Forest Sustainability Reporting in the United States
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Indicator 7.46: Provides for periodic forest-related planning, assessment, and policy review

An indicator for Criterion 7: Legal, Institutional, and Economic Framework for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Management

What is the indicator and why is it important?

The sustainability of forests depends on society’s ability to comprehensively evaluate trends and conditions in diverse sectors and to subsequently take responsive actions that will ensure the sustained use, management, and protection of forest resources and the communities that are dependent on them. These actions are typically predicated on well-focused and technically sound plans, assessments, and policy reviews that are sensitive to a range of forest values and are coordinated with a variety of forest-related sectors.

What does the indicator show?

National, regional, State, and local governments perform periodic forest planning, assessment, and policy reviews. Planning is a prescriptive requirement for all Federal land management agencies for the lands under their jurisdiction, and is similarly required in some fashion for most State and county forest lands. Some regional planning efforts also occur, voluntarily or not. These government planning efforts typically have a required process, usually including some type of public input and appeals. Private landowners do not have required forest planning. Although many large companies and landowners do plan as part of business, specific planning processes are not required for these landowners.

The Federal and State governments also write Federal or State forest plans for private forest lands in the country or State. But these plans do not usually dictate or create mandatory rules, regulations, incentives, or other government interventions in markets. Instead, these plans generally summarize information about forest resource conditions and trends; identify issues and opportunities; and suggest possible policies that could enhance sustainable forest management. Exceptions to this trend do occur, such as the Chesapeake Bay Area Planning, which spawned many environmental regulations in the Maryland and Virginia area to protect the coastal waters, including some regulations that directly affect forest land use.

Educational, research, and analysis policy mechanisms are usually an integral part of forest planning efforts, at all scales from national to local. These policies provide education to forest managers and policymakers on forest conditions, threats, and management responses. Various incentives have been provided for private or public forest landowners to meet the recommendations contained in forest plans.

The State and the Federal Governments provide data and information about forests, laws, regulations, State forest planning, public forestry programs, forestry and logger training, and public education efforts. The universities coordinate in delivery of forestry programs and cooperate with States in outreach and extension efforts. Federal funding and technical expertise provide assistance to State forestry programs, and community development and public land management of the national forests.

Forest management plans are required in private market certification under all the forest certification systems in the country. Since 1993, when forest certification began, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), and American Tree Farm System (ATFS) have certified about 108 million acres in the United States as of 2008. About 60 million acres were certified in the United States in 2003, which did not include the ATFS at that time. FSC requires the release of the complete forest management plan for and audit report of the certified forest; SFI requires the posting of a summary of the audit report for each forest.

All forest certification programs incorporate public consultation in the planning and execution of their programs in some fashion. FSC, with about 24 million acres, requires consultation with external stakeholders on each forest management plan through local meetings and requests for input sent to stakeholders on each forest management plan, and in periodic program revisions. SFI, with about 55 million acres certified in the United States, may consult with external stakeholders in the audit process as deemed appropriate; works through its SFI Implementation Committees (SICs) to promote sustainable forestry at the grassroots level; requires procurement organizations to implement relevant indicators; and has extensive periodic standards reviews and public input processes. ATFS, with about 29 million acres, has periodic program reviews and public input.

Table 46-1: Policy and Governance Classification

What has changed since 2003?

National forest planning has undergone major revisions since the 2003 report. First, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) was passed in 2003. HFRA contains a variety of provisions to speed up hazardous-fuel reduction and forestrestoration planning and projects on specific types of Federal land that are at risk of wildland fire and insect and disease epidemics.

Following HFRA, the Forest Service also developed an extensive new forest planning rule that was released initially in 2005, then revised and released in final form in 2008. That rule was designed to expedite forest planning and reduce appeals and implement an environmental management system (EMS). The rule was released in 2008 at the end of the previous administration, but was under consideration for revocation and return to the previous planning rules.

Various other planning changes have occurred to encourage habitat conservation of threatened and endangered species; to set aside various Federal lands for archaeological, wilderness, scenic rivers, national trails, and wildlife refuges; to protect wetlands; and to govern surface mining and reclamation.

Planning for private forest and farm lands has been authorized in several components of the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bill, and is implemented through cooperation with State and Federal forestry and natural resource conservation agencies.

Criterion 7 Indicators