You may have noticed that I bring up the USDA Forest Service Planning Rule in quite a few of my blog posts. The reason it comes up so often is that this single piece of legislation has a significant impact on every forest managed by the agency. Following last month’s publication of the Planning Rule’s Environmental Impact Statement, the Forest Service released a final rule last week, which replaces the 1982 planning rule. The recently published rule will increase requirements for forest plans to focus on a number of new priorities, including habitat and species diversity, watershed restoration.
While this new planning rule underwent years of formation and review, Congress still wants to know if the new rule will result in real and measurable improvements concerning species, natural resources, jobs and communities. The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry held a hearing yesterday to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the Forest Service and how to improve the process of land-management planning. During the hearing, members of the subcommittee commented that some forests were not meeting their sustainable-yield goals (the amount of forest product that can be harvested sustainably to maximize profit) or viability standards (maintaining a healthy population of native species) under the 1982 rule. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell responded that this was part of the reason for establishing the new and improved rule. Under the old rule, forests were subject to management plans that were 15 years old, meaning they couldn’t adapt to new and current forest-management practices, like focusing on qualitative outcomes rather than quantitative outputs and using best-available science to inform decisions. Tidwell also reassured the subcommittee that the agency is working to improve wildfire-management strategies, continue bark beetle-suppression efforts, restore wildlife habitat and create jobs that support local economies.
The agency hopes that the new Planning Rule will increase the time and cost efficiency of the plan-implementation process by revising more plans with the same amount of money. The less time and money spent on plan revision, the more time and money that can be spent on restoration efforts, increasing recreational opportunities and maintaining good-paying jobs on forest lands.