber and livestock industries’ opposition to science and sustainability shows they care about only one thing when it comes to our national forests: their own profits,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Even as new rules roll back longstanding protections for wildlife, industry keeps complaining about any limits being set on what they can extract from our national forests.”

The suit, which was filed by groups including the American Forest Resource Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and BlueRibbon Coalition, challenges new regulations implementing the National Forest Management Act that the Obama administration issued in January 2012.

It alleges, among other things, that the Forest Service does not have the authority to require ecological sustainability and the use of best available science in the management of our national forests. The industry groups also challenged the Forest Service for requiring that recreation on our national forests be sustainable.

January’s rule marked the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to revise planning rules that date back to the Reagan administration. All three previous attempts were challenged and defeated in court by conservation groups, who argued successfully that the Forest Service had failed to assess the impacts of the rule changes on the environment, including endangered species.

Like the 2000, 2005 and 2008 rules, the Obama administration’s planning rule weakens longstanding protections for biological diversity on national forests. Unlike earlier challenges, the industry groups directly challenge the substance of the new rule, for including common sense requirements regarding sound science and sustainability.

Congress enacted the National Forest Management Act in 1976 to guide management of the national forest system, which consists of 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. In 1982, the Forest Service adopted national regulations to provide specific direction for activities such as logging, mining, livestock grazing and recreation. That rule included strong, mandatory protections for fish and wildlife, requiring the Forest Service to monitor and maintain viable populations.

A copy of the industry complaint can be found here.

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5 Responses

  1. The issue is not one of being “touchy-feely”, nor is it a plot to log and pave the world to make it safe for wheeled transportation.

    The problem is that there are no specific goals, no hard data, and no mechanisms for engineering, education, enforcement, or evaluation of consequences or results. When a system is reduced to subjective judgement, it ceases to provide solutions.

    When you add the complete lack of public contact or input to frame these policies, the current direction of the USDA is a stealth attempt at agency takeover by undefined and subversive fringe elements. It cannot be allowed to stand. The system demands involvement, communication, cooperation, and compromise. The lawsuit will prevail, the agency will have wasted enormous amounts of taxpayer money on a frivolous directive, and the loser will be the environment and the public.

    Still want vague guidelines like “ecological sustainability”? Or shall we get back to reality and the original and proper mission of the agency – Land of Many Uses. The insanity of modern government and hidden ploys by partisan groups to control public lands astounds me. Manage it for everyone and get rid of the crackpots with an axe to grind

    • Hi Mark, long time … remember, ecological sustainability is the foundation for ALL the other uses. The Forest Service was wise to recognize that in the new planning rule.

      • Hi Bob! Brian Hawthorne from BlueRibbon here.

        OHV and Snowmobilers agree about ecological sustainability. We have a long history of taking responsibility for minimizing our impacts and making sure our trails are sustainable for all to use, whether motorized or non. We essentially “taxed ourselves” via OHV/snowmobile registration programs in order to provide funding to make our uses sustainable.

        What our lawsuit is about is something different. The new USFS mandates all recreation be “socially sustainable,” elevating it above “ecologically sustainable,” which is well defined in law and regulation.

        Social sustainability, you may know, is a brainchild of people like George Werthner. See: http://wuerthner.blogspot.com/2008/09/no-right-way-to-do-wrong-thing.html

        A lot of folks in the environmental community agree with George when he proffers the notion it is time to ban all OHV and snowmobile use on publicly managed lands.

        I don’t know if the U.S. Forest Service’s new “social sustainability” mandate sprouted from Wertherner’s theory, but it seems reasonable to wonder if the U.S. Forest Service is regretting their 2005 Travel Management Rule. The 2005 Rule established OHV recreation as a legitimate use of our National Forests.

        The USFS may or may not be Wertherner acolytes, this new “social sustainability” requirement is an open door to people like Wurtherner to achieve their long sought goal.

        Thanks for reporting on our efforts to challenge this new “social sustainability” mandate. We may not agree on some public lands management issues, but I appreciate your reporting and often read your stuff.

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