WASHINGTON – Support has been strong for the final Planning Rule for America's 193-million acre National Forest System.The new rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture applies to management of 155 national forests and grasslands and provides stronger protections for forests, water and wildlife than were in place under the 1982 rule.

“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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “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 new rule includes:

•Mandatory components to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.

•Requirements to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation.

•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.

•Opportunities for public involvement and collaboration throughout all stages of the planning process.

•A more efficient and adaptive process for land management planning, allowing the Forest Service to respond to changing conditions.

The USDA said it will form a Federal Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary and the Chief on implementation of the final rule. Committee members will be announced this spring.

In a separate statement, Dale Bosworth, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said, "This is the most collaborative Forest Service rulemaking I’ve ever seen. The Forest Service worked for over two years with the American public to develop a planning rule that will protect our natural resources, promote sustainable recreation and safeguard our precious drinking water, all while allowing for timber harvest and encouraging restoration. This new planning rule promotes collaboration and will continue to engage the American people throughout all stages of planning. The Forest Service can now move forward to implement a new planning rule for the benefit of future generations.”

Michael Goergen, executive vice president and CEO, Society of American Foresters, commented,  “The Forest Service is revising national forest plans using regulations developed in 1982 — before the development of the McIntosh or Windows. Each attempt to modernize those regulations has been litigated, usually by both environmental and development groups. The quality of the environment cannot possibly be enhanced by using outdated rules. The new rules should be given a chance to work.”

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