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New Forest Planning Regulations bad for Chugach

Katherine Fuselier

Bush Administration Announces New Forest Planning Regulations

New Rules Favor Logging, Cut Wildlife Protections, Threaten Clean Water and Reduce Public Input

 

For the second year in a row, the Bush Administration has announced a harmful new forest policy on the eve of the Christmas holiday. On December 23, 2004, the administration announced they were opening up pristine parts of the Tongass National Forest to new logging and development. In April 2005, they released damaging new regulatory changes to the rules that guide sound forest management.

 

The Bush administration's new rules effectively remove 20 years of National Forest protections. The new Forest Service planning regulations undermine important wildlife, clean water, and other environmental protections. Instead of protecting wild forests limiting damage to wildlife and clean water, these new regulations allow agency discretion to carry out harmful projects and revise management plans at will. Additionally, the new regulations will sharply limit the opportunity for meaningful participation by citizens in local forest planning.

 

"The new forest rules clearly reflect the Bush administration's belief that logging companies should be the primary beneficiary of our National Forests," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "Americans want to protect the places where they hike, hunt and fish, but when the Bush administration rewrote the rules, they wrote the public out of the equation."

America's National Forests deserve better. With these new rules the administration rejects sound science, ignores the importance of public input, tilts the playing field sharply toward the logging companies by creating a presumption that all national forest lands are open to industrial or timber uses unless explicitly prohibited, and leaves monitoring of logging impacts at the discretion of individual forest supervisors.

 

The new rules for long-term forest planning will reduce protections for forest wildlife and eliminate requirements that forest plans comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. The regulations also change enforcement of the 1976 National Forest Management Act, and, not surprisingly, conform closely to a timber industry "wish list" presented shortly after the 2001 presidential inauguration.

 

Taken together with the administration's plan to remove wild forest protection for National Forests, these changes will create serious threats to many of our last-remaining wild roadless areas and old-growth forests. Instead of bowing to timber industry pressures and undermining existing National Forest protections; the Bush administration should work to protect our clean water, restore wildlife habitat, and preserve the wild forest heritage of all Americans.

Background:

THE NATIONAL FOREST MANAGEMENT ACT: A FRAMEWORK FOR SUCCESS

OVERVIEW: Passed by Congress in 1976, the National Forest Management Act is designed to shape and guide implementation of "forest plans," which are intended to responsibly balance development, timber sales, road building, and other industrial projects with the need to conserve forested lands and resources like clean air and wildlife. NFMA serves as the basis for virtually every forest management and conservation effort on our nation's 192-million-acre National Forest System, which makes up eight percent of the United States. Individual forest plans are updated every 15 years, and NFMA requires the Forest Service to prepare an environmental impact statement each time it adopts, revises, or significantly amends an existing forest plan.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: The Bush Administration has proposed new forest management rules that will result in a radical departure from the spirit and scope of NFMA, despite its record of success. President Ronald Reagan's administration developed the NFMA regulations in place today, and every White House, until now, has supported NFMA. Today, however, the forest-management rules have repeatedly been attacked by timber industry lobbyists who view the environmental protections in the regulations as an impediment to increased logging. Although past Administrations have stood up to industry pressure, the Bush Administration is poised to cater to the timber industry's wishes.

 

• In 2000, the Forest Service adopted new NFMA regulations that were guided by two years if study and public meetings by an independent committee of scientists. These updated regulations continued to require either an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment each time a plan was revised or amended. Nonetheless, in May 2001, the Bush Administration suspended the 2000 regulations.

 

• In December 2002, the Bush Administration proposed new forest-management policies that would radically reverse decades of responsible forest management. The Administration is now preparing to finalize its new NFMA rules, and there are strong indications that they will be rewriting the nation's forest policies to strongly favor the timber industry -- with potentially devastating consequences for our nation's forest system.

 

• In September 2004, the Administration issues an interpretive rule that allows the Forest Service to ignore wildlife viability requirements and replaces this firm standard with general advice for managers to "use the best available science." This major change of policy was issued without an opportunity for public comment and is being challenged in court by conservationists.

 

• In December 2004, the Administration issues new National Forest Management Regulations which eliminate analysis of forest plans under the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), scrap wildlife protections established under President Ronald Reagan, severely limit opportunities for public input into forest management decisions, and scale back the role of independent scientists in forest management, in favor of administration scientists.

IMPACTS OF BUSH ADMINISTRATION PROPOSAL: The Bush Administration's efforts to drastically change how our National Forests are managed under the NFMA will have dramatic and long-term effects. The proposed regulatory changes would allow for increased logging, significantly weaken existing safeguards for wildlife habitats, exempt forest plans from environmental review, eliminate sound science as a basis for forest management, and severely limit citizens' ability to participate in the process.

 

• The new Bush Administration rules will no longer require the Forest Service to assess the environmental impact of forest plans, which determine such things as levels of logging, road-building, and motorized recreation, under the National Environmental Policy Act.

 

• The Bush Administration rules will no longer provide clear direction for maintaining or monitoring viable wildlife populations.

 

• The Administration's new rules open all national forests to all possible uses, industrial and otherwise, unless specifically prohibited; an "open unless posted closed" policy that turns national forest management on its head from current practices.

 

• The Bush Administration's new rules limit public input into and oversight of forest management decisions by eliminating administrative appeals of forest plans.

WHAT OUTSIDE EXPERTS SAY: Independent scientists outside the Forest Service are being cut out of this rule-making process, and their role in future forest management decisions is being dramatically scaled back under the Bush Administration's new rules. In September 2003, a bipartisan group of more than 107 Members of Congress, 325 scientists, and the vast majority of the 195,000 public comments urged withdrawal of the proposed regulations, or at least retention of forest, wildlife, and public interest protections.

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