29 August 2012 When the US Forest Service updated its Forest Planning Rule in March, it claimed the new rule reached ecological as well as economic sustainability through a framework based on collaboration and science.
“This new rule provides the framework we need to restore and manage our forests and watersheds while getting work done on the ground and providing jobs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
But those potential benefits were called into question this month, when organizations within the livestock industry filed a lawsuit arguing the rule is in violation of several statutes.
The rule hadn’t been updated in 30 years prior to this attempt and many conservation groups say it is desperately needed. The Nature Conservancy estimates 120 million acres of forests are in immediate need of restoration.
The rule includes requirements of restoring and maintaining forests, grasslands and watersheds and also providing habitat for species conservation. Other provisions of the plan include outreach to underrepresented communities.
Regarding the litigation, the Forest Service released a statement saying, “We listened to thousands of stakeholders in crafting the new planning rule and in reflex the full spectrum of voices and perspectives of those who value our national forests and grasslands. We are confident in the rule as it is the result of an unprecedented collaborative process.”
The livestock industry’s lawsuit is led by the Public Land Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association but includes several other organizations. They argue the new rule violates the National Forest Management Act, (NFMA) the Multiple-Use, Sustained Yield Act, (MUSYA) and the Administrative Procedures Act.
“What we focus on in the lawsuit is the emphasis on preservation and ecosystem services and sustainability over what is required by statute,” says Executive Director of the PLC and Director of Land of Federal Lands at the NCBA, Dustin Van Liew. Van Liew says the law requires the planning rule to focus on managing for multiple use purposes such as range, timber and mineral development. Wildlife preservation is one part of the rule and not the central component.
Besides that, the industry doesn’t like the idea of grouping productive functions of national forests that provide for local economies with recreational forest uses under the term, ‘ecosystem services.’
A term like, “viable population,” which requires the USFS to maintain a viable population of species of concern within an area in the revised planning rule, forces standards that were previously guidelines to be mandatory. The laws mentioned above provide that individual forests simply follow the direction set by the planning rule.
Ranchers and farmers say they operate under the multiple use management approaches in cooperation with Congress working to maintain wildlife habitat while also providing the foundation of the US west’s rural economy.
The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service says the new planning rule does support these rural economies while enhancing protection for forests, water and wildlife.
“We are ready to start a new era of planning that takes less time, costs less money, and provides stronger protections for our lands and water”, said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
As mentioned earlier, the revisions are heavily focused on ecosystem services and new forest plans will be required to use scientific data as well as public involvement when developing individual plans.