November 23rd, 2011 by

Credit: Sean MacEntee/Flickr

Most of us don’t think about the government every time we walk through a forest. But did you know that behind every forest is a management plan keeping that forest healthy and beautiful? All forests and grasslands managed by the USDA Forest Service are required to have what is called a Land Management Plan. That’s a total of 155 forests and 20 grasslands! In the process of developing a plan, each individual forest and grassland must follow the rules and regulations laid out in what is known as the Forest Service Planning Rule.

Since the Planning Rule oversees how the majority of America’s forests are managed, I’d say it’s a pretty important rule. Then, I thought to myself, “If this is so important, then why don’t I know much about it?” I looked up the history of the rule and was surprised to find out that even though it’s been around since 1982, it hasn’t been updated since then. New versions have been proposed since the rule was established, but these proposals were rejected after receiving too much negative feedback. That is, until now.

The Forest Service is currently putting together an advisory committee to help create a newer, more efficient Planning Rule; the first since 1982. This advisory committee will be established early next year and will advise the secretary of agriculture on how the new rule will be implemented.

American Forests submitted comments on the new Planning Rule earlier in the year, supporting the Forest Service’s shift from an output-based approach to an approach that focuses on desired outcomes. This means quantifying the benefits of ecosystem services like clean air and water. During the Forest Service’s public comment period, the agency received more than 300,000 comments! It’s really cool to see that people all over the country are getting a say in how forests will be managed. These are folks that care about protecting and restoring forests. This high number of public comments on the Planning Rule reminded me that there is still a strong sense of active participation in the government. I’d say that’s good news for both the future of forests and the future of our country.