Snowmobile Alliance of Western States Cutting through deceptions & misperceptions to protect YOUR RIGHT to ride!

9May/110

ALERT: Forest Service Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Planning Rule

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SAWS members,

We request that you please submit a comment on the Forest Service Proposed Planning Rule this week.

Comment deadline: May 16, 2011.

Use the following link to submit your comment:

http://www.govcomments.com/ProjectInformation.aspx?a=25&b=20800

USDA Press Release No. 0061.11

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2011. - The USDA Forest Service unveiled its proposed Forest Planning Rule today which would establish a new national framework to develop land management plans that protect water and wildlife and promote vibrant communities.

Forest Service land management plans guide management activities on the 155 National Forests and 20 Grasslands in the National Forest System. The proposed planning rule provides a collaborative and science-based framework for creating land management plans that would support ecological sustainability and contribute to rural job opportunities. The proposed rule includes new provisions to guide forest and watershed restoration and resilience, habitat protection, sustainable recreation, and management for multiple uses of the National Forest System, including timber.

"This proposed planning rule seeks to conserve our forests for the benefit of water, wildlife, recreation and the economic vitality of our rural communities," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The proposed rule will provide the tools to the Forest Service to make our forests more resilient to many threats, including pests, catastrophic fire and climate change. Healthy forests and economically strong rural communities form a solid foundation as we work to win the future for the next generation."

Publication of the proposed planning rule in the Federal Register will kick off a 90-day public comment period, ending May 16. The Forest Service will use comments to develop a final rule. To encourage public engagement, the Forest Service is hosting an open forum to discuss the proposed rule on March 10, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The meeting will be Web cast to allow for national participation, and there will be additional public forums held throughout the country. The proposed rule, meeting information, and additional information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule 

In case you are unsure of how Forest Plan Revisions and Congress can negatively affect the national forests you recreate in, you should understand the following facts as stated on page 30 of this planning rule and what it means to areas you no longer can recreate in by snowmobile or may not be able to in the near future:

“The Forest Service administers the NFS in accordance with the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (MUSYA) and other laws. Congress has directed that over 44 million acres of the NFS are to be managed as part of special land classifications intended to preserve natural conditions and characteristics. Almost twenty-four percent of the NFS is managed as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (36.1 million acres), National Monuments (3.6 million acres), National Recreation Areas (2.9 million acres), and Wild and Scenic Rivers (1.2 million acres). More information on the acreage and location of these designations can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/lar/2009/lar09index.html. Additionally, there are currently over 5.4 million acres of NFS lands recommended for wilderness. Areas recommended for wilderness are not available for any use or activity that could reduce the wilderness potential of an area. The Agency has also identified approximately 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas through various reviews, land management planning, and other large-scale assessments.”

SAWS has included other sources of advice and comments below. We recommend that you pick and choose between their suggestions and alter the text to personalize your comment letter. Copying and pasting the exact text in your comment letter will be treated as a Form Letter. Form Letters have very little value and the Forest Service will consider all Form Letters submitted to be just one comment.  Even if they receive 1000 Form Letters that say the exact same thing, they will be counted as one.

Thank you for being proactive to help protect access to your riding areas.

Snowmobile Alliance of Western States

Copyright © 2011 Snowmobile Alliance of Western States. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to distribute this information in whole or in part, as long as Snowmobile Alliance of Western States (SAWS) is acknowledged as the source. If you are not yet a member of SAWS and you would like receive these alerts, please sign up on our web site at: http://www.snowmobile-alliance.org. SAWS is FREE to join!

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ARRA suggested comments:

  • As a recreationist I am concerned that the proposed Land Management Planning Rule will be burdensome, costly and leave too many key terms and phrases undefined.  The rule, if finalized as drafted, would invite litigation and do little to end the decades-long effort to craft a planning rule that will stand the test of time – and courts.  Further, while the Forest Service responded to requests from the recreation community to include recreation in the draft rule, the proposed rule clearly provides that preservation trumps social and economic factors, including recreation, contradicting the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, the statute that authorizes many Forest activities.
  • I am also concerned that expanding the “viable populations” provisions to include invertebrates will prove impossible to implement and ultimately lead to further restrictions to access.  The “viable populations” provisions of the 1982 rule have proven difficult to implement and a magnet for litigation.  Please remove these provisions before finalizing the rule.
  • The issues listed above, among others, leave me concerned that recreation will be limited as a result of the rule, both because of specific rule provisions, and because resultant litigation will be brought by anti-access organizations who will use the courts to interpret the many ambiguities in the draft.
  • Anyone who recreates on our National Forests has a vested interest in the implementation of a successful planning rule.  I am concerned that proposed rule would limit recreation and become mired in legal challenges and as a result I encourage you to vastly rework the draft before finalizing the rule.  I also join with Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry Chairman Glenn Thompson in encouraging you to reconsider your decision not to extend the comment period for an additional 90 days.  This is too important and the issues too complex for the public not to have ample time to thoughtfully consider, and comment on, the proposed sweeping changes.

BRC suggested comments:

  • I am writing to comment on the National Forest System Land Management Planning Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (76 Fed. Reg. 8480, Feb. 14, 2011), referred to as the proposed "Planning Rule."  As an avid recreational user of the National Forests, I am interested in and directly affected by this rulemaking process. Please carefully consider the comments below and incorporate them into the official record.
  • The Final Rule should emphasize the importance of providing wide range of diverse recreational uses for the American public.
  • The Forest Service is deviating from the multiple-use mandates, including the mandate to provide a wide range of diverse recreation, which Congress laid out for the management of our National Forest System. Simply including references to recreation in the proposed Planning Rule is not sufficient to comply with this mandate. The Draft Rule falls well short of "best meeting the needs of the American people" insofar as recreation is concerned.
  • I strongly object to the manner in which the Draft Rule has elevated preservationist concepts over all other concerns.
  • Recreation as well as the socioeconomic and other multiple-use aspects in the proposed Rule is heavily "trumped" by ecological concerns, creating a gross imbalance in the direction of the Forest Plan revision process.
  • I strongly encourage the agency to modify the Final Rule to enhance the important priorities of creating and protecting jobs and providing a wide range of diverse recreational activities.
  • I encourage the agency to emphasize the economic value of outdoor recreation on adjacent communities. The Final Rule must stress the importance of providing a diverse range of recreation experience for the visiting American public.
  • The Draft Rule fails to meet the purpose and need. It fails to make the Forest Plan Revision process less costly, burdensome and time consuming.
  • Contrary to  President Obama's call for new regulatory process to be less burdensome, less complex, and fiscally sound, the Draft Rule runs the risk of embedding a "planning gridlock" situation into the Forest Plan revision process.
  • The proposed rule inappropriately emphasizes preservation over multiple-use.
  • The proposed rule defines a binding requirement for ecological sustainability, but only the requirement that Forest Plans "contribute" to social and economic sustainability.  Equal consideration should be given to ecological, social and economic sustainability to "assure the forest is in full accord with the concepts for multiple use and sustained yield of products and services as set forth in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act."
  • The explanation given for this inequity - that, due to factors outside their control, the management activities of the Forest Service only "contribute" to the social and economic aspects - is unacceptable.  It is equally true that, due to factors outside its control, the Forest Service only "contributes" to ecological sustainability as well.
  • The "viable population" requirements should not be included in the final rule.
  • The proposed rule reinstates the "viable population" standard that has proven unattainable in the current planning rule.  Expanding the current viability standard beyond vertebrate species to encompass native plants and native invertebrates including fungi, aquatic invertebrates, insects, plants, and unspecified others combined with the Forest Service's aspiration to reach beyond its own borders to maintain a "viable" population only exacerbates the issue.
  • There is no requirement to "maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern" in any act of Congress from which the Forest Service garners its authority for forest planning and management.  There is no scientific standard or consensus on what constitutes a "viable" population for any "species of conservation concern." There is no scientific consensus for how to achieve and maintain a "viable" population.  The Forest Service admits it has "very minimal biological information" for the included native plants and invertebrate species.  It is therefore an uninformed standard that is impossible to achieve and should be removed from the rule.
  • The proposed rule will be procedurally burdensome, inefficient and costly to implement.
  • It is imperative that the new planning regulations be efficient and yield timely results, yet, the proposed rule is just as complex, costly, lengthy, cumbersome, and procedurally burdensome as the rule it would replace.  It also falls short of meeting the guidelines of President Obama's Executive order 13563 of January 11, 2011, which calls for regulations to be cost effective, less burdensome, and more flexible.  As written, this rule would find itself mired in the courts.
  • The new rule should focus less on inappropriately setting policy and more on developing, amending, and revising land management plans in accordance with the congressionally mandated policies found in the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (MUSYA), and the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, as amended by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976.
  • Requiring the use of "best available scientific information" and subsequent efforts to justify and prove what/whose "science" is "best" will delay planning and implementation progress.
  • The repeated requirement in the proposed rule to rely on "best available science" in planning rather than depending on agency expertise and "relevant, peer-reviewed science" introduces an unknown into the planning process.  The inevitable challenges to prove whose and/or what science is "best" will unnecessarily delay critical progress at the plan level and rob precious time and resources.  The proposed rule also seems to give up much of the ground the agency gained in the 2008 Ninth Circuit en banc decision (Lands Council v. McNair) giving deference to the agency expertise.
  • New terms and concepts and the dilution of the definitions of existing terms found throughout the rule are a litigation magnet.
  • The use of "buzz-terms and phrases" and the dilution of historic terms and phrases throughout the proposed rule circumvent the clear intent of MUSYA, NFMA, and other congressional mandates. For example: The broad definition of "ecosystem services" improperly elevates ecosystem services to the same level of importance as multiple uses as defined in the MUSYA.  A second example: The language in the draft wrongfully gives equal status to "protection" of recommended wilderness areas as to "protection" of congressionally designated Wilderness.
  • Obscure terms and phrases in the proposed rule would also inevitably lead to litigation as advocacy groups seek clarification.  For example, what does "sustainable recreation" mean and who decides that and how?
  • "Public engagement" requirement distances the decision-making process from the local area and potentially further makes plans more vulnerable to litigation
  • Requiring that the agency "shall encourage" public input creates an obligation to affirmatively gather public comment-and begs the legal question as to how far from the plan area the threshold of "encouragement" extends.  Unfortunately, even as the draft rule calls for greater "public input," it weakens the existing requirement to "coordinate" forest planning with the plans of local representative governments.
  • Monitoring requirements are unrealistic and would eat up budgets for on-the-ground work, among other concerns.
  • A meaningful commitment to monitoring is an essential part of land management and related planning, however, the monitoring requirements in the draft are far too broad, complex, and time and resource consuming to be realistically achievable.  For instance, effects of management on climate change or species are measured over decades, yet the regulation calls for biennial monitoring evaluation reports.
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