On behalf of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) and the Public Lands Council (PLC), Margaret Soulen Hinson told lawmakers during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands that if the U.S. Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) proposed forest planning rule goes into effect, thousands of ranching families could be forced off the land. While Soulen Hinson, an Idaho cattle and sheep producer and president of ASI, discussed multiple concerns ASI and PLC have with the proposed planning rule, which could be finalized this winter, she spent the bulk of her testimony detailing the negative affect a provision calling for management for "species viability" would have on federal lands ranching.
"By 2013, my family and I will be forced to remove 60 percent of our sheep from our allotments on the Payette National Forest, which may well mark the end of our family's 80-year-old sheep operation altogether," Soulen Hinson said. "This has come to pass because of a very specific wildlife provision of the current planning rule, which calls for management for 'species viability.' The term 'viability' is a vague, ill-defined term that appears nowhere in statute and has been the source of endless litigation and economic destruction over the years. We recommend the USFS remove entirely the term 'viability' and leave wildlife management to the states, as required by statute."
According to Soulen Hinson, while the USFS claims the viability provision in the proposed rule is an improvement because it only applies to populations of "species of conservation concern," there is no science-based definition for "species of conservation concern," which could result in a limitless list of species to manage. Notably, she said the viability provision goes beyond the current vertebrate standard and applies to all types of species, even moss and fungus. She said the most important fact for lawmakers to realize is that under the National Forest Management Act and the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act, the Forest Service does not have statutory authority to manage for species viability.
In related news, the USFS announced this week that it will form an advisory committee that will provide advice and recommendations to the secretary of agriculture on the implementation of the new planning rule set for finalization this winter.
The Federal Advisory Committee - which could be formed early next year - will advise the secretary on how the new rule is implemented. In the coming months, the USFS will announce its request for committee member nominations in the Federal Register. More information about the committee and how to seek nomination will be available at that time.