The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is beginning the process of revising their regulations that govern how the agency prepares Forest Plans. Known as the “Planning Rule,” these regulations will be the driving force behind how the agency develops, amends and revises their Land Use Plans.

This is a big deal.


The FS is proposing a planning rule that will shift what is left of any emphasis toward multiple use/sustained yield to such things as global warming, ecosystem management and their new buzz word – restoration. Our action alert below gives a brief analysis and explains why BRC is concerned, and why we are encouraging our entire membership to respond.

For those of you who don’t want to know the details, or are busy with work and family, you can use our letter generator. For those of you who wish to send your own email to the USFS, we put together another one of our INSANELY EASY 3- step action items below.

Please send your comment email today. The comment deadline is February 16, 2010!

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact BRC.
Thanks in advance for your support,

Brian Hawthorne                                Ric Foster
Public Lands Policy Director              Public Lands Department Manager
208-237-1008 ext 102                        208-237-1008 ext 107


BRC NATION-WIDE ACTION ALERT – IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUESTED
US FOREST SERVICE DEVELOPING NEW PLANNING REGULATIONS
WILL GLOBAL WARMING TRUMP MULTIPLE USE?

SITUATION: The U.S. Forest Service is beginning the process of revising their regulations that govern how the agency prepares Forest Plans. Known as the “Planning Rule,” these regulations will be the driving force behind how the agency prepares Land Use Plans and will guide land managers in developing, amending, and revising land management plans for the 155 national forests and 20 grasslands in the National Forest System (NFS).

The USFS has released a proposed action that includes several so-called “Principles” that will be used to formulate the new regulations. The agency is asking for comments on these principles, and is asking the public to identify important issues and alternatives.  (Read the Notice of Intent HERE)

BRC’S CONCERNS –  WHY THIS MATTERS TO YOU

Land management planning is one way the USFS complies with requirements under such laws as the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA) as well as laws like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Sadly, planning regulations can also be used to dilute the requirements under NFMA and MUSYA and expand the requirements of other laws, such as the ESA and the Wilderness Act.

By including such nebulous guidance as, “restoration and conservation to enhance the resilience of ecosystems to a variety of threats” and “proactively address climate change through monitoring, mitigation and adaptation, and could allow flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and incorporate new information,” the proposed emphasis will further shift the agency away from multiple use management.

If that’s not bad enough, the agency’s proposal does virtually nothing to address the analysis paralysis problem. Current regulations provide multiple levels of seemingly never-ending environmental analysis. The result is a series of one-way procedural gates for litigious environmental groups. We often describe the situation by saying the environmental groups have executed a corporate takeover of the US Forest Service.

The agency has several problems with its planning. But the key problem is that the agency assumes it has the authority to change the policy that was established in Congress. The agency is attempting this via their planning regulations, which are supposed to be all about the procedures for revising land management plans, not the policy those plans will implement. As a result, the planning rules are unworkable. Plans take years to complete, are unbelievably expensive, totally unresponsive to public input and often include conflicting management guidance. By the time all the levels of environmental analysis are completed on a project, it’s time for a new land use plan. Sadly, this new proposal will likely make things worse.

More info on the web:
The FS has a website with all the information and links to other background documents.

We have reformatted the Notice of Intent for easy reading. Take a good look.


BRC’S THREE-STEP ACTION ITEM
STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO EMAIL YOUR COMMENTS:

NOTE: Please be polite and, if possible, make your comment letter as personal as you can.

STEP 1: Open your email program and start a draft email. Address the email to
fspr@contentanalysisgroup.com.
Put “New Planning Rule” in the Subject Line.

STEP 2: Use the comments below as a guideline for comments in your email.
Cut and paste is okay, but try to make your comment letter as personal as possible.

STEP 3: Take just a minute to add a bit about where you live, where you like to ride
and how much trail-based recreation means to you. Be certain to include your
name and address. A return email address is NOT sufficient! (“anonymous” emails
are often discarded).

COMMENT SUGGESTIONS:

Forest Service Planning NOI
C/O Bear West Company
172 E 500 S
Bountiful, UT 84010
RE: New Planning Rule

To whom it may concern,

1. The Importance of Recreation to the American Public should be emphasized in the planning regulations.
A diverse range of recreational activities should be identified as one of the key “Ecosystem Services”  that Land Use Plans should address. According to the National National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, the popularity and importance to USFS visitors of off-highway vehicle and snowmobile recreation has drastically increased in recent years. Ditto for mountain bike and equestrian use. Conversely, the amount of USFS lands available for motorized, mountain bike and, on some Forests, even equestrian trails, have been reduced via legislation, implementation of Forest Plans and site- specific recreation plans. Therefore, there is a need to emphasize a diverse range of recreation in the planning regulations.

Please identify the need to emphasize a diverse range of trail- based recreation as a formal planning issue and develop at least one alternative where the planning regulations identify motorized and non- motorized recreation as a key ecosystem services and provides direction to enhance and expand opportunities for these popular activities.

2. Planning regulations should focus on procedures for developing, amending and revising land management plans.
The Notice of Intent (NOI) states that this new rule will “consist of procedures for developing, amending, and revising land management plans” and it lists several “principles” that could be used in the development of a new planning rule. Note that none of the “Substantive Principles” have anything to do with procedures for developing land management plans. And only one of the “Process Principles” directly addresses the planning process.

The agency says its existing planning regulations are costly, complex, and procedurally burdensome. I believe this is because the previous regulations attempted to address policy instead of planning procedures. Congress sets the policies for management of federal lands, and administrative agencies must act within those legislative limits. The new planning regulations should focus exclusively on planning procedures, not policy direction.

3. The concern over the trend away from Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Management should be identified as a planning issue.
Each year more and more USFS lands are removed from multiple use management. Past planning activities and litigation have significantly expanded preservation- oriented management and significantly reduced areas available for multiple use. The reduction of multiple- use, sustained- yield management has been identified as a key problem affecting the health and economic well-being of States and local communities.

The issue of “cumulative loss of multiple use sustained yield management” should be identified as a formal planning issue and brought forward for analysis. At least one alternative should include planning direction to enhance multiple- use, sustained- yield management. All Alternatives should include a complete analysis of the history of the MUSY Act and its sociopolitical importance to states with large areas of federally- managed lands.

4. There is a need to streamline the planning and appeal process.
I agree with the agency’s assessment that current regulations are costly, complex, and procedurally burdensome. However, incorporating many of the “Substantive Principles” are likely to exacerbate this problem.

The issue of cost and complexity of planning should be brought forward for analysis and incorporated as a formal planning issue. At least one alternative should be formulated to streamline the planning process. The agency may also wish to ask Congress to clarify its intent on both policy and requirements for environmental analysis.

5. There is a need to clarify the distinction between programmatic and site- specific planning, as well as what level of environmental analysis is required for both.
The proper relationship between Forest Planning and project planning is a topic of frequent discussion.  In the past, the agency asserted the “programmatic” or “general” nature of Forest Plans. However, recently completed Forest Plans blur the line, viewing subsequent site-specific processes as mere reiteration or “implementation” of the Forest Plan decisions. In addition, the agency seems to suffer from a multiple and often redundant requirements for environmental analysis.

All alternatives should clarify the distinction between programmatic and site- specific planning and at least attempt to describe what level of environmental analysis is required in each.

6. It is unwise to “proactively address climate change” in the planning regulations.
The agency’s own “Climate Change Considerations in Project Level NEPA Analysis” (January 13, 2009) states that the effects of climate change are unknown, will vary regionally and will range the gamut from increased droughts to increased flooding. The document states: “It is not currently feasible to quantify the indirect effects of individual or multiple projects on global climate change and therefore determining significant effects of those projects or project alternatives on global climate change cannot be made at any scale.” The only thing that is certain is the climate will change from its current and/or its historical condition.

Effects of climate change are unknown. Impacts to the climate from human activities occurring on the forest, as well as the impacts of climate change on the forest, cannot be made at any scale. Please remove this issue from consideration as a “Substantive Principle.”

In addition, incorporating “climate change” into planning will be redundant. For example, the NOI says
“Responsible officials will also need flexibility to be able to adjust plan objectives and requirements where there are circumstances outside of agency control: For example, where increasing water temperatures resulting from climate change make it impossible to maintain a sensitive fish species in its native habitat.” However, such “flexibility” is already embedded in land use planning, and specific management prescriptions, standards and guidelines already address important issues such as “increasing water temperature.” Indeed, existing Forest Plans contain very specific guidance regarding the monitoring of and management for sensitive fish habitat.

7. I strongly oppose the “alllands” approach. Please remove this from consideration as a “Substantive Principle.”
The agency has this exactly 180 degrees backward. Instead of trying to force adjacent landowners to abide by the agency’s wishes, it should be mindful not to let the deteriorating condition of its own forest to result in damage to adjacent lands.

8. Generally, recreationists like green forests.
No one can deny that a very large percent of the agency’s forests are unhealthy. There is agreement that moving to a historic range of variability, at least in as much as we understand it, is probably wise. However, the only tool available to manipulate those variables in designated Wilderness and Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) is prescribed fire.

This will be a big problem for the new focus on Restoration. Unlike what the general public believes, IRA’s include lands that are highly modified, and not just by decades of fire suppression. Many have been commercially logged in the past and these “plantations” are susceptible to unnatural wildfire, insect and disease. The agency’s current Roadless area management severely restricts any attempt to restore these lands to the historic range of variability.

Therefore, it is logical to develop an alternative that emphasizes a more aggressive approach to achieving the historic range of variability outside Roadless areas and Wilderness. This should include commercial logging where appropriate, which achieves the agency’s mandates for community health and prosperity, and also protects against so-called “fatal fires,” and insect and disease outbreak.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME
YOUR ADDRESS

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