March 31, 2003

Forest Service Planning Rules (2003)

Key materials
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Rulemaking:

National Forest System Land and Resource Management Planning Rules

Stated Purpose:

"Ensure that national forests are properly managed for multiple uses."

Summary of RSP Comment:

The forest planning process, required by the National Forest Management Act of 1976, has failed to solve any of the problems that besiege national forest managers. In many ways, it has made those problems worse by promoting polarization and diverting resources from on-the-ground management to a seemingly endless and clearly pointless planning process.

Given that the Supreme Court has ruled that forest plans make no legally challengeable decisions, there is no reason for planning rules to contain lengthy procedural requirements. The proposed rules take the laudable step of removing most such requirements.

Because not all resources are marketable, some method must be found of insuring that non-marketable resources can be protected by either the Forest Service today or a more market-oriented system. One way is to use performance standards. One such performance standard in the existing rules is a requirement that planners protect viable populations of vertebrate wildlife.

The proposed rules offer two options with respect to this requirement: wording similar to the 2000 rule or a substitute requirement to protect "biological diversity" instead of viable populations of individual species. Option 1 appears superior because it is (1) clearer, and (2) more likely to encourage the protection of populations of rare and endangered species. But it might be better simply to return to the standard in the 1982 rules, which is well understood by the Forest Service and so will require the least interpretation or litigation.