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Today, KEA filed comments on the draft Forest Planning Rule, proposed by the U.S. Forest Service to govern how forest plans are drafted and, ultimately, how forests are managed into the future. The current rule has been in effect since 1982, and since then, all subsequent efforts to revise the rule have failed.

Our comments are less extensive and less technical, but they track the comments of other national conservation organizations, emphasizing the need to restore and protect watersheds and wildlife habitat, and the need to preserve roadless areas and the last remaining tracts of land with wilderness potential. Timber production and higher-impact recreational activities need to be regulated and zoned to suitable locations, and they must no longer be allowed to damage the resources.

Meanwhile, a new forest plan for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is expected to be released this summer under the old planning rule.

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In yet another attempt to update regulations for planning on National Forests, today, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft planning rule for public comment. The current regulations for forest planning date back to 1982. Attempts at revision have been delayed, scuttled, or struck down by courts. The new rule would apply nationally to some 155 National Forests, including our own Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

According to the Forest Service press release, “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.”

The new rule will be subject to a comment period scheduled to end May 16. A public meeting on the rule has been tentatively scheduled for Coeur d’Alene in March.

 

 

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance has sent a letter to the Forest Supervisor for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) regarding monitoring reports it has failed to issue. Under the forest plan adopted for this region’s forest, and under federal law, the forest service is required to submit annual monitoring and evaluation reports to the public.  However, reports as far back as 2007 and 2008 have yet to be issued. The letter states, “It appears that the Forest Service has failed to meet the obligations required under the forest plan and federal law, and have unreasonably delayed performing a legally mandated responsibility.  As representatives of the public’s interest in the proper management of our local forest resources, we are once again requesting these [monitoring] results.”

In response to an October inquiry from KEA, the Forest Service noted that the 2007 and 2008 Reports are not available “due to other priorities” but provided assurance that both reports would be issued in the spring of this year, 2010. Of course, spring has come and gone and we are still waiting for the reports.

In KEA’s letter, we point out that the monitoring report is expressly required under the several relevant sections of federal regulations, the most relevant is 36 CFR §219.11(f) which states:

(f) Annual monitoring and evaluation report. The responsible official must prepare a monitoring and evaluation report for the plan area within 6 months following the end of each fiscal year. The report must be maintained with the plan documents (§219.30(d)(5)), and include the following:

(1) A list or reference to monitoring required by the plan; and

(2) A summary of the results of monitoring and evaluation performed during the preceding fiscal year and appropriate results from previous years. The summary must include:

(i) A description of the progress toward achievement of desired conditions within the plan area; and

(ii) A description of the plan area’s contribution to the achievement of applicable outcomes of the Forest Service national strategic plan.

This is no paper exercise.  Numerous collaborative efforts to address forest management issues around the region are underway, and every last one of them will depend on timely monitoring data to guide their efforts.

Having been perhaps too patient for too long, KEA has called on the Forest Service to either release the long-overdue reports or explain “the press of other priorities” that have caused the delay.  We’d certainly like to know what those priorities are, and how those priorities are higher than the monitoring and reporting requirements outlined in federal law.

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