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New Forest Planning Rule seeks to restore nation’s forests: Final Environmental Impact Statement by US Forest Service released


January 26, 2012

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today signaled the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s intent to issue a new planning rule for America’s 193-million acre National Forest System that seeks to deliver stronger protections for forests, water, and wildlife while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities, by releasing online a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule. (See the PEIS at www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule).

USDA and the Forest Service considered nearly 300,000 comments received on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement issued last February, to develop the agency’s preferred course of action for finalizing the planning rule. This is included in the PEIS released today as USDA’s preferred alternative. A notice of availability for the PEIS will be published in the Federal Register on February 3, 2012, and the Secretary will issue a record of decision selecting a final planning rule no less than 30 days afterwards.

“The most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history has resulted in a strong framework to restore and manage our forests and watersheds and help deliver countless benefits to the American people,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Our preferred alternative will safeguard our natural resources and provide a roadmap for getting work done on the ground that will restore our forests while providing job opportunities for local communities.”

The preferred alternative emphasizes collaboration and strengthens the role of public involvement and dialogue throughout the planning process. It also would require the use of the best available scientific information to inform decisions.

Highlights of the preferred alternative include:

• Plans must include components that seek to restore and maintain forests and grasslands.

• Plans would include requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources, water quality including clean drinking water and the ecological integrity of riparian areas.

• Plans would be required to provide habitat for plant and animal diversity and species conservation. These 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.

• Plans would provide for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish.