February 1st, 2012 by

Photo credit: Forest Service - Northern Region/Flickr

Fun Fact: The USDA Forest Service was formed on this day in 1905, which means the agency is now 107 years old. Happy Birthday! And even after a century of work, the agency is still looking for ways to improve. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Last week, the Forest Service announced the release of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the new Planning Rule that will guide the management of our National Forests. The PEIS lays out additions that may be incorporated into the final Planning Rule. This revision is a major step towards this country having a stronger, more efficient and more cost-effective land-management system. The PEIS promotes an “all-lands approach” — recognizing the interconnectedness of wildlife, recreation and other land uses. It also fosters collaborative work among federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes and organizations. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack calls this the “most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history.”

The Forest Service received roughly 300,000 comments on the PEIS and Planning Rule during its public comment period. American Forests submitted comments advocating for a more outcome-based approach that focuses on the quality rather than the quantity of ecosystem services. After reviewing the updates incorporated into the PEIS, the final Planning Rule will be released thirty days later.

Last Thursday, I was able to sit in on a national media conference call hosted by Secretary Vilsack to learn more about the newly released PEIS and the final Planning Rule. My take-away from that call was that the PEIS has a strong emphasis on collaboration and public involvement in the forest planning process. Other significant changes in the PEIS from its original draft for which American Forests strongly advocated include strengthening the use of the best available science in forest planning, prioritizing water quality and watershed restoration issues, and recognizing the importance of wildlife and recreation in land management.

The Forest Service is also seeking candidates for a National Advisory Committee that will work on recommendations for the Planning Rule. The agency is interested in establishing a diverse committee that encompasses a wide range of members — including elected officials, tribal members, conservation groups, scientists and industry representatives. The deadline for nominations is February 21st. Further details about the final rule and advisory committee will be coming out in the next few months. Be sure to stay tuned as I continue to provide the latest updates on the Planning Rule.