USDA publishes final rule to restore national forests through science and collaboration

USDA publishes final rule to restore the nation’s forests through science and collaboration

 Secretary Vilsack announces publication of the final land management planning rule

WASHINGTON, March 23,  2012 —Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack  today announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final Planning Rule for  America’s 193-million acre National Forest System that includes stronger  protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic  vitality of rural communities.

This final rule – which  follows USDA’s Feb. 3 publication of the Programmatic Environmental Impact  Statement – replaces the 1982 rule procedures currently in use, and provides a  new framework to be used for all individual management plans for 155 national  forests and grasslands across the country. Over half of Forest Service units  are currently operating with plans that are more than 15 years old.

“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 Vilsack.  “The  collaboration that drove this rulemaking effort exemplifies the America’s Great  Outdoors initiative to foster conservation that is designed by and accomplished  in partnership with the American people.”

The USDA and the Forest  Service carefully considered over a quarter million comments received on the  proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued in February to  develop today’s final rule, which emphasizes collaboration, sound science and  protections for land, water and wildlife.

The final rule strengthens  the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. It  also requires the use of the best available scientific information to inform  decisions.

“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.  “This new rule will bring 21st century thinking to a  process that is sorely needed to protect and preserve our 193 million acres of  amazing forests and grasslands.”

Land management plans under  the final rule will include:

  • Mandatory  components to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.
  • Requirements to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species       conservation. The requirements are intended to keep common native species       common, contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species,       conserve proposed and candidate species, and protect species of conservation       concern.
  • Requirements  to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality       including clean drinking water, and the ecological integrity of riparian       areas.
  • Requirements  for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed,  wildlife and fish.
  • Requirements to provide opportunities for sustainable recreation, and to take into       account opportunities to connect people with nature.
  • Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of the planning process. The final rule provides opportunities for Tribal consultation and       coordination with state and local governments and other federal agencies, and includes requirements for outreach to traditionally underrepresented communities.
  • Requirements for the use of the best available scientific information to inform the       planning process and documentation of how science was used in the plan.
  • A more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the       Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.

Continuing the strong  emphasis that has been placed on public engagement throughout this rule-making  effort, USDA is forming a Federal Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary  and the Chief on implementation of the final rule. The nomination period closed  on February 21, 2012 with committee members to be announced this spring.

The Nez Perce and Clearwater  National Forests in Idaho, the Chugach National Forest in Alaska, the Cibola  National Forest in New Mexico, El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico and  California’s Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests will begin revising  their plans using the final rule this spring. These eight national forests were  selected because of their urgent need for plan revisions, the importance of the  benefits they provide, and the strong collaborative networks already in place.

The mission of the U.S.  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, provides  assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry  research organization in the world.

USDA works with state, local  and Tribal governments and private landowners to conserve and protect our  nation’s natural resources – helping preserve our land, and clean our air and  water.  President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors initiative  in 2010 to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is  designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people.   During the past two years, USDA’s conservation agencies— the U.S. Forest  Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Farm Service  Agency—have delivered technical assistance and implemented restoration  practices on public and private lands.  We are working to better target  conservation investments: embracing locally driven conservation and entering  partnerships that focus on large, landscape-scale conservation.

USDA is an equal opportunity  provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write:  USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W.,  Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720-6382  (TDD).

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