[Federal Register Volume 74, Number 242 (Friday, December 18, 2009)]
[Notices]
[Pages 67165-67169]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E9-30174]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


National Forest System Land Management Planning

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, is giving 
notice of its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement to 
analyze and disclose potential environmental consequences associated 
with a National Forest System land management planning rule.

[[Page 67166]]


DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
by February 16, 2010. The Forest Service (Agency) expects to publish 
the draft environmental impact statement in December 2010 and the final 
environmental impact statement in October 2011. The U.S. Department of 
Agriculture (Department) expects to publish the record of decision in 
November 2011.

ADDRESSES: Comments may be sent via e-mail to 
fspr@contentanalysisgroup.com. Written comments concerning this notice 
should be addressed to Forest Service Planning NOI, C/O Bear West 
Company, 172 E 500 S, Bountiful, UT 84010; or via facsimile to 801-397-
1605. All comments, including names and addresses, when provided, are 
placed in the record and are available for public inspection and 
copying. The public may inspect comments at http://contentanalysisgroup.com/fsr/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Larry Hayden, 202-205-0895, 
lhayden@fs.fed.us.
    Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) 
may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 
between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through 
Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    A new Agency planning rule is needed to guide land managers in 
developing, amending, and revising land management plans for the 155 
national forests and 20 grasslands in the National Forest System (NFS). 
A new planning rule provides the opportunity to help protect, 
reconnect, and restore national forests and national grasslands for the 
benefit of human communities and natural resources. Developing a new 
rule will allow the Agency to integrate forest restoration, watershed 
protection, climate resilience, wildlife conservation, the need to 
support vibrant local economies, and collaboration into how the Agency 
manages national forests and grasslands, with the goals of protecting 
our water, climate, and wildlife while enhancing ecosystem services and 
creating economic opportunity. Land management planning is also one way 
the Agency complies with requirements under the National Forest 
Management Act of 1976 (NFMA), the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 
1960 (MUSYA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Wilderness Act of 
1964, and other legal requirements.
    An environmental impact statement (EIS) is being prepared to 
document the environmental analysis for a new planning rule at Title 
36, Code of Federal Regulations, part 219 (36 CFR part 219). In the 
interim, the Agency will use the 2000 rule provisions to develop, 
amend, or revise plans until a new planning rule is released. The 2000 
rule had been replaced by the 2008 planning rule which was subsequently 
held invalid by a Federal District Court. The 2000 planning rule 
removed and replaced the 1982 planning rule in the Code of Federal 
Regulations, preventing the Agency from being able to simply reinstate 
the 1982 rule, but the 2000 rule contains transition provisions which 
permit the use of the 1982 rule provisions. No national forest or 
grassland has ever used the 2000 rule to amend or revise a plan because 
of its complexity. The Department is announcing the reinstatement in 
the Code of Federal Regulations of the National Forest System Land and 
Resource Management Planning Rule of November 9, 2000, as amended (2000 
rule), elsewhere in the Federal Register. The Agency's expectation, 
based upon its experience with the 2000 rule, is that national forests 
and grasslands will use the 1982 rule provisions, as permitted by the 
transition provisions of the 2000 rule, to revise and amend plans until 
a new planning rule is issued.

Scoping Process

    This notice of intent 60-day comment period starts the scoping 
process in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 
and its implementing regulations at 40 CFR part 1500. As part of the 
scoping process, the Agency solicits public comment on the scope of the 
proposed rule; the alternatives to be considered; and the physical, 
biological, social, and economic effects that should be analyzed in the 
draft environmental impact statement. Following the review of comments 
received during this 60-day period, the Agency will continue to 
collaboratively engage the public in a variety of ways as it develops a 
new proposed planning rule. Discussions will focus on key issues raised 
during the notice of intent public comment period. The Agency is in the 
process of creating a Web forum for additional dialogue and public 
interaction. Further information on planned collaborative discussions 
and other opportunities for public comment are available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

Comments Requested

    The proposed action lists several principles that could be included 
in a new planning rule and a number of follow-up questions to help 
frame the options for a proposed rule. Please comment on what features 
you believe should be in a planning rule, whether the principles we 
have identified are the right principles, and whether we have included 
all of the issues that will need to be considered as a new planning 
rule is developed. Please also respond to the specific questions posed 
under the principles outlined below.
    The Agency will use the comments and input we receive to identify 
issues, develop alternatives, and build planning rule content leading 
to a proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement in the fall 
of 2010. The Agency will continue to solicit public input through a 
collaborative process as the proposed rule is developed. Further, we 
need to hear your thoughts on the best ways the Agency could engage the 
public during this process.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The NFMA requires regulations ``under the principles of the 
Multiple-Use, Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, that set out the process for 
the development and revision of the land management plans, and the 
guidelines and standards'' the Act prescribes (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)). In 
1979, the Department first issued regulations to comply with this 
statutory requirement. The 1979 regulations were superseded by the 1982 
planning rule, which has formed the basis for all existing land 
management plans.
    In 1989, the Agency initiated a comprehensive Critique of Land 
Management Planning, which identified a number of adjustments that were 
needed to the 1982 planning rule. The Critique found that the 1982 
planning rule process was very complex; had significant costs, was 
lengthy, and was cumbersome for public input. The recommendations in 
the Critique and the Agency's experiences with planning led to the 
Agency issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for new 
regulations in 1991, and two proposed rules, in 1995 and 1999.
    After working with a committee of scientists, the Department issued 
the 2000 rule to revise the 1982 regulations. The 2000 revision of the 
planning rule described a new framework for NFS planning; made 
sustainability the foundation for NFS planning and management; required 
the consideration of the best available science during the planning 
process, and set forth requirements for implementation, monitoring, 
evaluation, amendment, and revision of land and resource management 
plans. However, a review

[[Page 67167]]

in the spring of 2001 found that the 2000 rule was costly, complex, and 
procedurally burdensome. The results of the review led the Department 
to issue a new planning rule in 2005, and a revised version again in 
2008, but each of those rules was held invalid by a Federal District 
Court (Citizens for Better Forestry v. USDA, 481 F. Supp.2d 1059 (N.D. 
Cal. 2007) (2005 rule); Citizens for Better Forestry v. USDA, 632 F. 
Supp.2d 968 (N.D. Cal. 2009) (2008 rule)).
    The NFMA requires the Agency to revise land management plans ``at 
least every 15 years.'' The NFS has 127 land management plans. 
Currently, 68 plans are past due for plan revision. Most plans were 
developed between 1983 and 1993 and should have been revised between 
1998 and 2008. The Agency now has an urgent need to establish a 
planning rule that protects, reconnects, and restores national forests 
and grasslands for the benefit of human communities and natural 
resources.
    A new planning rule must be responsive to the challenges of climate 
change; the need for forest restoration and conservation, watershed 
protection, and wildlife conservation; and the sustainable use of 
public lands to support vibrant communities. It must be clear, 
efficient, and effective, and must meet requirements under the NFMA, as 
well as allow the Agency to meet its obligations under the MUSYA, the 
ESA, and the Wilderness Act, as well as other legal requirements. It 
also must provide for a transparent, collaborative process that allows 
for effective public participation. A new rule should also be within 
the Agency's capability to implement on all NFS units. With stability 
in planning regulations, national land management planning can regain 
momentum, and units will be able to complete timely revisions that 
guide sustainable management.
    For further information on the history of land management planning 
and why the Agency is preparing a new EIS see the Web site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

Proposed Action

    The NFMA at 16 U.S.C. 1604 requires the Agency to have a planning 
rule. The Forest Service is proposing the development of a new planning 
rule to be issued at 36 CFR part 219. The new rule will consist of 
procedures for developing, amending, and revising land management 
plans.
    We list below a number of principles based on substance and process 
that could be used to guide the development of a new planning rule. 
Through this notice of intent, we are seeking public input on these 
principles and associated questions. We also ask reviewers to identify 
and give input on any principles or issues not mentioned. Additionally, 
we are seeking input on whether we have included a full list of the 
issues that must be addressed in a new rule and how best to address 
existing and future issues and challenges.

Substantive Principles for a New Rule

    1. Land management plans could address the need for restoration and 
conservation to enhance the resilience of ecosystems to a variety of 
threats. Climate change; alterations of natural fire regimes; changing 
water conditions; aggressive insects, disease, and invasive species; 
increasingly intense floods and drought; increasing air and water 
pollution; increasing development pressures; and other factors threaten 
the health of forests and grasslands. When the health and integrity of 
our lands deteriorate, so do the environmental, economic, and social 
benefits they provide, with enormous potential impacts on drinking 
water, greenhouse gas emissions, climate, wildlife, recreation, 
community health, and prosperity. Plans could promote restoration and 
management of national forests and grasslands to make them more 
resilient to these threats, and to ensure the continued delivery of 
important ecosystem services and benefits. They could also promote the 
active conservation of healthy lands to prevent them from degrading and 
to strengthen overall resiliency.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     What do you see as the biggest threats to forest and 
grassland health and ecosystem resiliency?
     How do you define restoration? What is your concept of 
restoration? How can the planning rule foster restoration of NFS lands?
     What kinds of conservation efforts can enhance ecosystem 
resiliency and prevent degradation?
    2. Plans could proactively address climate change through 
monitoring, mitigation and adaptation, and could allow flexibility to 
adapt to changing conditions and incorporate new information. Climate 
change is one of the great challenges facing the United States and the 
world, and is dramatically reshaping how the Agency will deliver on its 
mission of sustaining the health and diversity of the nation's forests. 
Management will need to restore ecosystem resiliency, and also factor 
adaptation and mitigation strategies into planning and project 
development. Plans will need to be innovative, integrate climate change 
and watershed management, and use climate change as a theme under which 
to integrate and streamline existing national and regional strategies 
for ecological restoration, fire and fuels, forest health, biomass 
utilization, and others. Plans could also include clear monitoring 
programs and incorporate evolving research in order to develop science-
based understanding around climate change impacts and adaptation and 
mitigation efforts.
    Plans will need to anticipate climate change-related uncertainty 
and be adaptive to new science and knowledge about changing conditions 
on the ground. Responsible officials will also need flexibility to be 
able to adjust plan objectives and requirements where there are 
circumstances outside of agency control: For example, where increasing 
water temperatures resulting from climate change make it impossible to 
maintain a sensitive fish species in its native habitat. Incorporating 
this concept of adaptive management into the planning rule will be 
especially important as we increase our understanding of climate change 
and how it will impact the landscape, but will also be important to 
respond to and apply new information regarding water conservation, 
insect and disease, species conservation, threats from catastrophic 
wildfire, and impacts from the loss of open space.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     How can the planning rule be proactive and innovative in 
addressing the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation?
     What kinds of data, research, and monitoring could assist 
land management planners to incorporate climate change adaptation 
considerations into plans?
     How should the planning rule address uncertainty? How do 
other public and private entities recognize and incorporate uncertainty 
in their planning efforts?
     How can a new planning rule appropriately build in the 
flexibility land managers will need to adapt to changing science, 
information or conditions? What mechanisms should be used to 
incorporate new data? Do you know of any successful adaptive management 
regimes that can inform our process?
     How should plans anticipate and address changing 
conditions or impacts outside of agency control? How can external 
factors be incorporated or recognized in plan guidance and 
requirements?

[[Page 67168]]

    3. Land management plans could emphasize maintenance and 
restoration of watershed health, and could protect and enhance 
America's water resources. Responding to the challenges of climate 
change in providing water and water-related ecosystem services is one 
of the most urgent tasks facing the Agency. The NFS alone is the source 
of fresh water for more than 60 million people from coast to coast. In 
coming decades, climate change; impacts from catastrophic fire and tree 
mortality; the increasing intensity of weather patterns; events 
including droughts and storms; increasing pollution; and increasing 
development pressures will combine to impact the quantity, 
availability, and quality of America's water resources and the health 
of its watersheds. Plans could promote the restoration and maintenance 
of watersheds to ensure abundant clean water, the protection of soils, 
and the health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     Should a new planning rule include standards to address 
watershed health? If so, what might those look like? Should the Agency 
be held accountable only for actions and problems on its NFS lands or 
take into account water availability and quality factors that are 
outside of the Agency's control?
     What planning or management guidance could the Agency 
incorporate in the rule to protect and enhance water resources?
     One way to approach planning for an NFS unit is to think 
about the future of the planning area through the context of its 
watersheds. Do you see benefits and/or drawbacks to a rule requiring 
land management planning on a watershed basis?
     Do you see benefits or drawbacks to a rule requiring 
adherence to regionally specific Best Management Practices?
    4. Plans could provide for the diversity of species and wildlife 
habitat. The NFS is a refuge for numerous species, including 425 
threatened and endangered species. The NFMA directs the Agency to 
provide ``for diversity of plant and animal communities based on the 
suitability and capability of the specific land area in order to meet 
overall multiple-use objectives * * *'' (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(B)). Over 
time, the Agency's planning rules have sought to meet this statutory 
requirement to provide for diversity in a number of ways.
    The 1982 planning rule required management prescriptions to provide 
for diversity as well as additional prescriptions to provide for the 
viability of native vertebrates and desired non-native vertebrate 
species. The 2000 planning rule required (with qualifications) 
ecological conditions that provide a ``high likelihood'' that 
conditions are capable of supporting viability of native and desired 
non-native species over time. In addition, the 2000 planning rule 
included detailed and complex analytical requirements regarding 
ecological sustainability in terms of ecosystem and species diversity 
(ecological sustainability), including identification of ``focal 
species'' and ``species at risk.'' The 2005 and 2008 planning rules 
required plans to provide a framework for contributing to ecological 
sustainability, in terms of ecosystem diversity and (where necessary) 
species diversity, in terms of ``species of interest,'' and ``species 
of concern.'' These two rules had much less detail than the 2000 rule 
with additional detail set forth in the Forest Service Directive 
System.
    The Agency faced a number of challenges in implementing the species 
viability requirements of the 1982 rule. These challenges will be 
exacerbated as climate change affects the range and viability of 
species, both flora and fauna. In anticipation of coming changes, the 
Agency must look at new ways to meet diversity requirements.
    The new rule needs to provide planning procedures that meet the 
intent of NFMA to provide for diversity in a way that achieves 
protection for species, habitats, and ecosystems while taking into 
account environmental and management factors and impacts that are 
outside of the Agency's control.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     How should the new rule provide for diversity?
     How should the planning rule guide protection of at-risk 
species of animals and plants and their habitat?
     How can the new planning rule account for variables 
outside of Agency control, including those impacts that are the result 
of climate change?
     Should species diversity provisions in planning look 
beyond the individual unit to a watershed or landscape scale, and if 
so, what is a practical and workable way to incorporate a broader 
perspective?
     How could wildlife habitat monitoring be addressed in a 
planning rule?
    5. Plans could foster sustainable NFS lands and their contribution 
to vibrant rural economies. Forests and grasslands offer enormous 
environmental benefits, including clean air, clean and abundant water, 
wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, erosion control, and other 
ecosystem services. They generate economic value by attracting tourism 
and recreation visitors; sustaining green jobs; and producing timber, 
other forest products, minerals, food, and energy, both renewable and 
non-renewable. They are also of immense social importance; they enhance 
rural quality of life, sustain scenic and culturally important 
landscapes, oftentimes define the essence of a community, and provide 
opportunities to engage in outdoor recreation and reconnection with the 
land. The Agency recognizes the interdependence of these ecological, 
economic, and social values and the need for land management planning 
to take all three into account.
    In pursuit of sustainable management in the new planning rule, the 
Agency proposes to include provisions for the protection and 
enhancement of ecosystem services, such as clean water, clean air, and 
wildlife habitat. It also proposes that plans could provide a 
sustainable set of opportunities for goods and services that will 
support vibrant rural and national economies in a way that is 
compatible with natural resource conservation and restoration goals.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     How can the planning rule reflect the interdependency of 
social, economic, and ecological systems in a way that supports 
sustainable management of national forests and grasslands?
     How can the Agency recognize and incorporate provisions in 
the planning rule for managing lands for the sustainable delivery of 
ecosystem services?
     How can plans guide units of the NFS in achieving natural 
resource conservation and restoration goals in a way that is compatible 
with providing a set of opportunities for goods and services to support 
vibrant rural and national economies?

Process Principles for a New Rule

    1. Land management planning could involve effective and pro-active 
collaboration with the public. NFS lands are the public's lands that 
the Agency manages in trust for current and future generations. The 
Agency welcomes and encourages public collaboration throughout the 
planning process, and will seek to structure a new planning rule to 
ensure that processes for developing, revising and amending plans are 
efficient, transparent, and effectively engage the public. After plans 
are approved, responsible officials will continue to work with the 
public to resolve issues, to evaluate management

[[Page 67169]]

under the plan, and to consider whether there is a need to adjust the 
plan. One challenge the Agency has faced with regard to public 
participation is that plans can at times take 8-10 years to revise, a 
timeframe that is too long to sustain a true collaborative effort and 
use the most up-to-date science and management thinking.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     How could the Agency foster collaborative efforts? What 
kinds of participation, forums for collaboration, and methods of 
providing input have you found most engaging?
     What should the rule require to ensure a planning process 
that is both efficient and transparent while allowing for full public 
collaboration and participation within a reasonable timeframe?
     What kinds of information, methods, and analyses should 
the Agency provide to the public during the planning process to aid 
understanding of the possible consequences of a proposed rule and 
alternatives?
     What kind of administrative review process should be 
offered to the public in the planning rule? Should there be a pre-
decisional objection or a post-decisional appeal process?
    2. Plans could incorporate an ``all-lands'' approach by considering 
the relationship between NFS lands and neighboring lands. The threats 
and opportunities facing our lands and natural resources do not stop at 
ownership boundaries. Healthy forests and grasslands are elements of 
integrated landscapes that need to be restored, conserved and managed 
across geographical and organizational boundaries in ways that respect 
private rights and multiple ownerships. The land management planning 
process provides direction for NFS lands only. However, the planning 
process provides an opportunity for the Agency to engage other Federal 
land management agencies; Tribes, State, and local land managers; 
private landowners; and non-governmental partners to collaborate on 
strategies to restore and sustain healthy forests and grasslands across 
landscapes. Incorporating an all-lands approach in the planning process 
is also important as land management plans anticipate the effects of 
broad challenges such as climate change which can cause impacts on a 
regional scale.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     How should the planning rule account for the relationship 
of NFS lands to surrounding landscapes?
     What other planning and assessment efforts or processes at 
the national, state or local level should the Agency look at that could 
inform an ``all-lands'' approach?
    3. Plans could be based on the latest planning science and 
principles to achieve the best decisions possible. The new planning 
rule could encourage the creation of a shared vision of the planning 
area. Developing this through a strong collaborative public process 
could create a common understanding of the goals and direction for each 
plan, and will frame management actions and projects on the ground as a 
plan is implemented. Creating a plan that reflects a clear description 
of the shared vision and the desired conditions of a planning area, a 
strategy for moving toward the vision; and design criteria, including 
standards and guidelines that would apply to project and activity 
decisions, might be one way to move toward achieving the vision.
    Specific questions we would like the public to address include:
     How can the planning rule support the creation of a shared 
vision for each planning area through the planning process?
     Local and regional differences will have an impact on 
desired conditions and on the successful creation and implementation of 
a shared vision for any given planning area. Given that different areas 
will have different needs, should the planning rule allow a choice of 
planning processes? How could the planning rule create different 
process choices, and how could they be presented in the rule? What 
kinds of provisions would need to be included to guide and evaluate a 
process choice?
     Much discussion has been centered on how land management 
plans should be viewed; are they strategic documents that lay the 
foundation for specific future actions to help meet unit goals? Or, 
should land management plans also make project or activity decisions?
     Based on your response to the question above, what is the 
range of options for fully complying with NEPA during land management 
plan development, amendment, or revision?
     Should the new planning rule require standards and 
guidelines that are required for all plans?
     How can the agency analyze and describe the environmental 
effects of a planning rule in the environmental impact statement?

Possible Alternatives

    The Agency will identify a proposed action and a no-action 
alternative as it develops an EIS. Additional alternatives have not 
been identified, but will be developed based on the comments that are 
received. The Agency will frame issues and alternatives during the 
scoping and public comment periods in the NEPA process.

Responsible Official

    The responsible official is the Under Secretary for Natural 
Resources and Environment, USDA, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., 
Washington, DC 20250.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The responsible official will issue a land management planning 
rule.

    Dated: December 14, 2009.
Harris D. Sherman,
Under Secretary, NRE.
[FR Doc. E9-30174 Filed 12-17-09; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-11-P