The U.S. Forest Service today released a new proposal for the nation’s 193-million-acre national forest system that will weaken rules protecting fish and wildlife from logging, livestock grazing, mining and off-road vehicles. The new proposal, which was released as part of the final environmental impact statement for the rule, is the Forest Service’s fourth attempt since 2000 to revise nationwide regulations governing national forests. Previous attempts were challenged in court, and all prior attempts were found unlawful. The Obama administration’s planning rule would decrease longstanding protections for wildlife on national forests. Congress enacted the National Forest Management Act in 1976 to guide management of the national forest system, which consists of 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. In 1982, the Forest Service adopted national regulations to provide specific direction for activities such as logging, mining, livestock grazing and recreation. That rule included strong, mandatory protections for fish and wildlife, requiring the Forest Service to monitor and maintain viable populations. The Clinton administration in 2000, and the Bush administration in 2005 and 2008, issued new rules to revise the 1982 regulation. Each of these efforts was found unlawful and were not implemented. The Obama administration is again trying to weaken the long-standing 1982 regulations by requiring that the Forest Service only maintain viable populations for species “of conservation concern,” and only at the discretion of local forest supervisors. Like the Bush rules that were defeated, the new Obama rule would also not apply to the thousands of site-specific projects and activities that the Forest Service approves each year; rather it would only apply to forest plan amendments and revisions. And, like earlier attempts, the new rule seeks to replace the longstanding administrative appeal process with less formal pre-decisional objections.
Photo Credit: John Vlahakis