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By: Robert Janis

US Forest Service

U.S. Forest Service Struggles with New Planning Regulations

Forest Trail

For almost 30 years now the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to revise the regulations that govern how the agency is supposed to prepare its Forest Plans. Also known as the “Planning Rule,” the regulations determine how the agency will develop, amend, and revise its Forest Management Plans for the future. However, throughout the process the Forest Service seems to have ignored Congressional mandates and instead provided a draft rule that is weighed more heavily in favor of environmental consideration rather than multiple use. In short, explained Greg Mumm, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, an advocacy group that advocates for access and multiple use of public lands, the process attempts to make policy rather than focus on procedure.

The roots of the struggle go back to 1974. The U.S. Congress passed the Forest and Range land Renewable Resources Planning Act which was amended in 1976 by the National Forest Management Act also known as NFMA. “It set up a Congressional mandate that requires the Secretary of Agriculture to issue regulations for developing and revising management plans in accordance with another act passed by Congress in 1960 called The Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA).

According to Mumm, the first planning rule was created in 1979, revised in 1982, and is still in place. “The rule is complex and very difficult, and because of that there have been several attempts to revise it,” continued Mumm. “The first attempt was in 2000 and, after a review by the Forest Service, it was deemed unworkable. In addition, the 2000 rule was challenged in court by environmentalists in 2001.”

The Forest Service tried again in 2002 and issued a new rule in 2005. Immediately, it was challenged in the courts by environmentalists and the court enjoined the agency from carrying it out in 2007.

Meanwhile, when the Forest Service announced the 2005 rule, the challenge to the 2000 rule was stipulated to a dismissal in the courts.

So with no rule officially in place, the 2000 Planning Rule, which was already deemed unworkable, took effect by default.

The Forest Service tried again to develop another rule in 2008 which was also challenged in court and ruled invalid. “So the court decision gave the Forest Service the choice of either reinstating the 2000 rule or 1982 rule,” explained Mumm. “A previous court decision had established a legal principle that a court invalidating an agency rule means that the immediate previous rule is reinstated.” So, again, by default, the 2000 rule was reinstated.

With the 2000 rule now the guide, the Forest Service determined that there were enough transitional provisions in the 2000 rule that allows it to revise forest plans under the 1982 rule. That is what the Forest Service is doing in the interim while they develop yet another new forest planning rule.

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