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Summary of Notice of Intent, FS Planning Regulations

Excerpts from Federal Register /Vol. 74, No. 242 / Friday, December 18, 2009 /Notices
ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement The following verbatim excerpts are from the notice of intent to prepare an EIS for a new planning rule, which outlines the issues the agency intends to address and for which they are seeking public input prior to proposing a new rule. In the interim the agency will use the 2000 rule, but expects National Forests to revert to the 1982 rule to revise and amend plans until a new rule is issued.

The full proposed Notice of Intent to Prepare and EIS may be found under Proposed Rules on the AOA website.

National Forest System Land Management Planning
AGENCY:
Forest Service, USDA. ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received by February 16, 2010. The Forest Service (Agency) expects to publish the draft environmental impact statement in December 2010 and the final environmental impact statement in October 2011. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (Department) expects to publish the record of decision in November 2011.
ADDRESSES: Comments may be sent via e-mail to fspr@contentanalysisgroup.com. Written comments concerning this notice should be addressed to Forest Service Planning NOI, C/O Bear West Company, 172 E 500 S, Bountiful, UT 84010; or via facsimile to 801-397-1605.

A new planning rule provides the opportunity to help protect, reconnect, and restore national forests and national grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural resources. Developing a new rule will allow the Agency to integrate forest restoration, watershed protection, climate resilience, wildlife conservation, the need to support vibrant local economies, and collaboration into how the Agency manages national forests and grasslands, with the goals of protecting our water, climate, and wildlife while enhancing ecosystem services and creating economic opportunity.

Land management planning is also one way the Agency complies with requirements under the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Wilderness Act of 1964, and other legal requirements.

In the interim, the Agency will use the 2000 rule provisions to develop, amend, or revise plans until a new planning rule is released. The 2000 rule had been replaced by the 2008 planning rule which was subsequently held invalid by a Federal District Court. The Agency's expectation, based upon its experience with the 2000 rule, is that national forests and grasslands will use the 1982 rule provisions, as permitted by the transition provisions of the 2000 rule, to revise and amend plans until a new planning rule is issued.

T he Agency is in the process of creating a Web forum for additional dialogue and public interaction. Further information on planned collaborative discussions and other opportunities for public comment are available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

The proposed action lists several principles that could be included in a new planning rule and a number of follow-up questions to help frame the options for a proposed rule. Please comment on what features you believe should be in a planning rule, whether the principles we have identified are the right principles, and whether we have included all of the issues that will need to be considered as a new planning rule is developed. Please also respond to the specific questions posed under the principles outlined below.

The NFMA requires the Agency to revise land management plans ''at least every 15 years.'' The NFS has 127 land management plans. Currently, 68 plans are past due for plan revision. Most plans were developed between 1983 and 1993 and should have been revised between 1998 and 2008. The Agency now has an urgent need to establish a planning rule that protects, reconnects, and restores national forests and grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural resources.

1. Land management plans could address the need for restoration and conservation to enhance the resilience of ecosystems to a variety of threats. Climate change; alterations of natural fire regimes; changing water conditions; aggressive insects, disease, and invasive species; increasingly intense floods and drought; increasing air and water pollution; increasing development pressures; and other factors threaten the health of forests and grasslands.
What do you see as the biggest threats to forest and grassland health and ecosystem resiliency? How do you define restoration? What is your concept of restoration? How can the planning rule foster restoration of NFS lands? What kinds of conservation efforts can enhance ecosystem resiliency and prevent degradation?

2. Plans could proactively address climate change through monitoring, mitigation and adaptation, and could allow flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and incorporate new information.

Plans will need to be innovative, integrate climate change and watershed management, and use climate change as a theme under which to integrate and streamline existing national and regional strategies for ecological restoration, fire and fuels, forest health, biomass utilization, and others.
Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
How can the planning rule be proactive and innovative in addressing the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation?
What kinds of data, research, and monitoring could assist land management planners to incorporate climate change adaptation considerations into plans?
How should the planning rule address uncertainty?
How do other public and private entities recognize and incorporate uncertainty in their planning efforts?
How can a new planning rule appropriately build in the flexibility land managers will need to adapt to changing science, information or conditions?
What mechanisms should be used to incorporate new data?
Do you know of any successful adaptive management regimes that can inform our process?
How should plans anticipate and address changing conditions or impacts outside of agency control?
How can external factors be incorporated or recognized in plan guidance and requirements?

3. Land management plans could emphasize maintenance and restoration of watershed health, and could protect and enhance America's water resources.

In coming decades, climate change; impacts from catastrophic fire and tree mortality; the increasing intensity of weather patterns; events including droughts and storms; increasing pollution; and increasing development pressures will combine to impact the quantity, availability, and quality of America's water resources and the health of its watersheds.
Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
Should a new planning rule include standards to address watershed health?
If so, what might those look like?
Should the Agency be held accountable only for actions and problems on its NFS lands or take into account water availability and quality factors that are outside of the Agency's control?
What planning or management guidance could the Agency incorporate in the rule to protect and enhance water resources?
One way to approach planning for an NFS unit is to think about the future of the planning area through the context of its watersheds. Do you see benefits and/or drawbacks to a rule requiring land management planning on a watershed basis?
Do you see benefits or drawbacks to a rule requiring adherence to regionally specific Best Management Practices?

4. Plans could provide for the diversity of species and wildlife habitat.

The NFS is a refuge for numerous species, including 425 threatened and endangered species. The NFMA directs the Agency to provide ''for diversity of plant and animal communities based on the suitability and capability of the specific land area in order to meet overall multiple-use objectives * * *'' (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(B)). Over time, the Agency's planning rules have sought to meet this statutory requirement to provide for diversity in a number of ways.

Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
How should the new rule provide for diversity?
How should the planning rule guide protection of at-risk species of animals and plants and their habitat?
How can the new planning rule account for variables outside of Agency control, including those impacts that are the result of climate change?
Should species diversity provisions in planning look beyond the individual unit to a watershed or landscape scale, and if so, what is a practical and workable way to incorporate a broader perspective?
How could wildlife habitat monitoring be addressed in a planning rule?

5. Plans could foster sustainable NFS lands and their contribution to vibrant rural economies.
Forests and grasslands offer enormous environmental benefits, including clean air, clean and abundant water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, erosion control, and other ecosystem services. They generate economic value by attracting tourism and recreation visitors; sustaining green jobs; and producing timber, other forest products, minerals, food, and energy, both renewable and non-renewable. They are also of immense social importance; they enhance rural quality of life, sustain scenic and culturally important andscapes, oftentimes define the essence of a community, and provide opportunities to engage in outdoor recreation and reconnection with the land.
Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
How can the planning rule reflect the interdependency of social, economic, and ecological systems in a way that supports sustainable management of national forests and grasslands?
How can the Agency recognize and incorporate provisions in the planning rule for managing lands for the sustainable delivery of ecosystem services?
How can plans guide units of the NFS in achieving natural resource conservation and restoration goals in a way that is compatible with providing a set of opportunities for goods and services to support vibrant rural and national economies?

Process Principles for a New Rule
1. Land management planning could involve effective and pro-active collaboration with the public.
Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
How could the Agency foster collaborative efforts?
What kinds of participation, forums for collaboration, and methods of providing input have you found most engaging?
What should the rule require to ensure a planning process that is both efficient and transparent while allowing for full public collaboration and participation within a reasonable timeframe?
What kinds of information, methods, and analyses should the Agency provide to the public during the planning process to aid understanding of the possible consequences of a proposed rule and alternatives?
What kind of administrative review process should be offered to the public in the planning rule?
Should there be a pre-decisional objection or a post decisional appeal process?

2. Plans could incorporate an ''all lands'' approach by considering the relationship between NFS lands and neighboring lands.
The planning process provides an opportunity for the Agency to engage other Federal land management agencies; Tribes, State, and local land managers; private landowners; and nongovernmental partners to collaborate on strategies to restore and sustain healthy forests and grasslands across landscapes. Incorporating an all-lands approach in the planning process is also important as land management plans anticipate the effects of broad challenges such as climate change which can cause impacts on a regional scale.
Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
How should the planning rule account for the relationship of NFS lands to surrounding landscapes?
What other planning and assessment efforts or processes at the national, state or local level should the Agency look at that could inform an ''all-lands'' approach?

3. Plans could be based on the latest planning science and principles to achieve the best decisions possible.
The new planning rule could encourage the creation of a shared vision of the planning area. Developing this through a strong collaborative public process could create a common understanding of the goals and direction for each plan, and will frame management actions and projects on the ground as a plan is implemented. Creating a plan that reflects a clear description of the shared vision and the desired conditions of a planning area, a strategy for moving toward the vision; and design criteria, including standards and guidelines that would apply to project and activity decisions, might be one way to move toward achieving the vision.
Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
How can the planning rule support the creation of a shared vision for each planning area through the planning process?
Local and regional differences will have an impact on desired conditions and on the successful creation and implementation of a shared vision for any given planning area. Given that different areas will have different needs, should the planning rule allow a choice of planning processes?
How could the planning rule create different process choices, and how could they be presented in the rule?
What kinds of provisions would need to be included to guide and evaluate a process choice?
Much discussion has been centered on how land management plans should be viewed; are they strategic documents that lay the foundation for specific future actions to help meet unit goals?
Or, should land management plans also make project or activity decisions?
Based on your response to the question above, what is the range of options for fully complying with NEPA during land management plan development, amendment, or revision?
Should the new planning rule require standards and guidelines that are required for all plans?
How can the agency analyze and describe the environmental effects of a planning rule in the environmental impact statement?

Responsible Official
The responsible official is the
Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, USDA,
1400 Independence Ave., SW.,
Washington, DC 20250.

Nature of Decision To Be Made
The responsible official will issue a land management planning rule.
Dated: December 14, 2009.
Harris D. Sherman,
Under Secretary, NRE.

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