The BlueRibbon Coalition applauded the 41 members of Congress who sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell urging the agency to prioritize and protect robust and diverse access and recreation in the national forests as the Forest Service National Planning Rule is developed.
The U.S. Forest Service (FS) is in the process of revising its 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 its Land Use Plans. The letter was prompted by concerns over draft planning concepts made public earlier this year. Specifically, the letter drew attention to a "Draft Recreation Approach" that included concepts and terms that are undefined and unclear. The letter also stressed the importance of the concept of Multiple Use Sustained Yield in developing Forest Plans.
BRC's Executive Director, Greg Mumm, applauded the letter. He said, "BRC is pleased to see that the importance of the U.S. Forest Service providing recreation is on the radar of key Congressional leaders. It demonstrates their keen awareness of the economic and social importance recreation has for dependent local communities."
The BlueRibbon Coalition, as well as other recreational stakeholders, has been concerned that the draft proposals emanating from the agency did not adequately address the importance of recreation. BRC joined with more than 70 recreation groups who collectively sent a letter outlining their concerns to the Forest Service earlier this year.
Noting the reference to "analysis paralysis" in the Congressional Leaders' letter to Chief Tidwell, Mumm said, "All recreational users need to be concerned that the U.S. Forest Service doesn't get bogged down with regulatory gridlock."
Current regulations provide multiple levels of seemingly never-ending environmental analysis. BRC's formal comments to the Planning Rule cautioned the agency that regulations about Forest Planning should focus on how to create a Forest Plan and on what level of environmental analysis is appropriate, not on the Forest Plan itself.
BRC also emphasized the need to provide for recreation. According to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, the popularity and importance to USFS visitors of off-highway vehicle and snowmobile recreation has drastically increased in recent years. Similar studies reflect the growing popularity of mountain bike and equestrian use. Conversely, the amount of USFS lands available for motorized, mountain bike, and, on some Forests, even equestrian trails, have been reduced via legislation, implementation of Forest Plans and site-specific recreation plans. Therefore, there is a need to emphasize a diverse range of recreation in the planning regulations
The release of a draft Forest Service planning rule has been delayed at least several months, according to an announcement on the agencies planning rule website. Originally, a draft rule and accompanying Draft Environmental Impact Statement were targeted for December with a final in November 2011.
BRC has more information on our website and encourages its members and enthusiasts to subscribe to its e-mail "Action Alert" system for updated information.