The beginning of 2012 ushered in some big changes for America’s forests that will better equip the USDA Forest Service to meet its goal to “sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

The first of these measures was the release of the USDA Forest Service Planning Rule. Designed to govern the management of the nation’s 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands, the Planning Rule hadn’t seen a major update since 1982 — an update under the George W. Bush administration was struck down in federal courts. The new Planning Rule contains some key features for which American Forests strongly advocated, including prioritizing water quality and watershed restoration issues; recognizing the importance of wildlife and recreation in land management; and strengthening the use of the best-available science in forest planning. The rule also emphasizes the need for collaborative efforts with local partners for successful forest management. This collaborative emphasis was strongly backed up in another early 2012 Forest Service announcement.

A mere week after the release of the Planning Rule, the Forest Service released a major new report: Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job Creation on Our National Forests. This report details plans to stimulate local economies and expand the scope of Forest Service restoration projects, including expanding Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) projects — American Forests is a member of the CFLR Coalition steering committee.

The approval of 10 new CFLR projects to receive funding in 2012, the continuation of funding for 10 other CFLR projects and the designation of three additional high-priority CLFR projects to be funded out of a separate budget resulted from bipartisan Congressional support. The 23 projects span the U.S. and will accomplish several of the Forest Service’s critical restoration goals, such as forest and watershed health, wildlife habitat restoration and local economic stimulation.