Forest Service Planning

What is the Forest Service Planning Rule?

The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requires the Forest Service (USFS) to promulgate regulations “under the principles of the Multiple-Use, Sustained-Yield (MUSY) Act of 1960, that set out the process for development and revision of the land management plans and guidelines and standards.”

Individual forests then follow the direction of the planning rule and develop specific management plans.

Currently, USFS is operating under the transition provisions of the 2000 planning rule, as an interim measure until a new planning rule is implemented. The 2000 rule allows forests to develop, revise and amend forest plans using the procedures of the 1982 Rule.

On March 23, 2012, USFS finalized a new forest planning rule, to be implemented after its publication in the Federal Register.

How does NCBA view the final rule?

The final rule generally focuses on and elevates ecosystem services, sustainability, preservation, and even “spiritual values” over multiple-use, a clear diversion from the statute governing the National Forests.

Despite extensive comments from the livestock industry and many other multiple-use industries and repeated calls from Congress to improve the rule, the final rule has not substantively changed from the draft.

The rule requires USFS to “maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern within the planning area.” The ill-defined term “maintain viable populations” does NOT appear in the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) or any other statute.

The rule effectively makes Forest Service “guidelines” legally enforceable standards, throwing away hard-fought victories establishing that guidelines are discretionary — not mandatory.

The rule fails to build MUSY Act and NFMA requirements for active land management of multiple uses, including livestock grazing, timber management and recreation.

Requiring the use of “best available scientific information” is likely to fuel disputes and lawsuits. The term is extremely subjective.

Requiring default buffer zones for all riparian areas within a planning area has the potential to greatly limit livestock activities.

The use of pre-decisional objections is good. Requiring those who don’t support the draft plan to object before the final plan is released will help the agency preempt costly litigation.

What is NCBA doing to stop the rule?

On August 13, 2012, NCBA, Public Lands Council and other industry groups filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service, claiming that the new planning rule violates the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Multiple-Use, Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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