On March 23, 2012, the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment signed the Record of Decision to approve the Final Planning Rule that provides the management framework for the 193-million acre National Forest System. The Record of Decision includes no substantive changes to the preferred alternative that was included in the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that was released on January 26, 2012. The Final Planning Rule includes the same concepts and underlying principles as the Draft Rule, which was published on February 10, 2011. According to the USFS, “It meets the need for a collaborative and science-based planning process that will guide management of National Forest System lands so they are ecologically sustainable and contribute to social and economic sustainability.”
The Final Rule is an improvement over the Notice of Intent, which was the original notice of this rulemaking. It includes provisions designed to make recreation a major consideration in forest planning. The Final Planning Rule requires plans to include components to provide for sustainable recreation, including recreation settings, opportunities, access, and scenic character. Recreation opportunities may include non-motorized, motorized, developed, and dispersed recreation. However, ARRA still has concerns that the Final Planning Rule clearly provides that preservation trumps social and economic factors, including recreation, contradicting the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act, the statute that authorizes many Forest activities.
ARRA and other OHV organizations are also concerned that the Final Planning Rule is overly burdensome, costly, and leaves too many key terms and phrases undefined. The Rule could be a litigation magnet and do little to end the decades-long effort to craft a planning rule that will stand the test of time – and courts.
The Final Planning Rule updates the planning procedures that have been in place since a 1982 rule. 68 of 127 forest plans are more than 15 years old. The USFS hopes that the time needed to revise plans will be cut from 5-7 years to 3-4 years. Forests will soon begin revising their plans under the Final Planning Rule.
It is crucial that you be involved in the land management planning process for your favorite Forest from the beginning. The USFS has announced eight Forests that will be the first to revise their land management plans using the Final Planning Rule. These Forests are: the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico, El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, and California’s Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra National Forests. Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration are required throughout all stages of the planning process.