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U.S. to Unveil New Forest Rules

posted on January 27, 2012


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration says new rules to
manage nearly 200 million acres of national forests will protect
watersheds and wildlife while promoting uses ranging from
recreation to logging.
     The new rules, to replace guidelines thrown out by a federal
court in 2009, are set to be released Thursday by Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack. A summary was obtained by The Associated
Press.
     Vilsack said in an interview that the rules reflect more than
300,000 comments received since a draft plan was released last
year. The new rules strengthen a requirement that decisions be
based on the best available science and recognize that forests are
used for a variety of purposes, Vilsack said.
     "I think it's a solid rule and done in a collaborative, open
and transparent way," he said.
     The guidelines, known as a forest planning rule, will encourage
forest restoration and watershed protection while creating
opportunities for the timber industry and those who use the forest
for recreation, he said.
     Vilsack, who has pledged to break through the logjam of
political conflict over forest management, said the new
regulation's emphasis on science and multiple uses should allow it
to stand up to likely court challenges from environmental groups or
the timber industry.
     "I am hopeful and confident that it will stand scrutiny," he
said.
     Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the guidelines would allow
land management plans for individual forests to be completed more
quickly and at a lower cost than under current rules, which date to
the Reagan administration.
     Several attempts to revise the 1982 planning rule have been
thrown out by federal courts in the past decade. Most recently a
Bush administration plan was struck down in 2009. Environmentalists
had fought the rule, saying it rolled back key forest protections.
     The Obama administration did not appeal the ruling, electing to
develop a new forest planning rule to protect water, climate and
wildlife.
     Under the new rule, forest plans could be developed within three
to four years instead of taking up to seven years, as under current
guidelines, Tidwell said.
     "We really can protect the forest at lower cost with less
time," he said.
     The new regulation also should give forest managers more
flexibility to address conditions on the ground, such as projects
to thin the forest to reduce the risk of wildfire, Tidwell said.
     "We'll be able to get more work done - get more out of the
forest and create more jobs," while at the same allowing greater
recreational use, Tidwell said. Recreational use of the forest has
grown exponentially in recent years.
     Like Vilsack, Tidwell said he is optimistic the new plan will
stand up to scrutiny from environmental groups and the timber
industry, both of which have challenged previous planning rules in
court.
     "I'm optimistic that folks will want to give it a shot,"
Tidwell said.
     The 155 national forests and grasslands managed by the Forest
Service cover 193 million acres in 42 states and Puerto Rico.
Balance between industry and conservation in those areas has been
tough to find since the existing rules went into effect three
decades ago.
     At least three revisions of the rules have been struck down
since 2000.
     The planning rule designates certain animal species that must be
protected to ensure ecosystems are healthy. However, the rule
became the basis of numerous lawsuits that sharply cut back logging
to protect habitat for fish and wildlife.
     Meanwhile, the timber industry has continued to clamor for more
logs, and conservation groups keep challenging timber sales,
drilling and mining projects.
     Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a
timber industry group, said his members will review the final rule
to see if it follows a federal rule to manage forests for a
diversity of plants and animals - not in a manner that places a
single use or species above all else.


Tags: National forests Obama Administration U.S. USDA