Updating the U.S. Forest Service Planning Rule in April marked a major milestone in this country’s long history of forest management. Up to that point, the agency was operating under a rule that was created 30 years ago. The planning rule provides the agency with an overarching framework for how to create land-management plans for individual national forests so it’s important that the rule be up to date and adaptable to modern forest conditions. After 30 years, I say it was about time for a makeover! Along with hundreds of thousands of other groups and individuals, American Forests submitted its comments on the proposed rule, helping the agency pull together a comprehensive and updated final rule.
In an effort to continue the strong emphasis on public engagement, the U.S. Forest Service established a Planning Rule FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act) Committee comprising a diverse group of individuals. Members of the committee represent various interest groups like nonprofits, Native American tribes, forest landowners and energy-sector representatives. They hail from all geographic regions of the country. What better way to make forest management decisions that will affect all national forests than with a diverse panel of experts! The Federal Advisory Committee met for the first time last month, and the group seemed optimistic about implementing the new rule. During its first meeting, the committee established working groups and discussed plans for upcoming meetings. U.S Forest Service Chief Tidwell noted the “collaborative spirit” of the group and believes the diversity and collective knowledge will lead to good decision making for forest management.
But public involvement doesn’t just end there. The U.S. Forest Service plans to look to the public in several ways as the new rule is implemented, including more public-comment opportunities on future decisions and the “early adopter” forest efforts. Eight national forests were selected as early adopters to begin the implementation of the new rule. These eight forests are the first to revise their management plans using the new planning rule and were selected because their management plans were in dire need of revision. Through collaborative efforts with their local communities, these early adopter forests will lead the way for other forests looking to redevelop their management plans.