WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 7, 2008 AT 3:30 PM EST - The U.S. Forest Service has moved one step closer to finalizing a new planning rule that will engage the public in the development, implementation and monitoring of forest plans. The release of the agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the 2008 Planning Rule identifies the Forest Service’s preferred alternative and is a procedural move towards the implementation of a new planning rule.
The planning rule is important because it brings people together with the Forest Service to develop land management plans which provide the framework for all resource and recreation management on national forests and grasslands nationwide.
“The process of developing a forest plan is a public service that ensures a great future for national forests on behalf of the American public,” stated Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief of the National Forest System. “We’re proud of this vitally important planning process and yet we recognize that improvements were needed to emphasize more public collaboration, to be more adaptive to changing environmental conditions, and to ensure the protection of wildlife. The preferred alternative encompasses all of these elements.”
After receiving and considering over 79, 000 comments on a draft environmental impact statement, the Forest Service developed ‘Alternative M’ as their preferred alternative. The alternative is based on public comment and builds on the 1982, 2002, and 2005 Planning Rules and years of professional forest planning experience. The preferred alternative provides extensive public participation and offers an approach to quickly respond to changing natural resource conditions.
“This preferred alternative expands public involvement by requiring early and frequent public dialogue in all phases of the development, implementation and monitoring of land management plans,” stated David Dillard, Director of Ecosystem Management Coordination. “This exceeds National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for public involvement. Our goal is to create strong, relevant conversations that address local issues as well as incorporate the latest available science and technology in the plans. Additionally, all plans and projects developed under those plans are expected and required to comply with NEPA.”
The preferred alternative is responsive to changing conditions because adaptability is built in the approach. Plans will be able to adjust more quickly to changing conditions such as those brought about by climate change. By doing so, they will better protect resources of the forest and address the concerns of the surrounding communities.
Alternative M requires improved monitoring and sustainability standards for wildlife protection as well as the requirement for an Environmental Management System to be in place prior to the implementation of approved projects. In addition, Forest Service Timber Policy will not be affected by the preferred alternative because resource protections for timber management activities have not changed.
The FEIS will now be sent to the Department of Agriculture for a decision on a final rule for forest planning. The Record of Decision and final rule will be published in the Federal Register in approximately 30 days. Additional information on the planning process can be found at: http://www.fs.fed.us/emc .
The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land and is the largest forestry research organization in the world.