The new rules, to replace guidelines thrown out by a federal court in 2009, were set to be released Thursday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Vilsack says that the guidelines, known as a forest planning rule, strengthen a requirement that decisions be based on the best available science and recognize that forests are used for a variety of purposes.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the guidelines would allow land management plans for individual forests to be completed more quickly and at a lower cost than under current rules, which date to the Reagan administration.
Several attempts to revise the 1982 planning rule have been thrown out by federal courts in the past decade – most recently a Bush administration plan was struck down in 2009. Environmentalists had fought the rule, saying it rolled back key forest protections.
The Obama administration did not appeal the ruling, electing to develop a new forest planning rule to protect water, climate and wildlife. Tidwell says the new regulation also should give forest managers more flexibility to address conditions on the ground, such as projects to thin the forest to reduce the risk of wildfire.
The 155 national forests and grasslands managed by the Forest Service cover 193 million acres in 42 states and Puerto Rico. (AP)