The American Sheep Industry Association, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Association of National Grasslands and the Public Lands Council, along with 31 additional sheep and beef affiliates from across the country, submitted comments on the Proposed Forest Planning Rule. The Forest Service (FS) has said that a final rule will be released by the end of the year.
The FS is proposing a new planning rule to guide land and resource management planning for all units of the National Forest System (NFS) under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA).
In comments, the livestock associations stated their appreciation of the FS's need to balance multiple uses of NFS lands; however, there is concern that the FS is elevating the objective to provide for diversity of plant and animal communities above other multiple use objectives, particularly, the objective to provide for range resources. Also of interest is the FS's focus on maintaining species viability, rather than providing for habitat diversity as is required by NFMA.
Providing for range resources is an important objective of the FS's multiple use and sustained yield mandate and is necessary to sustain the yields (food and fiber) from sheep and cattle grazing on NFS lands. The secondary beneficiaries of the FS compliance with its statutory mandates are the many rural economies in the West.
One of the objectives of the new rule is that it is workable, affordable and will withstand court challenges. Under a Jan. 11 Executive Order signed by President Obama, rules are to be made more cost effective, less burdensome and more flexible. Industry comments indicate the concern that the draft does just the opposite. Much of what is being put into the rule would be better placed in the Forest Service Manual or Handbook where it can more easily be adjusted if it is not workable.
A number of legislators are also voicing their concern about the proposed FS Planning Rule to Secretary Vilsack urging the agency to redraft the proposed rule to make it simpler and less encumbered with process and to eliminate provisions like the species viability clause that surpass Congress' statutory direction. It is possible to meet the objectives of the NFMA and the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act without bogging the agency down with exercises that further separate it from the many citizens who depend on our nation's forests for sustainable clean air, clean water, recreation, harvesting of fish and wildlife, grazing and timber production. Please do not lose this opportunity to produce a planning rule that is truly simple, understandable, flexible and defendable in court, concluded the congressmen in their communications.
To read the industry submitted comments, go to Forest Service Planning Rule