USFS Seeks Comment on Array of Forest Conservation and Resilience Policy Issues
Earlier this week, the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public comment and tribal consultation on potential policies and actions to better anticipate, identify and respond to rapidly changing climate and forest conditions. Comments are due by June 20, 2023.
Why This Matters:
The Biden administration’s focus on effecting change in federal forest and public land management policies carry wide potential implications for all industries that operate on or near national forests or that partner or contract with the Forest Service. While it remains to be seen what regulatory changes might follow, the ANPRM represents an important opportunity to weigh in on management approaches that will shape America’s national forests for decades to come.
This ANPRM recognizes both precipitous changes in forest management in recent decades and declining health and ecological integrity of national forests and grasslands due to climate-driven stressors, pests and disease, and increasingly severe wildfires. In recent years, the Forest Service has conducted commercial harvests annually on only one-tenth of 1% of the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands; the vast majority of these harvests are designed to improve forest health and resilience. At the same time, data from the past 15 years demonstrates that disturbances driven by wildfire, insects and disease have adversely affected more than 25% of National Forest System lands.
Data to Drive Adaptation Practices:
In light of these challenges, the Forest Service has developed, and is seeking input on, the beta version of a new Forest Service Climate Risk Viewer, a geospatial tool that uses 38 datasets to illustrate the overlap of multiple resource values and climate exposure and vulnerability data. The goal is for resource managers to use the tool “to assess the need for climate adaptation to maintain valued resources and to identify gaps between current practices and needed adaptation practices.”
Call for Input:
The ANPRM also requests input on several “overarching” questions intended to assist the Forest Service in developing “new policies and practices for conservation and climate resilience to support ecologic, social and economic sustainability in light of climate change, human induced changes, and other stressors,” including:
- How should the Forest Service adapt current policies and develop new policies and actions to conserve and manage the national forests and grasslands for climate resilience, so that the Agency can provide for ecological integrity and support social and economic sustainability over time?
- How should the Forest Service assess, plan for and prioritize conservation and climate resilience at different organizational levels of planning and management of the National Forest System (e.g., national strategic direction and planning; regional and unit planning, projects and activities)?
- What kinds of conservation, management or adaptation practices may be effective at fostering climate resilience on forests and grasslands at different geographic scales? How should Forest Service management, partnerships, and investments consider cross-jurisdictional impacts of stressors to forest and grassland resilience at a landscape scale, including activities in the [wildland-urban interface]?
- What are key outcome-based performance measures and indicators that would help the Agency track changing conditions, test assumptions, evaluate effectiveness, and inform continued adaptive management?
These broad questions are followed by a grab bag of more specific questions for the public. These questions cover topics including the Forest Service’s reliance on the best available science—including Indigenous knowledge—to inform decision-making, adaptation planning and practices, management of mature and old growth forests, and fostering social and economic climate resilience. Examples include:
- How should the Forest Service implement the 2012 Planning Rule under a rapidly changing climate, including for assessments, development of plan components, and related monitoring?
- Eastern forests have not been subject to the dramatic wildfire events and severe droughts occurring in the west, but eastern forests are also experiencing extreme weather events and chronic stress, including from insects and disease, while continuing to rebound from historic management and land use changes. Are there changes or additions to policy and management specific to conservation and climate resilience for forests in the east that the Forest Service should consider?
- How might the Forest Service use the mature and old-growth forest inventory (directed by O. 14072) together with analyzing threats and risks to determine and prioritize when, where, and how different types of management will best enable retention and expansion of mature and old-growth forests over time?
Biden’s E.O. 14072 in Action:
This ANPRM follows President Biden’s Executive Order (E.O.) 14072, “Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies,” issued on Earth Day 2022, which directs federal land management agencies to take certain steps to prioritize and foster forest conservation.
- Section 2 of E.O. 14072: directed the secretaries of the departments of Agriculture and the Interior to inventory old-growth and mature forests on national forests and public lands, implement science-based reforestation, create and sustain jobs in the sustainable forest product sector, including outdoor recreation, and develop policies to institutionalize these management and conservation actions.
- Memorandum 1077-004: Following the issuance of E.O. 14072, Secretary Vilsack released a Secretary’s Memorandum on Climate Resilience and Carbon Stewardship of America’s National Forests and Grasslands, which, among other actions, directed the Forest Service to create a decision support tool, accelerate reforestation-, and conduct inventories of old-growth and mature forests.
- USFS and BLM Inventory of Mature and Old-Growth Forests: Finally, in tandem with the publication of the ANPRM, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management recently issued their identification and initial inventory of mature and old-growth forests.
The Forest Service has requested comments with a deadline of June 20, 2023. If you have questions about how the ANPRM might affect your current or proposed project or would like to review a more detailed summary, please reach out—Brownstein is closely following these developments and would welcome the opportunity to assist.
THIS DOCUMENT IS INTENDED TO PROVIDE YOU WITH GENERAL INFORMATION REGARDING NEW FORESTRY RULES RELATING TO CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOREST MANAGEMENT. THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE SPECIFIC LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CONTENTS OF THIS DOCUMENT OR IF YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE AS TO AN ISSUE, PLEASE CONTACT THE ATTORNEYS LISTED OR YOUR REGULAR BROWNSTEIN HYATT FARBER SCHRECK, LLP ATTORNEY. THIS COMMUNICATION MAY BE CONSIDERED ADVERTISING IN SOME JURISDICTIONS.