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America Outdoors Association

March 2, 2011

America Outdoors Association Bulletin

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Forest Planning Rule Proposes More Flexible Forest Plans

Contentious Hearing in House Natural Resources Committee over BLM’s Wildlands Authority

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Forest Planning Rule Proposes More Flexible Forest Plans

According to the proposed new Forest Planning Rule released February 14, 2011, future Forest plans and plan revisions will be science-based, and developed collaboratively.  The new planning framework will include a more adaptive approach that will allow Forest Supervisors to amend plans annually, if necessary, to create “a more adaptive system with more frequent amendments that can keep plans current between revisions”.  Ecological “sustainability” is the guiding principle for Forest plans.

Comments on the proposed rule are due by May 16, 2011.  If you operate in or near a National Forest, your future will be impacted by this rule.  AOA will provide proposed comments before the deadline.  We are still picking through the more than 60 pages of 8 point type.

There are many worthwhile strategies in the proposed rule, but the focus on collaboration and the flexible framework is likely to add costs, which the agency admits.  Adjustments will have to be made at the field and Forest level to accomodate the documentation required for more frequent plan amendments. The Forest Service may need to put more resources into the field and in Forest Supervisor offices, since the rule makes the Forest Supervisor the responsible official for unit level decisions instead of the Regional Forester. Two-tiered monitoring is required 1) at the unit level and 2) on a broader scale.  When plan revisions are made the agency will allow a pre-decisional administrative review process by groups and individuals to resolve issues before approval of plans, plan amendments, or plan revisions.

Here are few other notes of interest.  We’ll provide more as we pick through the rule.
• The rule is intended to move the agency toward more adaptive management system with more frequent amendments, including annual amendments to reflect “up-to-date” information.
• The planning framework includes 1) Assess 2) Develop, Revise, or Amend land management plans 3) Monitor to detect changes on the unit or broad landscape.
• Each plan will contain five components:  desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, and suitability of areas.  Standards are mandatory and do not allow deviations.  “Guidelines” provide more flexibility to protect areas in different ways.
• Plan components will be required to maintain or restore ecological sustainability.  Plans “must” include plan components for protection of rare, threatened and endangered species, riparian areas, terrestrial elements, public water supply, soil productivity and other elements.
• Plan components to guide Forests’ contributions to social and economic sustainability will be required.  While there is a mention of recreation, the rule only requires that plans take into account “sustainable recreational opportunities and uses”.  Recreation output is not a requirement but just one of the ways a plan can contribute to social and economic sustainability.
• The rule requires responsible officials to restore wildland fire ecosystems.

Contentious Hearing in House Natural Resources Committee over BLM’s Wildlands Authority

In a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings questioned Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey on the Administration’s legal authority to prioritize “Wild Lands” and manage for wilderness values above other multiple-uses.  The Committee press release states that Director Abbey admitted that the Administration may not have statutory authority to elevate “Wild Lands” above other uses.  According to the Committee website, “When questioned, Abbey stated, ‘I’m not sure it exists statutorily’.”  House Natural Resources Committee Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) is obviously taking the Administration to task for usurping the role of Congress in designating Wilderness areas. The hearing was held March 1, 2011.

Among the wilderness characteristics for a Wildlands designation by the BLM are: “the area’s size, its apparent naturalness, and outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation. They may also include supplemental values.”  One likely goal of the Wildlands initiative, although unstated, is to limit or reduce energy development and other commercial activities on lands with wilderness characteristics. 

AOA has analyzed the Secretary’s Wildlands planning manual solely from the potential impact on recreation, outfitters and recreation capacity.  Provisions in the manual give some indication of where management plans are headed with respect to commercial recreation activities.
• Commercial Uses: Consider the quality and availability of alternative sites for proposed new commercial uses. Some commercial activities, such as commercial or competitive special recreation permits, may be consistent with protection of LWCs.
• The planning documents states further: “7. Recreational Uses: Consider a range of recreational settings and opportunities, including those that are compatible with primitive and unconfined recreation.” 
• The planning document does not prohibit mechanized or motorized recreation since it states that “Limited or existing motorized or mechanized (e.g., mountain bike) access may be consistent with protection of wilderness characteristics.”

Will a BLM Wildlands designation result in changes to outfitter operations once management plans are revised?  Assuming this designation survives legal challenges, changes to an outfitters operation in a designated area will depend on the extent to which the outfitted use is inconsistent or consistent with wilderness values and the disposition of BLM management in the state or area.  If your area is managed like wilderness, there may not be any changes.  However, if you are running snowmobiles or have large backcountry party sizes for hiking, horseback riding or other uses, changes may be required to conform to wilderness characteristics when plans are revised.  AOA has questions about whether or not a wilderness “Needs Assessment” will be required when management plans are written.

According to those in attendance the hearing was very contentious with several public officials, including the Governor of Idaho, opposing the designation.  On the other side was Peter Metcalf, CEO/President and Co-Founder, Black Diamond Equipment, who testified in support of the Wild Lands order.  Metcalf said that the outdoor industry's "global brand is built upon America's iconic and unique wild lands and wilderness."  He claimed that cross-country skiers outspent snowmobilers $3.45 to $1.00 during their visits to the White River NF, and that “sportsmen need wild, unroaded backcountry for hunting and angling, for habitat, and as breeding grounds."

In his own press release Director Abbey stated, “It’s important to know that this Order doesn’t change the management of a single acre of public land, but simply broadens the management tools available through the public land-use planning process.”  While the Order does not change management plans, it does promote the Wildlands designation, which BLM would make without approval from Congress.

According to BLM, Secretarial Order 3310 directs the BLM to consider, as part of its existing land-use planning process – which includes substantial public input – whether to designate appropriate areas with wilderness characteristics under its jurisdiction as “Wild Lands” and to manage them to protect their wilderness values.

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This Session's Speaker:  Dave Serino
Dave Serino is a travel and tourism industry veteran who has leveraged internet technologies to drive the sales and marketing process for the past 16 years. Prior to founding Gammet Interactive in 2000- which serves clients in all sectors of the travel industry - Dave held sales and marketing positions at resort hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, and a tourism technology company..

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