U.S. ag chief announces wide-ranging forest plan
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Thursday released the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for a new National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule.
Vilsack, who was in Philadelphia, was joined by Harris Sherman, under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in announcing the document's release via a nationwide conference call with the media.
Vilsack said his agency's intent is to issue a new planning rule for America's 193-million acre National Forest System, which includes the Mendocino National Forest that spans Colusa, Glenn and Tehama counties.
The planning rule, which covers everything from controlled burns to what factors go into declaring areas open to recreational use, will replace the plan developed in 1982 during the Reagan administration.
"That plan is very outdated," Vilsack said.
The new planning rule for the forest system seeks to deliver stronger protections for forests, water and wildlife, while supporting the economic vitality of rural communities, he said.
The plan also looks at ways to create jobs, including those in the timber industry.
"We know communities rely on the forest for jobs," Vilsack said.
And for the first time, Vilsack said a forest plan will take into account how forest officials should plan for the effects of climate change.
Tidwell said Thursday the USDA and the Forest Service carefully considered nearly 300,000 comments received on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement that was issued last February, and factored in decades of the Forest Service's knowledge and expertise.
As a result, the agency's course of action for finalizing the planning rule has been reduced from five to seven years to perhaps three or four, he said.
"People want planning to cost less so the resources will be there to do more," Tidwell said.
Tidwell said finalizing a new rule will move the country forward in managing the forest system, and will create or sustain jobs and income for local communities around the country.
Sherman said the final planning rule, when selected, will provide the framework for Forest Service land management plans for the 155 forests, 20 grasslands and 1 prairie in the National Forest System.
The modern planning process will also reflect the latest science, he said.
Highlights of the preferred plan include components that seek to restore and maintain forests and grasslands, as well as requirements to maintain or restore watersheds, water resources and water quality.
The plan would also provide for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, and provide opportunities for sustainable recreation.
Tidwell called the plan the most collaborative rulemaking effort in agency history, and that opportunity for public involvement will continue until the final plan is adopted.
The Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule is available for viewing online at www.fs.usda.gov.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.