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Family, it's about time
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This is a good update because the new planning rules no matter what they end up being will affect nearly 100% of us off road guys. Hopefully the planning rules come out good , but I am not too confident.


BRC National Land Use Update:
U.S. Forest Service Planning Regulations

The U.S. Forest Service (FS) is beginning the process of revising their regulations that govern how the agency prepares Forest Plans. Known as the "Planning Rule," these regulations will be the driving force behind how the agency develops, amends and revises their Land Use Plans.
Federal agencies formulate these regulations (Code of Federal Regulation) through an administrative process known as rule-making. Currently, the U.S. Forest Service Planning Rule is in the early stages of the rule-making process. The agency expects to have a Draft Rule out by end of 2010.
Our post public-involvement update is, sadly, to report that despite the refreshingly honest admission of its problems (the agency says its existing planning regulations are costly, complex, and procedurally burdensome), our fear is that we are still well on the road to increase the same bureaucratic complexity that created those problems in the first place.

Product vs. Process
In BRC's comments, we cautioned the agency to focus on the process of revising Forest Plans, not to make this about the Forest Plan itself. Regulations about Forest Planning should focus on how to create a Forest Plan and what level of environmental analysis is appropriate. Planning regulations need to be about how to formulate plans and NOT what the plans will contain.
We saw early on the USFS begin to stray far from that core purpose, and BRC, as well as many other stakeholders, cautioned them not to create new, undefined goals and criteria which will exacerbate, not resolve, the current planning gridlock. In our comments, we urged the Forest Service to steer this effort back to its necessary focus: 1) to fill the current regulatory void; and 2) to redouble proper focus on the primary goals of efficiency and expediency in the Forest Planning process.
Recreation, Roundtables, and the New Planning Rule
Seven months ago, after the end of the formal comment period, the agency initiated a collaborative effort to address some of the critiques people were making on its rulemaking. Credible facilitating firms were hired to bring in all the stakeholders in order to fully understand the issues. Responding to harsh criticism from BRC, and other national recreation groups, that the process initially ignored recreation, Greg Mumm, BRC's Executive Director, was asked to sit on a key panel on which he provided specific input to the team that is actually writing the Rule. BRC members and staff also participated in several "roundtables" held across the country. Local governments and other stakeholders participated in the roundtable effort as well.
Was it worth sitting through all those "breakout sessions"?
Truthfully, we won't know if the outreach worked until the Draft Planning Rule is released for public review. Access advocates understand that the agency could ignore all of the input and it would be completely legal. We don't want to get into the details of the reason why here, but when giving input in any rulemaking, there are only two or three options that are legally relevant. Of all of the tens of thousands of letters, transcripts, notes, power point presentations, diagrams and blog posts, the only thing that legally matters is the response to comments submitted during the formal comment period.

Still, the agency has released results of the public involvement so we are dutifully providing our members with this information.
The roundtable results have been summarized HERE.
The USFS released a draft planning framework that consists of a three-part planning cycle: 1) Assess, 2) Revise/Amend, 3) Monitor. These are well understood concepts of adaptive management and are appropriate at this stage in the process.
The FS also released eight "Draft Approaches" for issues raised during the public involvement. The eight issues are: Climate Change, Watershed Health, Recreation, People and Environment, Resilience, Monitoring and Evaluation, Collaboration, and something they call the All-Lands Approach.
The documents describing the "Draft Approaches" are available HERE and they aren't long or overly complicated, so please take a quick look.
An electronic version of the Fourth and final Roundtable can be found HERE. (Note: this one is a bit lengthy, but does give a pretty good overview of the suggested direction from the planning team, complete with commentary that is fairly enlightening.)
Ongoing action in the short term...
While the Notice of Intent virtually ignored recreation, throughout the initial public comment period and in the roundtable sessions, BRC and other national recreation organizations brought this oversight to the attention of the planning team. In turn, Forest Service officials assured the recreation community that they "heard" those concerns and that recreation would be a priority. However, based on an overview of the New Rule parameters as shared by officials at the fourth roundtable, there is still a widespread concern among recreation organizations with the direction the Forest Service is taking with the new Planning Rule, especially in regard to recreation.
The BlueRibbon Coalition is currently actively partnering with a large and diverse group of recreation organizations to ensure recreation receives appropriate consideration in the new rule. The message is clear. Recreation is a key use of our National Forests and a primary contributor to the economic well being of communities adjacent to and dependent on our National Forest System. Among other things, the Forest Service needs to be more proactive in managing recreation and in seeking partners able to assist and enhance management for recreation -including organized recreationists. We are joining forces to make it clear that the Planning Rule acknowledges that the Forest Service has a legal responsibility to enhance recreational activities in national forests and, further, that the agency must seek to use management to resolve competition among recreation interests.
See letter the partner groups sent to the Chief of the Forest Service HERE.
The long haul...
BRC is continuing to partner collectively with other national recreation groups to ensure recreation is a key tenet in the new rule. In a broader sense, we continue to be very concerned with the clear deviation from the Congressional policy mandates of Multiple Use/Sustained Yield in what we have seen so far. However, we're not likely to put a lot of effort into additional comments on the balance of these "approaches" prior to the release of the Draft Rule.
The Draft is scheduled to be out soon and we want to stress the importance of our members and supporters staying with us for the long haul. Upon the release of the Draft Rule, BRC is going to need our members to provide public and political pressure to move the agency back to reality, and/or support the good parts of the Draft. We also anticipate that we will need to reach out to Capitol Hill, the media and others to help make certain that the new Planning Rule - which is likely to shape forest plans for decades to come - is fair to our members.
We also want to thank our members and supporters. Our efforts thus far have been made possible by your memberships and donations. Your support is critical for BRC to continue our involvement.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact BRC.
Brian Hawthorne
Public Lands Policy Director
BlueRibbon Coalition
208-237-1008 ext 102
PS: For updates and links to the Forest Service Planning Rule, visit the Public Lands webpage at http://www.sharetrails.org/public-lands/
 
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