[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 68 (Monday, April 9, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 21161-21276]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-7502]



[[Page 21161]]

Vol. 77

Monday,

No. 68

April 9, 2012

Part II





 Department of Agriculture





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Forest Service





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36 CFR Part 219





 National Forest System Land Management Planning; Final Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 77 , No. 68 / Monday, April 9, 2012 / Rules 
and Regulations

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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

36 CFR Part 219

RIN 0596-AD02


National Forest System Land Management Planning

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Final rule and record of decision.

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SUMMARY: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is adopting a new National 
Forest System land management planning rule (planning rule). The new 
planning rule guides the development, amendment, and revision of land 
management plans for all units of the National Forest System (NFS), 
consisting of 155 national forests, 20 grasslands, and 1 prairie.
    This planning rule sets forth process and content requirements to 
guide the development, amendment, and revision of land management plans 
to maintain and restore NFS land and water ecosystems while providing 
for ecosystem services and multiple uses. The planning rule is designed 
to ensure that plans provide for the sustainability of ecosystems and 
resources; meet the need for forest restoration and conservation, 
watershed protection, and species diversity and conservation; and 
assist the Agency in providing a sustainable flow of benefits, 
services, and uses of NFS lands that provide jobs and contribute to the 
economic and social sustainability of communities.

DATES: Effective Date: This rule is effective May 9, 2012.

ADDRESSES: For more information, including a copy of the final PEIS, 
refer to the World Wide Web/Internet at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule. More information may be obtained on written request from 
the Director, Ecosystem Management Coordination Staff, Forest Service, 
USDA Mail Stop 1104, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 
20250-1104.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ecosystem Management Coordination 
staff's Assistant Director for Planning Ric Rine at (202) 205-1022 or 
Planning Specialist Regis Terney at (202) 205-0895.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Decision

    This document records the decision that the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture (USDA) reached in determining the alternative that best 
meets the purpose and need for a new planning rule. The USDA based this 
decision on the analyses presented in the Final Programmatic 
Environmental Impact Statement, National Forest System Land Management 
Planning (USDA, Forest Service, 2011) (PEIS). The PEIS was prepared in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).
    For the reasons set out in the discussion that follows, the 
Department hereby promulgates a regulation establishing a National 
Forest System land management planning rule as described in Modified 
Alternative A of the National Forest System Land Management Planning 
Rule Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (USDA Forest 
Service, 2011) with clarifications, and the supporting record. The 
planning rule describes the process the Forest Service will use for 
development, amendment, and revision of national forest and grassland 
plans. It also sets out requirements for the structure of those plans 
and includes requirements for their content.
    This planning rule replaces the final 2000 land management planning 
rule (2000 rule) as reinstated in the Code of Federal Regulations on 
December 18, 2009 (74 FR 67062).

Outline

    The following outline shows the contents of the preamble which 
states the basis and purpose of the rule, includes responses to 
comments received on the proposed rule, and serves as the record of 
decision for this rulemaking.

Introduction and Background
Purpose and Need for the New Rule
Public Involvement
Summary of Alternatives Considered by the Agency
The Environmentally Preferred Alternative
Decision and Rationale
Compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as Amended
Response to Comments
Regulatory Certifications
     Regulatory Planning and Review
     Agency Cost Impacts
     Efficiency and Cost-Effectiveness Impacts
     Distributional Impacts
     Proper Consideration of Small Entities
     Energy Effects
     Environmental Impacts
     Controlling Paperwork Burdens on the Public
     Federalism
     Consultation with Indian Tribal Governments
     Takings of Private Property
     Civil Justice Reform
     Unfunded Mandates
     Environmental Justice

Introduction and Background

    The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, 
diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to 
meet the needs of present and future generations. Responsible officials 
for each national forest, grassland, and prairie will follow the 
direction of the planning rule to develop, amend, or revise their land 
management plans.
    The new planning rule provides a process for planning that is 
adaptive and science-based, engages the public, and is designed to be 
efficient, effective, and within the Agency's ability to implement. It 
meets the requirements under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), 
the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (MUSYA), and the Endangered 
Species Act, as well as all other legal requirements. It was also 
developed to ensure that plans are consistent with and complement 
existing, related Agency policies that guide management of resources on 
the National Forest System (NFS), such as the Climate Change Scorecard, 
the Watershed Condition Framework, and the Sustainable Recreation 
Framework.
    The planning rule framework includes three phases: Assessment, plan 
development/amendment/revision, and monitoring. The framework supports 
an integrated approach to the management of resources and uses, 
incorporates the landscape-scale context for management, and will help 
the Agency to adapt to changing conditions and improve management based 
on new information and monitoring. It is intended to provide the 
flexibility to respond to the various social, economic, and ecologic 
needs across a very diverse system, while including a consistent set of 
process and content requirements for NFS land management plans. The 
Department anticipates that the Agency will use the framework to keep 
plans current and respond to changing conditions and new information 
over time.
    The planning rule requires the use of best available scientific 
information to inform planning and plan decisions. It also emphasizes 
providing meaningful opportunities for public participation early and 
throughout the planning process, increases the transparency of 
decision-making, and provides a platform for the Agency to work with 
the public and across boundaries with other land managers to identify 
and share information and inform planning.
    The final planning rule reflects key themes expressed by members of 
the public, as well as experience gained through the Agency's 30-year 
history

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with land management planning. It is intended to create a more 
efficient and effective planning process and provide an adaptive 
framework for planning.
    This final planning rule requires that land management plans 
provide for ecological sustainability and contribute to social and 
economic sustainability, using public input and the best available 
scientific information to inform plan decisions. The rule contains a 
strong emphasis on protecting and enhancing water resources, restoring 
land and water ecosystems, and providing ecological conditions to 
support the diversity of plant and animal communities, while providing 
for ecosystem services and multiple uses.
    The 1982 planning rule procedures have guided the development, 
amendment, and revision of all existing Forest Service land management 
plans. However, since 1982 much has changed in our understanding of 
land management planning. The body of science that informs land 
management planning in areas such as conservation biology and ecology 
has advanced considerably, along with our understanding of the values 
and benefits of NFS lands, and the challenges and stressors that may 
impact them.
    Because planning under the procedures of the 1982 rule is often 
time consuming and cumbersome, it has been a challenge for responsible 
officials to keep plans current. Instead of amending plans as 
conditions on the ground change, responsible officials often wait and 
make changes all at once during the required revision process. The 
result can be a drawn-out, difficult, and costly revision process. Much 
of the planning under the 1982 rule procedures focused on writing plans 
that would mitigate negative environmental impacts. The protective 
measures in the 1982 rule were important, but the focus of land 
management has changed since then and the Agency needs plans that do 
more than mitigate harm. The Agency needs a planning process that leads 
to plans that contribute to ecological, social, and economic 
sustainability to protect resources on the unit and maintain the flow 
of goods and services from NFS lands on the unit over time.
    The NFMA requires the Agency to develop a planning rule ``under the 
principles of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, that set[s] 
out the process for the development and revision of the land management 
plans, and the guidelines and standards'' (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)). The 
Forest Service fulfills this requirement by codifying a planning rule 
at Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, part 219 (36 CFR part 219), 
which sets requirements for land management planning and content of 
plans.
    In 1979, the Department issued the first 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 Forest 
Service 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 complex, costly, lengthy, and cumbersome for 
the public to provide input. The recommendations in the Critique and 
the Agency's own experiences with planning led to the Agency issuing an 
advance notice of proposed rulemaking for a new planning rule in 1991 
and proposing a new, revised rule initially in 1995 and again in 1999.
    The Department worked with a committee of scientists to develop a 
final rule, which was issued in 2000. The 2000 revision of the planning 
rule described a new agenda for NFS planning; made sustainability the 
foundation for NFS planning and management; required the consideration 
of the best available scientific information during the planning and 
implementation process; and set forth requirements for implementation, 
monitoring, evaluation, amendment, and revision of land management 
plans. However, a review 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; however, the U.S. District Court for 
Northern District of California invalidated each of those rules on 
procedural grounds (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)).
    This final rule replaces the 2000 rule. Because the 2000 rule was 
the last promulgated planning rule to take effect and not be set aside 
by a court, the 2000 rule is the rule currently in effect. While the 
2000 planning rule replaced the 1982 rule in the Code of Federal 
Regulations, the transition section of the 2000 rule allowed units to 
use the 1982 planning rule procedures for plan amendments and revisions 
until a new planning rule was issued. After the 2008 rule was 
invalidated, on December 18, 2009, the Department reinstated the 2000 
rule in the Code of Federal Regulations and made technical amendments 
to update transition provisions as an interim measure to be in effect 
until a new planning rule was issued (74 FR 67062).
    The instability created by these past planning rule efforts has 
caused delays in planning and confused the public. At the same time, 
the vastly different context for management and improved understanding 
of science and sustainability that have evolved over the past three 
decades have created a need for an updated planning rule that will help 
the Agency respond to new challenges in meeting management objectives 
for NFS lands.
    This final rule is intended to ensure that plans respond to the 
requirements of land management that the Agency faces today, including 
the need to provide sustainable benefits, services, and uses, including 
recreation; the need for forest restoration and conservation, watershed 
protection, and wildlife conservation; and the need for sound resource 
management under changing conditions. The new rule sets forth a process 
that is adaptive, science-based, collaborative, and within the Agency's 
capability to carry out on all NFS units. Finally, the new rule is 
designed to make planning more efficient and effective.

Purpose and Need for the New Rule

    The NFMA requires regulations consistent with 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)). The 
Forest Service's experience, evolving scientific understanding of 
approaches to land management, changing social demands, and new 
challenges such as changing climate have made clear the need for a 
revised rule to more effectively fulfill NFMA's mandate.
    On August 14, 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined his 
vision for the future of our nation's forests, setting forth a 
direction for conservation, management, and restoration of NFS lands. 
Secretary Vilsack stated that: ``It is time for a change in the way we 
view and manage America's forestlands with an eye towards the future. 
This will require a new approach that engages the American people and 
stakeholders in conserving and restoring both our National Forests and 
our privately-owned forests.'' The Secretary emphasized that the Forest 
Service planning process provides an important means for integrating 
forest restoration,

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climate resilience, watershed protection, wildlife conservation, 
opportunities to contribute to vibrant local economies, and the 
collaboration necessary to manage our national forests. ``Our best 
opportunity to accomplish this is in the developing of a new forest 
planning rule for our national forests.''
    The NFS currently consists of 127 land management plans, 68 of 
which are past due for revision. Most plans were developed between 1983 
and 1993 and should have been revised between 1998 and 2008, based on 
NFMA direction to revise plans at least once every 15 years. The 
efforts to produce a new planning rule over the past decade have 
contributed to the delay in plan revisions. With clarity and stability 
in planning regulations, land management planning can regain momentum 
and units will be able to complete revisions more efficiently.
    As explained in the Introduction and Background section of this 
document, the present planning rule is the 2000 planning rule. Under 
the transition provisions of that rule, the Agency can choose to use 
either the procedures of the 2000 rule or the planning procedures of 
the 1982 rule to develop, amend, or revise land management plans. Based 
on the concerns about implementing the 2000 rule procedures, the Forest 
Service has been relying upon the 2000 rule's transition provision to 
develop, amend, and revise land management plans under the 1982 
procedures until a new planning rule is in place.
    The Forest Service and the Department conclude that the procedures 
of neither the 2000 rule nor the 1982 rule meet the needs of the Agency 
today or fulfill the Secretary's vision. Moreover, the Department and 
the Forest Service have determined that the 2000 rule is beyond the 
Agency's capability to implement. Even though the Agency has had the 
option to use the procedures in the 2000 rule, no line officer has 
chosen to use the 2000 rule to revise or amend a land management plan 
because the 2000 rule is too costly, complex, and procedurally 
burdensome. At the same time, the 1982 rule procedures are not current 
with regard to science, knowledge of the environment, practices for 
planning and adaptive management, or social values, and are also too 
complex, costly, lengthy, and cumbersome.
    The purpose of, and the need for, a new planning rule is to provide 
the direction for National Forests and Grasslands to develop, amend, 
and revise land management plans that will enable land managers to 
consistently and efficiently respond to social, economic, and 
ecological conditions.
    The Secretary of Agriculture is vested with broad authority to make 
rules ``to regulate occupancy and use and to preserve [the forests] 
from destruction'' (16 U.S.C. 551). The MUSYA authorizes and directs 
that the national forests be managed under the principles of multiple 
use and to produce sustained yield of products and services. NFMA 
directs the Secretary to promulgate regulations for the development and 
revision of land management plans and prescribes a number of provisions 
that the regulations shall include, but not be limited to (16 U.S.C. 
1600(g)). Based on the principles of the MUSYA, the requirements of 
NFMA, the Secretary's direction and nearly three decades of land 
management planning experience, the Department and the Forest Service 
find that a planning rule must address the following eight purposes and 
needs:
    1. Emphasize restoration of natural resources to make our NFS lands 
more resilient to climate change, protect water resources, and improve 
forest health.
    2. Contribute to ecological, social, and economic sustainability by 
ensuring that all plans will be responsive and can adapt to issues such 
as the challenges of climate change; the need for forest restoration 
and conservation, watershed protection, and species conservation; and 
the sustainable use of public lands to support vibrant communities.
    3. Be consistent with NFMA and MUSYA.
    4. Be consistent with Federal policy on the use of scientific 
information and the Agency's expertise and experience gained in over 
thirty years of land management planning.
    5. Provide for a transparent, collaborative process that allows 
effective public participation.
    6. Ensure planning takes place in the context of the larger 
landscape by taking an ``all-lands approach.''
    7. Be within the Agency's capability to implement on all NFS units; 
be clear; provide an efficient framework for planning; and be able to 
be implemented within the financial capacity of the Agency.
    8. Be effective by requiring a consistent approach to ensure that 
all plans address the issues outlined by the Secretary and yet allow 
for land management plans to be developed and implemented to address 
social, economic, and ecological needs across the diverse and highly 
variable systems of the National Forest System.

Public Involvement

Public Involvement in the Development of the Proposed Rule and Draft 
Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)

    The Department and the Agency engaged in an extensive public 
outreach and participation process unprecedented for the development of 
a planning rule. A Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a new planning 
rule and an accompanying draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) 
was published in the Federal Register on December 18, 2009 (74 FR 
67165). The NOI solicited public comments on the proposal until 
February 16, 2010. The notice presented a series of substantive and 
procedural principles to guide development of a new planning rule. 
Under each principle, the notice posed several questions to stimulate 
thoughts and encourage responses. The Forest Service received over 
26,000 comments in response to the notice.
    The Agency held a science forum on March 29 and 30, 2010, in 
Washington, DC to ground development of a new planning rule in science 
and to foster a collaborative dialogue with the scientific community. 
Panels made up of 21 scientists drawn from academia, research 
organizations, non-government organizations, industry, and the Federal 
Government presented the latest science on topics relevant to the 
development of a new rule for developing land management plans. The 
format was designed to encourage scientists and practitioners to share 
the current state of knowledge in key areas and to encourage open 
dialogue with interested stakeholders.
    The Forest Service convened a series of four national roundtables 
held in Washington, DC during the course of developing the proposed 
planning rule. The intent was to have a national-level dialogue around 
the concepts for development of the Forest Service proposed planning 
rule, to get public input prior to developing the proposed rule. The 
Forest Service also held 33 regional roundtables during April and May 
2010 in the following States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, 
Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South 
Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.
    Additionally, the Forest Service Webcast many of the national and 
regional roundtables, posted materials and summaries of the roundtables 
online, and hosted a blog to further encourage participation. In all, 
more than 3,000 members of the public participated in these 
opportunities to provide their input.

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Public Involvement in the Development of the Final Rule and Final 
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)

    The Department and the Agency used the input provided by the public 
in response to the NOI and during the roundtables to inform the 
development of the proposed rule and DEIS. The proposed planning rule 
and draft programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) were 
published for comment on February 14, 2011 (76 FR 8480). The comment 
period ran for 90 days through May 16, 2011. The Department received 
nearly 300,000 comments during the comment period.
    Early in the comment period, the Agency held a series of public 
meetings that provided opportunities for interested persons to ask 
questions about the proposed rule. The intent of the meetings was to 
explain the proposed rule and provide information to the public as they 
developed their comments on the proposed rule. Between March 10, 2011, 
and April 7, 2001, the Agency held 1 national and 28 regional forums, 
which reached 72 satellite locations across the country. The national 
meeting was held in Washington, DC. Regional and satellite meetings 
were held in the following States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, 
California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, 
Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, 
New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, 
Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, 
Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin 
and Wyoming.

Tribal Involvement

    To ensure Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations were heard in a way 
that gave recognition to their special and unique relationship with the 
Federal Government, the Agency provided opportunities for participation 
and consultation throughout the process.
    To get input early in the process, the Agency hosted two national 
Tribal roundtables conducted via conference call in May and August, 
2010. Additionally, six Tribal roundtables were held in California, 
Arizona, and New Mexico. Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations also 
participated in many of the national and regional roundtables prior to 
development of the proposed rule.
    On September 23, 2010, the Deputy Chief for the National Forest 
System sent a letter inviting 564 federally recognized Tribes and 29 
Alaska Native Corporations to begin government-to-government 
consultation on the proposed planning rule. The Agency held 16 
consultation meetings across the country with designated Tribal 
officials in November and December, 2010, prior to the publication of 
the proposed rule in February, 2011. Tribal consultation continued 
following the release of the proposed rule, with additional 
opportunities for Tribal consultation provided in 2011.
    During the public comment period on the proposed rule the Forest 
Service held a Tribal teleconference to discuss with Tribes how their 
previous comments were addressed in the proposed rule. Sixteen Tribes 
participated in the discussion and had the opportunity to have their 
questions answered by members of the rule writing team, the Ecosystem 
Management Coordination Director, and the Associate Chief of the Forest 
Service. Additionally consultation with Tribes continued at the local 
level.
    Summaries of public involvement may be viewed at http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

Issues Identified in the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement 
(PEIS)

    Based on public comments, an interdisciplinary team identified a 
list of issues to analyze:
     Ecosystem Restoration.
     Watershed Protection.
     Diversity of Plant and Animal Communities.
     Climate Change.
     Multiple Uses.
     Efficiency and Effectiveness.
     Transparency and Collaboration.
     Coordination and Cooperation beyond NFS Boundaries.
    The PEIS analyzes six fully developed alternatives (A, Modified A, 
and B through E), and considered nine additional alternatives that were 
eliminated from detailed study (40 CFR 1502.14(a)). The six fully 
developed alternatives, with the exception of Alternative B (No 
Action), meet all aspects of the purpose and need to varying degrees 
and are described below. The additional alternatives (Alternatives F 
through N) were considered but eliminated from detailed study because 
they did not meet some of the aspects of the purpose and need. Chapter 
2 of the PEIS provides a more complete discussion of the disposition of 
these alternatives.

Summary of Alternatives Considered by the Agency

    The following summaries describe each alternative. A comparison of 
the alternatives is available in Chapter 2 of the PEIS.

Alternative A (Proposed Action and Proposed Planning Rule)

    Alternative A uses an adaptive framework. The framework consists of 
a three-part learning and planning framework to assess conditions and 
stressors; develop, amend, or revise land management plans based on the 
need for change; and monitor to test assumptions, detect changes, and 
evaluate whether progress is being made toward desired outcomes.
    Alternative A would make the supervisor of the national forest, 
grassland, prairie, or other comparable administrative unit the 
responsible official for approving new plans, plan amendments, and plan 
revisions.
    This alternative would require the responsible official to take 
science into account in the planning process and would require 
documentation as to how science was considered.
    This alternative would require the responsible official to provide 
opportunities for public participation throughout all stages of the 
planning process, and includes requirements for outreach, Tribal 
consultation, and coordination with other planning efforts. This 
alternative would require responsible officials to provide formal 
public notification at various points in the process and to post all 
notifications online. This alternative requires the responsible 
official to encourage participation by youth, low-income, and minority 
populations. Alternative A would explicitly require the responsible 
official to provide the opportunity to undertake consultation with 
federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations and 
require the responsible official to encourage participation by 
interested or affected federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska 
Native Corporations. As part of Tribal participation and consultation, 
the responsible official would invite Tribes to share native knowledge 
during the planning process. Alternative A would require that the 
responsible official coordinate planning with the equivalent and 
related planning efforts of other Federal agencies, State and local 
governments, and Indian Tribes.
    Alternative A would require assessments to identify and evaluate 
information needed to understand and assess existing and potential 
future conditions on NFS lands in the context of the broader landscape. 
These assessments would include a review of relevant information from 
other governmental or non-governmental assessments, plans, reports, and 
studies.

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    Alternative A would require plans to include five plan components--
desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, and suitability 
of areas for resource management. Plans could also include goals as 
option plan components. Alternative A includes direction for other 
content required in the plan, including the monitoring program.
    Alternative A would require plan components to provide for the 
maintenance or restoration of the structure, function, composition, and 
connectivity of healthy and resilient aquatic ecosystems and watersheds 
in the plan area. In addition, Alternative A would include plan 
components to guide the unit's contribution to social and economic 
sustainability.
    Under Alternative A, plan components for ecological sustainability 
would be required to take into account air quality, landscape-scale 
integration of ecosystems, system drivers and stressors including 
climate change, and opportunities to restore fire adapted ecosystems. 
Plan components would also be designed to maintain, protect and restore 
various ecosystem elements including soil, water, and riparian areas.
    Alternative A would require plan components for the conservation of 
all native aquatic and terrestrial species with the aim of providing 
the ecological conditions to contribute to the recovery of federally 
listed threatened and endangered species, conserve candidate species, 
and maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern. 
Alternative A would also require monitoring of select ecological and 
watershed conditions and focal species to assess progress towards 
meeting diversity and ecological sustainability requirements.
    Alternative A would require that plans provide for multiple uses 
and ecosystem services, considering a full range of resources, uses, 
and benefits relevant to the unit, as well as stressors, and other 
important factors.
    Alternative A would require plan components for sustainable 
recreation, considering opportunities and access for a range of uses. 
Recreational opportunities could include non-motorized, motorized, 
developed, and dispersed recreation on land, water, and air. In 
addition, plans should identify recreational settings and desired 
conditions for scenic landscape character.
    Alternative A includes requirements for plan components for timber, 
consistent with the requirements of NFMA.
    Alternative A provides an efficient process for amendments, 
required for any substantive change to plan components, and for 
administrative changes to make corrections or changes to parts of the 
plan other than the plan components.
    Alternative A requires plan-level and broader-scale monitoring, to 
inform adaptive management.
    Alternative A would require an environmental impact statement for 
new plans and plan revisions. Plan amendments would require either an 
environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment, or could 
be categorically excluded from documentation, based on the significance 
of effects pursuant to Agency NEPA procedures.
    Alternative A would require that the decision document for the plan 
include the rationale for approval, an explanation of how the plan 
components meet the requirements for sustainability and diversity, best 
available scientific information documentation, and direction for 
project application.
    Alternative A requires that projects and activities must be 
consistent with the plan components, and provides direction for 
determining consistency. It also requires that other resource plans 
that apply to the plan area be consistent with the plan components.
    The responsible official initiating a plan revision or development 
of a new plan before Alternative A went into effect would have the 
option to complete the plan revision or development of the new plan 
under the prior rule or conform to the requirements of the final rule 
after providing notice to the public. All plan revisions or new plans 
initiated after the effective date of the final rule would have to 
conform to the new planning requirements.
    Alternative A includes a severability provision, stating if parts 
of Alternative A are separately found invalid in litigation, individual 
provisions of the rule could be severed and the other parts of the rule 
could continue to be implemented.
    Alternative A provides a pre-decisional administrative review 
(objection) process for proposed plans, plan amendments, and plan 
revisions. The objection process is based on the objection regulations 
for certain proposed hazardous fuel reduction projects, found at 36 CFR 
part 218, and is intended to foster continued collaboration in the 
administrative review process.
    The complete text of Alternative A is provided in Appendix A of the 
PEIS.
    Reason for non-selection: Alternative A meets the purpose and need 
and responds to the significant issues displayed in the PEIS in a 
manner very similar to Modified Alternative A. The Department received 
a large number of public comments on Alternative A including 
suggestions about how to change Alternative A, improve clarity, and 
better align the text of the alternative with the Department's intent 
as described in the preamble for the proposed rule. The Department 
developed Modified Alternative A after considering public comments. 
Modified Alternative A is described below. Alternative A was not 
selected because the Agency developed Modified Alternative A in 
response to public comment. For this reason, Alternative A was not 
selected as the final rule.

Modified Alternative A (Final Rule)

    Modified Alternative A, with clarifications, was selected as the 
final rule, (see the Decision and Rationale section of this document).
    Modified Alternative A includes the same concepts and underlying 
principles as Alternative A, and retains much of the same content. 
However, a number of changes to the rule text and organization have 
been made, based on public comment on the proposed rule (Alternative A) 
and the DEIS. The Forest Service considered the available option of 
replacing the text of Alternative A with the text of Modified 
Alternative A in the PEIS. However, because Modified Alternative A 
looks different than Alternative A, the Agency included it as a new 
alternative for transparency and for the ease of the reviewer in 
comparing the proposed rule with the final preferred alternative.
    Modified Alternative A uses an adaptive framework for planning. The 
framework consists of a three-part learning and planning framework to 
assess information relevant to the plan area, develop, amend, or revise 
land management plans based on the need for change, and monitor to test 
assumptions, detect changes, and evaluate whether progress is being 
made toward desired outcomes.
    Modified Alternative A would make the supervisor of the national 
forest, grassland, prairie, or other comparable administrative unit the 
responsible official for approving new plans, plan amendments, and plan 
revisions. The Chief would be required to establish a national 
oversight process for consistency and accountability.
    Modified Alternative A would require the responsible official to 
use the best available scientific information to inform the planning 
process, plan components, and other plan content including the 
monitoring program, and

[[Page 21167]]

includes requirements for documentation of how the best available 
scientific information was used to inform the plan decision.
    Modified Alternative A would require the responsible official to 
provide opportunities for public participation throughout all stages of 
the planning process, and includes requirements for outreach, Tribal 
consultation, and coordination with other planning efforts. Modified 
Alternative A requires the responsible official to encourage 
participation by youth, low-income, and minority populations. Modified 
Alternative A would explicitly require the responsible official to 
provide the opportunity to undertake consultation with federally 
recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations and require the 
responsible official to encourage participation by interested or 
affected federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native 
Corporations. As part of Tribal participation and consultation, the 
responsible official would invite Tribes to share native knowledge 
during the planning process. Modified Alternative A would require that 
the responsible official coordinate planning with the equivalent and 
related planning efforts of other Federal agencies, State and local 
governments, and Indian Tribes.
    Modified Alternative A would require assessments to rapidly 
identify and evaluate existing information relevant to the plan area to 
understand and assess existing and potential future conditions on NFS 
lands in the context of the broader landscape, focused on a set of 
topics that relate to the requirements for plan components and other 
plan content. These assessments would include a review of relevant 
information from other governmental or non-governmental assessments, 
plans, reports, and studies.
    Modified Alternative A would require plans to include five plan 
components--desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, and 
suitability of areas for resource management. Plans could also include 
goals as option plan components. Modified Alternative A includes 
direction for other content required in the plan, including the 
monitoring program.
    Modified Alternative A would require plan components to provide for 
the maintenance or restoration of the ecological integrity of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area. In 
addition, Modified Alternative A would include plan components to guide 
the unit's contribution to social and economic sustainability.
    Under Modified Alternative A, plan components for ecological 
integrity would be required to take into account the interdependence of 
ecosystems, impacts from and to the broader landscape, system drivers 
and stressors including climate change, and opportunities to restore 
fire adapted ecosystems and for landscape scale restoration. Plan 
components would be also be required to maintain or restore air, soil 
and water resources, and to maintain or restore the ecological 
integrity of riparian areas.
    Modified Alternative A would require that plans use a complementary 
ecosystem and species-specific approach to provide for the diversity of 
plant and animal communities and maintain the persistence of native 
species in the plan area. Ecosystem plan components would be required 
for ecosystem integrity and diversity, along with additional, species-
specific plan components where necessary to provide the ecological 
conditions to contribute to the recovery of federally listed threatened 
and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate species, and 
maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern. 
Modified Alternative A would also require monitoring of select 
ecological and watershed conditions and focal species to assess 
progress towards meeting diversity and ecological sustainability 
requirements.
    Modified Alternative A would require that plans provide for 
ecosystem services and multiple uses, considering a full range of 
resources, uses, and benefits relevant to the unit, as well as 
stressors and other important factors.
    Modified Alternative A would require plan components for 
sustainable recreation, including recreation settings, opportunities, 
access; and scenic character. Recreational opportunities could include 
non-motorized, motorized, developed, and dispersed recreation on land, 
water, and air.
    Modified Alternative A includes requirements for plan components 
for timber management, consistent with the requirements of NFMA.
    Modified Alternative A provides an efficient process for 
amendments, required for any substantive change to plan components, and 
for administrative changes to make corrections or changes to parts of 
the plan other than the plan components.
    Modified Alternative A requires plan-level and broader-scale 
monitoring to inform adaptive management.
    Modified Alternative A would require an environmental impact 
statement for new plans and plan revisions. Plan amendments would 
require either an environmental impact statement or an environmental 
assessment, or could be categorically excluded from documentation, 
based on the significance of effects pursuant to Agency NEPA 
procedures.
    Modified Alternative A would require that the decision document for 
the plan include the rationale for approval; an explanation of how the 
plan components meet the requirements for sustainability, diversity, 
multiple use and timber; best available scientific information 
documentation; and direction for project application.
    Modified Alternative A requires that projects and activities must 
be consistent with the plan components, and provides direction for 
determining consistency. It also requires that other resource plans 
that apply to the plan area be consistent with the plan components.
    Modified Alternative A would require responsible officials to 
provide formal public notification at various points in the process and 
to post all notifications online.
    The responsible official initiating a plan revision or development 
of a new plan before Modified Alternative A went into effect would have 
the option to complete the plan revision or development of the new plan 
under the prior rule or conform to the requirements of the final rule 
after providing notice to the public. All plan revisions or new plans 
initiated after the effective date of the final rule would have to 
conform to the new planning requirements.
    Modified Alternative A includes a severability provision, stating 
if parts of Alternative A are separately found invalid in litigation, 
individual provisions of the rule could be severed and the other parts 
of the rule could continue to be implemented.
    Modified Alternative A provides a pre-decisional administrative 
review (objection) process for proposed plans, plan amendments, and 
plan revisions. The objection process is based on the objection 
regulations for certain proposed hazardous fuel reduction projects, 
found at 36 CFR part 218, and is intended to foster continued 
collaboration in the administrative review process.
    As is clear from this summary, Modified Alternative A includes the 
same concepts and underlying principles as Alternative A, and retains 
much of the same content. However, a number of changes to the rule text 
and organization were made based on public comment on the proposed rule 
(Alternative A) and the DEIS.

[[Page 21168]]

    Many people commented that the proposed rule lacked clarity and was 
ambiguous in places. Others felt that the intent stated in the preamble 
of the proposed rule was at times not reflected in the actual text of 
the proposed rule itself. They were concerned that this ambiguity would 
lead to inconsistent implementation of the rule and that the intent as 
expressed in the preamble would not be realized. Modified Alternative A 
rewords the text in a number of places to improve clarity and better 
reflect the Department's intent as stated in the preamble to the 
proposed rule.
    There are also a number of changes to the process and content 
requirements of Alternative A, to address certain concerns raised by 
the public, reduce process, and make other modifications in response to 
public comments. A complete description of these changes is provided in 
the Response to Comments section of this document.
    A detailed analysis was conducted to determine if there were any 
difference in programmatic effects between Alternative A and Modified 
Alternative A. Because Modified Alternative A was developed to reflect 
the intent of Alternative A, there were very few differences in 
programmatic effects between the two alternatives. The few differences 
in programmatic effects between Alternative A and Modified Alternative 
A were to plan content and the planning process (requirements for 
assessments, documentation, notification, plan components) or to the 
costs of implementation. Any differences in effects to resources cannot 
be determined at this programmatic level. However, the Department 
concludes the added clarity in Modified Alternative A will lead to more 
consistent implementation of the rule.
    The full text of Modified Alternative A can be found in Appendix I 
of the PEIS and is set out as the final rule below. A detailed 
description of changes to Alternative A that led to Modified 
Alternative A can be found in the Response to Comments section of this 
document and in Appendix O of the PEIS. An analysis of the effects of 
Modified Alternative A has been included in Chapter 3 of the PEIS.

Alternative B (No Action)

    The ``No Action'' alternative, as stated by the Council on 
Environmental Quality, ``may be thought of in terms of continuing with 
the present course of action until that action is changed'' (Council on 
Environmental Quality, Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ's 
National Environmental Policy Act Regulations, 46 FR 18026, 18027 
(March 23, 1981)). The ``No Action'' alternative is the 2000 planning 
rule, which, since the 2008 rule was set aside by court order, is the 
current rule (see 74 FR 67059 (December 18, 2009)). If the Department 
chooses to take no action, the 2000 rule would remain in effect. 
However, the ``present course of action'' under the 2000 rule is not to 
use the 2000 rule in its entirety but to use its transition provisions 
at 36 CFR 219.35, which allow use of the 1982 rule procedures to 
develop, amend, and revise land management plans until a new planning 
rule is in place. Since identifying a set of issues with the 2000 rule 
provisions, as explained in the PEIS at Chapter 1 and in the discussion 
section of Alternative F, the Forest Service has been relying upon the 
2000 rule's transition wording at Sec.  219.35 to use the 1982 rule 
procedures to develop, amend, and revise land management plans.
    The 1982 rule, as amended, is in Appendix B of the PEIS. However, 
only the provisions of that rule applicable to the development, 
amendment, and revision of land management plans are available for use 
pursuant to 36 CFR 219.35 of the current (2000) rule. The 1982 rule 
procedures require integration of natural resource planning for 
national forests and grasslands, by including requirements for 
integrated management of timber, range, fish and wildlife, water, 
wilderness, and recreation resources, with resource protection 
activities such as fire management, and the use of other resources such 
as minerals.
    An appeal process has been used throughout the life of the 1982 
planning rule. Under Sec.  219.35 of the current (2000) rule, 
responsible officials have the option of using either a post-decisional 
appeal process or a pre-decisional objection process for challenging 
plan approval decisions.
    The 1982 rule procedures require regional foresters to be the 
responsible official for approval of new plans and plan revisions.
    Alternative B would continue to require an environmental impact 
statement for new plans and plan revisions. Documentation for plan 
amendments would continue to be determined by the significance of 
effects pursuant to Agency NEPA procedures and could, therefore, range 
from categorical exclusions to environmental impact statements.
    Rule text for this alternative is provided in Appendices B, C, and 
D of the PEIS, which contain planning provisions, transition 
provisions, and administrative review provisions respectively.
    Reason for non-selection: Alternative B is the no action 
alternative. The 1982 rule procedures are not current with regard to 
science, knowledge of the environment, practices for planning and 
adaptive management, or social values, and are unduly complex, costly, 
lengthy, and cumbersome. For those reasons, the Agency has actively 
been trying to promulgate a new planning rule to replace the 1982 
planning procedures for over a decade (see Introduction and Background 
section above).
    Many plans recently revised under the 1982 planning procedures 
reflect elements of the purpose and need such as emphasizing 
restoration, addressing climate change, using a coarse-filter/fine-
filter approach for maintaining species diversity, and using a 
collaborative approach to planning. However, the 1982 planning 
procedures do not require consideration of these and other important 
elements in planning that reflect current science, Agency expertise, 
and best practices in planning. This has resulted in inconsistent 
incorporation of the elements of the purpose and need in plans.
    Alternative B reflects an approach to land management planning that 
focused on producing outputs (for example, board feet of timber, 
recreation visitor days, and animal months of grazing) and mitigating 
the effects of management activities on other resources. The Agency 
recognizes and supports the importance, value, and legal responsibility 
of providing for multiple use purposes. Timber, grazing, recreation, 
and other multiple uses supported on NFS lands provide jobs and income 
to local communities, and products used by all Americans. However, land 
management planning today focuses on managing toward desired 
conditions, or outcomes, rather than focusing simply on outputs.
    Outcome-based planning shifts the focus from how to get something 
done to why it is done. In contemporary planning, outputs are services 
that are generated as projects and activities are carried out that lead 
to desired outcomes on the ground. Outcome based planning is well 
supported by the Agency's experience in land management planning. This 
approach to planning is also well supported by other land and urban 
planning agencies at all scales--from urban planning for small cities 
to international level planning efforts. It is also extensively used in 
the fields of education, health care, economics, and others. Outcome 
based planning can and does occur under

[[Page 21169]]

Alternative B. However, this approach is not required under this 
alternative.
    Alternative B does not meet several elements of the purpose and 
need. Alternative B does not:
     Emphasize restoration of natural resources to make our NFS 
lands more resilient to climate change, protect water resources, and 
improve forest health.
     Ensure all plans will be responsive to issues such as the 
challenges of climate change; the need for forest restoration and 
conservation, and watershed protection.
     Be consistent with Federal policy on the use of scientific 
information and the Agency's expertise and experience gained in more 
than 30 years of land management planning.
     Ensure planning takes place in the context of the larger 
landscape by taking an ``all-lands approach.''
    Alternative B has also proven costly to implement. The 1982 
planning procedures require complex analysis processes, such as 
benchmark analysis, resulting in plan revisions that have, on average, 
taken 5 to 7 years to complete. In 1989, the Forest Service, with the 
assistance of the Conservation Foundation, conducted a comprehensive 
review of the planning process and published the results in a summary 
report, ``Synthesis of the Critique of Land Management Planning'' 
(http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5127602.pdf). 
The Critique found that the planning process of the 1982 rule was very 
complex, had significant costs, took too long, and was too cumbersome.
    Finally, Alternative B includes planning procedures that do not 
reflect current science or result in unrealistic or unattainable 
expectations because of circumstances outside of the Agency's control, 
particularly for maintaining the diversity of plant and animal species. 
The 1982 rule at 36 CFR 219.19 requires that fish and wildlife habitat 
shall be managed to maintain viable populations of existing native and 
desired non-native vertebrate species in the planning area. For 
planning purposes, a viable population shall be regarded as one which 
has the estimated numbers and distribution of reproductive individuals 
to insure its continued existence is well distributed in the planning 
area. In order to insure that viable populations will be maintained, 
habitat must be provided to support, at least, a minimum number of 
reproductive individuals and that habitat must be well distributed so 
that those individuals can interact with others in the planning area. 
These requirements do not recognize that there are limitations on the 
Agency's authority and the inherent capability of the land. In 
addition, these requirements do not reflect the most current science. 
For example:
    (1) At times, circumstances that are not within the authority of 
the Agency limit the Agency's ability to manage fish and wildlife 
habitat to insure the maintenance of a viable population of a species 
within the plan area, such as:
     Forest clearing in South America--South American forests 
provide important wintering areas for many Neotropical birds that nest 
in North America. The clearing of these forests for agricultural 
purposes poses a serious threat to the long-term viability of the 
Cerulean warbler and the ability of national forests in the southern 
Appalachian Mountains to maintain populations of this species.
     Hydropower facilities in the Pacific Northwest and off-
shore fishing harvest practices--These facilities and practices are 
primary downstream threats to Chinook salmon populations whose spawning 
beds may occur on stream reaches within national forests in the 
Intermountain West, thus affecting the ability of national forests 
within this salmon's range to maintain viable populations of this 
species on their respective units.
     Land use patterns on private lands within and adjacent to 
NFS units, such as the continuing agricultural uses and urbanization 
that is occurring east of the Rocky Mountains--habitat fragmentation as 
a result of these changes reduces available habitat and further 
isolates existing swift fox populations. This affects the ability of 
national grasslands in eastern Colorado to maintain viable populations 
of this species.
    (2) At times, it may be beyond the Agency's authority to manage 
habitat to insure the maintenance of a viable population of a species 
within the plan area, given that the Agency must comply with all 
applicable laws and regulations. An example would be when efforts to 
maintain the habitat conditions necessary for a viable population of 
one species would jeopardize an endangered or threatened species, in 
violation of the Agency's statutory obligations under the ESA. Another 
example would be when maintaining the habitat conditions necessary for 
a viable population of one species would consume the resources 
available to a unit to the point of precluding other activities from 
occurring on the unit that are necessary to comply with independent 
statutory or regulatory requirements.
    (3) Examples of circumstances that are not consistent with the 
inherent capability of the plan area that limit the Agency's ability to 
manage fish and wildlife habitat to insure the maintenance of a viable 
population of a species within the plan area include:
     Where a species is inherently rare because its members 
occur at low numbers and are wide ranging individuals. For such a 
species the number of breeding individuals that may occur on an 
individual national forest may be too small to be considered a viable 
population. The wolverine of the northern Rocky Mountains is such a 
species.
     Plan areas that lack sufficient land area with the 
ecological capacity to produce enough habitat to maintain a viable 
population within the plan area. An example is the Kisatchie National 
Forest's inability to maintain a viable population of swallow-tailed 
kite on the Forest due to very limited amounts of land area 
ecologically capable of producing broad bottomland hardwood and cypress 
swamp habitats.
     Water quality conditions in Appalachian Mountain streams 
that provide habitat for eastern brook trout have been altered through 
acid deposition, due to past and current acid rain, rendering many of 
them unsuitable for brook trout and compromising the ability of some 
Appalachian national forests to maintain viable populations of this 
species.
    (4) Sometimes a combination of a lack of authority and the inherent 
capability of the land limit the Agency's ability to manage fish and 
wildlife habitat to ``insure [a vertebrate species'] continued 
existence is well distributed in the planning area,'' for example, a 
federally listed threatened or endangered species may face a 
combination of stressors such that a population may no longer be viable 
and whose recovery, in most cases, cannot be achieved within the 
boundaries of a single unit.
    (5) An example of an approach included in the 1982 requirements 
that is no longer supported by the best available scientific 
information is the concept of management indicator species (MIS). The 
1982 rule is largely reliant on the ability of selected MIS and their 
associated habitat conditions to adequately represent all other 
vertebrates in the plan area for assessing vertebrate species 
viability. Even though the process of assessing and selecting MIS has 
evolved, the ability of a species or species group, on its own, to 
adequately represent all associated species that rely on similar 
habitat conditions is now largely unsupported in the scientific 
literature.

[[Page 21170]]

    For these reasons Alternative B was not selected as the final rule.

Alternative C

    Alternative C was developed to meet the minimum requirements of 
NFMA, with additional provisions narrowly designed to meet the purpose 
and need for this rule-making effort.
    Provisions to meet the purpose and need, but not otherwise required 
by NFMA, were included in this alternative to ensure that plans would 
be responsive to the challenges of climate change, the need for forest 
restoration, and to ensure the sustainable use of NFS lands to support 
vibrant communities. The full text of Alternative C is displayed in 
Appendix E of the PEIS. Specifically, the multiple uses provision in 
this alternative at Sec.  219.10 requires plan components to include 
guidance to identify and consider climate change, forest restoration 
and conservation, and social and economic elements of sustainability to 
support vibrant rural communities. Provisions were also added to ensure 
that plans would be developed in a collaborative manner. The public 
participation provision in this alternative at Sec.  219.4 requires the 
responsible official to use a collaborative and participatory approach 
to land management planning. The same provisions for pre-decisional 
objections found in Alternative A are also included in this 
alternative.
    Unlike the other alternatives considered in detail, this 
alternative would not explicitly require preparation of an 
environmental impact statement for development of a new plan or for a 
plan revision. Instead, this alternative would rely on Agency NEPA 
implementing procedures at 36 CFR part 220 to determine the level of 
environmental analysis and documentation. Similar to other alternatives 
considered in detail, documentation for plan amendments would be 
determined by the significance of effects pursuant to Agency NEPA 
procedures and could, therefore, range from categorical exclusions to 
environmental impact statements.
    Reason for non-selection: Alternative C imposes the fewest specific 
requirements for the planning process and plan content of all 
alternatives analyzed in detail. This alternative reflects the opposite 
end of the spectrum from Alternative E (the most prescriptive of the 
alternatives). Under Alternative C the process of plan development, 
amendment, and revision would be largely guided by the Forest Service 
Directives System. The result of having few requirements in a rule is 
greater uncertainty as to what the effects on plan content and the 
planning process would be and as a result, greater uncertainty as to 
potential effects to resources over time.
    Under Alternative C, the Agency would expect a range of results: 
The range might vary from an expedited planning process producing very 
streamlined plans on some units to a planning process and plans that 
are similar to those plans that have been recently revised using the 
1982 planning procedures on other units. There would be no certainty 
with regard to the inclusion of any plan components beyond the minimum 
required by this Alternative, and a potential lack of consistency 
across the National Forest System.
    A similar approach of developing a streamlined planning rule and 
relying on the Forest Service directives for details of implementation 
was used for the 2008 planning rule. The uncertainty of this approach 
generated a great deal of distrust by many members of the public who 
felt the full intent of management direction related to planning should 
be reflected in the rule.
    Alternative C does not expressly include an adaptive management 
framework. The Department concludes that the adaptive management 
framework of assessing, revising, amending, and monitoring provides a 
scientifically supported foundation for addressing uncertainty, 
understanding changes in conditions that are either the result of 
management actions or others factors, and keeping plans current and 
relevant.
    This is the least costly of all of the alternatives and that is an 
important consideration. However, there are other alternatives that 
would reduce the current costs of planning, have broader based public 
support, and that, in the Department's view, provide for a more 
appropriate balance between prescriptive and non-prescriptive 
approaches to planning.
    Even though Agency costs are lower under Alternative C compared to 
other alternatives, the Department is uncertain whether plans will be 
developed, amended, or revised to the high standards of excellence the 
Department expects. All units would comply with the requirements of 
this alternative. However, there is higher uncertainty associated with 
selecting an alternative with few requirements as the final rule. The 
level of uncertainty results in a higher risk that the level of 
compliance with such important elements as monitoring, public 
participation, species conservation, or watershed protection may not 
lead to plans that meet the Department's full objectives.
    For these reasons, Alternative C was not selected as the final 
rule.

Alternative D

    The full text of Alternative D is displayed in Appendix F of the 
PEIS. This alternative consists of Alternative A with additional and 
substitute direction focused on coordination requirements at Sec.  
219.4, assessment requirements at Sec.  219.6, sustainability 
requirements at Sec.  219.8, species requirements at Sec.  219.9, 
monitoring requirements at Sec.  219.12, and some additional and 
alternative definitions at Sec.  219.19.
    This alternative was designed to evaluate additional protections 
for watersheds and an alternative approach to addressing the diversity 
of plant and animal communities. These approaches were addressed 
together because they both involve requirements for substantive plan 
content for resource protection, as opposed to other issues that are 
concerned with procedural requirements.
    Unlike Alternative A, this alternative requires establishment of 
riparian conservation areas and key watersheds, prescribes a 100-foot 
width for riparian conservation areas, and places the highest 
restoration priority on road removal in watersheds. Watershed 
assessments would be required to provide information for defining 
riparian conservation area boundaries and developing watershed 
monitoring programs. The alternative would require the identification 
of key watersheds to serve as anchor points for the protection, 
maintenance, and restoration of habitat for species dependent on 
aquatic habitat. It would also require plans to provide spatial 
connectivity among aquatic and upland habitats.
    This alternative would take a somewhat different approach than 
Alternative A for maintaining viable populations within the plan area. 
It would require an assessment prior to plan development or revision 
that identifies: current and historic ecological conditions and trends, 
including the effects of global climate change; ecological conditions 
required to support viable populations of native species and desired 
non-native species within the planning area; and current expected 
future viability of focal species within the planning area. It would 
also require that the unit monitoring program establish critical values 
for ecological conditions and focal species that trigger reviews of 
planning and management decisions to achieve compliance with the 
provision for

[[Page 21171]]

maintaining viable populations within the plan area.
    See Appendix F of the PEIS for Alternative D text in a side-by-side 
comparison with Alternative A.
    Reason for non-selection: Alternative D meets the purpose and need 
in a manner similar to Alternative A. Alternative D includes additional 
requirements for watershed and species protection and collaboration 
that provide among the highest levels of watershed and species 
conservation of all alternatives. However, Alternative D has the second 
highest planning and monitoring costs of all alternatives, and there 
are several requirements of Alternative D that would be difficult to 
implement or not appropriate across all NFS units.
    This alternative capitalizes on approaches for watershed management 
that have been demonstrated to be effective in some areas of the 
country--largely the Pacific Northwest. However, a single, prescriptive 
approach may not be effective for improving watershed conditions across 
the highly diverse watersheds of the NFS.
    For example, it is unlikely that the requirements of this 
Alternative that all plans establish watershed networks that can serve 
as anchor points for the protection, maintenance, and restoration of 
broad-scale processes and recovery of broadly distributed species and 
to maintain spatial connectivity within or between watersheds would be 
an effective management strategy for improving watershed conditions on 
certain units, for example, where the percentage of NFS land ownership 
in a given watershed is very low. Such requirements also may not be the 
most effective means of maintaining or restoring watershed health on 
these or other units, and attempting to meet this requirement may 
preclude other more effective management options.
    Alternative D includes a national standard for a minimum 100 foot 
default width for riparian conservation areas. Based on the analysis in 
the PEIS, a national standard setting a minimum default width 
applicable to all types of waterbodies and in all geomorphic settings 
is not consistent with the preponderance of scientific literature which 
largely argues for scalable widths, widths tailored to geomorphic 
settings or an adaptable approach matched to resource characteristics. 
The national standard does provide certainty or assurance that all 
riparian areas of 100 feet or less would be fully incorporated within 
the riparian conservation area, even where narrower widths would be 
more appropriate based on geomorphic features, conditions, or type of 
water bodies. However, to expand the default width beyond 100 feet will 
require a ``burden of proof'' during the planning process that some 
units may not be willing or able to accomplish, which could lead to the 
width being under inclusive for riparian areas in the plan area.
    Alternative D requires standards to restore sediment regimes to 
within a natural range of variability. While an understanding of the 
natural range of variability in sediment regime could provide important 
context for sediment reduction activities, standards to restore 
sediment regimes to a natural range of variability might be impractical 
as they require information on historical flow regimes that might not 
be applicable to future conditions. Historical ranges of variation as 
standards or guidelines for restoration may be inappropriate in the 
face of changing hydrologic conditions brought about by climate change. 
The added requirements are likely not appropriate for all NFS units, 
will be data intensive, and might constrain or delay other management 
actions that could address known sediment problems.
    This alternative requires that road removal or remediation in 
riparian conservation areas and key watersheds be considered a top 
restoration priority. Setting one primary national restoration priority 
for all units does not take into account the high variability of 
conditions and stressors across NFS lands. Also, it does not take into 
account changing conditions. While road remediation in riparian areas 
will likely be the highest priority in some places or at some times, it 
might not be for all units and across the entire life of a plan. For 
example, it might be more important to shift restoration focus to 
control a new occurrence of invasive species before it becomes 
pervasive in a watershed, or to reduce hazardous fuels to reduce the 
risk of negative effects to soil and water of uncharacteristic or 
extreme wildfire events.
    Finally, Alternative D requires that, with limited exceptions, only 
management activities for restoration would be allowed in riparian 
areas. The Department understands the importance and supports the 
protection of healthy functioning riparian areas for water quality, 
water quantity, and aquatic and terrestrial habitat. The Department 
also understands the potential negative effects that management 
activities or uses such as dispersed or developed recreation, grazing, 
and water level management can have on riparian areas. However, the 
Department concludes that decisions regarding management activities in 
riparian areas are better made at the individual plan and project 
levels where the effects to the resources, to the users, and to 
communities can be better determined within the context of overall 
watershed restoration and the maintenance and restoration of the 
ecological integrity of riparian areas in the plan area.
    None of the individual elements of Alternative D is inconsistent 
with the final planning rule and they could be incorporated at the plan 
level into plan direction where they are determined to be applicable 
and effective for those units. In fact, many current plans already 
incorporate elements of this alternative. However, requiring 
incorporation of all elements of Alternative D does not provide enough 
flexibility for effective and efficient resource management on all 
units of the NFS.
    For these reasons Alternative D was not selected as the final rule.

Alternative E

    The full text of Alternative E is displayed in Appendix G of the 
PEIS. This alternative consists of the proposed rule (Alternative A) 
with additional and substitute direction focused on prescriptive 
requirements for public notification at Sec.  219.4, assessment 
requirements at Sec.  219.6, and monitoring requirements at Sec.  
219.12.
    This alternative prescribes an extensive list of monitoring and 
assessment questions and requires plan monitoring programs to identify 
signals for action for each question and its associated indicator.
    This alternative specifies performance accountability for line 
officers' management of unit monitoring and adds responsibility for the 
Chief to conduct periodic evaluations of unit monitoring programs and 
the regional monitoring strategies.
    Alternative E adds more prescriptive requirements for public 
participation in the planning process. To help connect people to the 
outdoors, this alternative also includes requirements for plans to 
provide for conservation education and volunteer programs.
    See Appendix G of the PEIS for Alternative E text in a side-by-side 
comparison with Alternative A.
    Reason for non-selection: Alternative E requires more evaluation of 
ecological conditions and possible scenarios during assessment for plan 
revisions and more monitoring of specific conditions and responses to 
restoration. The use of signal points could potentially make land 
managers more aware and responsive when monitoring results are outside 
of expected levels. However, the difficulty of establishing

[[Page 21172]]

statistically and temporally significant signal points related to 
restoration, especially where there is insufficient data and where 
conditions are changing, will increase the complexity of planning. The 
prescriptive nature of the monitoring requirements could increase the 
ability to aggregate and compare data between units or at higher scales 
but could also result in the costly collection of data that is not 
necessarily relevant to the management of particular individual units 
or ecological conditions.
    Requirements to identify possible scenarios in assessments would 
have short-term cost increases with possible long-term gains in 
efficiency. Additional requirements regarding coordination in the 
assessment and monitoring process would increase initial costs, but 
consistent coordination might also result in more cost-effective long-
term planning efforts to meet viability objectives. However, while 
additional requirements for standardized collaboration methods might 
work well for some units, other units might find that some required 
steps are not relevant to their local public involvement needs. Based 
on the analysis in the PEIS, collaboration strategies tailored to a 
unit's particular needs are often more effective than very prescriptive 
approaches to collaboration.
    The PEIS points out potential benefits of more prescriptive 
requirements for assessment, monitoring, and collaboration. But, the 
PEIS also points out the drawbacks, particularly in trying to 
efficiently apply a ``one-size-fits-all'' approach to such things as 
monitoring or collaboration across highly diverse resources conditions 
and communities associated with NFS Units. This Alternative also has 
the highest implementation costs of all alternatives. The Department 
does not believe that the potential gains in effectiveness warrant the 
increased costs.
    None of the individual elements of Alternative E are inconsistent 
with the final planning rule and any of them can be incorporated into 
plan direction where they are determined to be applicable and effective 
for those units. However, requiring incorporation of all elements of 
Alternative E does not provide enough flexibility for effective and 
efficient resource management on all units of the NFS. For these 
reasons Alternative E was not selected as the final rule.

The Environmentally Preferred Alternative

    Under the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) NEPA regulation, 
the Department is required to identify the environmentally preferred 
alternative (40 CFR 1505.2(b)). This is interpreted to mean the 
alternative that will promote the national environmental policy as 
expressed in NEPA's section 101 and that would cause the least damage 
to the biological and physical components of the environment. The 
environmentally preferred alternative best protects, preserves, and 
enhances historic, cultural, and natural resources (Council on 
Environmental Quality, Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ's 
National Environmental Policy Act Regulations (46 FR 18026, 18028 
(March 23, 1981)).
    The two alternatives that best meet these criteria are Alternative 
D (if it could be fully implemented) and Modified Alternative A. 
Alternative D provides the highest level of resource protection, 
particularly for water and riparian resources. Some requirements of 
this alternative would be difficult to implement across the entire NFS, 
add increased cost and complexity to the planning process for little 
benefit, and may not always represent the best approach for the 
resource. The additional funds spent on the planning process would not 
be available for other management activities including restoration and 
habitat improvement.
    Modified Alternative A also provides high levels of resource 
protection and can be effectively implemented across all units. It does 
not preclude incorporation of elements of Alternative D into plans 
where they are most suited to meet resource conditions.
    The approval of a planning rule to guide development, revision, and 
amendment of land management plans is a broad policy decision. 
Accordingly, impacts described in the PEIS reflect issues concerning 
effects over a broad geographic and time horizon. The depth and detail 
of impact analysis is necessarily broad and general because a planning 
rule is two steps removed from site-specific projects and activities. 
Quantitative, site-specific effects can only be predicted with any 
certainty when site-specific actions are proposed.

Decision and Rationale

Decision

    Modified Alternative A, with clarifications, is selected as the 
final planning rule. A few clarifications were made to better represent 
the Department's intent, and do not substantively change Modified 
Alternative A. They include:
    (1) Changes made to Sec.  219.7(e)(1)(iv) and Sec.  219.15(d)(3) to 
clarify that compliance with both standards and guidelines is 
mandatory, with standards requiring strict adherence to their terms, 
while guidelines allow for flexibility so long as the purpose for the 
guideline is achieved.
    (2) Changes made to Sec.  219.9(b)(1) to clarify that the 
responsible official must determine whether the plan components of 
paragraph (a) provide the necessary ecological conditions, or whether 
additional, species-specific plan components must be included in the 
plan.
    (3) Changes made to the definition of designated areas in Sec.  
219.19 to clarify that the examples of designated areas included in 
Modified Alternative A were not intended to be exclusive.
    (4) Changes throughout Subpart B to clarify that organizations, 
States and Tribes are among the entities that may object, pursuant to 
the other requirements in Subpart B.
    This decision is based on the Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement--National Forest System Land Management Planning, USDA Forest 
Service, 2011, and its supporting record. This decision is not subject 
to Forest Service appeal regulations.
    Nearly 300,000 comments were received on the DEIS and the proposed 
rule. The Agency also consulted with Indian Tribes, the US Fish and 
Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The 
Department has reviewed and considered these comments, the results of 
the consultations, and worked with Agency managers in concluding that 
the proposed rule would be improved by clarifying the proposed wording 
and incorporating the changes reflected in Modified Alternative A into 
the final rule.
    This decision does not authorize any projects or activities. The 
planning rule describes the process the Forest Service will use for 
development, amendment, and revision of land management plans for 
national forests and grasslands, and includes requirements for the 
structure and content of those plans. Any commitment of resources takes 
place only after (1) a land management plan is approved under the 
provisions of the final rule (including the completion of the 
appropriate NEPA process), and (2) the Forest Service proposes projects 
or activities, analyzes their effects in the appropriate NEPA process, 
determines consistency with the applicable land management plan, and 
authorizes the final projects or activities.
    Sometimes projects or activities may be authorized at the same time 
and in the same decision document when approving a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision. One example might be opening or closing 
trails to the use of

[[Page 21173]]

off-highway vehicles. In these cases, the part of the decision 
associated with the project or activity would represent a commitment of 
resources.

Rationale for the Decision

    The following paragraphs outline the rationale for the decision, 
including how Modified Alternative A meets the purpose and need and 
addresses the significant issues described in the final PEIS.
    The Department determined Modified Alternative A best meets the 
purpose and need for a new planning rule. Modified Alternative A 
provides a process for planning that is adaptive and science-based, 
engages the public, and is designed to be efficient, effective, and 
within the Agency's ability to implement. It is designed to ensure that 
plans provide for the sustainability of ecosystems and resources; meet 
the need for forest restoration and conservation, watershed protection, 
and species diversity and conservation; and assist the Agency in 
providing a sustainable flow of benefits, services, and uses of NFS 
lands that contribute to the economic and social sustainability of 
communities.
    The paragraphs below describe how Modified Alternative A meets the 
purpose and need for a new planning rule. Many of the requirements 
described for each element can be found in one or more of the 
alternatives analyzed in the PEIS. However, the Department concludes 
that the combination of requirements provided in Modified Alternative A 
provide the best approach for developing, amending, and revising plans. 
Modified Alternative A is clearer than Alternative A, better reflects 
the Department's intent as described in the preamble for the proposed 
rule, and reflects public comments and suggestions for improving the 
proposed rule. Unlike Alternative B, it meets the purpose and need for 
a new planning rule. It is also more implementable and less costly than 
Alternatives D and E, and allows greater flexibility to develop plans 
that best meet the ecological, social, and economic needs of units 
across the very diverse National Forest System. The Department 
concludes that the combination of provisions in Modified Alternative A 
best meets the purpose and need for a new planning rule and provides 
assurance that the Department's objectives will be met.
    For those reasons, Modified Alternative A provides the best balance 
among the alternatives to meet the purpose and need for a new planning 
rule.

Response to Purpose and Need

    All of the alternatives analyzed in detail, with the exception of 
Alternative B, meet the purpose and need to varying degrees. No single 
alternative can maximize all of the elements of the purpose and need. 
The Department finds that Modified Alternative A provides the best 
planning framework for meeting the various elements of the purpose and 
need by creating a rule that:
    1. Emphasizes restoration of natural resources to make NFS lands 
more resilient to climate change, protect water resources, and improve 
forest health. The Department concludes that Modified Alternative A 
will result in plans that are adaptive and therefore more likely to 
remain relevant and implementable, including by providing an adaptive 
framework that will help responsible officials to respond to changing 
conditions and new information.
    2. Contributes to ecological, social, and economic sustainability 
by ensuring that all plans will be responsive to issues such as the 
challenges of climate change; the need for forest restoration and 
conservation, watershed protection, and species conservation; and the 
sustainable use of public lands to support vibrant communities.
    3. Is consistent with NFMA and MUSYA. The Department intends that 
the requirements of Modified Alternative A will be integrated into the 
development or revision of a plan in a manner that provides for the 
long-term ecological sustainability of the plan area while sustaining 
ecosystem services and providing for multiple uses.
    4. Is consistent with Federal policy on the use of scientific 
information and the Agency's expertise and experience gained in more 
than 30 years of land management planning. Responsible officials will 
use the best available scientific information to inform the plan 
components and the monitoring program. The Department concludes that 
Modified Alternative A requires a planning process that is science-
based and additionally recognizes the value of local knowledge, the 
Agency experience, knowledge, and information of other land managers, 
and indigenous knowledge.
    5. Provides for a transparent, collaborative process that allows 
effective public participation. Modified Alternative A includes 
requirements to engage the public, Tribes, other government agencies, 
and groups and communities that have been at times under-represented in 
planning, such as youth and minorities, throughout the planning 
process. The Department concludes that the collaborative approach 
required by Modified Alternative A will result in improved 
relationships and plans that better meet the needs of diverse 
communities, which in turn will translate into more successful projects 
and activities developed under the plans.
    6. Ensures planning takes place in the context of the larger 
landscape by taking an ``all-lands approach.'' Modified Alternative A 
uses an ``all-lands approach'' to consider conditions beyond the plan 
area and how they might influences resources within the plan area as 
well as how actions on the NFS might affect resources and communities 
outside of the plan area. It also requires that responsible officials 
coordinate with entities with equivalent and related planning efforts.
    7. Is within the Agency's capability to implement on all NFS units. 
It is clear and provides an efficient framework for planning, and is 
able to be implemented within the financial capacity of the Agency.
    The Department concludes that Modified Alternative A provides an 
appropriate balance between the flexibility needed to address issues 
unique to the plan area and the need for consistent requirements and a 
consistent approach. Modified Alternative A reduces planning costs and 
the time needed for a plan revision from current levels.

Response to the Issue of Ecosystem Restoration

    As many respondents correctly noted, not all NFS lands are in need 
of restoration and, in fact, NFS lands often provide among the highest 
quality habitat and the cleanest water of all lands in the country. The 
final rule provides for the maintenance of those lands. There is also 
widespread consensus that some NFS lands are degraded or are at risk of 
becoming degraded. From large scale pine beetle outbreaks in the 
Intermountain West to watersheds across NFS lands with poorly sited or 
maintained roads that cause sedimentation or block the movement of fish 
and aquatic organisms, there are many restoration needs on NFS lands. 
Modified Alternative A addresses the need for ecosystem maintenance and 
restoration.
    Modified Alternative A incorporates the concept of ecological 
integrity. This concept is defined in the scientific literature as a 
means of evaluating ecological conditions in terms of their 
sustainability. The concept of ecological integrity is also used by the 
U.S. Department of the Interior's National

[[Page 21174]]

Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. Aligning approaches across 
the broader landscape will facilitate an all-lands approach to 
ecological sustainability.
    Under Modified Alternative A, information relevant for ecosystem 
maintenance and restoration will be identified and evaluated during the 
assessment phase. Plan components are required for the maintenance and 
restoration of the ecological integrity of riparian areas and air, 
soil, and water resources. Responsible officials will consider 
opportunities to restore fire adapted ecosystems and for landscape 
scale restoration. The monitoring program will track ecological and 
watershed conditions and measure progress towards meeting desired 
conditions and objectives.
    Modified Alternative A captures many of the concepts of ``best 
practices'' in restoration that are already occurring on NFS lands. 
Examples of such best practice efforts include the Collaborative Forest 
Landscape Restoration Program established under section 4003(a) of 
Title IV of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, (http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/CFLR/index.shtml), which promotes healthier, 
safer, and more productive public lands through partnership efforts, 
and the Four Forest Restoration Initiative to accomplish landscape 
scale restoration of ponderosa pine ecosystems in the Southwest. These 
restoration efforts bring people together to work across ownerships, 
restore ecosystems, increase organizational capacity, and in the 
process create jobs and economic opportunities that contribute to 
sustainable economies. Modified Alternative A provides a platform for 
working with the public and other land managers to identify restoration 
needs across the landscape and manage NFS lands to support meeting 
shared restoration objectives.

Response to the Issue of Watershed Protection

    Watersheds and water resources on NFS lands are important for many 
reasons: For example, they are the source of drinking water for one in 
five Americans, provide important species habitat for terrestrial and 
aquatic species, and support recreation opportunities in the plan area.
    Modified Alternative A includes a strong set of requirements 
associated with maintaining and restoring watersheds and aquatic 
ecosystems, water resources, and riparian areas in the plan area. It 
incorporates the protection or mitigation requirements of the 1982 
rule, but goes beyond the 1982 rule in requiring a proactive approach 
for maintaining or restoring terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and 
watersheds in the plan area.
    Under Modified Alternative A, information relevant to watersheds, 
aquatic ecosystems, and water resources will be identified and 
evaluated during the assessment phase. Plans will be required to 
identify priority watersheds for maintenance or restoration. Plan 
components are required for the maintenance and restoration of the 
ecological integrity of aquatic ecosystems and watersheds, water 
quality, and water resources in the plan area, including lakes, 
streams, wetlands, and sources of drinking water.
    Plan components are also required for the maintenance and 
restoration of the ecological integrity of riparian areas, including 
structure, function, composition, and connectivity; taking into account 
a number of factors; and plan components must establish widths for 
riparian management zones. Because riparian resources across NFS units 
are very diverse, Modified Alternative A retains the 1982 rule 
requirements to give special attention to land and vegetation within 
approximately 100 feet of all perennial streams and lakes and prevent 
management practices that have serious or adverse impacts, but does not 
require a single national width for riparian management zones. Riparian 
areas may be forested or open, they are connected with all types of 
streams, lakes and wetlands, and they vary widely in existing condition 
and types of use. Modified Alternative A allows for the requirements to 
be tailored to specific conditions on the plan area. The set of 
requirements included in Modified Alternative A for riparian areas is 
more implementable and less costly than the requirements in Alternative 
D, and will lead to a more effective and appropriate set of plan 
components across a diverse system.
    Under Modified Alternative A, responsible officials must ensure 
that projects and activities in riparian areas are consistent with plan 
requirements for maintaining or restoring riparian areas, do not 
seriously or adversely affect water resources, are suitable uses, and 
are compatible with desired conditions for those lands. The consistency 
requirement places the decision about what types of projects or 
activities may or may not be allowed and what management direction will 
guide these activities at the plan level. The Department concludes that 
this is the appropriate level at which to make these decisions.
    NFS lands provide some of the highest quality water in the country 
and are important sources of drinking water, but there are streams that 
do not meet State water quality standards. Modified Alternative A 
requires that the Chief of the Forest Service establish requirements 
for best management practices for water quality, and that plans ensure 
implementation of those practices.
    The Department concludes that Modified Alternative A appropriately 
elevates the emphasis on the conservation of water and riparian 
resources, can be implemented on all NFS units, and is soundly 
supported by recent advances in conservation biology and ecology.

Response to the Issue of Diversity of Plant and Animal Communities

    Perhaps no other aspect of the proposed planning rule has sparked 
as much interest or generated as much debate as the requirement to 
provide for plant and animal diversity. In particular, there is 
disagreement between those who believe that without strong, specific 
requirements in the rule for maintaining species diversity and 
viability, the persistence of many species will be at increased risk, 
and those who believe that putting specific requirements in the rule 
will result in endless litigation that will keep the Agency from moving 
forward with planning and with projects and activities.
    The Department's intent is to provide for the diversity of plant 
and animal communities, and keep common native species common, 
contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, 
conserve proposed and candidate species, and maintain species of 
conservation concern within the plan area, within Agency authority and 
the inherent capability of the land.
    Modified Alternative A requires that future plans be based on a 
complementary ecosystem and species-specific approach to provide for 
the diversity of plant and animal communities in the plan area and the 
long-term persistence of native species in the plan area. This approach 
is often referred to as the coarse-filter/fine-filter approach.
    The ecosystem integrity and diversity requirements in Modified 
Alternative A are meant to provide a coarse-filter designed to maintain 
biological diversity. By working toward diverse, connected ecosystems 
with ecological integrity, the Agency expects that over time, 
management will create ecological conditions which support the 
abundance, distribution, and long-term

[[Page 21175]]

persistence of most native species within a plan area, as well as 
provide for diversity of plant and animal communities. The fine-filter 
provisions are intended to provide a safety net for those species whose 
specific habitat needs or other influences on their life requirements 
may not be fully met under the coarse-filter provisions.
    The coarse-filter/fine-filter approach is a well-developed concept 
in the scientific literature and has broad support from the scientific 
community and many stakeholders. It incorporates the considerable 
advances of the past three decades in understanding of biological and 
conservation science. The coarse-filter/fine-filter approach is already 
incorporated into many recently revised plans and is yielding positive 
results. For example, restoration of longleaf pine in the South is 
resulting in increases in red-cockaded woodpecker populations, and 
restoration of watersheds and instream habitat in the Pacific Northwest 
is yielding benefits for salmon.
    The provisions in Modified Alternative A recognize the importance 
of maintaining biological diversity of native species on each national 
forest and grassland, and the compositional, structural, and functional 
components that comprise the biological diversity on each NFS unit, and 
recognize the importance of native species and their contributions to 
maintaining the ecological integrity of ecosystems.
    Considering habitat needs for non-vertebrates is not new to the 
Forest Service. Non-vertebrate species can be federally recognized as 
threatened or endangered. In addition, the Agency has developed and 
maintained a list of regional forester sensitive species (RFSS) for 
over two decades. An RFSS list can include any native plant or animal 
species. RFSS are those plant and animal species identified by a 
regional forester for which population viability is a concern, as 
evidenced by: significant current or predicted downward trends in 
population numbers or density or significant current or predicted 
downward trends in habitat capability that would reduce a species' 
existing distribution. RFSS are thus similar to species of conservation 
concern. The conservation and management of many RFSS has been a part 
of many land management plans and projects and activities for decades.
    The Department intends to provide for the persistence of all native 
species by the use of the coarse-filter/fine-filter approach, within 
Forest Service authority and the inherent capability of the plan area. 
Modified Alternative A provides a three-fold treatment of all native 
species.
    First, Modified Alternative A requires coarse-filter plan 
components for the maintenance and restoration of the ecological 
integrity and diversity of ecosystems in the plan area. Plan components 
will support the long-term persistence of most native species in the 
plan area, including providing for species that are common or secure.
    Second, species that are federally recognized species under ESA 
(threatened, endangered, proposed, and candidate species) may not have 
viable populations on NFS lands and whose recovery, in most cases, 
cannot be achieved on a single NFS plan area. Modified Alternative A 
requires the responsible official to develop coarse-filter plan 
components, and fine-filter plan components where necessary, to 
contribute to the recovery of listed species and conserve proposed and 
candidate species.
    Third, Modified Alternative A requires the responsible official to 
develop coarse-filter plan components, and fine-filter plan components 
where necessary, to provide the desired ecological conditions necessary 
to maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern 
within the plan area, or to contribute to maintaining a viable 
population of a species of conservation concern across its range where 
it is not within the Agency's authority or is beyond the inherent 
capability of the plan area to provide the ecological conditions to 
maintain a viable population of that species within the plan area.
    Species of conservation concern are those plant and animal species 
whose long-term persistence within the plan area is of known 
conservation concern. The rule requires that species of conservation 
concern must be ``known to occur in the plan area'' and that the 
regional forester identify the species of conservation concern for 
which ``the best available scientific information indicates substantial 
concern about the species' capability to persist over the long term in 
the plan area.''
    The Department has considered the concerns raised by many that the 
requirement for maintaining viable populations of species of 
conservation concern on the plan area is an impossible task and that 
attempting to meet this requirement will come at the cost of all other 
management of the NFS lands. The Department concludes that Modified 
Alternative A provides a more holistic, consistent, realistic, and 
effective approach to maintaining native fish, wildlife, and plant 
species on national forests and grasslands than provided under the 1982 
rule, while meeting restoration goals and the mandate of multiple use.
    Modified Alternative A recognizes that there are limits to the 
Agency's authority and the inherent capability of the land, whereas the 
1982 rule required management prescriptions to ``[p]rovide for adequate 
fish and wildlife habitat to maintain viable populations of [all] 
existing native vertebrate species,'' (See 1982 rule at Sec.  219.27 
(a)(6)) regardless of whether there are circumstances outside of the 
authority or the control of the Agency. Examples of circumstances that 
may be outside of the Agency's authority or the inherent capability of 
the plan area are provided above in the rationale for non-selection of 
Alternative B.
    The Department concludes the management emphasis on species of 
conservation concern is more focused than the viability provisions 
under the 1982 rule, which included all vertebrate species whether 
there was concern about their persistence in the plan area or not. 
Since these species may be wide ranging or may occur on multiple units, 
the regional forester, in coordination with the responsible official, 
will identify species of conservation concern. Requiring that the 
regional forester identify species of conservation concern will 
increase consistency across units and build efficiency into the 
Agency's collective efforts to maintain the diversity of plant and 
animal communities.
    The Department also considered the challenges the Forest Service 
has faced in monitoring management indicator species (MIS) under the 
1982 rule. MIS monitoring has been the subject of much of the legal 
debate around the species provisions of the 1982 rule. Modified 
Alternative A does not include requirements to designate MIS or monitor 
their population trends. The concept of MIS as a surrogate for the 
status of other species is not supported by current science, and 
population trends are difficult and sometimes impossible to determine 
within the lifespan of a plan.
    In the final rule, MIS monitoring has been replaced with monitoring 
of focal species. The concept of focal species is well supported in the 
scientific literature and community. Focal species are not surrogates 
for the status of other species. Focal species monitoring provides 
information regarding the effectiveness of the plan in providing the 
ecological conditions necessary to maintain the diversity of plant and 
animal communities and the persistence of native species in the plan 
area. Modified Alternative A does not require

[[Page 21176]]

or prohibit monitoring of population trends of focal species. Instead, 
it allows the use of any existing or emerging approaches for monitoring 
the status of focal species that are supported by current science. 
Monitoring methods for evaluating the status of focal species may 
include measures of abundance, distribution, reproduction, presence/
absence, area occupied, survival rates, or others.
    The Department expects that monitoring key ecosystem and watershed 
conditions along with monitoring the status of a set of well-chosen 
focal species will provide timely information regarding the 
effectiveness of plan components related to plant and animal diversity.
    The requirements in Modified Alternative A regarding sustainability 
and diversity of plant and animal communities are part of the planning 
framework cycle that requires public participation, assessments, and 
monitoring. Additionally, provisions in these sections require the 
responsible official to coordinate with other land owners. These 
requirements support cooperation and an all-lands approach to ecosystem 
and species diversity and conservation.
    Under plans developed under Modified Alternative A, the Department 
expects NFS lands to more consistently provide the ecological 
conditions necessary to maintain the diversity of plant and animal 
communities and the persistence of native species. Over time, the 
Department expects habitat quantity to increase and habitat quality to 
improve for most native species across the NFS including aquatic and 
riparian species. The Department also expects ecological conditions for 
many federally listed species, species proposed, and candidates for 
listing and species of conservation concern to improve within and among 
plan areas because Modified Alternative A gives emphasis to maintaining 
and restoring ecological conditions needed by these species. The final 
rule provides for collaborative approaches to addressing the range-wide 
concerns of species whose range and long term viability is associated 
with lands beyond the plan area.
    The Department concludes that the combination of requirements in 
Modified Alternative A reflects a strong, implementable approach to 
providing for the diversity of plant and animal communities and the 
persistence of native species in the plan area, and is supported by the 
scientific literature and community. This approach meets the 
requirements of NFMA and MUSYA, and provides a holistic, consistent, 
realistic, and effective approach to providing for diversity of plant 
and animal communities on national forests and grasslands, while 
meeting restoration goals and the mandate of multiple use and sustained 
yield.

Response to the Issue of Climate Change

    Consideration of changing conditions including climate in planning 
is not new to the Forest Service. The Climate Change Resource Center 
has been developed as a reference for Forest Service resource managers 
and decision makers who need information and tools to address climate 
change in planning and project implementation on NFS lands. For more 
than 20 years, Forest Service scientists have been studying and 
assessing climate change effects on forests and rangelands. Forest 
Service Research and Development provides long term research, 
scientific information, and tools that can be used by managers and 
policymakers to address climate change impacts to forests and 
rangelands. Climate change-related activities are carried out within 
research stations covering the whole country. In 2009, the Agency 
issued guidance for climate change considerations to provide the Agency 
with the support needed to incorporate climate change into land 
management planning and project-level NEPA documentation. Recent plan 
revisions include consideration of climate change.
    Modified Alternative A incorporates a strategic framework for 
adaptive management: assess conditions on the ground using readily 
available information, build plan components recognizing that 
conditions may be changing, and monitor to determine if there are 
measurable changes related to climate change and other stressors on the 
plan area.
    Under Modified Alternative A, responsible officials will identify 
and evaluate information relevant to understanding ecological 
conditions and trends and to forming a baseline assessment of carbon 
stocks. Plans will include plan components to maintain or restore 
ecological integrity, so that ecosystems can resist change, are 
resilient under changing conditions, and are able to recover from 
disturbance. Modified Alternative A also requires monitoring measurable 
changes on the plan area related to climate change and other stressors 
that may be affecting the plan area. Taken together, the planning 
framework and these requirements will ensure that information related 
to climate change will be addressed in a consistent and strategic 
fashion.
    Modified Alternative A is consistent with and complements the 
Agency's climate change National Roadmap and Performance Scorecard, the 
Watershed Condition Framework and ecological restoration and 
sustainability policies. The climate change roadmap directs national 
forests and grasslands to develop climate change vulnerability 
assessments and identifies monitoring strategies. Elements in the 
scorecard will help the Agency to determine whether assessments and 
monitoring are being developed in a way that will help inform 
decisionmaking at the unit level. The scorecard includes requirements 
that complement or are complemented by requirements in Modified 
Alternative A. The climate change roadmap and scorecard are available 
online at http://www.fs.fed.us/climatechange/advisor/.
    The national watershed condition framework (WCF) approach uses an 
annual outcome-based performance system to measure progress toward 
improving watershed condition on NFS lands. The WCF improves the way 
the Forest Service approaches watershed restoration by targeting the 
implementation of integrated suites of activities in those watersheds 
that have been identified as priorities for restoration. A short 
description of the framework is discussed in Chapter 3 of the final 
PEIS under watershed protection and a Forest Service publication is 
available at http://www.fs.fed.us/publications/watershed/Watershed_Condition_Framework.pdf.
    Modified Alternative A capitalizes on existing Agency work such as 
the baseline carbon assessments conducted under the Climate Change 
Scorecard, the assessment and monitoring conducted under the Watershed 
Condition Framework, and the monitoring of climate change indicators 
occurring in the Forest Inventory and Analysis program, by ensuring 
integration of these activities into the land management planning 
process.
    In selecting Modified Alternative A, the Department considered the 
present capability of the Agency to address climate change in planning. 
The Department also considered existing Agency policy on climate change 
and the ways in which the different alternatives could be integrated 
effectively with those policies. The Department concludes that the 
requirements for addressing climate change in the final rule can be 
carried out on all NFS units.

Response to the Issue of Multiple Uses

    Modified Alternative A embraces the multiple use mandate of the 
Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act and recognizes the importance of 
multiple uses in many

[[Page 21177]]

sections of the alternative. Recreation, timber, grazing, and other 
multiple uses provide jobs and income to local communities, help to 
maintain social cultures and long standing traditions, connect people 
to the land, and contribute to the quality of life for many Americans.
    The Agency has reported that spending by recreation visitors in 
areas within 50 miles of national forests and grasslands amounts to 
nearly $13 billion each year. Those dollars sustain more than 224,000 
full and part-time jobs. Recreation accounts for more than half of all 
job and income effects attributable to Forest Service programs. Harvest 
of timber and other forest products from NFS lands contributed to more 
than 44,000 full- and part-time jobs with labor income totaling more 
than $2 billion in 2009. Livestock grazing on NFS lands contributes to 
an estimated 3,695 jobs and labor income totaling $91.9 million per 
year.
    Timber harvest on NFS lands has declined from over 12 billion board 
feet in 1985 to approximately 2 billion board feet in 2009. In 1985, 
there were over 8 million cattle, sheep, and other domestic animals 
grazing on NFS lands. In 2009, this number dropped to approximately 6 
million. In contrast, recreation visits to NFS lands have increased 
over this same period. There are many factors that influence the levels 
of timber harvest, grazing, and recreation, as well as other individual 
multiple uses of the NFS. These factors include increasing population, 
changing cultural and social values, greater access to NFS lands, 
changing rural and global economies, NFS budgets, and competing 
resource concerns. It is difficult to predict at this programmatic 
level the extent to which a new planning rule is likely to affect 
specific multiple uses in the future. As a result, the Department 
considered how each of the alternatives in the PEIS provides a 
framework for supporting the continued delivery of ecosystem services 
and multiple uses from the NFS.
    Modified Alternative A considers ecological, economic, and social 
sustainability as equal and interdependent factors. Modified 
Alternative A emphasizes restoration of ecosystems so that they are 
capable of sustaining multiple uses over time. Restoration activities 
will produce jobs and income; at the same time; restored, functioning 
ecosystems can support species diversity while allowing multiple uses 
to continue. Under Modified Alternative A, timber production and 
grazing will continue to provide jobs, income, and ways of life for 
many Americans. Modified Alternative A emphasizes the importance of the 
continued delivery of sustainable recreation. Providing high quality 
recreation opportunities and a range of access to NFS lands creates 
jobs and income and connects people to the land.
    Under Modified Alternative A, plans must contribute to economic and 
social sustainability and must provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses in the plan area. Responsible officials will use an 
integrated resource management approach to provide for multiple uses 
and ecosystem services in the plan area, considering a full range of 
resources, uses, and benefits relevant to the unit, as well as 
stressors and other important factors. As part of the multiple use 
requirements, Modified Alternative A will require plan components for 
sustainable recreation, including recreation settings, opportunities, 
access, and scenic character. Modified Alternative A also includes 
requirements for plan components for timber management, consistent with 
the requirements of NFMA.
    Information relevant to multiple uses and their contributions to 
local, regional, and national economies, along with information about 
the benefits (ecosystem services) people obtain from the plan area, 
will be identified and evaluated in the assessment phase.
    Monitoring will track progress towards meeting desired conditions 
and objectives for recreation and other multiple uses. Broad and unit 
scale monitoring may provide information on resource and social 
concerns and conflicts before they result in insurmountable challenges. 
Most importantly, the Department concludes that the requirements in 
Modified Alternative A for encouraging public participation, working 
across boundaries, and engaging other Federal agencies, State, local, 
and Tribal governments, will help identify multiple uses in the plan 
area, resolve conflicts, and facilitate the forward movement of 
effective land management activities.
    The Department concludes that Modified Alternative A meets the 
Agency's multiple-use and sustained-yield obligations under MUSYA and 
provides an effective framework for sustaining the flow of goods and 
services from NFS lands over time.

Response to the Issue of Efficiency and Effectiveness

    Under Modified Alternative A, the Department expects that 
individual plan revisions will cost less money and consume less time 
than they do under the 1982 rule procedures. The 1982 rule procedures 
are considered the baseline for comparing changes in cost and time for 
plan revisions because, until a new planning rule is in place, the 1982 
rule procedures are being used as permitted by the transition provision 
of the 2000 rule to develop, revise, and amend all plans.
    According to the Agency's regulatory impact analysis and cost-
benefit analysis under Modified Alternative A, the Agency estimates 
that land management planning will cost an estimated $97.7 million per 
year, which is $6.3 million per year less than it currently costs to 
conduct planning under the 1982 procedures. More significantly, under 
Modified Alternative A, the Agency estimates that plan revisions will 
take, on average, 3 to 4 years as compared to 5 to 7 years under 
Alternative B, and will cost, on average, $3 to $4 million as compared 
to $5 to $7 million. As a result of these savings and efficiencies, the 
Forest Service will be able to revise significantly more plans during 
the 15-year revision cycle, than under the current planning structure.
    Beyond cost and time savings, there are important ancillary 
benefits to increasing the efficiency of the planning revision process. 
Under shorter time frames it will be easier for the public to remain 
engaged throughout the revision process. One of the common concerns 
expressed by members of the public is that there is a significant 
amount of turnover in key Agency staff during the long timeframes 
required for plan revision under the current planning process. This can 
cause disruption and confusion as established relationships are severed 
and time and effort is needed to develop new relationships.
    The new rule's requirements for increased collaboration and 
monitoring will lead to higher costs than are projected under 
Alternative B, but are expected to increase the effectiveness and 
relevance of land management plans. Increased collaboration provides 
benefits throughout the planning process and well into implementation. 
Analysis time may be shortened, administrative objections and the time 
needed to resolve them may be reduced, and projects developed under the 
resulting plans may be better understood and supported. Monitoring is 
important for adaptive management, and can help the Agency to test 
assumptions, track changing conditions, and measure management 
effectiveness over time. However, the Agency has long recognized that 
monitoring efforts when viewed across the Agency as a whole have often 
lacked consistency and, at times, credibility. The

[[Page 21178]]

monitoring requirements of Modified Alternative A complement broader 
Agency efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its 
inventory, monitoring and assessment programs, and make better use of 
the money currently spent on monitoring.
    While the cost of each requirement is included in the total cost 
estimate of Modified Alternative A, many of the requirements involve 
work that is already occurring and that will continue to occur 
regardless of whether this, or another alternative is selected as the 
final rule. Modified Alternative A was developed as part of an 
integrated Agency framework to manage the NFS lands more efficiently. 
Other initiatives and Agency priorities that will complement and 
support the implementation of the new land management planning process 
and address critical NFS resource issues include the Watershed 
Condition Framework, Climate Change Scorecard, landscape scale 
restoration, an all lands approach, and a new system for inventory, 
monitoring, and assessment work that addresses core resource 
information and data needs at all levels of the Agency.
    Modified Alternative A is neither the least nor the most costly of 
the alternatives the Department considered. Modified Alternative A 
reduces the costs and time required for plan development, amendment, 
and revision. However, the Department does not believe that selecting 
the least costly alternative should be the overriding criterion. 
Planning is an important investment. The requirements in Modified 
Alternative A are designed to lead to more effective plans, to yield 
greater efficiencies over time by ensuring a consistent approach to 
planning, to build on existing information, to facilitate adaptive 
management, and to allow the use of amendments and administrative 
changes to keep plans current so that future revisions are less costly.
    The Department recognizes that some of the definitions, concepts, 
and terms used in Modified Alternative A are new or broadly worded. 
This Alternative sets forth process and content requirements to guide 
the development, amendment, and revision of land management plans 
across very diverse national forests and grasslands and over a long 
period of time. By setting out substantive and procedural requirements, 
the rule establishes the decision space within which the planning 
process is to be carried out and within which plan content must fit. 
The Forest Service will develop directives (the Forest Service Manual 
and Handbook) that will provide additional guidance and more detailed 
interpretation to ensure consistent and effective implementation of the 
rule. These directives will be available for public review and comment 
before they are finalized. Plans developed, revised and amended under 
the rule will be consistent with the rule and the directives.

Response to the Issue of Transparency and Collaboration

    Modified Alternative A supports a transparent and collaborative 
approach to planning. As described in the PEIS, best practices in 
public involvement and collaboration emphasize the importance of 
engaging a broad spectrum of participants. Participants might live 
close to a plan area or not. What matters is they care about that area 
for some reason, can contribute to an understanding of relevant issues, 
can help get planning or project work done, and can help increase 
organizational and community capacity. A plan revision or amendment 
process that offers a broad spectrum of participation opportunities is 
much more likely to produce a meaningful, shared understanding of the 
social, economic, or ecological factors of importance in the plan area. 
Forests and grasslands that already engage a broad spectrum of public 
interests early and often report that their proposed projects and plans 
more accurately incorporate public vision and interests. They further 
report that upfront public involvement builds more understanding of 
proposed actions, and that people typically respond more positively to 
these proposals.
    Under Modified Alternative A, responsible official will be required 
to provide meaningful opportunities for public participation in each 
phase of the planning framework. Modified Alternative A includes 
requirements for outreach, Tribal consultation, and coordination with 
other planning efforts. Responsible officials will continue to engage 
State and local governments, Tribes, private landowners, other Federal 
agencies, and the public at large, but additionally will encourage 
participation by youth, low-income and minority populations, who have 
traditionally been underrepresented in the planning process. Having the 
forest or grassland supervisor as the responsible official provides 
greater opportunity for people to interact directly with the decision 
maker than under current rule procedures. Use of a pre-decisional 
review (objection) process is also consistent with a more collaborative 
approach.
    Modified Alternative A allows flexibility at the local level to 
determine the most appropriate method and scale of the public 
involvement. Much of the literature on building effective collaboration 
discusses the need for flexibility to select public involvement methods 
appropriate for the unique needs of specific situations and 
participants.
    Modified Alternative A is consistent with current practice on 
effective public engagement and incorporates approaches that have 
proven successful and implementable on NFS units.
    The requirements for public participation, notification, and 
documentation required in Modified Alternative A support transparency 
in planning. This alternative's requirements to consider the 
accessibility of the process and of information, to use contemporary 
tools to engage the public and to post all notifications online further 
increase transparency.

Response to the Issue of Coordination and Cooperation Beyond NFS 
Boundaries

    Ecological and social systems are not confined within NFS unit 
boundaries. Ecosystem services produced by national forests and 
grasslands affect and are affected by land management activities on 
adjacent private, State, local, and other Federal Government lands.
    Under Modified Alternative A, the responsible official will 
consider the landscape-scale context for management and will look 
across boundaries throughout the assessment, plan development/revision, 
and monitoring phases of the planning process. The assessment phase 
will provide information about conditions and trends relevant to 
management of the plan area in the context of the broader landscape. 
Responsible officials will take an all-lands approach into account when 
developing plan components for ecological sustainability and multiple 
uses and ecosystem services. Plan and broader-scale monitoring, along 
with direction to engage the public and other land managers in each 
phase, will also support an all-lands approach. Responsible officials 
will leverage their resources and knowledge with those of other 
agencies to increase effectiveness and gain efficiency in planning and 
future implementation of their plans.
    The PEIS includes several examples of landscape scale planning, 
projects, and assessments that are currently using an all-lands 
approach in planning, assessment and monitoring. They have resulted 
from an increased recognition

[[Page 21179]]

that NFS land management must be considered in the broader landscape 
and that only this kind of approach can address problems such as 
maintaining watershed conditions, conserving wide-ranging species, and 
providing for effective transportation and infrastructure on and off 
NFS lands. The Department concludes that Modified Alternative A 
incorporates these best practices and provides a framework for 
continuing and expanding them.

Compliance With the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as Amended

    Beginning in September, 2010 and continuing through the development 
of the final rule and its accompanying final programmatic environmental 
impact statement (PEIS), representatives from the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration (NOAA) Fisheries (the reviewing agencies) met regularly 
with members of the Forest Service to discuss Endangered Species Act of 
1973 issues related to the final rule. During that time, the three 
agencies worked closely together to identify the relevant issues and 
appropriate level of analysis associated with this rule and the 
environmental analysis for it. They collaborated on a consultation 
process and on the biological assessment (BA). The Agency requested 
consultation under section 7(a)(1) and 7(a)(2) of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 with the reviewing agencies in July, 2011. 
Additionally, the Agency requested conferencing on the potential 
effects of the rule on all species that are proposed for Federal 
listing and currently occur on NFS lands, and those that are candidates 
for Federal listing that occur on or are suspected to occur on NFS 
lands. A summary of the consultation meetings between the Forest 
Service, NOAA Fisheries, and the USFWS can be found in Appendix E of 
the final PEIS.
    NOAA Fisheries and USFWS have each prepared a biological opinion 
pursuant to section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act including a 
conservation review pursuant to section 7(a)(l) Act (16 U.S.C. 
1536(a)(1) and (2)). Each agency issued a biological opinion that 
adoption of the final planning rule is not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of the endangered or threatened species under its 
jurisdiction and is not likely to destroy or adversely modify any of 
those species' critical habitat. Each agency's biological opinion also 
concluded that the planning rule would set forth a system for land use 
plans that would further the conservation purposes of the Endangered 
Species Act under section 7(a)(1).
    Copies of the biological assessment, its addendum, and the 
biological opinions are in the project record and can be viewed online 
at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.

Response to Comments

    The following is a description of specific comments received on the 
proposed rule, responses to comments, and changes made in response to 
comments. Each comment received consideration in the development of the 
final rule. In addition, following the publication of the PEIS, the 
Department received comments on the PEIS and the preferred alternative. 
These comments were also considered by the Department in the 
development of the final rule, and any changes made in response to 
those comments are described below. A response to comments on the draft 
EIS and the proposed rule may be found in the response to comments 
appendix of the EIS located online (see ADDRESSES).

General Comments

    The Department received the following comments not specifically 
tied to a particular section of the 2011 proposed rule.
General Comments on Rulemaking Effort
    Comment: Use of public forums for rule development and meeting 
locations. A respondent was critical of the public forums, as the forum 
they attended was full of private sector representatives and not 
members of the public. Another respondent felt there were not enough 
public meetings held on the East Coast. A respondent felt after 
scoping, the proposed rule was developed ``behind closed doors.'' The 
respondent felt the meetings on the proposed rule were not 
opportunities to discuss specific rule wording.
    Response: The public engagement effort prior to development of the 
proposed rule was the most extensive, transparent and participatory 
process ever used to develop a proposed planning rule. The Department 
began by using the Notice of Intent (NOI) to solicit initial public 
input, rather than going out with an already developed proposal. This 
decision was made in recognition of the level of public interest in 
this rule-making effort, and in a desire to build a proposed rule based 
on public input. The Department received 26,000 comments on the NOI. 
Following the NOI, the Department hosted a science forum, 4 national 
roundtables, and 9 regional roundtables which reached 35 locations 
around the country, using an independent facilitator to run the 
roundtables and capture public feedback.
    The purpose of the public forums before publication of the proposed 
rule was to openly and transparently discuss possible content of the 
proposed rule. Participants in the meetings were invited to suggest 
specific topics and specific wording during the sessions. Materials and 
summaries from the roundtables were posted online. Many roundtables 
used video teleconferencing or Webcasts to provide for participation by 
members of the public unable to attend in person. This use of 
technology also provided opportunities for the public to participate 
from their local Forest Service office. The Agency also hosted a blog 
site for people to engage in dialogue and provide feedback, as well as 
participate remotely in the national roundtables. More than 3,000 
members of the public participated in these sessions and provided 
important feedback that the Agency used in developing the proposed 
rule.
    After the proposed rule was published, the Agency hosted 28 
regional public forums and one national public forum to answer 
questions and help the public understand what was in the proposed rule. 
These sessions were attended by more than 1,350 people and reached 72 
satellite locations across the country. These forums were intended to 
help the public submit informed comments during the comment period for 
the proposed rule, but the Agency did not accept public comments 
directly at the forums because of the need to have a consistent way of 
accepting and recording comments.
    After the public comment period closed, the Agency used the more 
than 300,000 comments received to inform development of this final 
rule.
    Comment: Proposed rule commenting process. A respondent felt there 
was no convenient way for the everyday person to provide comments on 
the proposed rule.
    Response: Multiple avenues for the public to submit comments on the 
proposed rule were provided, including submitting comments 
electronically via the respondent's choice of two Web sites, or 
submitting comments using mail or fax. Information on how to submit 
comments was posted on the Forest Service Web site, distributed at 
public meetings, and published in the Federal Register notice. 
Additionally, interested parties could sign up for a listserv that 
provided updates via email.
    Comment: Lack of responses. A respondent felt the 26,000 comments 
received during the comment period for the notice of intent (NOI) to 
develop a

[[Page 21180]]

new planning rule meant the Department must undertake further efforts 
to ensure the public is sufficiently involved in the planning process 
and further ensure that actions taken as a result of the rule are 
supported and understood by the public.
    Response: In addition to the 26,000 comments received in response 
to the NOI, the Department engaged more than 3,000 people around the 
country in public forums to receive input between the NOI and the 
proposed rule, and received more than 300,000 public comments during 
the 90-day comment period for the proposed rule. After publication of 
the final rule, public participation in planning at the unit level is 
mandated by Sec.  219.4, which requires the responsible official to 
offer meaningful opportunities for public involvement and participation 
early and throughout the development of a land management plan or plan 
revision. The Agency is also exploring ways to engage more broadly with 
the public to implement this final rule.
    Comment: Cooperating status for rulemaking. Some respondents 
expressed concern that their requests for cooperating agency status 
were not granted by the Department.
    Response: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) allows for 
cooperating agency status for States, local governments, and Tribes 
with jurisdiction or special expertise for the development of an 
environmental document. Several States or local governments requested 
cooperating agency status. However, a national rule requires a broader 
look beyond an individual State's or local government's expertise. The 
Agency also took a unique and unprecedented collaborative and open 
approach in reaching out to the public, governments, and Tribal 
entities in developing the rule. Therefore, requests for cooperating 
agency status during development of the planning rule were not granted. 
The Department recognizes the valuable role of local and State 
governments and Tribes in the planning process and provided multiple 
opportunities for their involvement throughout the country during the 
collaboration efforts for the planning rule, in addition to the formal 
public comment periods.
    Comment: Oral comments. Several respondents felt oral comments 
during the public forums on the proposed rule should have been allowed.
    Response: When applicable, the Administrative Procedures Act 
directs that agencies provide an opportunity for written comment, but 
allows agencies the discretion whether or not to allow oral 
presentation of data or views. The Forest Service hosted open public 
forums in Washington, DC, and across the country to answer questions 
about the proposed rule during the public comment period. The Forest 
Service held these forums to help the public understand the content of 
the proposed rule. The Forest Service did not, however, accept written 
formal public comments at the forums or provide an opportunity to 
record oral comments, due to the anticipated volume of public comments, 
to ensure proper documentation and consideration of all comments, and 
in the interest of efficiency and accuracy in accepting and reviewing 
comments. All comments on the proposed rule and DEIS had to be 
submitted in writing during the 90-day comment period by postal system, 
fax, or one of two Web sites.
    Comment: Personal comments. A respondent expressed concern that 
their scoping comments were not incorporated into the proposed rule.
    Response: No rule can satisfy the entire spectrum of opinion. The 
final rule seeks to balance different, and often competing, public 
needs and perspectives on planning into a process that is practical, 
workable, based on science, and reflective of overall public and Agency 
values and input.
    Comment: Incorrect or missing address for submission of comments, 
phone contact, and Web site utility. Some respondents expressed 
confusion on why the Department did not provide an email address for 
comments to be sent to. Others expressed frustration that the contact 
phone number was published incorrectly in the DEIS, and expressed a 
desire to submit comments or ask questions by phone. Some wanted a 
better sitemap on the Forest Service planning Web site to help 
navigation through the site.
    Response: Instead of an email address, the Department provided the 
addresses of two Web sites the public could choose from to submit 
comments, in addition to mail or fax options. Because of the volume of 
anticipated comments, the Department concluded that comments submitted 
via a Web site would be more efficient to manage than an electronic 
mail in-box, and would reduce costs and the risk of human error. In 
addition, comments are more efficiently and rapidly placed in the 
record and made available for public inspection when submitted via a 
Web site rather than email.
    After being made aware of the incorrect phone number published in 
the DEIS, the Department corrected the contact information immediately. 
The Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to ``give interested 
persons an opportunity to participate in the rulemaking through 
submission of written data, views, or arguments with or without 
opportunity for oral presentation'' (5 U.S.C. 553(c)). Due to the 
anticipated volume of public comments, and in the interest of 
efficiency and accuracy in accepting and reviewing comments, the 
Department did not accept comments over the telephone. It is not 
standard practice to accept telephone comments. Opportunities to 
provide comment were amply provided through the respondent's choice of 
two Web sites, mail or fax.
    The planning rule Web site does contain a site map link on the 
left-hand menu on the main page. The Department appreciates feedback on 
our Web design and seeks to continuously improve our Web presence.
    Comment: Verification comments received. Some respondents wanted to 
verify that their comments on the planning rule were received.
    Response: Respondents are able to verify that their comments were 
received by reviewing the public reading room for the planning rule at 
http://contentanalysisgroup.com/fsrd/. To ensure transparency, comments 
submitted during the comment period were posted to the reading room for 
public review.
    Comment: List serv. A respondent felt the Department should use a 
listserv to keep the public apprised of the status of the planning 
rule.
    Response: A planning rule listserv was announced in June 2010, and 
has been used since then to communicate with the public. Members of the 
public may request to be added to the planning rule listserv on the 
planning rule Web site, or directly at http://www.fs.fed.us/news/pr-listserv-subscribe.html.
    Comment: Requests for extension of the comment period. Some 
respondents requested an extension of the comment period because some 
members of the public were not able to participate in Agency meetings 
addressing the proposed rule. Other respondents requested an extension 
of the comment deadline because of the late release of a scientific 
review. Some respondents said that the public did not have enough time 
to comment on the science review before the comment period closed.
    Response: The Department went through extraordinary lengths to 
facilitate the ability of the public to understand and comment on the 
proposed rule and proposed environmental impact statement. In fact, the 
Administration identified this rule as a flagship for open government

[[Page 21181]]

within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Department published in 
the Federal Register a notice of intent to propose a new rule and 
prepare its accompanying environmental impact statement on December 18, 
2009, and took public comment on that notice for 60 days. The proposed 
rule was informed by approximately 26,000 comments to the notice of 
intent, a science forum, regional and national roundtables held in 35 
locations with over 3,000 people in attendance, national and regional 
Tribal roundtables, 16 Tribal consultation meetings, Forest Service 
employee feedback, and over 300 comments posted to the planning rule 
blog. Throughout that process, the Agency shared a clear timeline with 
the public, including our intent to publish the final rule by the end 
of 2011.
    The Department considered all the public input, science, and the 
Agency's expertise to develop the proposed rule and draft environmental 
impact statement (DEIS). The proposed rule and notice of availability 
for the DEIS were published in the Federal Register and included a 90-
day comment period ending on May 16, 2011. A 90-day comment period was 
used because of the importance of the proposed planning rule. This was 
30 days more than the Agency's customary comment period for rulemaking 
and is 45 days more than the review and comment period for draft 
environmental impact statements required by National Environmental 
Policy Act regulations.
    The Department reached well beyond its normal practices to provide 
the public with information to assist in the public comment phase of 
this rulemaking. During March and April, 2011, after the notices were 
published in the Federal Register, the Forest Service hosted 29 
national and regional public forums to provide stakeholders with 
information about the proposed rule and respond to questions. The 
forums were attended by almost 1,350 members of the public and reached 
74 locations across the country through video and teleconferencing. The 
National Forum was held within 3 weeks of the opening of the comment 
period and a video of the forum and forum materials were posted on the 
planning rule Web site. The regional forums were also held early in the 
comment period. While the forums were designed to assist the public in 
understanding the proposed rule and foster informed comments, it was 
not necessary for any member of the public to attend a forum to develop 
and submit comments. The Forest Service ensured that the planning rule 
Web site contained background information on the proposed rule as well 
as summaries of the various collaboration and public involvement 
activities held during the preparation of the proposed rule. Also, the 
DEIS was posted on that Web site, as published in the Federal Register 
notification. In order to proactively facilitate commenting, the Forest 
Service provided multiple options for members of the public to submit 
comments: two Web sites, by hard copy mail, and by facsimile.
    In addition, the Department contracted with a neutral third party 
to arrange an independent review of the DEIS by respected and well 
known scientists outside of the Forest Service to ensure that the 
science behind the proposed rule and environmental analysis is current, 
relevant, accurate, and appropriately applied. In order to ensure the 
integrity and independence of the review process, the identity of the 
reviewers and the content of their individual analysis were kept 
confidential by the third party, until the review was completed. In 
keeping with our open and transparent process, the Agency committed to 
make the reviews in their entirety public and did so within 3 business 
days of receiving them. The Agency posted the reviews on the Internet 
on April 26, 2011. The summary of the reviews and each independent 
review can be found on the Internet at http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule. Neither requesting the review nor sharing the result of 
the review was legally required. The Forest Service considered the 
science reviews, along with public comments, in preparing the final 
programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) and final rule.
    The Department believes the public had sufficient time to review 
these materials and consider them when commenting on the proposed 
planning rule. The Department decided not to extend the 90-day comment 
period because extra time had been provided for comments beyond the 
customary practices and an unprecedented amount of information and 
access to the Agency employees to assist the public in understanding 
that information was provided to the public via Web site and public 
meetings.
    Comment: External science review and Federal Advisory Committee 
Act. Some respondents were concerned that the external science review 
of the DEIS violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) because 
they believed the Agency set up an advisory committee but did not 
follow the FACA requirements. Some respondents were concerned that the 
Agency did not follow the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) 
requirements in setting up a committee of scientists.
    Response: The external science review of the DEIS did not violate 
FACA. FACA applies when a Federal agency establishes, controls, or 
manages a group that provides the Agency with consensus advice or 
recommendations. The external science review of the DEIS was conducted 
by seven non-Federal scientists, each of whom separately conducted an 
independent evaluation of whether appropriate scientific information, 
content, and rigor had been considered, analyzed, and synthesized in 
the DEIS. These scientists did not operate as a group; they were not 
established, controlled or managed as a group by the Agency; and they 
did not provide the Agency with consensus advice or recommendations. 
Accordingly, the external science review was not subject to FACA's 
requirements.
    A committee of scientists was not required for this rulemaking 
effort under the NFMA: a committee of scientists was required only for 
the 1979 planning rule, and that committee terminated upon promulgation 
of that regulation. The NFMA states that the Secretary may, from time 
to time, appoint similar committees when considering revisions of the 
regulations, but the Secretary need not do so (16 U.S.C. 1604(h)(1)).
    Comment: External science review and public comment. Some 
respondents were concerned that science review meetings of the external 
reviewers were not open to the public, and that the documents 
considered and produced were not available to the public. Some 
respondents were concerned that the Agency did not make the reviews 
public when the proposed rule was published for comment on February 14, 
2011.
    Response: There were no ``science review'' meetings held by the 
external reviewers. The Agency did not provide the external reviewers 
with any documents that were not available to the public. Neither the 
public nor the Department knew the identities of the reviewers, nor was 
there interaction between Department personnel and the reviewers during 
the review phase. It was only after the reviews were completed, during 
the public comment phase, that the Department learned the identities of 
the reviewers and the substance of their reviews. Within 3 business 
days of the Department's receipt of that information, each of the 
reviews (unedited), the contractor's summary of the reviews, and the 
identities of the reviewers were made public. The reviews were not 
available in February because the reviewers

[[Page 21182]]

received the DEIS for review at the same time as the rest of the 
public.
    Comment: External science review and the rule. Some respondents 
were concerned that the scientists reviewed the rule and not the DEIS, 
as appeared evident from their reviews.
    Response: The basic charge to the science reviewers was to evaluate 
how well the proposed planning rule's draft environmental impact 
statement (DEIS) considered the best available science. The contractor 
gave each science reviewer three key questions to address, regarding 
scientific caliber, treatment of uncertainty, and comprehensiveness of 
the DEIS. The reviewers were not asked to review the proposed planning 
rule or to comment on the alternatives. However, the text of the 
proposed planning rule and alternatives was included in the appendices 
of the DEIS that was posted online and made available to the public as 
well as the science reviewers. Some of the reviewers chose to provide 
feedback on the proposed rule and alternatives, although they were not 
asked to comment on those parts.
    Comment: External science reviewers. Some respondents were 
concerned that the background of the reviewers did not include 
expertise that they felt was important to include, including mining, 
timber, or recreation. Some suggested that the reviewers were biased in 
their reviews.
    Response: The Department contracted with RESOLVE to administer the 
science reviews to ensure the independence of the reviews. RESOLVE is a 
non-partisan organization that serves as a neutral, third-party in 
policy decisionmaking. One of RESOLVE's specialties is helping to 
incorporate technical and scientific expertise into policy decisions. 
The Agency provided the contractor with a draft of the DEIS and 
required it to select the reviewers and provide their responses to the 
Agency.
    Comment: External science review and CEQ documents. Some 
respondents commented that the CEQ report from 1982 should not be used 
because it is too old. Also, some respondents suggested that other 
references used in the DEIS were too old to use.
    Response: The references to which the comment referred were the 
``Forty Most Asked Questions Concerning CEQ's National Environmental 
Policy Act Regulations,'' which was published in the Federal Register 
in 1981 (46 FR 18026 (March 23, 1981)) and the April 30, 1981 
memorandum from the Executive Office of the President on scoping. Both 
are current and still relevant; see the CEQ Web site on NEPA guidance 
at http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/regs/guidance.html. Furthermore, 
scientific literature from decades ago may still be relevant and even 
considered the best science that is available on some topics. Some 
classic literature from well known scientists still is used frequently 
(for example, Pickett et al. 1978) and was used in the DEIS.
    Comment: Some respondents commented that a concerted effort be made 
to address the issues raised by the science reviewers.
    Response: The planning rule team considered and responded to the 
comments made by the science reviewers, along with other comments 
submitted by the public. The issues raised in the reviews informed the 
final PEIS, along with the other feedback received during the public 
comment period.
    Comment: Some respondents were concerned that only the Science 
Review summary was posted online.
    Response: The Science Review report included a summary of the 
science review and the full and unedited reviews of each of the science 
reviewers. The report was prepared by RESOLVE and was posted on the 
Forest Service Web site without any changes or omissions.
General Proposed Rule Comments
    Comment: Degree of compliance or restriction. Some respondents said 
the rule should provide more discretion and flexibility to develop a 
forest plan by reducing the use of ``shalls'' and ``musts.'' Other 
respondents felt phases ``take into account'' and ``consider'' should 
be removed and replaced with more prescriptive terminology as these 
terms left implementation largely to the discretion of the responsible 
official.
    Response: The wording in the final rule was chosen to reflect the 
degree of structure the Department decided as appropriate for various 
aspects of the rule. The Department's goal in creating the final rule 
was to create an implementable framework for planning along with a 
structure and set of requirements for plan components and other plan 
content that would support the purpose of the final rule. In addition, 
the Department allows flexibility for plans to reflect the different 
unique circumstances across the National Forest System (NFS), including 
in response to best available scientific information, public input, and 
information about changing conditions at the unit level. The Department 
believes that the final rule strikes a good balance.
    The Department recognizes that there may be significant differences 
in circumstances across the NFS that make specific national standards 
unworkable or not reflective of the best available scientific 
information for a given plan area. The final rule balances the need for 
national consistency with the need for local flexibility to reflect 
conditions and information on each unit. Additional direction will be 
included in the Forest Service Directives System, and a new requirement 
was added to Sec.  219.2 that requires the Chief to establish a 
national oversight process for accountability and consistency of 
planning under this part.
    Comment: Advocacy for a particular outcome or regulatory wording. 
Some respondents expressed general support for or opposition to the 
proposed rule. Among the items respondents supporting the proposed rule 
listed are the following: the use of larger ecological regions to 
provide context for forest, grassland and prairie units; cooperation 
between the Agency and adjacent governmental entities in planning and 
plan revision processes; public participation opportunities in the 
decision making process; the approach on ecological sustainability, 
watershed restoration and protection, and recognition of ecosystem 
services. Supportive respondents also were in favor of the emphasis on 
recreational uses and users; the streamlining and simplifying of the 
planning process the use of active management techniques; the continued 
emphasis on multiple use purposes including economic impacts and 
benefits; the use of best available science; and the appropriate use of 
regulations and management strategies to mitigate climate change 
effects. Those respondents expressing a general opposition to the 
proposed rule felt the way it was written and the requirements it 
contained were vague, complex, unrealistic, and needed clarification. 
They felt it would invite litigation; would not provide adequate 
protection for wildlife and resources; or would limit public access, 
use, rights, and participation. Some felt the proposed rule was 
inappropriate because they felt it allowed for continued timber, 
livestock, mining, and special interest groups' use; wasted tax 
dollars; would harm economic benefits for rural communities; failed to 
incorporate the multiple use mandate; failed to include sound science 
in planning and measurable tools for management; failed to incorporate 
and analyze Tribal interests and activities; allowed too much 
discretion to the responsible official; failed to give recreational 
uses

[[Page 21183]]

a greater priority; or failed to address cumulative effects these 
regulations would cause. Additionally, they expressed concerns over 
inclusion of climate change requirements. Some respondents expressed 
endorsement of comments submitted by other organizations or 
individuals, or referred to attachments submitted in support of their 
comments.
    Response: The Department has reviewed all of these comments and 
enclosures, and appreciates the degree of public interest in the 
proposed rule. Where changes have been made in the final rule, these 
discussions can be found in the following section-by-section 
discussions. Responses to these comments and their relationship with 
the supporting final programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) 
can be found in Appendix M of the final PEIS.
    Comment: Preservation of the national forests for future 
generations. Some respondents stated a desire for the rule to mandate 
stronger standards to ensure wildlife and wildlife habitats are healthy 
and resilient; for greater forests protections, and better integration 
of environmental, economic, and/or social sustainability into future 
plans and future generations. Some wanted inclusion of guidelines for 
responsible/sustainable recreation, more restrictions on mining and 
logging activities, and provisions to limit access to preserve land.
    Response: The Department agrees that the preservation of our 
national forests and grasslands is vital to meet the needs of present 
and future generations. These comments were reviewed and changes are 
discussed in the section-by-section responses below. The final rule 
sets the stage for a planning process that can be responsive to the 
desires and needs of present and future generations of Americans for 
the multiple uses of NFS lands. The final rule does not make choices 
between the multiple uses of a plan area. The unit plans developed 
under the final rule will provide guidance for future projects and 
activities.
    Comment: General action to protect national forests and grasslands. 
Some respondents expressed the need for the Forest Service to protect 
and not destroy the national forests. They expressed the importance of 
protection for wildlife, diverse ecosystems, riparian areas, priority 
watersheds, aquatic resources, clean drinking water, endangered 
species, climate change and air pollution, access for socioeconomic 
purposes, cultural and traditional resource use, and the natural beauty 
of the land. They suggested strengthening the wording of the proposed 
rule for forest protection, compliance, and consistency; inclusion of 
protection of access to land for recreation; and allowing natural 
processes to occur. They felt an effective planning rule will reflect 
the aspirations of diverse communities.
    Response: The Department has revised the proposed wording on 
sustainability, diversity of plant and animal communities, multiple 
uses, and timber requirements as well as wording in other sections of 
the final rule to reflect public comments and better ensure the needs 
of present and future generations. See discussions under the section-
by-section response to comments.
    Comment: References to individual forests, projects, and 
individuals. Some respondents commented on issues important to them, 
but not related to this rulemaking effort. Examples of such concerns 
include the use of DDT, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, issues with 
rental housing, sustainable living, a tornado in southeast Tennessee, a 
vital wildlife crossing in Montana, Willamette National Forest timber 
harvest levels, and a suggested wolf/gorilla/elephant/chimpanzee/lion/
giraffe sanctuary.
    Response: These and other similar comments have been determined to 
be outside the scope of the development of a planning rule, because 
they discuss aspects unique to specific forests, grasslands, or 
municipalities. Many of the concerns raised would be more properly 
addressed in specific forest and grassland plans themselves, or in the 
subsequent decisions regarding projects and activities on a particular 
national forest, grassland, prairie, or other administrative unit, or 
may be outside the scope of NFS planning.
    Comment: Wilderness evaluation procedures. Several respondents felt 
``sights and sound'' should be removed Forest Service directives as a 
criterion for wilderness inventories.
    Response: Criteria for the evaluation of areas for wilderness 
recommendations are in Forest Service directives, which are in the 
process of being revised. There will be an opportunity for public 
comment on the directives before they are finalized. The Department 
encourages members of the public to provide comment on issues specific 
to the directives during their revision.
    Comment: Changes to other Forest Service regulations. Some 
respondents commented about which resource uses or activities should be 
supported or not supported by the Department on NFS lands. They 
requested requiring, changing, or eliminating regulations for specific 
activities. These activities included, but are not limited to, NEPA 
implementation, grazing, mining, logging, road construction and 
maintenance, special use permits, hunting, certain recreational 
activities, trail use conflicts, wildland fire suppression, fuels 
management, educational opportunities, cultural and historic resources, 
as well as protections for wild horses and burros.
    Response: The Department agrees the issues raised are important. 
However, these comments have been determined to be outside the scope of 
development of a planning rule. The final rule is intended to provide 
overall direction for how plans are developed, revised, and amended and 
for required plan components and other plan content. The final rule and 
alternatives found in the supporting final PEIS do not provide 
regulatory direction for the management of any specific resource, 
except for the NFMA timber requirements. Agency regulations for 
specific uses can be found in other sections of 36 CFR parts 200-299, 
which govern management of the national forests, grasslands, and 
prairie. For example, part 212 regulates administration of the forest 
transportations system (roads and trails), part 222 regulates range 
management, including wild horses and burros, and part 223 regulates 
the sale and disposal of NFS timber. Additional direction may be found 
in individual plans or in project or activity decision documents. Those 
communities, groups, or persons interested in these important issues 
can influence plan components, plan monitoring programs, or subsequent 
projects or activities by becoming involved in unit planning efforts 
throughout the process, and by submitting comments on the Forest 
Service Directives System during opportunities for public comment.
    Comment: Funding and staffing levels. Some respondents suggested 
increased funding and staffing for the enforcement of protection and 
mitigation standards; the collection of fees from and licensing 
requirements for users; bonding to ensure restoration activities; 
sustainable funding for fuel reduction activities; and the retention or 
creation of specific Agency positions.
    Response: These comments have been determined to be outside the 
scope of the development of a planning rule. The U. S. Congress 
determines Agency funding levels under its budgetary process. Staffing 
issues are more properly addressed by specific forest and grasslands, 
or regional and national offices.

[[Page 21184]]

    Comment: Transparency and collaboration. Some respondents wanted 
the public process of land management planning to be kept clear and 
transparent. Others commented that in addition to transparency, the 
specific science being used should be shared. Some respondents were 
concerned that collaboration would result in too much input from local 
interests and groups. A respondent stated there is no clear definition 
of collaboration in the DEIS. Another respondent felt the public 
participation requirements will not result in collaboration and the 
Forest Service staff would still be doing all of the planning work.
    Response: The Department agrees the public process for land 
management planning must be clear and transparent. Section 219.3 of the 
final rule requires the responsible official to document how the best 
available scientific information was used to inform the assessment, 
plan decision, and design of the monitoring program. Such documentation 
must: identify what information was determined to be the best available 
scientific information, explain the basis for that determination, and 
explain how the information was applied to the issues considered. This 
requirement will provide transparency and an explanation to the public 
as to how the best available scientific information was used to inform 
how the responsible official arrived at important decisions. Section 
219.14 includes additional requirements for the plan decision document 
to increase transparency and explain the rationale for decisionmaking.
    Section 219.4 of the final rule lists the minimum specific points 
during the planning process when opportunities for public participation 
will be provided, and includes direction to provide meaningful 
opportunities for public engagement and share information with the 
public in an open way. To meet these requirements, the responsible 
official must be proactive in considering who may be interested in the 
plan, those who might be affected by a plan or a change to a plan, and 
how to encourage various constituents and entities to engage, including 
those interested at the local, regional, and national levels. All 
members of the public will be provided opportunities to participate in 
the planning process. Section 219.16 provides requirements for public 
notification to ensure that information about the planning process 
reaches the public in a timely and accessible manner.
    Section 219.19 of the final rule includes definitions for 
participation and collaboration. Because the make-up and dynamics of 
the communities surrounding each planning area differ, and because the 
level of interest in decisionmaking may vary, the final rule provides 
the responsible official with the flexibility to select the public 
participation methods that best fit specific planning needs.
    Land management planning for NFS lands falls under Forest Service 
authority and is a responsibility of the Agency. As such, Agency 
employees are responsible for the preparation of the actual planning 
documents. Section 219.5(b) states that interdisciplinary teams will be 
established to prepare assessments; new plans, plan amendments, plan 
revisions, and unit monitoring programs. However, under Sec.  219.4, 
the public will have numerous opportunities to participate in the 
process and contribute to the content of those documents.
    Comment: Tribal activities. Some respondents felt the rule should 
support Tribal activities on NFS land because of important Tribal 
historical, cultural, sacred areas located there; should facilitate the 
Tribes' exercise of treaty hunting, fishing and gathering rights; and 
should require partnering with Tribal entities in the planning process.
    Response: The final rule recognizes and does not change the unique 
government-to-government relationship between the United States and 
Indian Tribes. The final rule recognizes and does not modify prior 
existing Tribal rights, including those involving hunting, fishing, 
gathering, and protecting cultural and spiritual sites. The rule 
requires the Agency to work with federally recognized Indian Tribes, 
government-to-government, as provided in treaties and laws, and 
consistent with Executive orders when developing, amending, or revising 
plans. The final rule encourages Tribal participation in NFS planning. 
Further, the rule recognizes the responsibility of Forest Service 
officials to consult early with Tribal governments and to work 
cooperatively with them where planning issues affect Tribal interests. 
Nothing in the final rule should be construed as eliminating public 
input or Tribal consultation requirements for future projects. The 
final rule requires consideration of cultural and historic resources, 
ecosystem services including cultural services, areas of Tribal 
importance, and habitat conditions needed for public uses such as 
hunting, fishing and subsistence, in addition to input from Tribes and 
Alaska Native Corporations.
    Comment: Compliance with Federal laws and regulations. Some 
respondents raised concerns over compliance with Federal laws governing 
the management of the national forests. Some examples cited include the 
National Heritage Preservation Act, the Organic Act, the General Mining 
Act of 1872, the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(ESA), the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), 
and the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA). Some were concerned with the 
influence of court decisions on the scope of the rule.
    Response: All alternatives in the final PEIS are faithful to and 
require compliance with all laws governing the Forest Service, 
including ANILCA, TTRA, and the other laws identified by respondents. 
This is reaffirmed in the final rule, Sec.  219.1(f), which states that 
plans must comply with all applicable laws and regulations--some, but 
not all, of which are mentioned as examples.
    The Secretary has clear authority to promulgate the final rule, and 
the final rule does not conflict with existing law and policy. The 
foundation for any exercise of power by the Federal Government is the 
U.S. Constitution. The Constitutional provision that provides authority 
for management of public lands is the Property Clause (Article IV, 
Section 3). The Property Clause states that Congress has the power to 
dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting land 
or other property belonging to the United States. Using this authority, 
Congress entrusted the Secretary of Agriculture with broad powers to 
protect and administer the National Forest System by passing laws, such 
as the Organic Administration Act of 1897 (the Organic Act), the 
Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA), and the National 
Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA).
    The duties that Congress assigned to the Secretary include 
regulating the occupancy and use of National Forest System lands and 
preserving the forests from destruction (16 U.S.C. 551). Through the 
MUSYA, Congress directed the Secretary to administer the National 
Forest System for multiple use and sustained yield of renewable 
resources without impairment of the productivity of the land (16 U.S.C. 
528-531), thus establishing multiple-use as the foundation for 
management of national forests and grasslands. The statute defines 
``multiple use'' broadly, calling for management of the various uses in 
the combination that will best meet the needs of the American people 
(16 U.S.C. 531). Under this framework, courts have recognized that the 
MUSYA does not envision that every acre of National Forest System land 
be managed for every multiple use, and does envision

[[Page 21185]]

some lands being used for less than all of the resources. As a 
consequence, the Agency has wide discretion to weigh and decide the 
proper uses within any area. (Wyoming v. USDA, 661 F.3d, 1209, 1267-
1268 (10th Cir. 2011); Perkins v. Bergland, 608 F.2d 803, 806-807 (9th 
Cir. 1979); and City & Cnty. of Denver v. Bergland, 695 F.2d 465, 476 
(10th Cir. 1982)). In passing the MUSYA, which directs the Forest 
Service to administer the national forests for ``sustained yield of the 
several products and services obtained therefrom.'' Congress also 
affirmed the application of sustainability to the broad range of 
resources the Forest Service manages, and did so without limiting the 
Agency's broad discretion in determining the appropriate resource 
emphasis and mix of uses.
    The NFMA reaffirmed multiple use and sustained yield as the guiding 
principles for land management planning of National Forest System lands 
(16 U.S.C. 1600, 1604). Together with other applicable laws, the NFMA 
authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to promulgate regulations 
governing the administration and management of the National Forest 
Transportation System (16 U.S.C. 1608) and other such regulations as 
the Secretary determines necessary and desirable to carry out the 
provisions of the NFMA (16 U.S.C. 1613). These laws complement the 
longstanding authority of the Secretary to regulate the occupancy and 
use of the National Forest System (16 U.S.C. 551). Forest Service 
regulations governing subsistence management regulations for public 
lands in Alaska under the ANILCA are found at 36 CFR part 242, and 
changes to those regulations are outside the scope of the development 
of a planning rule.
    Some of the Agency's past decisions have been challenged in court, 
leading to judicial decisions interpreting the extent of Forest Service 
discretion, or judgment, in managing National Forest System lands. 
Courts have routinely held that the Forest Service has wide discretion 
in deciding the proper mix of uses within any area of National Forest 
System lands. In the words of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the 
Agency's authority pursuant to the MUSYA ``breathes discretion at every 
pore.'' (Perkins v. Bergland, 608 F.2d 803, 806 (9th Cir. 1979)).
    Comment: Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) compliance. A respondent 
questioned whether this rulemaking is in compliance with the RFA and 
the rule's capacity to respond to the needs of small governments.
    Response: The rule has been considered in light of the RFA, as 
amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 
1986 (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), as documented in the ``Forest Service 
Planning--Proposed Rule: Opportunities for Small Entities Report'' (09/
22/2010). The Department has determined that the rule will not have a 
significant economic impact on a substantial number of small business 
entities as defined by the RFA. Therefore, a full regulatory 
flexibility analysis is not required. The Department recognizes a large 
number of small businesses use, extract, or otherwise benefit from 
access to forest resources. The background information provided in the 
``affected environment'' in the ``Efficiency and Effectiveness'' 
section of Chapter 3 in the PEIS describes contributions of NFS lands 
to small rural and wildland dependent communities, including 
contributions to jobs and income.
    The rule imposes no requirements on small or large entities, nor 
does it impose requirements or costs on specific types of industries or 
communities. Rather, the proposed rule sets out a planning process that 
is designed to provide more opportunities for all affected parties to 
collaborate in all phases of planning. These opportunities will 
increase capacity to consider the needs and desires of small entities 
and reduce the potential for adverse economic impacts. For example, 
under the final rule, requirements for considering ecosystem 
sustainability and contributing to social and economic sustainability 
should facilitate restoration activities and help sustain economic 
opportunities linked to local or rural communities. Further discussion 
of compliance with RFA is found in this document under the heading 
Proper consideration of small entities.
    Comment: Cooperation beyond NFS boundaries. Some respondents were 
concerned that the ``all lands'' approach is not within the Forest 
Service's authority.
    Response: The final rule provides the framework for the 
development, amendment, or revision of land management plans for 
national forests, grasslands, prairies, or other administrative units 
of the NFS. It does not provide the Forest Service with authority to 
make management decisions for lands that are not NFS lands or 
activities that are not occurring on NFS units. The Department 
recognizes that conditions, resources and the management of NFS lands 
can influence, or be influenced by, the ecological, social and economic 
conditions and management of non-NFS lands. In recognition of this 
interaction, the final rule requires the responsible official to look 
beyond the unit boundary and develop an understanding of management 
issues on the plan area within the context of the broader landscape, 
and coordinate with and encourage participation of other relevant land 
or resource managers. These requirements are found in Sec.  219.4 
(public participation), Sec.  219.6 (assessment), Sec.  219.8 
(sustainability), Sec.  219.9 (diversity), and Sec.  219.10 (multiple 
use) of the final rule.
    Specific requirements that were brought up by respondents, such as 
consultation or coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
for species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 or with 
State Air Quality Boards for air quality management under the Air 
Quality Act, are addressed elsewhere in Agency regulation and policy. 
The final rule does not include or reiterate existing direction 
provided elsewhere.
    Comment: Public input on subsequent planning directives. Some 
respondents felt the development of the planning directives should be 
open to public comment.
    Response: It is the intent of the Department that the Agency 
continue to move forward with the open and collaborative approach taken 
to developing the proposed and final rules. The Agency will provide a 
public comment period for the planning directives.

Efficiency and Effectiveness Comments on the Proposed Rule

    Comment: Process. A respondent said there are too many mandates in 
the rule for the responsible official to follow, thus making the 
proposed rule burdensome and difficult to implement. Another respondent 
felt the amount of process requirements and paperwork in the proposed 
rule would slow down the planning process.
    Response: The final rule uses an adaptive management framework that 
will facilitate an efficient and implementable planning process. 
Overall, there are fewer procedural requirements in this final rule 
than were required by the 1982 planning procedures, and the Agency 
expects that individual plans will take less time and cost less money 
to complete. There are a number of analysis and procedural requirements 
under the 1982 Planning Rule that will no longer be required under the 
final rule, which will save considerable time, effort, and money. The 
1982 planning rule places a great deal of emphasis on using economic 
analyses to find the solution to planning

[[Page 21186]]

problems and challenges. However, the final rule emphasizes public 
participation and science. Examples of requirements from the 1982 rule 
not included in the final are: planning criteria, required benchmark 
alternatives as part of the analysis of the management situation, the 
projections of demand using both price and non-price information, 
alternative criteria including Resources Planning Act Program 
alternative, present net value analysis, comparison of final plan to 
maximizing present net value alternative, identification of the 
management intensity for timber production for each category of land 
which results in the largest excess of discounted benefits less 
discounted costs, vegetation management practices chosen for each 
vegetation type and circumstances, and projections of changes in 
practices for at least four decades.
    The framework will facilitate more collaboration with the public 
and an efficient amendment process. The rule allows administrative 
changes to plan content other than plan components to help the 
responsible official adapt to changing conditions, while requiring the 
responsible official to notify the public.
    Comment: Significance of the rule. Some respondents felt that the 
Forest Service fails to address the rule as ``significant'' under E.O. 
12866;
    Response: The proposed rule was designated as significant by the 
Office of Management and Budget and, therefore subject to the Office of 
Management and Budget review. The Agency reviewed this proposed rule 
under the Department procedures and Executive Order (E.O.) 12866 issued 
September 30, 1993, as amended by E.O. 13563 on Regulatory Planning and 
Review (76 FR 3821 (Jan. 21, 2011)). The Agency prepared two Cost 
Benefit Analysis reports (Jan. 25, 2011 for the proposed rule, Nov. 17, 
2011 for the final rule). The reports discuss the regulatory impact 
analysis requirements associated with E.O. 12866 and 13563 and OMB 
circulars. In comparison to the ``no action'' alternative, which would 
continue to use the 1982 procedures currently allowed under the 
transition provisions of the 2000 rule, the final rule is not 
considered an economically significant rule.
    Comment: Cost-benefit analysis. Some respondents felt that the 
Forest Service did not account for a sufficient range of costs and 
benefits, including the costs, benefits, and economic impacts resulting 
from implementation of revised or new plans.
    Response: The analysis in the ``Efficiency and Effectiveness'' 
section of the DEIS and final PEIS focused primarily on evaluations of 
programmatic planning efficiency. Additional details about the 
potential for specific planning costs and cost effectiveness to change 
under the final rule is provided in the final PEIS and Appendix A of 
the Cost Benefit Analysis Report (Nov. 17, 2011) for the final rule. 
Although overall planning costs for the Agency under the new rule are 
not projected to be substantially different from the 1982 rule, the 
projected cost per plan is expected to be lower than under the 1982 
rule, the time it takes to revise a plan is projected to be shorter, 
and it is expected that more plans will be revised in a 15-year period. 
In addition, it is anticipated that units will have greater capacity to 
maintain the currency and reliability of plans to meet the objectives 
of the MUSYA, the NFMA, and the planning rule (Sec.  219.1(b)/(c)), 
thereby improving the quality of plans and therefore the efficiency of 
the planning process.
    Comment: Economic impacts such as minerals. Some respondents felt 
that the Forest Service failed to assess economic impacts that reflect 
renewable and non-renewable resource sectors (for example, minerals) as 
well as other sector-specific impacts.
    Response: Economic impacts in terms of numbers of jobs and labor 
income supported by NFS lands, by program, are provided for 2009 in 
Appendix M of the final PEIS, accounting for direct, indirect, and 
induced effects. Though economic impacts are not estimated, Appendix C 
in the Cost Benefit Analysis report for the final rule (2011) provides 
a limited qualitative discussion of potential indirect effects related 
to timber, rangeland, and recreation opportunities under baseline 
conditions. Jobs and income for minerals activity have been included in 
baseline impact analysis, recognizing that minerals management is 
administered jointly between the Department of the Interior and the 
Forest Service. Impacts of the final rule to jobs within specific 
industry sectors as compared to the other alternatives in the PEIS have 
not been evaluated as these impacts cannot be determined in the absence 
of on-the-ground project activity at the unit level.
    Comment: Economic benefits of monitoring and ecosystem services. 
Some respondents felt that the Forest Service should identify benefits 
from comprehensive monitoring and provision of ecosystem services.
    Response: The programmatic benefits of planning tasks or 
requirements such as comprehensive monitoring (Sec.  219.12(b)), 
development of plans to sustain multiple uses (Sec. Sec.  219.1(b) and 
219.10), and accounting for ecosystem services when guiding unit 
contributions to sustainability (Sec.  219.8(b)) are accounted for in 
the discussion of contributions to overall planning efficiency in the 
``Efficiency'' section of Chapter 3 of the final PEIS as well as the 
``Cost Benefit Analysis'' for the final rule (2011).
    As identified by the definition of ecosystem services in Sec.  
219.19 of the final rule, benefits from provision of ecosystem services 
are from provisioning services (for example, timber, forage, clean 
water, and so forth), regulating services (for example, water 
filtration, soil stabilization, carbon storage, and so forth), 
supporting services (for example, nutrient cycling, pollination and so 
forth), and cultural services (for example, spiritual, heritage, 
recreational experience, and so forth).
    As noted in the Cost Benefit Analysis for the final rule in the 
``Efficiency and Effectiveness Impacts'' section, the programmatic 
benefits of comprehensive monitoring include improved capacity to 
gather information and reduce uncertainty for a number of integrated 
and broader-scale conditions, trends, drivers, and stressors--including 
capacity to detect effects of management within unit boundaries as well 
as stressors beyond unit boundaries that affect (or are affected by) 
unit conditions and action. Emphasis on coordination between unit and 
broader-scale monitoring is expected to help reduce redundancy and 
ensure information is complementary and consistent.
    Comment: Collaboration costs. Some respondents felt that the Forest 
Service did not properly identify that collaboration is not always 
efficient or cost-effective, may not result in planning efficiency, and 
that its use should be based on risk assessments.
    Response: Collaboration and public participation costs are 
projected to increase from approximately $1 million annually under the 
1982 rule provisions, to $11 million annually under this final rule. 
This increase reflects the requirements in the final rule for public 
participation opportunities at various stages of planning. The final 
rule also states that outreach and collaborative processes should be 
used where feasible and appropriate (Sec.  219.4(a)). The Department 
recognizes that gains in effectiveness and planning efficiency from 
collaboration may vary across units and be reflective of existing 
collaborative capacity. The Agency realizes collaboration cannot 
guarantee a

[[Page 21187]]

successful planning process; however, the Department and the Agency 
believe that the increased investment in public participation will 
likely result in a more effective and ultimately more efficient 
planning process, by building support early in the process. Details on 
assumptions relevant to the consideration of the costs of collaboration 
can be found in the final PEIS section on Efficiency in Chapter 3.
    Comment: Cost of collaboration, diversity, and litigation. Some 
respondents felt that the Forest Service omitted costs associated with 
amendments, litigation, involvement by non-Federal participants, and 
requirements related to viability and diversity so that these are not 
accurately reflected or underestimated. Some respondents also felt that 
the Forest Service projections about planning efficiency and cost 
effectiveness gains are incorrect, particularly when considering 
viability requirements, litigation, and use of collaborative processes.
    Response: As noted in Sec.  219.13 of the final rule, the 
requirements for amendments are simpler than requirements for plan 
development or revision. The final rule allows amendments to be 
proposed without completing an assessment. As a consequence, the amount 
of resources associated with amendments is expected to be substantially 
less than that required for plan development or revision in many cases. 
Amendments allow for plans to be changed more quickly to respond to 
changing conditions on the ground than plan revisions.
    The Department expects that the adoption of new approaches under 
the final rule for addressing species viability and diversity within 
plan components, while recognizing local land and unit capabilities and 
limits, will increase the feasibility as well as the effectiveness of 
responding to species and ecosystem diversity, sustainability and 
recovery needs. Further it is expected the final rule will increase 
overall planning efficiency for both plan management planning and 
project-level analysis.
    Estimates of the Agency's costs do not account for litigation 
costs. The costs of litigation are not included in the estimates of 
annual average Agency costs in the ``Efficiency and Effectiveness'' 
section in Chapter 3 of the final PEIS. The sources of information used 
to estimate planning costs, including past cost benefit analyses 
completed for previous planning rules, did not include litigation 
costs. Much of the litigation related to planning occurs at the project 
level, and it is difficult to separate out litigation costs for land 
management planning from other Agency expenses. Though litigation costs 
are not included in the efficiency analysis, it is expected that the 
pre-decisional objection process contained in subpart B of the final 
rule and the investments in public participation will lower litigation 
costs compared to the former post-decisional appeal process and fewer 
opportunities for public input under the 1982 rule procedures.
    Comment: Efficiency analysis during plan revision. Some respondents 
felt it important that shifts in resources in the planning process 
should not adversely affect or preclude analysis of impacts and 
effects. They further emphasized that analysis of effects including 
efficiency analysis are still needed to evaluate plan alternatives. 
Some respondents felt the rule should outline a planning process that 
reduces costs of planning and should require that plan alternatives be 
economically efficient. A respondent suggested that the Agency keep the 
goal of ``maximizing net public benefits'' from the 1982 planning 
procedures because the respondent believes that goal is necessary to 
insure consideration of economic and environmental aspects of renewable 
resource management. The respondent suggested the planning rule require 
evaluation of economic efficiency by a full accounting of all costs and 
benefits (especially non-market) using dollars and present net value.
    Response: The Department believes that the framework for adaptive 
management provided in the final rule is efficient, effective, and will 
reduce the cost and time needed for development, revision, and 
amendment of individual plans. The final rule provides direction that 
the planning process and plan components and other plan content should 
be within the Agency's authority and the fiscal capability of the unit 
(Sec.  219.1(g)).
    Analyses will focus on outcomes and analysis of impacts and 
effects. Analyses will in no way be eliminated or discouraged during 
the planning process under this new rule. Under the NEPA process during 
plan revisions and plan amendments, responsible officials will evaluate 
potential tradeoffs among alternatives as they relate to ecological, 
social, and economic sustainability and environmental effects.
    The Department has chosen to emphasize a rule that supports 
ecological, social, and economic sustainability as the primary goal for 
management of NFS lands. The final rule does not include requirements 
to demonstrate that plans will maximize net public benefits or require 
valuation of economic efficiency or require present net value analysis 
as the 1982 rule did. The Department believes the focus should be on 
collaboration, science, and sustainability, rather than the extensive 
analysis that was done under the 1982 rule procedures. The Department 
decided the purpose and applicability of the final rule (Sec.  219.1) 
is to produce plans under which the Forest Service will manage NFS 
lands to sustain multiple uses in perpetuity while maintaining long-
term health and productivity of the land. Plans are intended to guide 
management of NFS lands so they are ecologically sustainable and 
contribute to social and economic sustainability while providing people 
and communities with a range of benefits, consistent with MUSYA and 
NFMA. Under the final rule, responsible officials have the discretion 
to decide what analysis is useful to inform the public about the 
effects of plans, plan amendments, and plan revisions.
    Comment: Diverting of funds from projects. Some respondents felt 
that the rule must weigh the resources devoted to planning against the 
need to provide a foundation for management. In other words, excessive 
planning costs divert funds away from land management and projects.
    Response: Overall, the cost and time of completing an individual 
plan, revision, or amendment is expected to be less than that needed 
using the 1982 rule procedures. Under the final rule the Department: 
(1) Applies flexibility within a clearly defined national-level 
framework, and (2) requires plans to be developed in a more cooperative 
context with both community and scientific involvement, thereby 
building stakeholder trust. In addition, as compared to the 1982 rule, 
the final rule changes the planning process and reallocates resources 
to improve the currency, reliability, and legitimacy of plans. This 
attention to building support early and throughout the process is 
intended to improve the effectiveness of plans and the Agency's ability 
to implement projects developed under plans.
    Comment: Non-market values. Some respondents felt that the rule 
should require the need to determine non-market values to comply with 
NFMA requirements to consider economic aspects of various systems of 
renewable resources.
    Response: The NFMA requires a planning rule to insure consideration 
of the economic and environmental aspects of the various systems of 
renewable resource management (16

[[Page 21188]]

U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)A). The rule requires consideration of economic 
aspects in the requirements for an assessment and when developing plan 
components. However, the NFMA does not require the responsible official 
to determine non-market values or to quantify non-market benefits. 
Because of the difficult nature of quantifying and valuing non-market 
goods and services, the Department has decided not to require those 
calculations as a part of planning under the final rule. The rule 
requires plan components to contribute to economic sustainability, 
which includes consideration of market and non-market benefits. 
Additionally, in a number of sections, the rule requires consideration 
of ecosystem services and multiple uses, including provisioning, 
regulating, and cultural services, all of which involve numerous non-
market goods and services (for example, Assessment--Sec.  219.6(b); 
Social and economical sustainability--Sec.  219.8(b); and Multiple 
use--Sec.  219.10(a)). These requirements, in combination with public 
participation early and throughout the planning process (Sec.  219.4), 
are expected to improve Agency capacity to acknowledge the relative 
values of both market and non-market goods and services. Under NEPA 
requirements, the responsible official will carry out effects analyses 
for significant issues and the environmental documents will discuss the 
comparative benefits and tradeoffs associated with non-market ecosystem 
services.
    Comment: Pilot testing. One respondent noted that the rule should 
be pilot tested on a sample of units.
    Response: The Agency intends on phasing in the implementation of 
the new rule by starting several plan revisions in 2012. This initial 
phase of implementation will provide opportunities for the Agency to 
adapt to and refine directives and technical advice for planning under 
the new rule. Units selected for the initial phase of implementation of 
the final rule represent a broad spectrum of conditions and are 
geographically representative. The final rule is intended to provide a 
flexible planning framework that allows for continuous learning and 
improvement in implementation.
    Comment: Budget shortfalls. Some respondents felt that the rule 
should contain guidance for planning in the event of budget shortfalls.
    Response: Uncertainties at all levels of decisionmaking, due to 
changing conditions outside the Agency's control as well as budget 
allocations, will affect implementation. These uncertainties also 
influence anticipated outcomes of the rule (see Chapter 3 of the final 
PEIS, ``Staged Decisionmaking and Environmental Analysis''). It is not 
appropriate to give guidance about what planning activities may be 
reduced in the event of budget shortfalls in the national planning 
rule, since budgets, staffing, program emphasis, and planning needs 
differ among the units. However, the final rule does provide direction 
that the planning process and plan components and other plan content 
should be within the Agency's authority and the fiscal capability of 
the unit (Sec.  219.1(g)).
    Comment: Budget expectations. Some respondents felt that the rule 
should require estimates of budget expectations in analysis of 
efficiency and effectiveness, and plan alternatives.
    Response: The final rule recognizes potential financial constraints 
by requiring the responsible official to ensure that the planning 
process, plan components, and other plan content be within the fiscal 
capability of the unit (Sec.  219.1(g)). In the context of developing 
alternative plan components, Sec.  219.7(e)(1)(ii) of the rule states 
that ``Objectives should be based on reasonably foreseeable budgets.'' 
Also the final rule sets out the requirements for developing plan 
monitoring program within the financial and technical capabilities of 
the Agency (Sec.  219.12(a)(4)(ii)). The effects of plan alternatives 
such as budgetary effects will be disclosed when preparing an 
environmental impact statement for each new plan or plan revision.
    Comment: Secured appropriations. Some respondents felt that a lack 
of secured appropriations for planning rendered the rule ineffective. 
Some respondents felt that future budgets are unlikely to provide full 
funding for planning.
    Response: If severe reductions or elimination of funding for land 
management planning were to occur, it would delay or reduce the 
Agency's ability to amend and revise plans. It is important to note 
that the estimated costs for the new rule (Table 6 in the final PEIS) 
are within the historic range of aggregate planning, inventory, and 
monitoring annual budgets (1995-2010).
    Comment: Economic analysis for plan revisions. Some respondents 
felt that the rule should require the NEPA analysis for the plan to 
include a fiscal analysis of each alternative's implementation and 
mitigation costs and require that the cost of inspections, enforcement, 
and monitoring be included in the plan NEPA analysis. Several 
respondents felt that the planning rule should include a requirement 
for explicit disclosure of a variety of costs and benefits of Agency 
actions to more accurately compare plan alternatives and plan 
components. Some respondents felt that the planning rule must require 
the estimates of present net value (PNV) for plan alternatives and 
projects and include all costs and benefits. Some respondents felt that 
the planning rule must require that the dollar cost of impacts on non-
timber industries be estimated and included in estimates of PNV.
    Response: Section 219.5(a)(2)(i) of the final rule states that a 
new plan or plan revision requires preparation of an environmental 
impact statement. The NFMA gives considerable discretion to the Agency 
when considering physical, economic, and other pertinent factors. The 
Department does not want the planning rule to prescribe specific 
processes for assessing and evaluating economic efficiency. Cost-
benefit analyses, or net present value estimation, are not required 
when evaluating plan alternatives; however, such an analysis 
(quantitative and/or qualitative) may be useful in some cases to 
satisfy the NEPA objectives (42 U.S.C. Sec 4331, 101 and 102(2)) and to 
demonstrate fulfillment of MUSYA goals (for example, ``management of 
all the various renewable surface resources of the national forests so 
that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the needs 
of the American people;'' (16 U.S.C. 531(a))). The Forest Service 
handbook for NEPA (FSH 1909.15, chapter 20, section 22.32) states that 
if a cost benefit analysis is being considered for a proposed action 
(for example, proposed plan revision), it must be incorporated by 
reference or appended to the environmental impact statement as an aid 
in evaluating the environmental consequences. The Forest Service 
Handbook (FSH 1909.15.section 22.32) as well as NEPA regulations (40 
CFR 1502.23) state that for purposes of complying with the [NEPA], the 
weighing of the merits and drawbacks of the various alternatives need 
not be displayed in a monetary cost-benefit analysis and should not be 
when there are important qualitative considerations. The Handbook and 
NEPA regulations also state that an environmental impact statement 
should at least indicate those considerations, including factors not 
related to environmental quality, that are likely to be relevant and 
important to a decision. Those considerations and factors may include a 
variety of quantified or qualitative descriptions of costs and benefits 
that are linked to significant issue determinations for a particular 
forest plan. The Department requires that land management plans will be

[[Page 21189]]

within the fiscal capability of the unit (Sec.  219.1(g)). The rule 
requires that objectives be based on reasonably foreseeable budgets 
(Sec.  219.7(e)(1)(ii)) and that the monitoring program be within the 
financial and technical capabilities of the Agency (Sec.  
219.12(a)(4)(ii)). Clarifications about disclosure of costs and 
benefits, as well as use of cost-benefit (or PNV) analysis are more 
appropriately included in the Agency directives.
    Comments: Collaboration costs. Many respondents supported public 
participation opportunities in the decisionmaking process. Some 
respondents felt collaboration will not be cost effective. Some felt 
that coordination, as mandated by law, is effective and will save time 
and expense in planning, implementation, and management. They said 
increased costs for collaboration are foreseeable. Some respondents 
felt the assumptions that collaboration will reduce monitoring costs 
and bring broader support and resolution of issues with their critics 
were faulty. They felt the final PEIS should explain how collaboration 
will lead to cost savings and document savings expected from each 
alternative.
    Response: The Department believes that involving the public early 
on through a participatory, open, and meaningful process is the best 
way to approach planning. The final rule sets out a planning process 
that is designed to provide more opportunities for the public to 
collaborate with the Agency and to become more involved in all phases 
of planning, including monitoring, assessment, and development of 
alternatives for land management plan revisions or amendments. Section 
219.4 of the final rule requires the responsible official to engage the 
public in early and meaningful opportunities for participation during 
the planning process and to coordinate with other public planning 
efforts, including State and local governments. However, the final rule 
gives the responsible official discretion to tailor the scope, scale, 
and types of participation opportunities to be congruent with the need 
and level of interest, subject to the requirements of section 219.4. 
Collaborative processes would be used where feasible and appropriate.
    The final PEIS does not demonstrate that collaboration will lead to 
Forest Service cost savings in planning. Because of the public 
participation and collaboration throughout the planning process, the 
Department expects that the cost for collaboration and engaging the 
public during the planning process would be higher than that under the 
1982 procedures. However, it is anticipated that overall planning 
efficiency will be improved as other planning activities such as 
analyzing and revising plan components are anticipated to be 
streamlined. It is also expected that increased participation and 
collaboration throughout the planning process will increase support for 
eventual plan implementation.
    Comment: Jobs and income. Some respondents felt that the proposed 
rule could have a significant effect on jobs, labor income, production, 
and competition of a particular resource during plan revision and plan 
amendment.
    Response: The Department recognizes that plans developed, revised, 
or amended under the final rule will guide projects that could in turn 
affect distribution of employment, income, and payments to local 
governments. Impacts to jobs within specific industry sectors due to 
the final rule compared to the other alternatives have not been 
evaluated in detail as these impacts cannot be determined in the 
absence of on-the-ground project activity at the unit level. Direct 
effects on the levels of goods, services, and uses to which NFS lands 
contribute are the end-results of on-the-ground projects or activities.
    The effects of plan proposals as well as proposed projects will 
continue to be evaluated in accordance with NEPA; impacts to 
employment, income, and payments will likewise continue to be evaluated 
as appropriate to the need to address plan or project-specific 
significant issues. The Department does not want the planning rule to 
prescribe specific processes for assessing and evaluating economic 
effects. Such direction, guidance, advice, or approaches for effects 
analysis in general are found in the Agency directives (for example FSM 
1970 and FSH1909.17).
    Comment: Site-specific project costs. Some respondents felt that 
the Agency incorrectly assumes that the site-specific project costs are 
not affected by the proposed rule.
    Response: The Agency did not assume that the site-specific project 
costs are not affected by the proposed rule. However, the proposed rule 
cost and benefit analysis did not estimate the effects of the rule on 
site-specific projects developed under land management plans, because 
site-specific project costs are a function of unknown future site-
specific plan or project proposals occurring under new, revised, or 
amended plans under the final rule; it is, therefore, not possible to 
estimate or characterize changes in project-specific costs.
    Comment: Least burden to society. Some respondents felt the Forest 
Service should develop the rule in a way that imposes the least burden 
on society, businesses, and communities.
    Response: The Department believes that the final rule supports 
management of the NFS to contribute to social and economic 
sustainability. The rule does not directly regulate individuals, 
individual businesses, or other entities such as local or State 
governments. Impacts to small entities are addressed in the Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (as summarized in the Regulatory Certifications 
section of the preamble for the final rule).
    Comment: Costs of cumulative regulations. Some respondents felt the 
Forest Service should consider the costs of cumulative regulations.
    Response: The potential effects of the rule in combination with 
other broad Agency actions and strategies (for example, roadless rules, 
strategic plans and other Agency goals, NEPA procedures, transition to 
implementing the final rule, management planning direction by other 
agencies, and collaboration) are presented in the ``Cumulative 
Effects'' section of the final PEIS.
    Comment: Costs to States (Federalism). Some respondents felt the 
Forest Service incorrectly concludes that the rule will not impose 
direct or compliance costs on States (that is, Federalism).
    Response: Executive Order 13132 (that is, Federalism) establishes 
requirements the Federal Government must follow as it develops and 
carries out policy actions that affect State or local governments. The 
Department concludes that the rule would not impose compliance costs on 
the States (or local governments) and would not have substantial direct 
effects on the States.

Section-By-Section Explanation of the Final Rule

    The following section-by-section descriptions are provided to 
explain the approach taken in the final rule to NFS land management 
planning.
Subpart A--National Forest System Land Management Planning
Section 219.1--Purpose and Applicability
    This section of the final rule describes the purpose of the rule 
and its applicability to units of the NFS. This section affirms the 
multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate of the Forest Service, and states 
that the purpose of this part is to guide the collaborative

[[Page 21190]]

and science-based development, amendment, and revision of land 
management plans that promote the ecological integrity of national 
forests and grasslands and other administrative units of the NFS. The 
NFMA requires the Agency to have a planning rule developed under the 
principles of the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSYA). The 
planning rule sets requirements for land management planning and 
content of plans and applies to all units in the NFS.
    The requirements in the final rule should increase Agency and plan 
area capacity for adapting management plans to new and evolving 
information about stressors, changing conditions, and management 
effectiveness. The Department's intent is for responsible officials to 
use the planning framework to keep plans and management activity 
current, relevant, and effective.
Section 219.1--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on consistency with MUSYA, 
compliance with or applicability of valid existing rights, treaties, 
and applicable laws, and the cost of the process for implementing the 
rule. The Department modified the wording of the proposed rule to move 
a reference to ``ecosystem services'' from paragraph (a) of this 
section to paragraph (c); add at paragraph (c) ``clean air'' as a 
benefit provided by ecosystem services and replace the term ``healthy 
and resilient'' with ``ecological integrity;'' move direction about the 
Forest Service Directives System previously in paragraph (d) of this 
section in the proposed rule to Sec.  219.2(b)(5); and make other 
clarifications for readability. These changes are not changes in 
requirements; they are just clarifications and reorganizations.
    The Department added direction at paragraph (g) of this section to 
ensure that the planning process, plan components and other plan 
content are within Forest Service authority, the inherent capability of 
the plan area, and the fiscal capability of the unit. In the proposed 
rule we had similar wording in Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.11. Adding 
this requirement in paragraph (g) is a change because the requirement 
now applies more broadly to the process and content requirements of the 
final rule.
    Comment: Ecosystem services. Some respondents objected to the use 
of ``ecosystem services'' in Sec.  219.1(b) and throughout the rule. 
One respondent felt the term diluted the congressionally honored and 
sanctioned ``multiple use'' mission of the national forests.
    Response: The use of the term ``ecosystem services'' has been 
removed from Sec.  219.1(b), added to Sec.  219.1(c), and revised 
throughout the final rule; however, the final rule retains reference to 
``ecosystem services.'' The final rule states that plans must ``provide 
for ecosystem services and multiple uses'' instead of ``provide for 
multiple uses, including ecosystem services'' as it was stated in the 
proposed rule. The Department believes this revised wording is 
consistent with the MUSYA, which recognizes both resources and 
services. The MUSYA requires the Forest Service is to ``administer the 
renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use 
and sustained yield of the several products and services obtained 
therefrom.'' (16 U.S.C. 529). The Act defines ``multiple use'' as ``the 
management of all the various renewable surface resources of the 
national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will 
best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious 
use of the land for some or all of these resources or related 
services'' (16 U.S.C. 531(a)). The Department believes MUSYA 
anticipated changing conditions and needs, and the meaning of ``several 
products and services obtained'' from the national forests and 
grasslands incorporates all values, benefits, products, and services 
Americans know and expect the NFS to provide. Resources like clean air 
and water are among the many ecosystem services these lands provide.
    Comment: Objective of planning. Some respondents felt the MUSYA 
refers expressly to five tangible objectives for forest management 
(recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, and 
wilderness), and does not include intangibles such as ``spiritual 
sustenance.'' They felt intangibles should be removed from objectives.
    Response: The Department believes the mandate under the NFMA and 
MUSYA is not exclusive to a single resource or use, and that sustained 
yield applies to all multiple use purposes, including outdoor 
recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife and fish, and 
wilderness. Development of balanced plans for national forests and 
grasslands is a complex undertaking, and often there are diverse 
opinions on the desired conditions and objectives set in these plans. 
The rule sets up a process so individual forests and grasslands are 
managed with a balanced approach to best meet the needs of present and 
future generations of Americans. The Department recognizes Americans 
expect a range of benefits and services from the National Forest 
System, which can include both tangible objectives and intangible 
benefits. Under Sec.  219.4, the final rule sets forth an open process 
for public collaboration, participation, and coordination to inform 
desired conditions and objectives for NFS lands. The words ``spiritual 
sustenance'' in Sec.  219.1(c) of the proposed rule have been changed 
to ``spiritual[hellip]benefits'' in this final rule because the word 
``sustenance'' was confusing.
    Comment: Valid existing rights. A respondent felt the rule should 
require plans to expressly state that their provisions cannot affect 
valid existing rights established by statute or legal instrument.
    Response: Whether the plan expressly states it or not, a land 
management plan cannot affect treaty rights or valid existing rights 
established by statute or legal instruments. For clarity, the final 
rule acknowledges this fact in Sec.  219.1(d).
    Comments: Inclusion of other laws. Some respondents requested that 
the list of laws at Sec.  219.1 include the ANILCA, the Alaska Native 
Claims Settlement Act, the FLPMA of 1976, the General Mining Law of 
1872, the National Heritage Preservation Act, the Tongass Timber Reform 
Act, amongst others.
    Response: The list of laws in Sec.  219.1 is not intended to be a 
complete list of laws and regulations requiring Agency compliance. The 
Department did not choose to include an exhaustive list of applicable 
laws and regulations, as the Agency is obligated to comply with all 
applicable laws and regulations regardless of whether it is referenced 
in the text of the final rule. All plans and planning decisions must 
comply with applicable laws and regulations.
    Comment: Use of fiscal capability. Some respondents felt the MUSYA 
does not allow the fiscal capability or economic analysis to limit 
management as discussed in Sec. Sec.  219.10 and 219.11 of the proposed 
rule, while others felt these concepts should be applied to all 
requirements.
    Response: Congress determines the annual fiscal allocation to the 
Agency. The Department concludes that responsible officials must 
constrain the development of management direction within the plan and 
planning process within a unit's expected fiscal capability. The 
Department came to this conclusion because if a responsible official 
develops a plan beyond a unit's fiscal capability, then management 
towards the plan objectives and thus plan desired conditions will not 
be realistic or possible. The Department removed the phrase ``and the 
fiscal capability of the unit'' from Sec.  219.10 and Sec.  219.11, and 
added at Sec.  219.1(g) that

[[Page 21191]]

the responsible official shall ensure that the planning process, plan 
components and other plan content are within Forest Service authority, 
the inherent capability of the plan area, and the fiscal capability of 
the unit. This requirement at Sec.  219.1(g) applies to all sections of 
the rule, including sections 219.8, 219.9, 219.10, and 219.11.
Section 219.2--Levels of Planning and Responsible Official
    Planning occurs at three levels--national strategic planning, NFS 
unit planning, and project or activity planning. Section 219.2 of the 
final rule describes these levels of Agency planning, identifies the 
responsible official, and describes specific attributes and 
requirements for unit-level planning. This section also provides the 
basic authorities and direction for developing, amending, or revising a 
plan. In addition, it identifies the responsibilities of the Chief for 
oversight, leadership, and direction.
    Some people wanted to see very detailed requirements in the rule, 
such as monitoring methods and protocols, while others emphasized the 
need to keep the rule simple, so it would endure and could be 
implemented across different landscapes within the NFS. This section 
ensures that the Agency will establish additional needed details in the 
Directives for effective implementation of the planning rule, while 
allowing rule wording to remain relevant even as conditions change.
Section 219.2--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on the level of the 
responsible official, the appropriate scale for planning, and 
consistency of plans across the NFS. The Department modified the 
wording from the proposed rule to address concerns raised by the public 
and other regulatory agencies that more specific requirements were 
needed to ensure consistent implementation of the rule. The Department 
moved wording formally in section 219.1 of the proposed rule to this 
section and added paragraph (b)(5) that requires the Chief:
    (i) To establish direction for NFS land management planning under 
this part in the Forest Service Directives System (what was formerly 
Sec.  219.1(d) in the proposed rule);
    (ii) To establish and administer a national performance oversight 
and accountability process to review NFS land management planning under 
this part; and
    (iii) To establish procedures in the Forest Service Directives 
System (Directives) to guide how data on various renewable resources, 
as well as soil and water will be obtained to respond to 16 U.S.C. 
1604(g)(2)(B).
    The addition of the oversight requirement in (ii) is a minor change 
in requirements in response to the comments received. The other changes 
are not changes in requirements, they are just clarifications.
    Comment: Level of responsible official and consistency with 
regional or national programs. Some respondents felt the proposed 
change from regional forester to forest supervisor for the level of 
responsible official would make the plan more responsive to local 
situations. Others felt this change would result in inconsistencies 
across unit boundaries, limit collaborators, and reduce the 
accountability provided by a higher level responsible official. Several 
respondents felt the discretion given to local responsible officials in 
the proposed rule could lead to individual forest and grassland level 
plans that are inconsistent with neighboring unit plans and with 
regional or national programs.
    Response: The responsible official will usually be the forest or 
grassland supervisor, who is most familiar with the resources, issues, 
and the people relevant to and interested in the unit. However, Sec.  
219.2(b)(3) provides the option for higher-level officials to act as 
the responsible official for a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
across a number of plan areas. Regardless of what level they are, the 
responsible official must develop, amend, or revise plans within the 
framework set out by this final rule and is accountable for compliance 
with the rule and the multitude of relevant laws and policies. To 
ensure compliance, the final rule wording identifies in Sec.  219.2(b) 
the Chief as responsible for leadership in carrying out the NFS land 
management planning program, establishment of planning direction, and 
administration of a national oversight process for accountability and 
consistency.
    There are also a number of places in the final rule that call for 
coordination with other staff in the Agency, including the appropriate 
research station director. The Department anticipates that the regional 
forester and regional office planning and resource specialists will 
continue to be involved and provide an additional level of oversight, 
including reviewing draft and final products developed during the 
planning process and participating in the development of those 
products. Regional office engagement will help to provide consistency 
in interpretation and implementation of the planning rule and other 
Agency planning requirements on units within the region.
    The final rule includes other requirements at Sec.  219.4 for 
public participation and coordination with other planning efforts. The 
final rule also requires in Sec.  219.15 that other resource plans be 
consistent with the plan components. The Department anticipates that 
the final rule will be implemented in the context of a mosaic of other 
Agency programs, for example, the Climate Change Roadmap and Scorecard, 
the Watershed Condition Framework, and the Sustainable Recreation 
Framework. The Department expects that these programs and requirements 
will be mutually supportive and will contribute to good land 
management.
    Comment: Scale of planning. Some respondents expressed different 
opinions about the scale of planning. Some suggested larger or smaller 
scales than the proposed administrative unit level. One respondent felt 
the rule should consider a level of planning by resource. Some 
respondents felt the rule should require use of the U.S. Geologic 
Survey 5th field hydrologic unit as the minimum size needed to conduct 
ecological coarse-filter assessments.
    Response: The final rule allows planning at the most appropriate 
scale to address issues and resource concerns specific to that unit. 
The final rule does set forth requirements to consider other scales 
while developing plans. Section 219.7(f)(1)(ii) requires the 
responsible official to describe the distinctive roles and 
contributions of the plan area within the context of a broader 
landscape. Section 219.7(f)(1)(i), specifically discusses priority 
watersheds. Section 219.7(d) requires the use of management or 
geographic areas for a smaller scale geographic context and 
identification of management requirements that may be needed at the 
smaller scale. The final rule also provides that two or more 
responsible officials may undertake joint planning for their units.
    Planning at the resource level would not comply with the NFMA 
requirements for interdisciplinary approach to achieve integration of 
all resources to achieve integrated consideration of physical, 
biological, economic, and other sciences to develop one integrated 
plan.
    Requirements for broader-scale assessments and assessments for each 
individual watershed are not included in the final rule. Adding these 
requirements would add more preliminary steps to planning that may 
further delay completion of plan revisions or amendments and may not

[[Page 21192]]

be necessary for the planning process. The assessments envisioned in 
the planning rule are focused on gathering and evaluating existing 
information relevant to the plan or the specific plan area.
    The 1982 rule required the preparation of a regional guide and a 
planning process for the development of that guide. The final rule does 
not include a requirement for regional planning. After several years of 
developing and using regional guides, the Agency found that they added 
an additional and time-consuming layer of planning that often delayed 
progress of unit planning. Regional plans also tended to remain static 
and did not change as new information or science became available.
    Comment: Relationship of plan decisions to project-level plans and 
decisions. Several respondents felt the relationship between plan 
decisions and subsequent project-level decisions was unclear. A 
respondent felt the rule should explicitly state a programmatic 
decision is being made for the planning unit.
    Response: The final rule sets the framework for the development, 
amendment, and revision of unit plans: The requirements set forth in 
the final rule are for plans, not for projects or activities that are 
developed under the plan. Section 219.15 requires projects and 
activities carried out under the plans developed under the final rule 
to be consistent with the plans. Unit plans may establish constraints 
on projects and identify possible activities; however, plans do not 
authorize activities or projects. Forest Service NEPA procedures must 
be followed when developing, revising, or amending plans. In addition, 
the Forest Service NEPA procedures must be followed for proposed site-
specific projects or activities developed under the requirements of the 
unit plan. Section 219.15(d) of the final rule identifies how project 
and activities must be consistent with plan components.
    Comment: Repeating of laws and regulations. Several respondents 
felt proposed Sec.  219.2(b)(2) should clearly state plans ``may 
reference, but should not repeat'' laws, regulations, and so forth.
    Response: The final rule does not prohibit referencing laws, 
regulations, or Forest Service directives if the responsible official 
feels that doing so will add clarity.
Section 219.3--Role of Science in Planning
    This section requires that the responsible official use the best 
available scientific information to inform the planning process and 
plan decisions, and provides requirements for documenting the use of 
the best available scientific information (BASI). The intent of this 
requirement is to ensure that the responsible official uses BASI to 
inform planning, plan components, and other plan content, that 
decisions are based on an understanding of the BASI and that the 
rationale for decisions is transparent to the public. The Department 
also expects that this requirement will increase the responsible 
official's understanding of risks and uncertainties and improve 
assumptions made in the course of decisionmaking.
Section 219.3--Response to Comments
    Many people provided comments on this section of the proposed rule. 
Most comments focused on whether or not to include a requirement for 
use of the BASI, discretion about how science should be used, and the 
potential procedural burdens created by this requirement. The 
Department modified the wording of the proposed rule as follows: (1) To 
clarify how scientific information is to be used in the planning 
process; (2) to clarify the level of discretion the responsible 
official has in using scientific information; and (3) to manage the 
potentially burdensome requirements for documentation.
    The Department clarified how BASI will be used in the planning 
process; changing the wording from ``the responsible official shall 
take into account the best available scientific information,'' to ``the 
responsible official shall use the best available scientific 
information to inform the planning process.'' This clarification is 
consistent with the Department's intent as described in the preamble to 
the proposed rule. This clarification is in response to public comments 
expressing concern that the proposed rule wording would allow the 
responsible official to ignore best available scientific information. 
This wording makes clear that the responsible official must use the 
BASI to inform the process and decisions made during the planning 
process.
    The Department also modified the requirement that the responsible 
official ``determine what information is the most accurate, reliable, 
and relevant to a particular decision or action'' to a requirement that 
the responsible official ``determine what information is the most 
accurate, reliable, and relevant to the issues being considered.'' This 
change focuses the requirement on the issues being considered, because 
the underlying issues form the basis for decisionmaking, and are the 
appropriate focus for the requirement to ensure that the responsible 
official uses scientific information to inform plan-related decisions.
    The Department eliminated paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of Sec.  
219.3 of the proposed rule. The remaining paragraph was modified to 
require the responsible official to document how the best available 
scientific information was used to inform the assessment, the plan 
decision, and the monitoring program. Changing these requirements is 
responsive to public comments about the process associated with meeting 
the requirements of this section.
    Comment: Best available scientific information. A respondent felt 
the term ``best available scientific information'' used in the proposed 
rule is value laden and implies judgment that cited scientific 
information is potentially superior to other scientific information on 
the topic. This respondent felt using the term would put responsible 
officials in the position of choosing one scientist over another. 
Additionally, the concern was expressed that the lack of a clear 
definition of ``best available scientific information'' in the rule 
could allow a responsible official to use poorly constructed or 
subjective information to inform planning decisions. Still other 
respondents felt the proposed rule was unclear on who should determine 
what the best available scientific information is.
    Response: The Department decided to retain the term ``best 
available scientific information'' (BASI) from the proposed rule, and 
to require that such information be used to inform the assessment, the 
planning process, and plan components and other plan content, including 
the monitoring program. The responsible official must determine what 
information is the most accurate, reliable, and relevant with regard to 
the issues being considered. In some circumstances, the BASI would be 
that which is developed using the scientific method, which includes 
clearly stated questions, well designed investigations, and logically 
analyzed results, documented clearly and subjected to peer review. 
However, in other circumstances the BASI for the matter under 
consideration may be information from analyses of data obtained from a 
local area, or studies to address a specific question in one area. In 
other circumstances, the BASI could be the result of expert opinion, 
panel consensus, or observations, as long as the responsible official 
has a reasonable basis for relying on that information.
    The Department recognizes often there is uncertainty in science, 
and

[[Page 21193]]

there may be differing or inconclusive scientific information. 
Different disciplines, including the social and economic sciences as 
well as ecologic science, may provide scientific information that is 
the best available for the issues being considered. Gathering a range 
of scientific information and acknowledging potential uncertainties is 
critical to adequately inform the responsible official as well as the 
public during the planning process.
    The Agency already has a fundamental legal requirement to consider 
relevant factors, including the relevant scientific information, and 
explain the basis for its decisions. The Department included this 
section in the rule, with its explicit requirements for determining and 
documenting the use of the best available scientific information, to 
inform the planning process and to help to ensure a consistent approach 
across the National Forest System.
    To respond to comments about the level of documentation for 
individual units, the requirements for documentation were changed from 
the proposed rule. The Department eliminated paragraphs (a), (b), and 
(c) of Sec.  219.3 of the proposed rule, and replaced them with the 
requirement that the responsible official document how the best 
available scientific information was used to inform the assessment, the 
plan decision, and the monitoring program. Section 219.14(a)(4) 
requires that the plan decision document must document how the best 
available scientific information was used to inform planning, plan 
components, and other plan content, including the monitoring program. 
The remaining paragraph was modified to require the responsible 
official to document how the best available scientific information was 
used to inform the design of the monitoring program, rather than in 
every monitoring report, because the monitoring results are scientific 
information. In addition, the new documentation requirements call for 
the responsible official to explain the basis for the determination, 
and explain how the information was applied to the issues considered.
    The Forest Service Directives System will contain further detail on 
how to document the use of the best available scientific information, 
including identifying the sources of data such as peer reviewed 
articles, scientific assessments, or other scientific information. In 
addition, the Forest Service Directives System will contain further 
detail on the Forest Services' information quality guidelines. 
Direction about science reviews may be found in Forest Service Handbook 
1909.12--Land Management Planning, Chapter 40--Science and 
Sustainability.
    The final rule is consistent with USDA policy that requires 
agencies to meet science quality standards when developing and 
reviewing scientific research information and disseminating it to the 
public. Also, the final rule is consistent with the recent Executive 
Order 13563 (2011) that states ``when scientific or technological 
information is considered in policy decisions, the information should 
be subject to well-established scientific processes, including peer 
review where appropriate.'' Responsible officials will rely upon the 
USDA Office of the Chief Information Officer guidance to determine when 
the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Information Quality Bulletin 
on Peer Review applies. USDA guidelines are found at http://www.ocio.usda.gov/qi_guide/index.html.
    Comment: Weight of scientific information. Some respondents felt 
the proposed rule allowed science to be weighed more heavily than other 
relevant information. Some respondents felt the proposed rule allows 
decisions to be made based on politics or special interests rather than 
science. Some respondents felt the proposed rule requirement for the 
best available science to be taken into account was not strong enough, 
and suggested the rule require decisions to conform to the best 
science. Other respondents felt the proposed rule made use of science 
mandatory rather than discretionary.
    Response: The Department never intended that the responsible 
official could have the discretion to disregard best available 
scientific information (BASI) in making a decision. To clarify the 
Department's intent, the final rule requires the responsible official 
to use the BASI to inform the planning process rather than take BASI 
into account. While the BASI must inform the planning process and plan 
components, it does not dictate what the decision must be: BASI may 
lead a responsible official to a range of possible options. There also 
may be competing scientific perspectives and uncertainty in the 
science. Furthermore, scientific information is one of the factors 
relevant to decisionmaking. Other factors include budget, legal 
authority, local and indigenous knowledge, Agency policies, public 
input, and the experience of land managers.
    Comment: Funding for BASI. Some respondents felt the requirements 
to use the best available scientific information were going to be too 
financially burdensome. Other respondents suggest the term should be 
removed from the rule as it would only create delays and legal 
challenges.
    Response: The Agency is already required to take relevant 
scientific information into account in decisionmaking. The Agency 
already has a fundamental legal requirement to consider relevant 
factors, including relevant scientific information, and explain the 
basis for its decisions.
    This section is not intended to impose a higher standard for 
judicial review than the existing ``arbitrary and capricious'' 
standard. The requirements of this final rule section are also separate 
from those of the Council on Environmental Quality's NEPA regulations, 
(40 CFR 1502.22(b)), which in some circumstances require the 
responsible official to seek out missing or incomplete scientific 
information needed for an environmental impact statement, unless the 
costs of doing so are prohibitive. This final rule section does not 
change that requirement. The requirements in section 219.3 are focused 
on ensuring the responsible official uses the BASI that is already 
available to inform the planning process. Thus, while an assessment 
report or monitoring evaluation report may identify gaps or 
inconsistencies in data or scientific knowledge, the final rule does 
not impose the affirmative duty that the CEQ regulation applies to 
EISs--that is, to engage in new studies or develop new information, or 
to document that the costs of seeking new information are prohibitive.
    Including this section in the rule, with its explicit requirements, 
for determining and documenting the use of the BASI to inform planning 
the planning process, will help to ensure a consistent approach across 
the National Forest System that will lead to more credible and 
supportable plan decisions.
    Comment: Transparency of science used. Some respondents felt an 
addition of a requirement for the disclosure of what science was being 
used would enhance transparency.
    Response: Section 219.3 of the final rule requires the responsible 
official to document how the BASI was used to inform the assessment, 
plan decision, and design of the monitoring program. Such documentation 
must: identify what information was determined to be the BASI, explain 
the basis for that determination, and explain how the information was 
applied to the issues considered. This requirement will provide both 
transparency and an explanation to the public as to how BASI was used 
by responsible officials to arrive at their decisions.
    Comment: Risk, uncertainty, and the precautionary principle. A 
respondent

[[Page 21194]]

stated the words ``risk'' and ``uncertainty'' found throughout the 
preamble and DEIS are missing from the rule itself. The respondent felt 
the rule should include wording about risks and uncertainties and 
require techniques for assisting responsible officials in evaluating 
risks and uncertainties. Some respondents felt the rule should adopt 
the ``precautionary principle'' in planning on the NFS to account for 
uncertainty. One respondent also felt the wording ``lack of full 
scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing a 
cost-effective measure to prevent environmental degradation'' should be 
added.
    Response: The Department concludes that the adaptive management 
framework of assessment, revision or amendment, and monitoring in this 
final rule provides a scientifically supported process for 
decisionmaking in the face of uncertainty and particularly under 
changing conditions. The intent of this framework is to create a 
responsive planning process and allows the Forest Service to adapt to 
changing conditions and improve management based on new information. 
Monitoring provides the feedback for the planning cycle by testing 
assumptions, tracking relevant conditions over time, and measuring 
management effectiveness.
    The assessment report will document information needs relevant to 
the topics of the assessment and the best available scientific 
information that will be used to inform the planning process.
    The science of risk management is rapidly evolving. To require 
specific techniques or methodologies would risk codifying approaches 
that may soon be outdated. The responsible official will inform the 
public about the risks and uncertainties in the environmental impact 
statements and environmental assessments for plans, plan revisions, and 
plan amendments.
    Comment: Climate change and climate science. Some respondents felt 
the rule should require use of climate change science in 
decisionmaking. Others felt the rule should address and implement 
regulations for mitigation of climate change while others felt the rule 
should not address climate change.
    Response: The rule sets forth an adaptive land management planning 
process informed by both a comprehensive assessment and the best 
available scientific information. Section 219.6(b)(3)-(4) requires 
responsible officials to identify and evaluate information on climate 
change and other stressors relevant to the plan area, along with a 
baseline assessment of carbon stocks, as a part of the assessment 
phase. Section 219.8(a)(1)(iv) requires climate change be taken into 
account when the responsible official is developing plan components for 
ecological sustainability. When providing for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses, the responsible official is required by Sec.  
219.10(a)(8) to consider climate change. Measureable changes to the 
plan area related to climate change and other stressors affecting the 
plan area are to be monitored under Sec.  219.12(a)(5)(vi). Combined 
with the requirements of the Forest Service Climate Change Roadmap and 
Scorecard, these requirements will ensure that Forest Service land 
management planning addresses climate change and supports adaptive 
management to respond to new information and changing conditions.
Section 219.4--Requirements for Public Participation
    This section of the final rule requires the responsible official to 
provide meaningful opportunities for public participation throughout 
the planning process. It gives direction for providing such 
opportunities, including for outreach, Tribal consultation, and 
coordination with other public planning efforts. The intent of this 
section is to emphasize the importance of active public engagement in 
planning and to provide direction for the responsible official to take 
an active, modern approach to getting public input, including 
recognition of the need for accessibility of the process and engagement 
of all publics, the responsibility for Tribal consultation, and 
engagement with other land managers as part of an all lands approach. 
The outcomes of public participation can include a greater 
understanding of interests underlying the issues, a shared 
understanding of the conditions on the plan area and in the broader 
landscape that provide the context for planning, the development of 
alternatives that can accommodate a wide range of interests, and the 
potential development of a shared vision for the plan area, as well as 
an understanding of how and why planning decisions are made. Engaging 
the public early and throughout the process is expected to lead to 
better decisionmaking and plans that have broader support and 
relevance.
Section 219.4--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on the requirements for the 
kinds and level of participation opportunities and outreach, 
coordination with local and State governments and planning efforts, and 
Tribal consultation. This section was reorganized and new paragraph 
headings were assigned to increase clarity. Wording affirming that the 
Forest Service retains decisionmaking authority and responsibility for 
all decisions was moved from the definition of collaboration of the 
proposed rule to paragraph (a) of this section. The Department also 
listed State fish and wildlife agencies, and State foresters in 
paragraph Sec.  219.4(a)(1)(iv) as illustrative examples of relevant 
State agencies.
    The Department modified the wording about trust responsibilities in 
Sec.  219.4(a)(2) that was designated at Sec.  219.4(a)(5) of the 
proposed rule. The proposed rule said: the Department recognizes the 
Federal Government's trust responsibility for federally recognized 
Indian Tribes. The final rule says: the Department recognizes the 
Federal Government has certain trust responsibilities and a unique 
legal relationship with federally recognized Indian Tribes. This change 
was made to ensure accurate recognition of the relationship between the 
Federal Government and federally recognized Tribes.
    The Department deleted the phrase, ``to the extent practicable and 
appropriate,'' from the end of paragraph Sec.  219.4(b) for 
coordination with other public planning efforts, in response to public 
comment. The change is intended to make clear that the requirements for 
coordination with other public planning efforts have not been reduced 
from previous rules. However, this change is not intended to require 
the Agency's planning efforts to tier to, or match the timing of other 
public planning efforts. These changes are not changes in requirements, 
they are clarifications.
    Comment: Specific requirements for public engagement. Some 
respondents felt that the rule should allow responsible officials to 
have the discretion to determine public outreach methods, while others 
felt the rule should contain specific method and process requirements 
for public engagement because vague requirements could result in courts 
second-guessing whether the public participation was sufficient. Others 
felt the public participation opportunities held during planning need 
to be flexible and accommodate the people living and working in the 
area. Others requested specific recreation clubs and organizations be 
added to proposed Sec.  219.4(a)(2). A respondent felt the responsible 
official should be required to identify other non-traditional means

[[Page 21195]]

of engagement and to identify in advance the participation of specific 
populations in each area with historical and traditional connections to 
the land, including forestry workers, their associations, and specific 
communities who retain or wish to retain historic connections to the 
land. Some respondents felt individuals and organizations engaged in 
forest planning should be limited to either economic stakeholders or 
those with an existing interest in forest management as the Forest 
Service cannot make individuals or groups with no interest or economic 
stake in national forests participate in forest planning, regardless of 
the effort the Agency puts into targeted scoping.
    Response: The rule requires the responsible official to engage and 
encourage participation by a diverse array of people and communities 
throughout the planning process. This includes those interested at the 
local, regional, and national levels and covers all groups and 
organizations that are interested in the land management planning 
process. The Department recognizes the need to engage a full range of 
interests and individuals in the planning process. The national forests 
and grasslands belong to all Americans and not just those who have 
economic or previously expressed interest. The Department concluded it 
was important for the final rule to recognize that opportunities for 
public participation in the planning process must be fair and 
accessible, while recognizing and taking into account the diverse 
interests, responsibilities, and jurisdictions of interested and 
affected parties. The final rule does not require participation from 
any specific group. The rule also allows flexibility in the methods of 
offering opportunities for engagement, recognizing that the best way to 
engage will vary at different times and in different places. The 
responsible official has the discretion to determine the scope, timing, 
and methods for participation opportunities necessary to address local, 
regional, and national needs, while meeting the requirements of Sec.  
219.4.
    The planning procedures established for land management planning in 
the Forest Service Directives System will also provide further 
direction to ensure consistent implementation of the requirements of 
the final rule.
    Comment: Clarification on collaborative process. Some respondents 
felt the rule should clarify when a collaborative process would or 
would not be ``feasible and appropriate.'' A respondent felt the rule 
should ensure public participation occurs when forest plans are revised 
and amended. Some respondents felt their local Forest Service office is 
already collaborating with the public and that the proposed rule would 
discourage the unit from continuing with methods already working 
locally.
    Response: This final rule contains a balanced approach that 
requires the responsible official to engage a diverse array of people 
and communities throughout the planning process. Participation 
opportunities must be provided throughout all stages of the land 
management planning process, including during plan revision and 
amendment.
    The CEQ publication Collaboration in NEPA--A Handbook for NEPA 
Practitioners at: http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/ntf/Collaboration_in_NEPA_Oct_2007.pdf, describes a spectrum of engagement, including the 
categories of inform, consult, involve, and collaborate. Each of these 
categories is associated with a set of tools, from traditional 
activities such as notice and comment on the inform end of the 
spectrum, to consensus building, or a Federal advisory committee on the 
collaborative end of the spectrum. Because the term ``collaboration'' 
is often associated with only those activities on one end of the public 
engagement spectrum, the Department chose to retain the term ``public 
participation'' in the final rule to make clear that the full spectrum 
of tools for public engagement can be used in the planning process. 
Every planning process will involve traditional scoping and public 
comment; in addition, the responsible official will determine the 
combination of additional public participation strategies that would 
best engage a diverse set of people and communities in the planning 
process.
    The final rule absolutely provides the flexibility to support the 
use of already working processes, including existing collaborative 
processes. Because the make-up and dynamics of the communities 
surrounding each planning area differ, and because the level of 
interest in decisionmaking may vary, based on the scope and potential 
impact of the decision being contemplated, the responsible official 
needs the flexibility to select the public participation methods that 
would best meet the needs of interested people and communities. The 
wording ``feasible and appropriate'' provides the responsible official 
the flexibility needed to develop effective participation 
opportunities, including using existing opportunities for 
collaboration.
    Planning procedures established in the Forest Service Directives 
System will provide further guidance and clarification for how the 
public participation requirements of the final rule will be 
implemented.
    Comment: Time and cost of public involvement. Some respondents felt 
the proposed public participation requirements are cumbersome and 
unrealistic in regards to time and cost and the ability for individuals 
to fully participate. Others felt the public participation requirements 
would not result in a more efficient planning process.
    Response: The final rule directs the responsible official to take 
the accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information into 
account when designing opportunities for public participation, 
precisely because individuals may vary in their ability to engage, 
including in how much time and money they have to spend on 
participating in the process. Likewise, the final rule directs the 
responsible official to consider the cost, time, and available staffing 
when developing opportunities for public participation that meet needs 
and constraints specific to the plan area. This is to ensure that the 
process is feasible and efficient. In addition, Sec.  219.1(g) requires 
that the planning process be within the authority of the Forest Service 
and the fiscal capability of the unit.
    However, the rule does place a strong emphasis on developing 
opportunities early and throughout the planning process, with costs of 
planning projected to be redirected toward collaboration, assessment, 
and monitoring activities and away from development and analysis of 
alternatives, as compared to the 1982 procedures. The public 
participation requirements are expected to improve plans and increase 
planning efficiency in a variety of ways. Collaborative efforts during 
the early phases of planning are expected to result in improved 
analysis and decisionmaking efficiency during the latter stages of 
planning; lead to improved capacity to reduce uncertainty by gathering, 
verifying, and integrating information from a variety of sources; 
reduce the need for large numbers of plan alternatives and time needed 
for plan revisions; potentially offset or reduce monitoring costs as a 
result of collaboration during monitoring; improve perceptions 
regarding legitimacy of plans and the planning process; increase trust 
in the Agency, and potentially reduce the costs of litigation as a 
result of receiving public input before developing and finalizing 
decisions. Overall, it is the Department's

[[Page 21196]]

view that investment in providing opportunities for public engagement 
will lead to stronger and more effective and relevant plans.
    Comment: Undocumented knowledge. A respondent felt the planning 
process should take into account other forms of knowledge besides 
written documentation, and this knowledge should be shared with all 
interests and individuals throughout the planning process.
    Response: The Department recognizes that other forms of information 
besides written documentation, such as local and indigenous knowledge 
and public experiences, should also be taken into account. 
Opportunities for the public to provide information during the 
assessment phase will help the responsible official to capture other 
forms of knowledge, and to reflect that information in the assessment 
report that will be available to the public. This section of the final 
rule requires the responsible official to encourage public 
participation, thus sharing knowledge, ideas, and resources. In 
addition, paragraph (a)(3) of this section requires the responsible 
official to request information about native knowledge, land ethics, 
cultural issues, and sacred and culturally significant sites.
    Comment: Participation requirements accountability. Some 
respondents felt the rule should contain measures ensuring the 
responsible officials meet the public participation requirements.
    Response: To ensure accountability in implementation for all of the 
requirements in the final rule, the Department added Sec.  219.2(b)(5) 
requiring the Chief to administer a national oversight process for 
accountability and consistency of NFS land management planning. In 
addition, the planning procedures established in the Forest Service 
Directives System will provide further guidance and clarification for 
how the public participation requirements of the final rule will be 
implemented.
    Comment: Decisionmaking authority. Some respondents felt the rule 
must disclose the Forest Service retains full decisionmaking authority.
    Response: While Sec.  219.4 of the rule commits the Agency to 
public participation requirements and encourages collaboration, by law 
the Forest Service must retain final decisionmaking authority and 
responsibility throughout the planning process. Paragraph (a) of this 
section has been modified to include the sentence ``The Forest Service 
retains decisionmaking authority and responsibility for all decisions 
throughout the process,'' which was previously in the definition for 
collaboration in the proposed rule.
    Comment: Specific requirements for youth, low-income, and minority 
populations. Some respondents supported requirements to engage youth, 
low-income and minority populations, and advocated including additional 
requirements. One respondent felt that references to youth, low-income, 
and minority populations should be removed. A respondent felt the rule 
should integrate elements related to equitable recreation access for 
youth, low-income, and minority populations into the assessment, 
planning, and monitoring elements of the rule.
    Response: Many people discussed the need for the Forest Service to 
make a stronger effort to engage groups and communities that 
traditionally have been underrepresented in land management planning. 
This is reflected in the requirement that responsible officials 
encourage the participation of youth, low-income populations, and 
minority populations in the planning process and in the requirements to 
be proactive and use contemporary tools to reach out to the public and 
consider the accessibility of the process to interested groups and 
individuals. The Department recognizes the need to engage a full range 
of interests and individuals in the planning process and the 
responsibility to promote environmental justice. To encourage wide-
ranging participation, the final rule retains the requirement for the 
responsible official to seek participation opportunities for 
traditionally underrepresented groups like youth, low-income 
populations, and minority populations.
    The Department added requirements in Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 10 to 
take into account opportunities to connect people with nature when 
developing plan components to contribute to social and economic 
sustainability and for multiple uses, including recreation, in addition 
to the requirements for outreach to youth, low-income, and minority 
populations included in this section. Specific issues regarding 
recreation access on a unit will be addressed at the local level during 
the planning process.
    Comment: Predominance of local or national input. Some respondents 
felt the proposed Sec.  219.4 did not place enough emphasis on input 
from the local community, while others felt the proposed collaboration 
process would result in too much input from local interests and groups. 
Other respondents felt the public participation process needs to be 
all-inclusive, including at the local, State, and national levels and 
should be directed at the general public and not focus on participation 
from specific segments of the population. Other respondents felt the 
proposed rule only provides participation opportunities for State and 
local governments. A respondent felt comments or recommendations by a 
local Board of Supervisors should be given equal consideration as to 
those comments received from State and Federal agencies.
    Response: Section 219.4(a)(1)(iv) of the final rule clarifies the 
responsible official's duty for outreach to other government agencies 
to participate in planning for NFS lands, including State fish and 
wildlife agencies, State foresters, and other relevant State agencies, 
local governments including counties, and other Federal agencies. 
However, a successful planning process must be inclusive in order to 
adequately reflect the range of values, needs, and preferences of 
society. All members of the public would be provided opportunities to 
participate in the planning process. Section 219.4(a) of the final rule 
lists specific points during the planning process when opportunities 
for public participation would be provided. To meet these requirements, 
the responsible official must be proactive in considering who may be 
interested in the plan, those who might be affected by the plan or a 
change to the plan, and how to encourage various constituents and 
entities to engage. Responsible officials will encourage participation 
by interested individuals and entities, including those interested at 
the local, regional, and national levels.
    Comment: Coordination with State and local governments. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule downplayed requirements to 
coordinate with State and local governments and that public 
participation is elevated over coordination. Other respondents felt 
State wildlife agencies should specifically be coordinated with when 
designing and implementing plans, on-the-ground management activities, 
monitoring, and survey design. Some respondents felt the rule should 
use the wording from Sec.  219.7 of the 1982 planning rule regarding 
coordination with State and local governments. Others felt wording from 
Alternative D of the DEIS should be included. Some respondents felt 
forest plans should be written in partnership with the States in which 
the national forest or grassland is located. A respondent supported the 
review of county planning and land use policies and documentation of 
the review in the draft EIS as stated in proposed Sec.  219.4(b)(3). 
Several

[[Page 21197]]

respondents noted the 1982 planning rule at Sec.  219.7(b) requires 
county governments to be given direct notice of forest plan revisions 
and oppose the proposed elimination of the requirement in the proposed 
rule. A respondent stated input from local governments is required by 
NFMA's mandate for coordination with local agencies that acknowledges 
the contributions and responsibilities unique to local agencies, 
including planning responsibilities for the private lands that fall 
under the ``all lands'' umbrella.
    Response: Many of the coordination requirements of the 1982 
planning rule have been carried forward into Sec.  219.4(b)(1) and (2) 
of the final rule. Section 219.4(b)(3) clarifies requirements for 
coordination efforts.
    Under Sec.  219.4(a), the final rule requires the responsible 
official to encourage participation by other Federal agencies, Tribes, 
States, counties, and local governments, including State fish and 
wildlife agencies, State foresters and other relevant State agencies. 
The final rule also requires the responsible official to encourage 
federally recognized Tribes, States, counties, and other local 
governments to seek cooperating agency status in the NEPA process for 
planning, where appropriate, and makes clear that the responsible 
official may participate in their planning efforts.
    Under Sec.  219.4(b) of the final rule, the responsible official 
must coordinate planning efforts with the equivalent and related 
planning efforts of federally recognized Indian Tribes, Alaska Native 
Corporations, other Federal agencies, and State and local governments. 
The Department deleted the phrase, ``to the extent practicable and 
appropriate,'' from the end of paragraph Sec.  219.4(b), in response to 
public comment. This change is not intended to require the Agency's 
planning efforts to tier to, or match the timing of other public 
planning efforts. It was made to make clear that the requirements for 
coordination with other public planning efforts have not been reduced 
from previous rules.
    The requirement for coordination from the 1982 rule to identify and 
consider other information is found in Sec.  219.6(a) of the final 
rule. Section 219.6(a) of the final rule requires consideration of 
relevant information in assessments of other governmental or non-
governmental assessments, plans, monitoring evaluation reports, and 
studies. The final rule does not adopt the coordination requirements of 
Alternative D of the DEIS because the coordination requirements are 
part of the species viability requirements of Alternative D. The final 
rule does require the responsible official to coordinate to the extent 
practicable with other Federal, State, Tribal, and private land 
managers having management authority over lands relevant to a 
population of species of conservation concern (Sec.  219.9(b)(2)(ii)). 
To discuss the role of the Forest Service unit in the broader 
landscape, final rule Sec. Sec.  219.4(a)(1), 219.6(a), 219.7(c)(1), 
and 219.12(a) require coordination with other levels and deputy areas 
within the Agency as well as the public, appropriate Federal agencies, 
States, local governments, and other entities throughout the planning 
process. The final rule recognizes that participants have different 
roles, responsibilities, and jurisdictions, which the responsible 
official will take into account in designing opportunities for 
participation. The final rule does not adopt the requirement of the 
1982 rule to meet with a designated State official and representatives 
of Federal agencies and local governments because people can often 
collaborate together without a face-to-face conference. The Department 
expects responsible officials to effectively engage States, Tribes, and 
local officials and other representatives in collaborative planning 
processes.
    Comment: Commitments to and consistency with local plans. Some 
respondents felt the rule needs a stronger commitment to local 
government plans, including statewide forest assessments and resource 
strategies. Some respondents felt proposed Sec.  219.4(b)(3) wording 
``nor will the responsible official conform management to meet non-
Forest Service objectives or policies'' should be removed because it 
may contradict with the purpose of coordinating with local government. 
Others felt the primary goal of coordination should be achieving 
consistency between Federal and local plans within the legal mandates 
applicable to all entities. Some respondents felt the analysis must 
document there is no superior alternative to a proposed plan or action 
as required by NEPA.
    Response: When revising plans or developing new plans, under Sec.  
219.4(b) the responsible official must review the existing planning and 
land use policies of State and local governments, other Federal 
agencies, and federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native 
Corporations, where relevant to the plan area, and document the results 
of the review in the draft EIS. Section 219.4(b) requires that review 
to consider a number of things, including opportunities for the unit 
plan to contribute to joint objectives and opportunities to resolve or 
reduce conflicts where they exist. The review would consider the 
objectives of federally recognized Indian Tribes, and other Federal, 
State, and local governments, as expressed in their plans and policies, 
and would assess the compatibility and interrelated impacts of these 
plans and policies. In addition, responsible officials in the 
assessment phase are required to identify and consider relevant 
existing information, which may include relevant neighboring land 
management plans and local knowledge. This information may include 
State forest assessments and strategies, ecoregional assessments, 
nongovernmental reports, State comprehensive outdoor recreation plans, 
community wildfire protection plans, public transportation plans, and 
State wildlife action plans, among others.
    However, plans are not required to be consistent with State forest 
assessments or strategies or plans of State and local governments under 
the final rule. The Forest Service must develop its own assessment and 
plans related to the conditions of the specific planning unit and make 
decisions based on Federal laws and considerations that may be broader 
than the State or local plans. Requiring land management plans to be 
consistent with local government plans would not allow the flexibility 
needed to address the diverse management needs on NFS lands and could 
hamper the Agency's ability to address regional and national interests 
on Federal lands. In the event of conflict with Agency planning 
objectives, consideration of alternatives for resolution within the 
context of achieving NFS goals or objectives for the unit would be 
explored. The final rule does not repeat legal requirements found in 
public law, such as NEPA and NFMA, but Sec.  219.1(f) would require 
plans to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
    Comment: Cooperating agencies for unit plan development. A 
respondent felt the rule should identify State, Tribal, and local 
governments as cooperating agencies. Other respondents asked why a 
Tribe would request cooperating agency status and what the benefit 
would be. Another respondent felt the role of State and local 
governments is compromised, because the propose rule allows a 
responsible official to decide when cooperating agency status would be 
allowed. A respondent noted the Forest Service should be willing to 
share information and not impose cost-prohibitive barriers to such 
information, and the proposed rule does not allow cooperating agency 
status for State and local governments,

[[Page 21198]]

because the process folds them into the public at large. Several 
organizations commented on the preferred alternative that the final 
rule should require responsible officials to grant cooperating agency 
status under NEPA to entities if federally recognized Tribes, States, 
counties, or local governments appropriately apply for such status.
    Response: The responsible official will encourage federally 
recognized Tribes, States, counties, and other local governments to 
seek cooperating agency status where appropriate. The final rule does 
not preclude any eligible party from seeking cooperating agency status; 
rather, it provides direction to Forest Service responsible officials 
to encourage such engagement where appropriate. Cooperating agency 
status under NEPA is determined under the Council of Environmental 
Quality (CEQ) requirements for cooperating status (40 CFR 1501.6). 
Further guidance may be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/index.htm. The final rule does not affect that process. For federally 
recognized Tribes, cooperating agency status does not replace or 
supersede the trust responsibilities and requirements for consultation 
also recognized and included in the final rule. Any request for 
cooperating agency status will be considered pursuant to the CEQ 
requirements and Agency policy.
    Comment: Tribal consultation. Some respondents felt that Alaska 
Native Corporations should not be given the same status as federally 
recognized Indian Tribes, while another respondent felt that the final 
rule should recognize and provide for consultation with affected Alaska 
Native Corporations and Tribal organizations. Several Tribes and Alaska 
Native Corporations are concerned about keeping information 
confidential to protect sites from vandalism.
    Response: The final rule acknowledges the Federal Government's 
unique obligations and responsibilities to Indian Tribes and Alaska 
Native Corporations in the planning process. The statute, 25 U.S.C. 450 
note, requires that Federal agencies consult with Alaska Native 
Corporations on the same basis as Indian Tribes under Executive Order 
13175. While the final rule requires consultation and participation 
opportunities for Alaska Native Corporations, the Department engages in 
a government-to-government relationship only with federally recognized 
Indian Tribes, consistent with Executive Order 13175. Responsible 
officials will protect confidentiality regarding information given by 
Tribes in the planning process and may enter into agreements to do so.
    Comment: Coordination with Tribal land management programs. Some 
respondents felt the responsible official should actively engage in 
coordination with Tribal land management programs and that the proposed 
rule weakens requirements to coordinate planning with Tribes. One 
respondent requested that the Tribal coordination provisions from the 
Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1712(b)) be 
included in the final rule.
    Response: The final rule provides participation, consultation, and 
coordination opportunities for Tribes during the land management 
planning process, under Sec.  219.4. This section also states at Sec.  
219.4(b) that the responsible official shall coordinate land management 
planning with the equivalent and related planning efforts of federally 
recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations. A citation for 
43 U.S.C. 1712(b) has been added to the final rule at Sec.  
219.4(b)(2). Participation in a collaborative process would be 
voluntary and would supplement, not replace consultation.
    Comment: Government-to-government relationship. One respondent felt 
the proposed rule does not go far enough in identifying the unique 
government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the Forest 
Service.
    Response: The Department recognizes the unique government-to-
government relationship that the Federal Government has with Tribes, 
and has engaged Tribes throughout the rulemaking process. The final 
rule includes requirements for engaging Tribes during the land 
management planning process. At Sec.  219.4(a)(2) the final rule states 
that the responsible official shall honor the government-to-government 
relationship between federally recognized Indian Tribes and the Federal 
Government, in accordance with Executive Order 13175. Additionally, 
Sec.  219.4 requires that the responsible official provide 
opportunities for participation and consultation for federally 
recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.
Section 219.5--Planning Framework
    This section provides an overview of the framework for land 
management planning, and identifies what occurs during each phase. It 
also includes the requirement for the establishment of an 
interdisciplinary team for planning. This framework reflects key themes 
heard from the public, as well as experience gained through the 
Agency's 30-year history with land management planning.
    The framework requires a three-part learning and planning cycle: 
(1) Assessment; (2) plan development, plan revision, or plan amendment; 
and (3) monitoring. This framework is science-based (Sec.  219.3), and 
provides a blueprint for an open and participatory land management 
process (Sec. Sec.  219.4 and 219.16). It is intended to create a 
better understanding of the landscape-scale context for management and 
support an integrated and holistic approach to management that 
recognizes the interdependence of ecological resources and processes, 
and of social, ecological, and economic systems. The framework creates 
a structure within which land managers and partners will work together 
to understand what is happening on the land. It is intended to 
establish a responsive process that would allow the Agency to adapt 
management to changing conditions and improve management based on new 
information and monitoring, using narrower, more frequent amendments to 
keep plans current between revisions.
Section 219.5--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on the need for more clarity 
in the framework. The Department made changes to Sec.  219.5(a)(1) to 
describe the assessment and emphasize that the assessment process is 
intended to be rapid, and use existing information related to the land 
management plan within the context of the broader landscape. The 
Department removed the discussion about the preliminary need to change 
the plan from paragraph (a)(1) because the discussion has been removed 
from the assessment (Sec.  219.6) and discussed in paragraph (a)(2) of 
this section and in Sec.  219.7. The Department removed the 
introductory text of paragraph (a)(2) of this section because it was 
redundant to paragraph (a)(2)(i) of this section and to Sec.  219.7(b). 
Section 219.5(a)(2)(ii) was slightly modified to clarify that the first 
step to amend a plan is to identify a preliminary need to change the 
plan. Additional edits were made for clarity. The changes to this 
section are not changes in requirements, they are just clarifications.
    Comment: Planning framework. Some respondents felt more clarity was 
needed on the three phases of the framework (assessment, development, 
and monitoring). Further clarity was sought on how the phases are 
interrelated.
    Response: This section was included to provide clarity with regard 
to each phase of the framework and how they are interrelated. Detailed 
requirements and relationships for each phase are provided in other 
sections of the rule. In

[[Page 21199]]

addition to the descriptions of what occurs during each phase provided 
in this section, changes were made to Sec. Sec.  219.6, 219.7 and 
219.12 to make clear that information from each phase should be used to 
inform each of the other phases. In Sec.  219.6, assessments are 
required for new plan development and plan revision, and a new list of 
topics for the assessment was included to more closely link the 
assessment requirements to the requirements for plan components and 
other plan content. The responsible official must identify and consider 
relevant information contained in monitoring reports during the 
assessment phase. These monitoring evaluation reports are developed in 
the monitoring phase as required in Sec.  219.12(d), which requires 
that they be used to inform adaptive management. Section 219.7 requires 
the responsible official to review relevant information from the 
assessment and monitoring to identify a preliminary need for change and 
to inform the development of plan components and other plan content, 
including the monitoring program. In this way, the framework builds on 
information gathered and developed during each phase of the planning 
process and supports adaptive management for informed and efficient 
planning.
    Comment: Resource exclusion. Some respondents felt the proposed 
rule allows too much discretion to the responsible official to exclude 
resources or uses of interest under the three phases of the planning 
framework.
    Response: There are numerous opportunities throughout the process 
for the public to identify resources and uses that are of interest to 
them, along with information about those resources or uses relevant to 
the plan area. If a resource or use is identified as of interest, it 
will be considered during of the planning process. The responsible 
official must meet all the requirements contained in the final rule, 
including the requirement to identify resources present in the plan 
area and consider them when developing plan components for Sec. Sec.  
219.8 through 219.11, including for ecological sustainability, 
diversity, and multiple use.
    Comment: Composition of planning interdisciplinary teams. Several 
respondents felt the rule should specify the composition of the 
interdisciplinary teams required under proposed Sec.  219.5(b).
    Response: The Department concluded that the responsible official 
should have the discretion to determine the disciplines, or areas of 
expertise, to be represented on the Agency interdisciplinary team for 
preparation of assessments; new plans, plan amendments, or plan 
revisions; and plan monitoring programs. Because planning efforts are 
based on an identified need for change, it would not be appropriate to 
require the same disciplines to be represented on every 
interdisciplinary team. Also, individual team members often have broad 
areas of expertise and may represent multiple disciplines.
Section 219.6--Assessments
    This section sets out both process and content requirements for 
assessments. In the assessment phase, responsible officials will 
rapidly identify and evaluate relevant and existing information to 
provide a solid base of information and context for plan 
decisionmaking, within the context of the broader landscape. The final 
rule identifies and provides examples of sources of information to 
which the responsible official should refer, requires coordination and 
participation opportunities, and requires documentation of the 
assessment in a report to be made available to the public. This phase 
is intended to be rapid, and changes were made to the final rule to 
improve the efficiency of the assessment process. The Department 
expects the assessment required by the final rule will take about 6 
months to complete.
    The content of assessments will be used to inform the development 
of plan components and other plan content, including the monitoring 
questions, and to provide a feedback loop. The final rule narrows and 
clarifies the requirements for the content of plan assessments, to 
increase efficiency and provide a clearer link to the requirements for 
plan components and other plan content in the other sections of the 
final rule. During the assessment phase, the public will have the 
opportunity to bring forward relevant information. Gathering and 
evaluating existing, relevant information will help both the 
responsible official and the public form a clear base of information 
related to management issues and decisions that will be made later in 
the planning process.
Section 219.6--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on concerns about the 
assessment phase in the proposed rule being too open ended, lengthy and 
costly, and/or not closely enough linked to the requirements for plan 
components and monitoring in the other phases of the framework. The 
Department determined that these concerns were valid, and made a number 
of changes to this section in response. The Department reorganized the 
section to clarify the process and direction for assessments.
    In the introductory paragraph, the Department removed the 
description of what an assessment is, and provided a cross-reference to 
description of the assessment in Sec.  219.5(a)(1). This change was 
made to avoid redundancy, and is not a change in requirements. Changes 
to the description of the assessment in Sec.  219.5(a)(1) were made to 
focus on the use of existing information in a rapid process. This 
change reflects the intent for this phase as stated in the preamble to 
the proposed rule, and makes that intent clear in the final rule. 
Additional changes to reflect this focus were made throughout this 
section. These changes reflect the preamble discussion of the proposed 
rule about rapid assessments; therefore, these changes are 
clarifications based on public comments to make the assessment more 
efficient.
    In paragraph (a) of the final rule the Department made several 
changes, including:
    (1) Removed specific requirements for formal notification and 
encouragement of various parties to participate in the assessment 
(designated at Sec.  219.6(a)(1) and (a)(2) of the proposed rule); 
these specific requirements were removed in response to public 
comments. Requirements for public participation and notification during 
this phase are still present in Sec. Sec.  219.4 and 219.16. This is a 
change in requirements that is based on public comments to make the 
assessment more efficient.
    (2) Moved the type of information to identify and consider from 
paragraph (b)(2) of this section of the proposed rule to paragraph 
(a)(1) in this section. The Department added public transportation 
plans and State wildlife data to the list of example documents to 
consider contained in paragraph (a)(1). The Department further 
clarified in this paragraph that relevant local knowledge will be 
considered if publicly available or voluntarily provided. These 
additions are not changes in requirements as they clarify the 
Department's intent.
    (3) Changed the description of the report at paragraph (a)(3) from 
a set of reports to a single assessment report; changed discussion of 
additional information needs to clarify that they should be noted in 
the assessment report, but that new information need not be developed 
during the assessment phase; and changed the requirement from 
documenting how science was ``taken into account'' to how the best 
available scientific information was ``used to inform'' the assessment 
for

[[Page 21200]]

consistency with Sec.  219.3. These changes reflect public comments on 
making the assessment phase more efficient, as well as public comments 
on Sec.  219.3.
    (4) Removed the requirement for the assessment to identify the need 
to change the plan from this section and added that requirement as an 
early step in the planning process in Sec.  219.7. The Department moved 
the requirement to Sec.  219.7 because after reading the public 
comments it was decided that identifying a need to change the plan in 
the assessment phase may cause confusion with the NEPA process. The 
planning rule continues to emphasize a ``need for change'' approach to 
planning but this now begins with a preliminary identification of the 
need to change the plan identified in the beginning of plan development 
(Sec.  219.7) within the formal NEPA process.
    Paragraph (b) describes the content of assessments for plan 
development or plan revision. The Department added a specific listing 
of 15 topics that would be identified and evaluated relevant to the 
plan area, and removed the requirement in the proposed rule that the 
assessment report identify and evaluate information related to the 
substantive sections of the plan (Sec. Sec.  219.7, 219.8, 219.9, 
219.10, and 219.11). This change was made in response to comments that 
the assessment phase needed to be both more efficient and more narrowly 
and specifically focused on the information needed to form a basis for 
developing plan components and other plan content. These changes 
represent a change in requirements. Changes made to Sec.  219.7 provide 
additional clarity to link the two phases.
    One term in the list of 15 items may be unfamiliar to the reader: 
baseline assessment of carbon stocks. The final rule requires that the 
responsible official use existing information to do a baseline 
assessment of carbon stocks. Carbon stocks are the amount of carbon 
stored in the ecosystem, in living biomass, soil, dead wood, and 
litter. This requirement was included in response to public comments to 
ensure that information about baseline carbon stocks is identified and 
evaluated before plan revision or development, and to link this phase 
to the requirements of the Forest Service Climate Change Roadmap and 
Scorecard. The Department's expectation is that this information would 
be generated via implementation of the Roadmap and Scorecard prior to 
planning efforts on a unit, and that the assessment phase would use 
that information to meet the direction in Sec.  219.6(b)(4). The Forest 
Service has developed a National Roadmap and Performance Scorecard for 
measuring progress to achieve USDA strategic goals (USDA Forest Service 
2010d, 2010j). The roadmap describes the Agency's strategy to address 
climate change and the scorecard is an annual reporting mechanism to 
check the progress of each NFS unit.
    The requirements for the assessment to identify distinctive roles 
and contributions and potential monitoring questions previously 
included in paragraph (b) were removed from this section of the rule 
because they implied there would be decisions in the assessment phase 
that should be made as part of the plan decision. Both requirements are 
still present in other sections of the final rule; therefore, the 
removal of these requirements from this section of the rule is a minor 
change.
    At Sec.  219.6(c) the Department removed requirements for plan 
amendments that were consolidated with requirements for plan amendments 
in Sec.  219.13(b)(1) for clarity and to avoid duplication. In 
addition, the Department changed the word ``issue'' to ``topic'' to 
avoid confusion with the term ``issues'' as used in the NEPA process. 
These changes are not changes in requirements, they are just 
clarifications.
    Comment: Assessment process. Some respondents felt the proposed 
assessment process should be removed from the rule as it is an added 
and potentially costly step to the planning process. They felt it would 
be more efficient and effective if assessments used to justify an 
amendment or plan revision were combined into one document for the 
proposed amendment or revision. They also felt the rule should provide 
more guidance and parameters for the decisionmaking occurring along 
with assessment reports. Other respondents felt the proposed rule 
requirements were vague on the nature of assessments and more standards 
or guidelines for determining proper time frames, content, and need for 
assessment is necessary. Others were concerned that the assessments 
should be more comprehensive, that too much discretion was given to the 
responsible official to determine what to include in the assessment, 
and the responsible official should be required to use, not just 
consider, the information.
    Response: Section 219.6 of the final rule changes the requirements 
for assessments. A single document identifying and evaluating key 
information for a plan revision or amendment will serve as an important 
source to set the stage for planning in both the development of the 
plan and in the evaluation of environmental effects through an 
environmental impact statement.
    The final rule stresses the assessment as an information gathering 
and evaluation process specifically linked to the development of plan 
components and other plan content, in the context of the broader 
landscape. The final rule requires information about the list of topics 
in Sec.  219.6(b) to be identified and evaluated in the assessment. The 
inclusion of this list as opposed to the broader direction included in 
the proposed rule is intended to make the process both more efficient, 
and more clearly focused on the specific information needed to inform 
the development of plan components and other plan content as required 
by other sections of the final rule.
    The requirement of the proposed rule to find a ``need to change'' 
during the assessment phase of planning has been removed to clarify 
that the assessment is not a decisionmaking process and does not 
require a NEPA document to be prepared. Changes to Sec.  219.7 clarify 
that the responsible official must review material gathered during the 
assessment to identify a preliminary need to change the existing plan 
and to inform the development of the plan components and other plan 
content. The information may be used and referenced in the planning 
process, including environmental documentation under NEPA. However, the 
assessment report is not a decision document.
    The responsible official is required to provide public 
participation opportunities to all interested parties during the 
assessment process, and must provide notice of such opportunities, as 
well as the availability of the assessment report. The public will have 
a formal opportunity to comment on information derived from the 
assessment later in the NEPA process of the plan development, 
amendment, or revision.
    The Department decided to retain the flexibility provided in the 
proposed rule for the responsible official to determine when an 
assessment prior to plan amendment is needed, along with the scope, 
scale, process, and content for plan amendments, in order to keep the 
amendment process flexible. Amendments can be broad or they can be 
narrow and focused only on a subset, or even on a single one, of the 
topics identified in the list of 15 in the final rule, or on something 
not on the list. Or the amendment could take place while the 
information in the assessment done for the plan revision or initial 
development is still up-to-date, such that a new assessment would not 
be needed. The circumstances and

[[Page 21201]]

considerations for when a plan amendment assessment should occur are 
too variable to specify in the final rule.
    Comment: Use of existing information. Some respondents felt the 
rule should clarify that the responsible official need only consider 
existing information during the assessment phase. The concern raised 
was that if a responsible official had to develop new information such 
as new scientific studies to fill gaps in the existing science, the 
planning process would be further delayed. Others expressed that 
limiting the assessment to rapid evaluation of existing information may 
result in lack of input from the public or actually be of little use 
when the Forest Service has very little information.
    Response: The Department agrees the assessment phase needs to be 
efficient and effective. The Department focused the final rule on 
rapidly gathering and evaluating existing information on the topics 
identified in paragraph (b) of the final rule. The intent is for the 
responsible official to develop in the assessment phase a clear 
understanding of what is known about the plan area, in the context of 
the broader landscape, in order to provide a solid context for 
decision-making required during the planning phase. The Forest Service 
will use relevant existing information from a variety of sources, both 
internal to the Agency and from external sources. The responsible 
official is required to provide public participation opportunities to 
all interested parties during the assessment process. The Department 
concludes that engaging the public to inform the assessment report will 
help the responsible official and the interested public to develop a 
common base of information to use in the planning phase, increasing the 
legitimacy and integrity of future decisions.
    Comment: Additional assessment considerations. Some respondents 
noted reasonably foreseeable conditions, stressors, and opportunities 
(for example forecasts for continued urbanization and ecological 
changes resulting from climate change) need to be considered when 
measuring present conditions, stressors, and opportunities. The 
respondents implied this information should be calculated and 
considered during the assessment phase of land management planning. 
Still others indicated there should be requirements for water quality, 
minerals, historic, social, economic, and other resources. Others 
mentioned the responsible official should be required to accept 
material submitted by universities, and should consider best available 
science.
    Response: The list in Sec.  219.6(b) includes the topics identified 
in these comments. The Department accepts that the list included in the 
final rule represents a focused set of topics relevant to the 
development of plan components and other plan content required in other 
sections of the final rule. The final rule requires that the best 
available scientific information be used to inform all phases of the 
planning process. Documents submitted by universities would be accepted 
by the Agency and considered as part of the assessment.
    Comment: Annual regional evaluations. Some respondents indicated 
the proposed assessment process needs to provide for regular over-
arching investigations of potential need to change issues above the 
individual forest level. Some suggested the final rule should provide 
for annual evaluations by each Forest Service region for developing 
information affecting broader-scale factors and how the information may 
indicate a need to initiate forest plan revisions or amendments.
    Response: The final rule does not require annual evaluations of 
monitoring results by each region or for the broader-scale monitoring 
strategy. The three-part planning cycle of assessments, planning, and 
monitoring will provide a framework to identify changing conditions and 
respond with adaptive management. Broader-scale monitoring will help to 
identify and track changing conditions beyond the individual forest 
level. The final rule requires consideration of information from both 
the broader and plan scales of monitoring. This information would be 
described in the biennial plan monitoring report for each unit if 
applicable to plan area. Annual investigations and review, in addition 
to what is provided for in the rule, would be procedurally difficult 
and was deemed not necessary.
    Comment: Assessments versus monitoring. Some respondents remarked 
that the rule needs to state the Agency cannot rely on one-time 
assessments in lieu of monitoring data.
    Response: The Department does not intend for assessments to replace 
monitoring. The final rule requires monitoring and biennial monitoring 
reports. Results from monitoring will be considered when developing an 
assessment and during the planning phase, just as the information 
gathered during the assessment phase will inform the planning phase, 
including development of the monitoring program.
    Comment: Assessments and performance. Some respondents pointed out 
that the rule should link the assessment process with the Agency's 
integrated management reviews to assess performance in implementation 
of plan priorities.
    Response: While management reviews can be a tool to assess plan 
progress toward meeting the intended results, the final rule does not 
require management review be linked with the assessment process. 
Management reviews are part of the management process for all mission 
areas, and are broader in scope, looking at many issues. The final rule 
is limited in scope to the planning process to develop, amend, or 
revise plans.
    Comment: Notification of scientists. Some respondents stated the 
proposed rule's requirement to encourage and notify scientists to 
participate in the process was unwieldy.
    Response: The detailed notification requirements previously 
included in this section have been removed in order to make the process 
more efficient and clearer. However, the final rule still requires that 
the responsible official coordinate with Forest Service Research and 
Development, identify and evaluate information from relevant scientific 
studies and reports, provide participation opportunities to the public, 
and use best available scientific information to inform the planning 
process.
    Comment: Public comment and participation on assessment reports. 
Some respondents felt the rule should provide the public with the 
opportunity to review, comment, and provide additional information 
during the assessment phase. Other respondents felt the proposed rule 
was not clear as to what role the public would play in determining the 
scope of the assessment. The desire was also expressed for the 
opportunity to appeal the development or use of the assessment report.
    Response: The rule requires the responsible official to provide 
opportunities for the public to participate in and provide information 
for the assessment process. For a new plan or plan revision, the final 
rule specifies the minimum scope of the assessment. For a plan 
amendment assessment, the need for and scope of the assessment will be 
determined by the responsible official based on the circumstances. The 
assessment is an informational document, not a decision document; 
therefore, a formal comment period is not required. As such, an 
opportunity to appeal or object to an assessment report is not required 
by the final rule. Other opportunities for

[[Page 21202]]

formal comment and objection are provided in the rule for plan 
decisions.
    Comment: Distinctive roles and contributions. Some respondents felt 
the requirement for assessments to identify ``distinctive roles and 
contributions of the unit within the broader landscape'' should be 
retained; while others felt it should be removed.
    Response: The final removes this requirement from the assessment as 
it implies a decision that should be made when approving the 
distinctive roles and contributions of the unit as part of the other 
plan content (Sec.  219.7(f)). It is retained in the requirement for 
other plan content in Sec.  219.7 of the final rule.
    Comment: Assessments and plan components. A respondent suggested 
assessments should include development of plan components to meet the 
substantive requirements of other rule provisions such as water quality 
standards.
    Response: Assessments do not develop plan components, but only 
gather and evaluate existing information that can be used later in the 
development of plan components.
    Comment: Information gaps or uncertainties. Some respondents 
declared the rule should require a component in the assessment 
identifying information gaps or uncertainties.
    Response: Section 219.6(a)(3) of the final rule requires the 
assessment to document in the report information needs related to the 
list of topics in paragraph (b) as part of the assessment report. 
Adding a requirement for the responsible official to document all 
information gaps or uncertainties could become burdensome and was 
inconsistent with the rapid evaluation of existing information.
    Comment: Cumulative effects disclosure. Some respondents stated 
proposed Sec.  219.6(b)(3) should specifically address the need to 
document cumulative effects to the condition of lands, water, and 
watersheds.
    Response: The final rule does not add a cumulative effects 
requirement to the assessment. The assessment identifies and evaluates 
information on conditions and trends related to the land management 
plan. This will include influences beyond the plan area and influences 
created by the conditions and trends in the plan area. Cumulative 
effects analysis is part of the NEPA process and disclosed in the 
environmental documentation for planning or project decisionmaking.
Section 219.7--Plan Development or Plan Revision
    This section sets out requirements for how to develop a new plan or 
revise an existing plan. This section has two primary topics: (1) The 
process for developing or revising plans and (2) direction to include 
plan components and other content in the plan. The intent of this 
section is to set forth a process for planning that reflects public 
input and Forest Service experience. The process set forth in the final 
rule requires the use of the best available scientific information to 
inform planning (Sec.  219.3), and requires public participation early 
and throughout the process (Sec.  219.4). By conducting an assessment 
using a collaborative approach before starting a new plan or plan 
revision, and by working with the public to develop a proposal for a 
new plan or plan revision, the Department expects that the actual 
preparation of a plan would be much less time consuming then under the 
1982 rule procedures, and that plans will be better supported. These 
requirements incorporate the best practices learned from the past 30 
years of planning, and the Department concludes these practices can be 
carried out in an efficient and effective manner.
    This section also sets out requirements for plan components. These 
plan components are based on techniques widely accepted and practiced 
by planners, both inside and outside of government. The set of plan 
components must meet the substantive requirements for sustainability 
(Sec.  219.8), plant and animal diversity (Sec.  219.9), multiple use 
(Sec.  219.10), and timber requirements based on the NFMA (Sec.  
219.11) as well as other requirements laid out in the plan. Except to 
correct clerical errors, plan components can only be changed through 
plan amendment or revision. Plan components themselves cannot compel 
Agency action or guarantee specific results. Instead, they provide the 
vision, strategy, objectives, and constraints needed to move the unit 
toward ecological, social, and economic sustainability
    In addition to the plan components, this section includes 
requirements for other plan content. Other required plan content 
differs from plan components in that an amendment or revision is not 
required for changes to be made that reflect new information or changed 
conditions.
Section 219.7--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on aspects of the plan 
component and NEPA requirements. The Department retains the 2011 
proposed rule wording in the final rule except for minor changes and 
the following:
    (1) At paragraph (c)(2)(i) of this section, the Department 
consolidated the requirement to identify a preliminary need to change 
the plan from Sec.  219.6(a) and Sec.  219.7(a). This change is not a 
change in requirement for the planning process, but moves this 
requirement from the assessment phase to the start of the planning 
phase. Also, in this paragraph, the Department modified the wording to 
make the link between the assessment and monitoring phases with the 
plan phase clearer: the final rule requires that the responsible 
official review relevant information from the assessment and monitoring 
to identify a preliminary need to change the plan and to inform the 
development of plan components and other plan content. This change 
reflects the intent of the Department as stated in the preamble to the 
proposed rule and responds to public comment. It is a change in 
requirement.
    (2) At paragraph (c)(2)(ii) of this section, the Department added a 
requirement to consider the goals and objectives of the Forest Service 
strategic plan. The Department added this requirement to respond to 
public comments and to address the requirement of 16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3) 
to specify guidelines for land management plans developed to achieve 
the goals of the ``Program.'' Today the ``Program'' is equivalent to 
the Forest Service strategic plan. This is an additional requirement to 
implement the NFMA.
    (3) At, paragraph (c)(2)(v) of this section, the Department edited 
the wording regarding whether to recommend any additional area for 
wilderness to remove the confusing term ``potential wilderness areas.'' 
The paragraph was also edited to clarify that lands that may be 
suitable, as well as lands that are recommended for wilderness 
designation, must be identified. These changes clarify the proposed 
rule and respond to public comment.
    (4) At paragraph (c)(2)(vii), the Department added a new 
requirement to identify existing designated areas other than wilderness 
or wild and scenic rivers, and determine whether to recommend any 
additional areas for designation. The changes make clear that if the 
responsible official has the delegated authority to designate a new 
area or modify an existing area, then the responsible official may 
designate such lands when approving the plan, plan revision, or plan 
amendment. Based on

[[Page 21203]]

public comment, the Department added this requirement to clarify the 
requirement of Sec.  219.10(b)(1)(vi) of the proposed rule.
    (5) At paragraph (c)(3) the Department added the requirement for 
the regional forester to identify species of conservation concern for 
the plan area in coordination with the responsible official in 
paragraph (c)(2) of this section. The Department added this requirement 
in response to public comment to provide more consistency and 
accountability in selecting the species of conservation concern. This 
is a new requirement.
    (6) At paragraph (d) of this section, the Department clarified that 
management areas or geographic areas are required in every plan. This 
is a clarification of paragraph (d) of the proposed rule and reflects 
the Department's intent for the proposed rule. Under the proposed rule, 
inclusion of management and/or geographic areas was implied by 
paragraph (d); the change to the final rule makes clear that every plan 
must include management areas or geographic areas or both, to which 
plan components would apply as described in paragraph (e) of the final 
rule. The Department removed the provision of the proposed rule that 
stated every project and activity must be consistent with the 
applicable plan components, because Sec.  219.15(b) and (d) also state 
this, and this statement would be redundant. These changes are not 
changes in requirements; they are clarifications.
    (7) At paragraph (e)(1)(iv), the Department clarified the wording 
in the description of a guideline to respond to comments on the 
preferred alternative. The Department changed the word ``intent'' to 
``purpose.'' The final wording is: ``a guideline is a constraint on 
project and activity decisionmaking that allows for departure from its 
terms, so long as the purpose of the guideline is met.'' In addition, 
in the second sentence of paragraph (e)(1)(iv), Department added the 
words ``or maintain'' because guidelines, like standards, may be 
established to help achieve or maintain a desired conditions or 
conditions.
    (8) At paragraph (e)(1)(v), the Department clarified that plans 
will include identification of specific lands as suitable or not 
suitable for various multiple uses and activities, in response to 
public comment on this section. It retains the wording that makes clear 
that the suitability of an area need not be identified for every use or 
activity, and adds clarifying wording stating that suitability 
identifications may be made after consideration of historic uses and of 
issues that have arisen in the planning process. This is a 
clarification of the proposed rule paragraph (d)(1)(v) to carry out the 
intent of the proposed rule.
    Comment: Alternate plans. A respondent said wording contained in 
the 1982 rule at Sec.  219.12(f)(5) requiring the Agency to develop 
alternatives to address public concerns should be restored.
    Response: The rule requires preparation of an EIS as part of the 
plan revision process. The NEPA requires development of a range of 
reasonable alternatives in the EIS. Therefore, a duplicative 
requirement in the rule is not necessary.
    Comment: Requests for revision. A respondent said there should be a 
process for others to request plan revisions. The responsible official 
would retain the option of determining whether such a request would 
warrant starting the assessment process.
    Response: The public may request a plan revision at any time. The 
public does not need special process to make this request.
    Comment: Combining multiple national forests under one plan. Some 
respondents felt a multi-forest plan would need separate tailored 
requirements for the different ecosystems, landscapes, landforms, 
forest types, habitats, and stream types that exist in each of the 
national forests affected.
    Response: The final rule allows the responsible official the 
discretion to determine the appropriateness of developing a multi-
forest plan, or a separate plan for each designated unit. Plan 
components would be designed as appropriate for those units to meet the 
requirements of the final rule, whether for a single or a multi-forest 
plan.
    Comment: Environmental Policy Act compliance and plan development, 
amendment, or revision (NEPA). Some respondents felt plans should be as 
simple and programmatic as possible and that the preparation of an EIS 
for a new plan or plan revision is not appropriate. NEPA compliance 
should occur only at the project level. One respondent wanted a clear 
commitment for preparation of an EIS for forest plan revisions. Another 
respondent said categorical exclusions should be used for minor 
amendments, environmental assessments for more significant amendments, 
and EISs should be reserved for major scheduled plan revisions. A 
respondent said responsible officials should not be allowed to combine 
NEPA and planning associated public notifications (Sec.  219.16). A 
respondent said to please consider and discuss an efficient amendment 
process in the proposed rule. Another respondent proposed Sec.  
219.7(e)(1)(iv) be rewritten to clarify any aspect of any planning 
document are proposals subject to NEPA.
    Response: The final rule requires the preparation of an EIS for 
plan revisions and new plans. Plan amendments must be consistent with 
Forest Service NEPA procedures, which require an EIS, an EA, or a CE, 
depending on the scope and scale of the amendment. Projects and 
activities will continue to be conducted under Forest Service NEPA 
procedures. The Department believes the NEPA analysis requirements are 
appropriate to inform the public and help responsible officials make 
decisions based on the environmental consequences. The requirements for 
public participation are described in Sec.  219.4 and notifications in 
Sec.  219.16. The Department retained the wording on combining 
notifications where appropriate to allow for an efficient amendment 
process while continuing requiring public notice.
    The NEPA regulations at 40 CFR 1508.23 provides that a proposal 
``exists at that stage in the development of an action when an agency 
subject to the Act has a goal and is actively preparing to make a 
decision on one or more alternative means of accomplishing that goal 
and the effects can be meaningfully evaluated.'' Not all aspects of 
planning and planning documentation fall under this definition, and the 
Department considers classifying every aspect of every planning 
document as a ``proposal'' subject to NEPA would be an unnecessary and 
burdensome requirement on the Agency.
    Comment: Additional coordination requirements. Some respondents 
suggested additional coordination requirements for noxious weed 
management, reduction of the threat of wildland fire, assessment of 
existing aircraft landing sites, and guidelines to ensure project 
coordination across forest and grassland boundaries where discrepancies 
between individual unit plans may occur.
    Response: The Department agrees the issues raised are important. 
The final rule does emphasize an all lands approach precisely to 
address issues like these. This emphasis is in each phase of planning: 
in the assessment phase, responsible officials are directed to identify 
and evaluate relevant information in the context of the broader 
landscape; in Sec.  219.8, the final rule requires that the responsible 
official consider management and resources across the landscape; and in 
Sec.  219.4 the responsible official is directed to

[[Page 21204]]

consider opportunities for the plan to address the impacts identified 
or contribute to joint objectives across jurisdictions. Section 219.12 
provides a framework for coordination and broader-scale monitoring. 
However, the rule provides overall direction for plan components and 
other plan content, and for how plans are developed, revised, and 
amended. More specific guidance with regard to particular resources is 
properly found in the plans themselves, or in the subsequent decisions 
regarding projects and activities on a particular national forest, 
grassland, prairie, or other comparable administrative unit. Those 
communities, groups, or persons interested in these important issues 
can influence plan components and plan monitoring programs by becoming 
involved in planning efforts throughout the process, including the 
development and monitoring of the plan, as well as the development of 
proposed projects and activities under the plan.
    Comment: Scope of the responsible official's discretion. Some 
respondents raised concerns over the responsible official's discretion 
to determine conditions on a unit have changed significantly so a plan 
must be revised, because the proposed rule fails to define significant 
and does not include an opportunity for public involvement in this 
determination. Other respondents felt use of the terms ``consider'' and 
``appropriate,'' as in proposed Sec.  219.7(c)(2)(ii) are vague, too 
discretionary, and could mean the official would look at conditions and 
trends, but then fail to address them, leading to a poor assessment and 
planning.
    Response: A primary goal of the new rule is to create a framework 
in which new information is identified and used to support adaptive 
management. The Department expects the new rule to facilitate, over 
time, the increased use of the amendment process to react more quickly 
to changing conditions. Placing overly prescriptive requirements in 
this section could inhibit the responsible official's ability to 
adaptively manage within the planning rule framework. Section 
219.7(c)(2)(ii) in the proposed rule, now (c)(2)(iii) in the final 
rule, is simply intended as a process step to identify the relevant 
resources present in plan area for the purpose of developing plan 
components. This is not intended to be a new assessment, but is linked 
to the requirements for the assessment in section 219.6(b) of the final 
rule. Sections 219.8-219.11 contain the requirements for developing 
plan components to address those resources.
Plan Components
    Comment: Plan component wording, standards, and guidelines. A 
respondent remarked that it was unclear if plans could meet the 
requirements in this section for plan components by including only one 
of each of the different kinds of plan components, or whether the 
Agency is making a binding commitment to include more than one 
standard, which the respondent believed to be more binding than desired 
conditions or guidelines.
    Response: This section of the rule identifies what plan components 
are, and requires that every plan contain desired conditions, 
objectives, standards, guidelines, and suitability. The intent of the 
Department in the proposed rule was that the responsible official would 
determine the best mix of plan components to address the rule's 
substantive requirements. However, some respondents were concerned that 
the rule could be interpreted to require only one of each kind of plan 
component for every plan. Therefore, the final rule includes changes to 
the wording in sections 219.8-11 to require that plans include ``plan 
components, including standards or guidelines.''
    Comment: Desired Future Condition plan component. A respondent felt 
desired future condition should be included as a plan component, as it 
is more than the sum total of the individual desired conditions for 
each of the important ecological, social, and economic resources on the 
forest and causes individual desired conditions to occur somewhat in 
sync.
    Response: Plans under the rule will identify the forest or 
grassland's distinctive roles and contributions within the broader 
landscape and the desired conditions for specific social, economic, and 
ecological characteristics of the plan area. The Department believes 
those requirements, combined with the requirements for public 
participation and integrated resource management, will result in plans 
that reflect an overall vision for the future desired condition of the 
plan area as a whole.
    Comment: Desired conditions. Some respondents stated defining a 
desired condition as specific social, economic, and/or ecological 
conditions may continue ecologically unsustainable social and economic 
practices leading to unsustainable outcomes. A respondent commented 
that States are responsible for setting fish and wildlife population 
objectives and the wording must be changed to prevent the Agency from 
taking on the role of the States. Other respondents wanted more 
direction on how the responsible official determines desired 
conditions.
    Response: Desired conditions are a way to identify a shared vision 
for a plan area. In some instances, desired conditions may only be 
achievable in the long-term. At times, the desired conditions may be 
the same as existing conditions. Desired conditions may be stated in 
terms of a range of conditions. Other plan components would provide the 
strategy and guidance needed to achieve that vision. Plans must meet 
the requirements of Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.11, including to 
provide for ecological sustainability. Projects and activities must be 
consistent with desired conditions as described in Sec.  219.15. The 
Forest Service Directives System will describe how desired conditions 
should be written and developed.
    States do have responsibilities for managing fish and wildlife, but 
the rule requires plans to include plan components for ecological 
conditions (habitat and other conditions) to maintain diversity of fish 
and wildlife species, as required by NFMA. Responsible officials will 
continue to coordinate with Federal, State, and local governments and 
agencies on other public planning efforts.
    Comment: Procedures for analysis. Some respondents suggested that 
the final rule should include specific procedures for analysis. These 
include specific economic indicators for the economic analysis part of 
the planning process, the model paradigm for social and economic 
resources important to rural communities, and means of weighing 
relative values of multiple uses.
    Response: Such guidance is not included in this final rule. 
Analysis methods and technical procedures are constantly changing; the 
planning rule would quickly be outdated if specific methods were 
mandated. Additional guidance with regard to social and economic 
resource analysis is more appropriate in the Forest Service Directives 
System, and revisions to the Forest Service directives will be 
available for public comment.
    Comment: Objectives. Several respondents supported clear, 
measurable, and specific objectives to enhance transparency and 
accountability. Several respondents felt basing objectives on 
reasonable foreseeable budgets unduly constrains planning analysis. 
Another respondent thought a desired condition without objectives is 
completely meaningless.
    Response: The rule uses objectives to support measureable progress 
toward a desired condition. Objectives will lead

[[Page 21205]]

to the development of a proactive program of work to achieve the 
desired condition by describing the focus of management in the plan 
area. Objectives will be based on achieving and monitoring progress 
toward desired conditions, and will be stated in measurable terms with 
specific time frames. Objectives based on budgets and other assumptions 
help set realistic expectations for achievement of plan objectives over 
the life of the plan and assist in building public trust in the Agency 
being able to make progress towards achieving desired conditions and 
objectives.
    Comment: Goals. Several respondents felt goals should be mandatory 
because broad general goal statements describe how the desired future 
conditions will be achieved and create the overall framework for the 
other plan components. Others felt they should be optional. Another 
respondent suggested inclusion of a goal to connect youth, minority, 
and urban populations to the national forest or grassland to better 
assure required plan components incorporate and reflect the needs of 
diverse populations.
    Response: The proposed wording for goals is unchanged in the final 
rule because the proposed optional use of goals allows responsible 
officials to determine whether or not they are a useful plan component 
in addressing the local situation. Inclusion of a goal for youth, 
minority, and urban populations is not required in the final rule 
because the final rule requires the responsible official to encourage 
participation of youth, low-income populations, and minority 
populations throughout the planning process, and to consider 
opportunities to connect people with nature as well as to contribute to 
social and economic sustainability when developing plan components. See 
Sec. Sec.  219.4, 219.8(b), and 219.10(a).
    Comment: Suitability for uses other than timber. Some respondents 
felt the rule should require suitability determinations for multiple 
uses. In addition to suitability for timber use as required under NFMA, 
a respondent felt suitability of lands for livestock grazing, fire 
suppression, energy developments, mineral leasing, and off highway 
vehicles should be required to meet the Act. Another respondent felt 
economics should be a part of the analysis and land suitability 
determinations. A respondent felt identification of lands where 
specific uses are not allowed is de facto regulation of those uses, and 
proposed Sec.  219.2(b)(2) wording ``a plan does not regulate uses by 
the public'' appears inconsistent with NFMA direction regarding the 
identification of lands as suitable for resource management activities, 
such as timber harvest. In addition, the respondent stated this wording 
may be inconsistent with proposed Sec.  219.7(d)(1)(v) wording that a 
``plan may also identify lands within the plan area as not suitable for 
uses that are not compatible with desired conditions for those lands.''
    Response: Determining the suitability of a specific land area for a 
particular use or activity is usually based upon the desired condition 
for that area and the inherent capability of the land to support the 
use or activity. NFMA does not impose a requirement to make suitability 
determinations for all multiple uses. The NFMA requires that plans 
``determine * * * the availability of lands and their suitability for 
resource management'' (16 U.S.C. 1604(e)(2).
    The Department clarified the wording of paragraph (e)(1)(v) to make 
clear that plans will include identification of specific lands as 
suitable or not suitable for various multiple uses and activities, in 
response to public comment on this section; however, the Department 
decided not to require determinations in every plan for specific uses 
other than timber. The final rule retains the wording that makes clear 
that the suitability of an area need not be identified for every use or 
activity, and adds clarifying wording stating that suitability 
identifications may be made after consideration of historic uses and of 
issues that have arisen in the planning process. The responsible 
official will determine when to identify suitability for various uses 
and activities as part of the set of plan components needed to meet the 
requirements of Sec. Sec.  219.8-219.11.
    The identification of suitability is not de facto regulation of 
those uses. However, responsible officials may, and often do, develop 
closure orders to help achieve desired conditions. If a responsible 
official were to develop a closure order, that closure order is a 
regulation of uses and would prohibit or constrain public use and 
occupancy. Such prohibitions are made under Title 36, Code of Federal 
Regulations, Part 261--Prohibitions, Subpart B--Prohibitions in Areas 
Designated by Order. Issuance of a closure order may be made 
contemporaneously with the approval of a plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision.
    Comment: Suitability for mineral materials. Several respondents 
felt the determination of the suitability of lands for energy 
developments, leasing and extraction, mineral exploration, or mineral 
leasing must be required. Other respondents felt the rule should not 
imply the Agency has regulatory or administrative authority to 
determine which portions of NFS lands are suitable for mineral 
exploration and development as such a determination would be a de facto 
withdrawal not in accordance with existing laws.
    Response: Responsible officials should not make suitability 
determinations for any resource such as minerals where another entity 
has authority over the disposal or leasing. Congress has given the 
Secretary of the Interior authorities over the disposal of locatable 
minerals (gold, silver, lead, and so forth) and leasable minerals (oil, 
gas, coal, geothermal, among others). The Secretary of Agriculture has 
authority over saleable minerals (sand, gravel, pumice, among others). 
The final rule or a plan developed under the final rule cannot make a 
de facto withdrawal. Withdrawals occur only by act of Congress or by 
the Secretary of the Interior through a process under 43 CFR 2300. The 
Forest Service minerals regulation at 36 CFR 228.4(d) govern how the 
Agency makes decisions about the availability of lands for oil and gas 
leasing, and those decisions are not suitability determinations. 
Decisions about availability of lands for oil and gas leasing under 36 
CFR 228.4(d), have been made for most national forests and grasslands. 
Decisions about the availability of lands for oil and gas leasing under 
36 CFR 228.4(d) are not plan components; however, availability 
decisions may be made at the same time as plan development, plan 
amendment, or plan revision; but that is not required.
    Comment: Guidelines. One respondent noted the preamble for the 
proposed rule stated that guidelines are requirements, but felt 
guidelines should be optional. Another respondent felt the proposed 
rule eliminates the distinction between plan guidelines and standards, 
making guidelines legally enforceable standards with which all projects 
must comply. The respondent felt that making guidelines enforceable in 
the same way as standards eliminates what the respondent believed to be 
the Department's that guidelines are discretionary to provide 
management flexibility. One respondent policy advocated making 
guidelines binding, because if they are discretionary, why include 
them. Several respondents commented on the preferred alternative that 
the Department should remove the discretion to meet the rule's 
substantive mandates through either standards ``or'' guidelines by 
requiring ``standards and guidelines.''
    Response: The final rule retains the proposed rule's distinction 
between

[[Page 21206]]

standards and guidelines. Under the final rule, standards and 
guidelines are both mandatory--projects and activities must be 
consistent with the applicable standards and guidelines. Consistency 
with a standard is determined by strict adherence to the specific terms 
of the standard, while consistency with a guideline allows for either 
strict adherence to the terms of the guideline, or deviation from the 
specific terms of the guideline, so long as the purpose for which the 
guideline was included in the plan is met (Sec.  219.15). This approach 
to guidelines allows for flexibility as circumstances warrant, for 
example, when there is more than one way to achieve the intended 
purpose, or new information provides a better way to meet the purpose, 
without lessening protections. Guidelines included in plans pursuant to 
this final rule must be written clearly and without ambiguity, so the 
purpose is apparent and project or activity consistency with guidelines 
can be easily determined.
    The final rule retains the preferred alternative's wording of 
``standards or guidelines'' throughout sections 219.8-219.11. While 
every set of plan components developed to meet a substantive 
requirement of the rule must include standards or guidelines, including 
both may not be appropriate in every circumstance.
    Comment: Use of standards and guidelines to promote action. A 
respondent suggested standards and guidelines should be used to promote 
or mandate certain management actions, like managing suitable 
timberlands towards the desired future condition or reducing fuels 
around wildland-urban interface areas.
    Response: The Department expects that the set of plan components 
developed in response to one or more requirements in the rule will 
facilitate management to move the unit towards one or more desired 
conditions. Standards and guidelines set out design criteria which are 
applied to projects and activities, but do not by themselves result in 
specific management actions taking place.
    Comment: Mandatory standards. Some respondents stated the final 
rule must include measurable standards for specific resources such as 
climate change, species viability, sustainable recreation, valid 
existing rights, or watershed management, in order to implement the 
intent of the rule and to ensure consistency. Others were opposed to 
the use of standards and guidelines.
    Response: The rule includes specific requirements for plan 
components in Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.11. The final rule has been 
modified to clarify that ``standards or guidelines'' must be part of 
the set of plan components required by each of those sections. However, 
the Department does not agree there should be specific national 
standards for each of the resources or uses mentioned in the comment, 
because significant differences in circumstances across the National 
Forest System could make specific national standards unworkable or not 
reflective of the best available scientific information for a given 
plan area. The final rule balances the need for national consistency 
with the need for local flexibility to reflect conditions and 
information on each unit. Additional direction will be included in the 
Forest Service Directives System, and a new requirement was added to 
Sec.  219.2 that require the Chief to establish a national oversight 
process for accountability and consistency of planning under this part.
    Comment: Management areas and special areas. Some respondents 
indicated management areas and prescriptions should be required plan 
components and identification of areas with remarkable qualities for 
special designation should be required as part of the planning process.
    Response: The final rule requires each plan to include management 
areas or geographic areas, allows for the plan to identify designated 
or recommended areas as management areas or geographic areas, allows 
the responsible official to identify or recommend new designated areas, 
and clarifies the term ``designated area'' under Sec.  219.19, in 
response to public comment.
    Comment: Potential wilderness area evaluation and management. Some 
respondents found the term ``potential wilderness area'' confusing or 
inadequate, and the wilderness evaluation process unclear or in 
conflict with congressional action.
    Response: The final rule wording removes the term ``potential 
wilderness areas'' from the final rule in response to public comments. 
The wording in Sec.  219.7 clarifies that the Agency will identify and 
evaluate lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National 
Wilderness Preservation System and determine whether to recommend them 
for wilderness designation. Section 219.10(b)(iv) wording has also been 
changed to clarify that areas recommended for wilderness designation 
will be managed to protect and maintain the ecological and social 
characteristics that provide the basis for their suitability for 
wilderness designation. Direction for the evaluation process and 
inventory criteria is listed in Forest Service Handbook 1909.12--Land 
Management Planning Handbook, Chapter 70--Wilderness Evaluation. 
Chapter 70 is part of the Forest Service Directives System being 
revised following the final rule and the public is encouraged to 
participate in the upcoming public comment period for those directives. 
The wilderness evaluation requirement in the rule is not in conflict 
with the law. In addition, many State wilderness acts require the 
Forest Service to review the wilderness option when the plans are 
revised. The Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 is one example, Public Law 98-
428. Sec.  201(b)(2); 98 Stat. 1659.
    Comment: Roadless area management and inventory. Some respondents 
noted that direction should be added to identify, evaluate, and protect 
inventoried roadless areas, and a requirement to remove these areas 
from lands suitable for timber production. Some respondents suggested 
inclusion of ``unroaded areas,'' as defined in Sec.  219.36 of the 2000 
planning rule, in evaluation of lands that may be suitable for 
potential wilderness and protocols for such evaluation be included in 
the rule. An organization commented on the preferred alternative that 
the Department should clarify that the intended starting point for the 
wilderness evaluation is a full inventory of all unroaded lands.
    Response: Agency management direction for inventoried roadless 
areas is found at 36 CFR part 294--Special Areas, and plans developed 
pursuant to the final rule must comply with all applicable laws and 
regulations (Sec.  219.1(f)).
    The wording of Sec.  219.7(c)(2)(v) was changed in the final rule 
to clarify that areas that may be suitable for inclusion in the 
National Wilderness System must be identified as part of the planning 
process, along with recommendations for wilderness designation. This 
change makes clear that each unit will identify an inventory of lands 
that may be suitable as a starting point for evaluating which lands to 
recommend. Inventories of lands that may be suitable for inclusion in 
the National Wilderness Preservation System will be conducted following 
direction in Forest Service Handbook 1909.12--Land Management Planning 
Handbook, Chapter 70 Wilderness evaluation, which also includes 
criteria for evaluation. Chapter 70 is part of the Forest Service 
Directives System which will be revised following the promulgation of 
this rule. The public is encouraged to participate in the upcoming 
public comment period for those directives. It is currently Agency 
policy that unless otherwise provided by law, all roadless,

[[Page 21207]]

undeveloped areas that satisfy the definition of wilderness found in 
section 2(c) of the Wilderness Act of 1964 be evaluated and considered 
for recommendation as potential wilderness areas during plan 
development or revision (FSM 1923).
    Comment: Time limit on Congressional action. A respondent suggested 
the rule should include a 10-year time limit for Wild and Scenic River 
or Wilderness recommendations to be acted upon by Congress or the 
Agency's recommendation is withdrawn.
    Response: The Constitution does not grant the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture authority to set time limits on Congressional action. The 
Department decided it is not going to require responsible officials to 
withdraw any such recommendations.
Other Plan Content
    Comment: Forest vegetation management practices. Some respondents 
requested clarification of proposed Sec.  219.7(f)(1)(iv) phrase 
``proportion of probable methods of forest vegetation management 
practices expected'' as it is unclear what type of management practices 
must be undertaken to successfully satisfy this requirement.
    Response: Section 16 U.S.C. 1604(f)(2) of the NFMA requires plans 
to ``be embodied in appropriate written material * * * reflecting 
proposed and possible actions, including the planned timber sale 
program and the proportion of probable methods of timber harvest within 
the unit necessary to fulfill the plan.'' Therefore, under the final 
rule and Forest Service Directives System, the Department expects plans 
to display the expected acres of timber harvest by the categories, such 
as: regeneration cutting (even- or two-aged), uneven-aged management, 
intermediate harvest, commercial thinning, salvage/sanitation, other 
harvest cutting, reforestation, and timber stand improvement in an 
appendix. Examples of such exhibits are displayed in Forest Service 
Handbook 1909.12, Land Management Planning, Chapter 60, Forest 
Vegetation Resource Planning is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/im/directives/fsh/1909.12/1909.12_60.doc. The list of proposed and 
possible actions may also include recreation and wildlife projects. The 
final rule allows the list to be updated through an administrative 
change (Sec.  219.13(c)).
    Comment: Distinctive roles and contributions. Some respondents said 
there is no legal requirement for identification of a forest or 
grassland's distinctive roles and contributions, and the requirement 
will bias and polarize the planning process in favor of some uses, 
products, and services and against others. Other respondents felt the 
unit's distinctive roles should be plan components requiring a plan 
amendment to change, or the wording strengthened to require assessment 
of underrepresented ecosystems and successional classes across the 
broader landscape.
    Response: Under the public participation process, the Department 
believes the development of the distinctive roles and contributions, 
while not required by NFMA, will be a unifying concept helping define 
the vision for the plan area within the broader landscape. The 
preferred vision is expected to assist the responsible official in 
developing plan components for the multiple uses. However, projects and 
activities would not be required to be consistent with the plan area's 
distinctive roles and contributions, so the Department decided to keep 
this description as other plan content.
    Comment: Additional plan components and content. Some respondents 
suggested additional required plan components like partnership 
opportunities, coordination activities, monitoring program, or specific 
maps.
    Response: Plan components are the core elements of plans. Projects 
and activities must be consistent with plan components (Sec.  219.15), 
and an amendment or revision is required to change plan components. 
Plan components in the rule are usually reserved for ecological, 
social, or economic aspects of the environment, but the responsible 
official has discretion in developing plan components to meet the 
requirements of the final rule.
    Some items like a monitoring program are included as other required 
content in the plan, but not as a required plan component. The final 
rule allows the responsible official to add other plan content for unit 
issues and conditions. Other plan content can be other information that 
may be useful to Forest Service employees when designing projects and 
activities under the plan components. The other content in the plan 
(Sec.  219.7(f)) differs from plan components in that an amendment or 
revision would not be required for changes to be made to reflect new 
information or changed conditions. Monitoring is not included as a plan 
component, so the monitoring program can be refined and updated without 
a plan amendment in response to new information or changing conditions. 
Listing of specific methods for partnership opportunities or 
coordination activities as part of the plan is optional content for a 
plan. The Department did not require specific maps as part of the final 
rule.
    Comment: Priority Watersheds. Some respondents asked what process 
is used to identify priority watersheds and why priority watersheds are 
not a plan component. Some respondents noted the proposed rule 
requirement to identify priority watersheds for maintenance and 
restoration did not include specific criteria for selecting watersheds 
and did not prescribe what activities or prohibitions would occur in 
priority watersheds.
    Response: Section 219.7(f)(1)(i) requires identification of 
priority watersheds for restoration. This will focus integrated 
restoration of watershed conditions. Setting priorities can help ensure 
that investments provide the greatest possible benefits. The Department 
realizes that priority areas for potential restoration activities could 
change quickly due to events such as wildfire, hurricanes, drought, or 
the presence of invasive species. Therefore, this requirement is 
included as ``other required content'' in Sec.  219.7(f)(1)(i) rather 
than as a required plan component, allowing an administrative change 
(Sec.  219.13) to be used when necessary to quickly respond to changes 
in priority. Any changes would require notification.
    The Department intends to use the Watershed Condition Framework 
(WCF), http://www.fs.fed.us/publications/watershed/Watershed_Condition_Framework.pdf, for identifying priority watersheds, 
developing watershed action plans and implementing projects to maintain 
or restore conditions in priority watersheds. However, the WCF is a 
relatively new tool that will be adapted as lessons are learned from 
its use, as new information becomes available, or as conditions change 
on the ground. Therefore, because the criteria for selecting watersheds 
may change in the future, it is not appropriate to codify such criteria 
in a rule. The adaptive management approach incorporated in the WCF 
provides the best opportunity and most efficient way to prioritize 
watersheds for restoration or maintenance. The Department expects that 
implementation of the final rule and the WCF will be mutually 
supportive.
Section 219.8--Sustainability
    The requirements of this section of the final rule are linked to 
the requirements in the assessment (Sec.  219.6) and monitoring (Sec.  
219.12). In addition,

[[Page 21208]]

this section provides a foundation for the next three sections 
regarding diversity of plant and animal communities (Sec.  219.9), 
multiple use (Sec.  219.10), and timber requirements based on the NFMA 
(Sec.  219.11). Together these sections of the final rule require plans 
to include plan components designed to maintain or restore ecological 
conditions to provide for ecological sustainability and to contribute 
to social and economic sustainability.
    The requirements of this section, and all sections of the rule, are 
limited by the Agency's authority and the inherent capability of the 
plan area. This limitation arises from the fact that some influences on 
sustainability are outside the Agency's control, for example, climate 
change, national or global economic or market conditions, and 
urbanization on lands outside of or adjacent to NFS lands. Given those 
constraints, the Department realizes it cannot guarantee ecological, 
economic, or social sustainability. It is also important to note that 
plan components themselves do not compel agency action or guarantee 
specific results. Instead, they provide the vision, strategy, guidance, 
and constraints needed to move the plan area toward sustainability. The 
final rule should be read with these constraints in mind.
    Additional requirements for contributing to social and economic 
sustainability are found in Sec.  219.10 and Sec.  219.11.
Section 219.8--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on the concepts of ecological 
health, resilience and integrity, requirements for riparian area 
management, the relationship between social, ecological, and economic 
sustainability, and the requirements for social and economic 
sustainability. The Department reorganized this section to improve 
clarity, and made the following changes in response to public comment.
    1. The Department changed the order of the wording of the 
introductory paragraph.
    2. At paragraph (a)(1) of this section, the Department changed the 
caption ``Ecosystem plan components'' to ``Ecosystem Integrity.'' In 
addition, the Department replaced the phrase ``healthy and resilient'' 
to ``ecological integrity'' in this paragraph and throughout this 
subpart. The Department also modified additional wording of this 
section to reflect this change. This change responds to public concern 
about how to define and measure ``health'' and ``resilience.'' 
Ecosystem integrity is a more scientifically supported term, has 
established metrics for measurement, and is used by both the National 
Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Requirements included 
in this section, as well as in Sec.  219.9 require plans to include 
plan components designed to ``maintain or restore ecological 
integrity.''
    3. The Department modified the list of factors the responsible 
official must take into account when developing plan components at 
paragraph (a)(1)(i)-(v). The Department removed the term ``landscape 
scale integration'' and replaced it with a requirement for the 
responsible official to take into account the interdependence of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the contributions of the plan area 
to the broader landscape, and the conditions of the broader landscape 
that influence the plan area. The Department also added a requirement 
to take into account opportunities for landscape scale restoration. The 
additional wording clarifies the Department's intent that the planning 
framework be designed to ensure that managers understand the landscape-
scale context for management, and the interdependence of ecosystems and 
resources across the broader landscape.
    The Department removed air quality from paragraph (a)(1) and added 
air quality to paragraph (a)(2). This change is in response to public 
comment that requested that air resources be treated in a similar 
manner to soil and water resources. Additionally, the paragraph was 
modified to add the term ``standards or guidelines'' to clarify here 
and in similar sentences throughout Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.11 
that standards or guidelines must be part of the set of plan components 
developed to comply with requirements throughout the rule. Except for 
the change for air quality, these changes to paragraph (a)(1) are not 
changes in requirements, because they reflect the Department's intent 
as stated in the preamble for the proposed rule, and provide additional 
clarity.
    4. At paragraph (a)(2) of this section, the Department changed the 
caption ``Ecosystem elements'' to ``Air, soil, and water.'' This 
reorganized paragraph requires the plan to have plan components, 
including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the elements 
of air, soil, and water resources. The Department also changed the 
phrase ``maintain, protect, or restore'' of the proposed rule to 
``maintain or restore'' here and throughout the final rule. This change 
is in response to public comment, and to make the rule consistent 
throughout the sections, and recognizes that the concept of protection 
is incorporated as part of how a responsible official accomplishes the 
direction to maintain or restore individual resources. These changes 
are not changes in requirements, they are clarifications.
    5. At paragraph (a)(2) the Department reorganized the elements that 
plan components are designed to maintain or restore. The Department 
removed the provisions about terrestrial elements and rare plant 
communities from paragraph (a)(2); these items are now discussed in 
Sec.  219.9(a) of the rule. At paragraph (a)(2)(iv) the Department 
combined the wording about aquatic elements and public water supplies 
of paragraphs (a)(2)(i) and (a)(2)(iv) of the proposed rule. The 
wording about water temperatures changes, blockages of water courses, 
and deposits was removed from this paragraph and is now more 
appropriately discussed with riparian areas at paragraph (a)(3)(i) of 
this section.
    6. Paragraph (a)(3) adds specific requirements to the proposed rule 
to maintain or restore riparian areas. It provides that plan components 
must maintain or restore the ecological integrity of riparian areas, 
including ``structure, function, composition and connectivity,'' to 
make clear that the plan must provide direction for proactive 
management of riparian areas. Paragraph (a)(3) also sets out a list of 
elements relevant to riparian areas that must be considered when 
developing plan components to maintain or restore ecological integrity, 
and it changes the proposed rule's requirement for a ``default width'' 
for riparian areas to a requirement for a riparian management zone. 
These changes respond to public comment to provide more clear and 
specific direction for riparian areas. In addition, at paragraph 
(a)(3), the Department added a requirement to give special attention to 
the area 100 feet from the edges of perennial streams and lakes; and a 
requirement that plan components must ensure that no management 
practices causing detrimental changes in water temperature or chemical 
composition, blockages of water courses, or deposits of sediment that 
seriously and adversely affect water conditions or fish habitat shall 
be permitted within the zones or the site-specific delineated riparian 
areas. These requirements are carried forward from the 1982 rule. These 
additional requirements were added because public comments suggested 
the proposed rule was too vague or too open to interpretation with 
regard to minimum requirements.
    7. At paragraph (a)(4), the Department added a requirement for the 
Chief to

[[Page 21209]]

establish requirements for national best management practices for water 
quality in the Forest Service directives and for plan components to 
ensure implementation of these practices. The public will have an 
opportunity to comment on these Forest Service directives. The 
Department added this requirement to respond to comments that the rule 
needed provisions to protect water quality and other comments about the 
use of best management practices.
    8. At paragraph (b) of this section, the Department requires plan 
components to guide the unit's contribution to social and economic 
sustainability. The Department modified this paragraph to:
    (i) Add reference to ``standards or guidelines,'' consistent with 
changes in other sections.
    (ii) Remove wording about distinctive roles and contributions 
contained in the proposed rule, because the requirement is in Sec.  
219.7. This is not a change in requirements.
    (iii) Add scenic character, recreation settings, and access in 
response to public comment about recreation. This change reflects the 
intent of the Department as stated in the preamble to the proposed 
rule.
    (iv) Add a new requirement to take into account opportunities to 
connect people with nature to respond to public comments about the need 
to connect Americans, especially young people and underserved 
communities, with the NFS. This additional requirement adds specificity 
to the proposed rule direction to contribute to social sustainability 
and provide for ecosystem services as defined in the proposed rule.
    (v) Make additional edits for clarity.
    Comment: Maintain, protect, or restore. Some respondents did not 
understand why in some sections of the rule (such as Sec.  219.9) the 
phrase ``maintain or restore'' was used and in other sections (such as 
Sec.  219.8) the phrase ``maintain, protect, or restore'' was used. 
They questioned whether the two phrases were intended to mean different 
things or provide different levels of protection.
    Response: The use of the two different phrases in the proposed rule 
was unintended. There was no intent to impart differing levels of 
protection or different requirements by the use of the two phrases. 
After review of the proposed rule and the preamble, it is apparent that 
the two phrases are used interchangeably and often inconsistently. To 
avoid future confusion, the phrase ``maintain and restore'' has been 
used consistently throughout Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9. The Department 
believes that ``protection'' is inherent in maintaining resources that 
are in good condition and restoring those that are degraded, damaged, 
or destroyed. The Department did not intend to imply that plan 
components would not ``protect'' resources where the word ``protect'' 
was not part of the phrase. Maintenance and restoration may include 
active or passive management and will require different levels of 
investment based on the difference between the desired and existing 
conditions of the system.
    Comment: Best management practices and specificity for water 
sustainability. Some respondents felt the requirements for maintaining 
and restoring watersheds, sources of drinking water, and riparian areas 
of the proposed rule lacked the specificity necessary to consistently 
implement the rule. A respondent said the rule should reemphasize a 
commitment to maintaining water quality standards--through the 
limitation of uses incompatible with clean water, management for 
restoration of water quality, and the mandatory use of best management 
practices. One respondent suggested that plans may list best management 
practices that a project is required to adopt. Other respondents said 
the final planning rule should also require monitoring for water 
quality standard compliance and implementation and effectiveness of 
best management practices.
    Response: Wording was added to Sec.  219.8 of the final rule to 
clarify and add detail to the requirements for plan components for 
watersheds, aquatic ecosystems, water quality, water resources 
including drinking water resources, and riparian areas, in response to 
public comment.
    Wording was also added to require that the Chief establish 
requirements for national best management practices (BMPs) for water 
quality in the Forest Service Directives System, and that plan 
components ensure implementation of those practices. The relevant 
directives (FSM 2532 and FSH 2509.22) are currently under development 
and will be published for public comment. At this time, the Department 
anticipates that the proposed directives will require the use of the 
national core BMPs (National Core BMP Technical Guide, FS-990a, in 
press).
    The final rule does not require monitoring of implementation and 
effectiveness of best management practices, but does require monitoring 
of select watershed and ecosystem conditions, as well as progress 
toward meeting the plan's desired conditions and objectives.
    These changes and the requirements in this and other sections 
reflect the intent as stated in the preamble of the proposed rule to 
place a strong emphasis on water resources and develop a framework that 
will support watersheds, aquatic ecosystems, and water resources 
throughout the National Forest System.
    Comment: Riparian area management zone size. Some respondents felt 
the rule should include a minimum default width for riparian areas 
ranging from 100 feet to 300 feet or to the width of the 100 or 200-
year flood plain. Without specific requirements, respondents felt there 
would be inconsistent implementation of the rule. Others preferred the 
riparian area default width vary depending on ecological or geomorphic 
characteristics approach used in the proposed rule.
    Response: The Department added wording at Sec.  219.8(a)(3) to 
require special attention to land and vegetation for approximately 100 
feet from the edges of all perennial streams and lakes. The Department 
decided to make this change to respond to public comment and retain the 
special attention provided in the 1982 rule, but decided not to require 
a minimum default width because the scientific literature states 
riparian area widths are highly variable and may range from a few feet 
to hundreds of feet. The final rule requires the responsible official 
to use the best available scientific information (Sec.  219.3) to 
inform the establishment of the width of riparian management zones 
around all lakes, perennial and intermittent streams, and open water 
wetlands. Plan components to maintain or restore the ecological 
integrity of riparian areas will apply within that zone, or within a 
site-specific delineation of the riparian area.
    Comment: Management activities in riparian areas. Some respondents 
felt the riparian area guidance in the proposed rule represented a 
weakening of protection from the 1982 rule and wanted to see stronger 
national standards. They felt some management activities, like grazing 
and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, should be prohibited or limited in 
riparian areas as they can be harmful to riparian area health. Others 
felt management activities in riparian areas should be left to only 
restoration efforts. Some respondents felt the riparian management 
requirements in the proposed rule were vague or too open to 
interpretation. Others felt the proposed rule may preclude active 
management within riparian areas.
    Response: Section 219.8 has been revised in the final rule to 
address these concerns. The final rule requires the

[[Page 21210]]

responsible official to give special attention to land and vegetation 
for approximately 100 feet from the edges of all perennial streams and 
lakes and further requires that plan components must ensure that no 
management practices causing detrimental changes in water temperature 
or chemical composition, blockages of water courses, or deposits of 
sediment that seriously and adversely affect water conditions or fish 
habitat shall be permitted within the riparian management zones or the 
site-specific delineated riparian areas. The Department expects 
projects and activities, including restoration projects, will occur in 
riparian areas. Plans may allow for projects and activities in riparian 
areas that may have short term or localized adverse impacts in order to 
achieve or contribute to a plan's desired conditions or objectives, so 
long as they do not seriously and adversely affect water conditions or 
fish habitat.
    These requirements are similar to the requirements of the 1982 
rule. They are in addition to the final rule requirements in Sec.  
219.8(a)(3) that plans must include plan components, including 
standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the ecological 
integrity of riparian areas in the plan area, including plan components 
to maintain or restore structure, function, and composition. The 
changes to the proposed rule make clear that plans must provide for the 
ecological integrity of riparian areas in the plan area, and must 
include a set of plan components, including standards or guidelines, to 
do so. The responsible official must also take into account water 
temperature and chemical composition, blockages of water courses, 
deposits of sediment, aquatic and terrestrial habitats, ecological 
connectivity, restoration needs, and floodplain values and risk of 
flood loss when developing these plan components. These requirements 
are in addition to the requirements in Sec.  219.8(a)(2) to include 
plan components to maintain or restore water quality and water 
resources, and the requirement in Sec.  219.7(f) to identify priority 
watersheds for restoration or maintenance.
    The Department believes that these requirements provide strong 
direction for proactive management (active and passive) of water 
resources beyond what was required in the 1982 rule, while allowing the 
responsible official to use the best available scientific information, 
public input, and information about local conditions to inform 
development of plan components in response to these requirements.
    Comment: Sustainability and multiple use. Some respondents felt the 
proposed rule did not adequately recognize the importance of the 
multiple use mandate because the proposed rule at Sec.  219.8 omitted 
any reference to multiple use.
    Response: The proposed rule and the final rule both explicitly 
recognize multiple uses in Sec.  219.8(b), with additional direction 
provided in Sec.  219.10 with regard to management for multiple uses.
    Comment: Maintain ecological conditions. Some respondents felt the 
proposed requirements to maintain or restore ecological conditions in 
Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9 would allow for the Agency to develop plan 
components maintaining current degraded ecological conditions.
    Response: The intent of the rule is for plan components to maintain 
desired conditions, and restore conditions where they are degraded. 
However, the Department recognizes in some instances it may be 
impracticable or impossible to restore all degraded, damaged or 
destroyed systems that may be present in a plan area because of cost, 
unacceptable tradeoffs between other resource and restoration needs, or 
where restoration is outside the capability of the land or Forest 
Service authority. There are also degraded areas on NFS lands where the 
tools or methods are not currently available to effectively restore 
them to desired conditions. The Department recognizes that at times, 
management activities maintaining existing, less than desirable 
conditions in the short-term may be critical to preventing further 
degradation and for successful restoration towards desired conditions 
over the long-term. For example, the primary management emphasis in 
some areas may be controlling the spread of invasive species when 
eradication is not currently feasible.
Ecological Integrity
    Comment: Integration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule was unclear in the requirement that 
the responsible official take into account the integration of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the plan area when creating plan 
components to maintain or restore the health and resilience of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area.
    Response: The final rule adds clarifying wording to Sec.  219.8. 
The word ``integration'' was changed to ``interdependence'' to better 
reflect the Department's intent, and new wording was added requiring 
the responsible official to consider contributions of the unit to 
ecological conditions within the broader landscape influenced by the 
plan area and conditions in the broader landscape that may influence 
the sustainability of resources and ecosystems, as well as 
opportunities for landscape scale restoration. These changes clarify 
the former requirement in the proposed rule and strengthen the planning 
framework by ensuring responsible officials understand the 
interdependence of ecosystems in the plan area, as well as the role and 
contribution of their units and the context for management within the 
broader landscape.
    Comment: Invasive species. Some respondents felt the rule should 
have more explicit requirements on how invasive species management 
would be included in plans.
    Response: It is clear that the introduction of invasive species to 
national forest and grassland ecosystems has had, and is continuing to 
have, profound effects on the ecological integrity of these ecosystems. 
The final rule explicitly addresses invasive species in Sec.  219.6, 
which requires information about stressors such as invasive species to 
be identified and evaluated, and in corresponding requirements in 
Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.10. Plan components are required to maintain 
or restore ecological integrity under Sec. Sec.  219.8, taking into 
account stressors including invasive species, and the ability of the 
ecosystems on the unit to adapt. Plan components for multiple uses must 
also consider stressors, including invasive species, and the ability of 
the ecosystems on the unit to adapt.
Social and Economic Sustainability
    Comment: Relationship between ecological, social and economic 
sustainability. Some respondents felt ecological sustainability should 
be prioritized over social and economic sustainability, whereas other 
felt that economic sustainability should be prioritized. Others felt 
NFS lands should be managed primarily for multiple uses that contribute 
to economic and social sustainability. Some respondents felt the 
proposed rule incorrectly prioritizes plan components by use of 
``maintain or restore'' elements of ecological sustainability over the 
use of the term ``to contribute'' for social and economic 
sustainability. Some respondents expressed differing opinions about the 
relative importance of ecological, social, and economic sustainability 
in relation to multiple uses. A respondent felt social and economic 
sustainability should not be included in the rule, while another felt

[[Page 21211]]

ecological sustainability should not be included. Some respondents felt 
social, environmental, and economic considerations are not competing 
values but interdependent and all play a role in management. Some 
respondents disagreed with the concept that the Agency has more control 
over ecological sustainability than social and economic sustainability. 
Some respondents felt the proposed rule definition of sustainability 
was not clear.
    Response: The MUSYA requires ``harmonious and coordinated 
management of the various resources, each with the other, without 
impairment of the productivity of the land, with consideration being 
given to the relative values of the various resources, and not 
necessarily the combination of uses that will give the greatest dollar 
return or greatest unit output'' (16 U.S.C. 531). Under this final 
rule, ecological, social, and economic systems are recognized as 
interdependent, without one being a priority over another. The rule 
requires the consideration of ecological, social, and economic factors 
in all phases of the planning process. However, the final rule 
recognizes that the Agency generally has greater influence over 
ecological sustainability on NFS lands than over broader social or 
economic sustainability, although it cannot guarantee sustainability 
for any of three. The Department recognizes that management of NFS 
lands can influence social and economic conditions relevant to a 
planning area, but cannot ensure social and economic sustainability 
because many factors are outside of the control and authority of the 
responsible official. For that reason, the final rule requires that the 
plan components contribute to social and economic sustainability, and 
provide for ecological sustainability, within Forest Service authority 
and the inherent capability of the plan area.
    Ecological sustainability will help provide people and communities 
with a range of social, economic, and ecological benefits now and in 
the future. In addition, plan components will provide directly for a 
range of multiple uses to contribute to social and economic 
sustainability. The final rule includes a modified definition of 
sustainability by defining the terms ecological sustainability, 
economic sustainability, and social sustainability as part of the 
definition of sustainability.
    Comment: Connecting people to nature. Some respondents felt the 
rule should contain wording to encourage a sense of value for public 
lands necessary in maintaining these lands for enjoyment by future 
generations. In an increasingly urbanized society, they felt access to 
NFS lands is necessary for people to visit, learn, recreate, and 
generate their livelihood.
    Response: Section 219.8(b)(6) of the final rule requires the 
responsible official take into account opportunities to connect people 
with nature.
    Comment: Cultural sustainability. Some respondents felt the rule 
should include management of cultural resources as a separate aspect of 
sustainability. A respondent felt proposed Sec.  219.8(b)(4) should be 
expanded to include ``cultural landscapes.''
    Response: The final rule does not create a separate aspect of 
sustainability for management of cultural resources, but does address 
cultural resources and uses. The definition in the final rule of 
``social sustainability'' recognizes the ``relationships, traditions, 
culture, and activities that connect people to the land and to one 
another, and support vibrant communities.'' In addition: Section 
219.1(c) recognizes that NFS lands provide people and communities with 
a wide array of benefits, including ``cultural benefits.'' Section 
219.4 requires opportunities for public and Tribal participation and 
coordination throughout the planning process. Section 219.4(a)(3) 
requires that the responsible official request ``information about 
native knowledge, land ethics, cultural issues, and sacred and 
culturally significant sites'' during consultation and opportunities 
for Tribal participation. Section 219.6(b) requires the assessment to 
include identification and evaluation of information about cultural 
conditions and cultural and historic resources and uses. Section 219.8 
in the final rule recognizes cultural aspects of sustainability by 
requiring ``cultural and historic resources and uses'' be taken into 
account when designing plan components to guide contributions to social 
and economic sustainability. Section 219.10(b)(1)(ii) of the rule 
requires ``plan components * * * for a new plan or plan revision must 
provide for protection of cultural and historic resources,'' and 
``management of areas of Tribal importance.'' The final rule also 
includes recognition of and requirements for ``ecosystem services,'' 
which include ``cultural heritage values.'' These requirements, in 
combination with the requirement that plan content include descriptions 
of a unit's roles and contributions within the broader landscape under 
Sec.  219.7(e), ensure the cultural aspects of sustainability will be 
taken into account when developing plan components that guide unit 
contributions to social sustainability.
    Comment: Local economies, communities, and groups. Some respondents 
felt the rule should require coordination with or participation of 
local communities. Some respondents felt the rule should recognize that 
how units are managed can greatly influence local communities and 
economies. Some respondents felt the rule should include maintaining 
``vibrant communities.'' Some respondents felt the proposed rule 
preamble discussion about the Agency's relative influence over 
ecological as compared with social and economic sustainability was 
incorrect, as the Agency has more influence or impact on local 
communities than the preamble implied. A respondent felt the rule 
should consider all communities, not just local. A respondent felt the 
proposed rule inappropriately allows the Agency to dictate social and 
economic sustainability of local communities.
    Response: Nothing in the final rule would dictate the social or 
economic sustainability of local communities--to the contrary, the rule 
recognizes that plans cannot dictate social or economic sustainability. 
However, the Department recognizes that management of NFS lands can 
influence local communities as well as persons and groups outside of 
these communities, and that some local economies may be more dependent 
on the management of the plan area and NFS resources than others. 
Section 219.4 requires the responsible official to engage local 
communities, as well as those interested at the regional and national 
levels, as well as to coordinate with other public planning efforts, 
including State and local governments, and Tribes. Section 219.6(b) 
requires in the assessment phase that responsible officials identify 
and evaluate existing relevant information about social, cultural, and 
economic conditions, benefits people obtain from the NFS planning area, 
and multiple uses and their contribution to the local, regional, and 
national economies. Section 219.8 requires that plans provide plan 
components to contribute to economic and social sustainability, and 
section 219.10 requires plans to provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses. Section 219.12 requires monitoring progress toward 
meeting the desired conditions and objectives in the plan, including 
for providing multiple use opportunities. These requirements will help 
plans contribute to vibrant communities.
    Comment: Specific processes for assessing social and economic

[[Page 21212]]

sustainability. Some respondents felt the final rule should include 
specific processes for assessing social and economic sustainability, 
such as analyzing the role of forest receipts (Federal revenues that 
are shared with states and counties) on local economies. A respondent 
felt the proposed rule required less involvement by social and economic 
experts than by other types of experts or scientists.
    Response: The final rule provides a framework for plan development, 
amendment, and revision with sufficient flexibility to accommodate the 
continuously evolving range of social and economic conditions across 
the Forest Service administrative units. The final rule does not 
prescribe a specific process for assessing and evaluating social and 
economic sustainability, nor does it include descriptions of area 
boundaries for social and economic impact analysis. Such direction, 
guidance, or advice, is more appropriate in the Forest Service 
directives. The public will be given an opportunity to review and 
comment on any Forest Service Manual or Forest Service Handbook 
revision associated with land management planning. Social, economic, 
and ecologic experts are all welcome to participate in the planning 
process: This final rule does not discriminate or give more weight to 
one group or kind of expert over another.
Section 219.9--Diversity of Plant and Animal Communities
    This section of the final rule fulfills the diversity requirement 
of the NFMA, which directs the Forest Service to ``provide for 
diversity of plant and animal communities based on the suitability and 
capability of the specific land area in order to meet multiple-use 
objectives, and within the multiple-use objectives of a land management 
plan adopted pursuant to this section [of this Act], provide, where 
appropriate, to the degree practicable, for steps to be taken to 
preserve the diversity of tree species similar to that existing in the 
region controlled by the plan'' (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(B)).
    The final rule adopts a complementary ecosystem and species-
specific approach to provide for the diversity of plant and animal 
communities and the long-term persistence of native species in the plan 
area. Known as a coarse-filter/fine-filter approach, this is a well-
developed concept in the scientific literature and has broad support 
from the scientific community and many members of the public. This 
requirement retains the strong species conservation intent of the 1982 
rule but with a strategic focus on those species that are vulnerable 
paired with a focus on overall ecosystem integrity and diversity. The 
final rule requires the use of the best available scientific 
information to inform the development of the plan components including 
the plan components for diversity. It also recognizes limits to agency 
authority and the inherent capability of the plan area.
    The Department's intent in providing the requirements in this 
section is to provide for diversity of plant and animal communities, 
and provide ecological conditions to keep common native species common, 
contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered species, 
conserve candidate and proposed species, and maintain viable 
populations of species of conservation concern within the plan area.
    The premise behind the coarse-filter approach is that native 
species evolved and adapted within the limits established by natural 
landforms, vegetation, and disturbance patterns prior to extensive 
human alteration. Maintaining or restoring ecological conditions 
similar to those under which native species have evolved therefore 
offers the best assurance against losses of biological diversity and 
maintains habitats for the vast majority of species in an area, subject 
to factors outside of the Agency's control, such as climate change. The 
final rule recognizes the importance of maintaining the biological 
diversity of each national forest and grassland, and the integrity of 
the compositional, structural, and functional components comprising the 
ecosystems on each NFS unit.
    The coarse-filter requirements of the rule are set out as 
requirements to develop plan components designed to maintain or restore 
ecological conditions for ecosystem integrity and ecosystem diversity 
in the plan area. Based upon the current science of conservation 
biology, by working toward the goals of ecosystem integrity and 
ecosystem diversity with connected habitats that can absorb 
disturbance, the Department expects that over time, management would 
maintain and restore ecological conditions which provide for diversity 
of plant and animal communities and support the abundance, 
distribution, and long-term persistence of native species. These 
ecological conditions should be sufficient to sustain viable 
populations of native plant and animal species considered to be common 
or secure within the plan area. These coarse-filter requirements are 
also expected to support the persistence of many species currently 
considered imperiled or vulnerable across their ranges or within the 
plan area.
    For example, by maintaining or restoring the composition, 
structure, processes, and ecological connectivity of longleaf pine 
forests, national forests in the Southeast provide ecological 
conditions that contribute to the recovery of the red-cockaded 
woodpecker (an endangered species) and conservation of the gopher 
tortoise (a threatened species), in addition to supporting common 
species that depend on the longleaf pine ecosystem.
    Similarly, maintaining or restoring shortgrass prairies on national 
grasslands in the Great Plains contributes to the conservation of 
black-tailed prairie dogs (regional forester sensitive species (RFSS) 
of the Rocky Mountain Region), mountain plovers (proposed threatened), 
and burrowing owls (RFSS), in addition to supporting common species 
that depend on the shortgrass prairie ecosystem. Maintaining or 
restoring watershed, riparian, and aquatic conditions in the national 
forests in the Northeast contributes to the conservation of the eastern 
brook trout (RFSS), in addition to supporting common species that 
depend on functioning riparian areas and aquatic ecosystems in the 
area.
    The final rule would further require additional, species-specific 
plan components, as a ``fine-filter,'' to provide for additional 
specific habitat needs or other ecological conditions of certain 
categories of species, when the responsible official determines those 
needs are not met through the coarse-filter. The species for which the 
rule requires fine-filter plan components, when necessary, are 
federally listed threatened and endangered (T&E) species, proposed and 
candidate species, and species of conservation concern. If the 
responsible official determines that compliance with the coarse-filter 
approach is insufficient to provide the ecological conditions necessary 
to contribute to the recovery of federally listed threatened and 
endangered species, conserve species that are proposed or candidates to 
Federal listing, or maintain within the plan area a viable population 
of a species of conservation concern, then additional species-specific 
plan components that would do so are required, within Agency authority 
and the inherent capability of the land.
    Species-specific plan components provide the fine-filter complement 
to the coarse-filter approach. For example, while coarse-filter 
requirements to restore longleaf pine ecosystems may provide most of 
the necessary ecological conditions for the endangered red-

[[Page 21213]]

cockaded woodpecker, additional fine-filter species-specific plan 
components may also be needed, for example, a plan standard to protect 
all known red-cockaded woodpecker cavity trees during prescribed 
burning activities. Examples for other species might include requiring 
proper size and placement of culverts to allow for aquatic organism 
passage on all streams capable of supporting eastern brook trout, or 
requiring closure devices on all cave and mine entrances to prevent the 
spread of white-nose syndrome to bat populations in the plan area.
    Unlike the 1982 rule, the final rule explicitly acknowledges that 
there are limits to Agency authority and the inherent capability of the 
land. With respect to species of conservation concern (SCC), the 
responsible official may determine that those limits prevent 
maintenance or restoration of the ecological conditions necessary to 
maintain a viable population of a species of conservation concern 
within the boundaries of the plan area. The responsible official must 
then include plan components to maintain or restore ecological 
conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable 
population of that species within its range. In doing so, the 
responsible official would be required to coordinate to the extent 
practicable with other land managers.
    Examples of factors outside the control of the Agency could 
include: A species needing an area larger than the unit to maintain a 
viable population; non-NFS land management impacts to species that 
spend significant parts of their lifecycle off NFS lands; activities 
outside the plan area (for example, increasing fragmentation of habitat 
or non- and point source pollution often impact species and their 
habitats, both on and off NFS lands); failure of a species to occupy 
suitable habitat; and climate change and related stressors, which could 
impact many species and may make it impossible to maintain current 
ecological conditions. Other stressors, such as invasive species, 
insects, disease, catastrophic wildfire, floods, droughts, and changes 
in precipitation, among others, may also affect species and habitat in 
ways that the Agency cannot completely control or mitigate for.
    In section 219.19, the Department defines native species as ``an 
organism that was historically or is present in a particular ecosystem 
as a result of natural migratory or evolutionary processes; and not as 
a result of an accidental or deliberate introduction into that 
ecosystem. An organism's presence and evolution (adaptation) in an area 
are determined by climate, soil and other biotic and abiotic factors.'' 
By defining species as ``was historically or is present in a particular 
ecosystem,'' the Department is not suggesting that historically native 
species that are no longer present must be reintroduced. The Department 
is recognizing that if such species were to return or to be 
reintroduced to the area, they would still be considered native.
    In addition to developing, amending, and revising plans under the 
diversity requirements of this section, the final rule includes 
requirements for ecological sustainability in Sec.  219.8, and in Sec.  
219.10 for providing for multiple uses including wildlife and fish, 
considering ecosystem services, fish and wildlife species, habitat and 
habitat connectivity, and habitat conditions for wildlife, fish, and 
plants commonly enjoyed and used by the public when developing plan 
components for integrated resource management. Requirements in the 
assessment and monitoring phases are also linked to and support the 
requirements of this section.
Section 219.9--Response to Comments
    The Department received many comments on this section. People 
suggested a broad range of approaches, including reinstating the 1982 
viability requirements; protecting and maintaining healthy habitats 
with no species specific provisions; increasing viability requirements; 
and mirroring the NFMA wording for diversity without including 
reference to viability. In addition, some people emphasized that there 
is a need to coordinate and cooperate beyond NFS unit boundaries for 
purposes of identifying and protecting critical habitat, migration 
corridors, and other habitat elements.
    The Department also received many comments expressing concern or 
confusion over the relationship between the ecosystem diversity 
requirement in paragraph (a) and the species conservation requirement 
in paragraph (b) in this section of the proposed rule. In particular, 
there was concern over whether the complementary coarse-filter and 
fine-filter strategy described in the preamble and DEIS for the 
proposed rule was clearly expressed in the proposed rule wording 
itself. Additionally, there was a lack of understanding of how these 
two requirements would maintain both the diversity of plant and animal 
communities and the persistence of native species within the plan area 
as expressed in the preamble.
    In response to public comments, the Department modified the 
proposed rule wording and made additions to it. The result is a final 
Sec.  219.9 that has the same intent as the proposed rule but is 
clearer and will better effectuate the Department's approach to 
providing for diversity.
    The Department added wording to the introduction to explain, as 
expressed in the preamble for the proposed rule, that plans adopt a 
complementary ecosystem (coarse-filter) and species-specific (fine-
filter) approach to maintaining the diversity of plant and animal 
communities and the persistence of native species in the plan area. 
This combined approach for maintaining biological diversity over large 
landscapes is a well-developed concept in the scientific literature, 
and is generally supported by the science community for application on 
Federal lands.
    Paragraph (a) was modified with the new heading of ``Ecosystem plan 
components,'' and subdivided into 2 parts. The new paragraph (a)(1) has 
a heading of ``Ecosystem integrity'' and includes the requirements of 
paragraph (a) of the proposed rule, consistent with the equivalent 
requirement in Sec.  219.8(a). As in Sec.  219.8 the ``health and 
resilience'' of the proposed rule was replaced with ``ecological 
integrity'' as described in the discussion of 219.8. The concept of 
ecological integrity is also being advanced by the U.S. Department of 
the Interior for National Park System lands. Having similar approaches 
to assessing and evaluating ecological conditions across the broader 
landscape will facilitate an all-lands approach to ecological 
sustainability.
    The Department added a new paragraph ((a)(2)), which retains the 
proposed rule heading of ``ecosystem diversity.'' This paragraph 
includes new wording to make clear that the plan must include plan 
components to maintain the diversity of ecosystems and habitat types in 
the plan area. This change was made to explain, as described in the 
preamble to the proposed rule that plans provide for ecosystem 
diversity. As part of providing for this requirement, paragraph (a)(2) 
includes direction to provide plan components to maintain and restore 
key characteristics of ecosystem types (similar to requirements of 
proposed rule Sec.  219.8(2)(i) and (ii)), rare native plant and animal 
communities (moved from proposed rule Sec.  219.8(a)(2)(iii)), and 
diversity of native tree species (moved from paragraph (c) of proposed 
Sec.  219.9). Both subsections of paragraph (a) direct that the 
responsible official include ``standards or guidelines'' in the set of 
plan components developed to meet these requirements.

[[Page 21214]]

    The heading of paragraph (b) was changed from ``Species 
Conservation'' to ``Additional, species-specific plan components'' to 
clarify the fact that both the ecosystem plan components (coarse-
filter) and the additional species-specific plan components (fine-
filter) contribute to species conservation. Paragraph (b)(1) adds 
proposed species to candidate species as species to be conserved. The 
substance of paragraph (b) was modified in the final rule to make it 
clear that the plan components required by this paragraph are intended 
to complement and supplement the coarse-filter requirements, where 
necessary.
    In response to comments on the preferred alternative, a change was 
made to the wording in Sec.  219.9(b)(1) to clarify the Department's 
intent that the responsible official must make a determination as to 
whether additional, species-specific plan components are required. The 
final rule states that ``the responsible official shall determine 
whether or not the plan components required by paragraph (a) provide 
the ecological conditions necessary to: contribute to the recovery of 
federally listed threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed 
and candidate species, and maintain a viable population of each species 
of conservation concern within the plan area.''
    The ``if then'' statement in paragraph (b)(1) conveys the 
Department's expectation that for most native species, including 
threatened, endangered, proposed, candidate, and species of 
conservation concern, the ecosystem integrity and ecosystem diversity 
requirements (coarse-filter) would be expected to provide most or all 
of the ecological conditions necessary for those species' persistence 
within the plan area. However, for threatened, endangered, proposed, 
candidate, and species of conservation concern, the responsible 
official must review the coarse-filter plan components, and if 
necessary, include additional, species-specific (fine-filter) plan 
components to provide the ecological conditions to contribute to 
recovery of threatened and endangered species, to conserve proposed and 
candidate species, and to maintain viable populations of species of 
conservation concern in the plan area. As in many places in the final 
rule, paragraph (b) clarifies that the responsible official will 
include ``standards or guidelines'' in the set of plan components 
developed to meet these requirements. The word ``developed'' in this 
paragraph was changed to the word ``included'' to be consistent with 
similar construction in this and other sections that the plan will 
include plan components to meet various requirements.
    Within paragraph (b)(1), the Department changed the requirement for 
ecological conditions to maintain ``viable populations of species of 
conservation concern'' (Sec.  219.9 (b)(3) of the proposed rule) to ``a 
viable population of each species of conservation concern'' (emphasis 
added). The change reflects the Department's intent from the proposed 
rule, but provides clarity in response to confusion about whether the 
proposed rule wording referred to populations of different species or 
multiple populations of the same species in the plan area, as well as 
concern that the proposed rule wording could be interpreted to mean 
that plans did not have to address every species of conservation 
concern. This clarification is consistent with the preamble of the 
proposed rule which discusses the agency's obligation in terms of 
maintaining ``a viable population of a species of conservation concern 
* * * to maintain the long-term persistence of that species.'' 76 FR 
8493 (February 14, 2011).
    As in the proposed rule, the ecosystem and species-specific 
requirements in the final rule are both limited by Forest Service 
authority and the inherent capability of the plan area. As in the 
proposed rule, the final rule provides an alternative standard for 
species of conservation concern if it is beyond the Forest Service's 
authority or the inherent capability of the plan area to provide 
ecological conditions to maintain a viable population of a species of 
conservation concern within the plan area. In such cases, the final 
rule requires that the responsible official document that determination 
(new requirement in the final rule) and include plan components, 
including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore ecological 
conditions within the plan area to contribute to maintaining a viable 
population of the species within its range. The words ``to the extent 
practicable'' following the word ``contribute'' were removed from the 
final rule because they caused confusion and were unnecessary given 
other provisions of the rule, including Section 219.1(g). The final 
rule retains a modified requirement that in providing such plan 
components, the responsible official shall coordinate to the extent 
practicable with other Federal, State, Tribal, and private land 
managers having management authority over lands ``relevant to that 
population,'' to reflect the need for a cross boundary approach to 
species conservation.
    The Department added paragraph (c) to the final rule to modify and 
clarify the definition of species of conservation concern, formerly in 
section 219.19. The new wording clarifies that the species of 
conservation concern must be ``known to occur in the plan area,'' that 
the regional forester is the line officer who identifies the species of 
conservation concern, and the standard for that is ``the best available 
scientific information indicates substantial concern about the species' 
capability to persist over the long term in the plan area.''
    The Department believes these revisions more clearly describe the 
application of the coarse-filter/fine-filter strategy for maintaining 
biological diversity as discussed in scientific literature and the 
PEIS. As plan components designed to meet these requirements are 
created and complied with, the broad spectrum of habitat and other 
ecological conditions necessary to support the diversity of plant and 
animal communities and the persistence of native plant and animal 
species would be expected through this complementary strategy.
    Comment: Relationship between ecosystem diversity and species 
conservation. Some respondents felt the proposed rule was confusing in 
its description of the relationship between the ecosystem diversity 
requirement in proposed Sec.  219.9(a) and the species conservation 
requirement in Sec.  219.9(b). They felt the complementary coarse-
filter/fine-filter strategy described in the preamble and DEIS was not 
clearly expressed in the proposed rule wording. Additionally, they felt 
it was unclear on how these two requirements would maintain the 
diversity of plant and animal communities and the persistence of native 
species within the plan area.
    Response: In response to public comments, the Department clarified 
the proposed rule wording and made additions to the final rule. The 
coarse-filter/fine-filter approach used in the final rule and the 
modifications made to the proposed rule are explained in the 
introductory paragraphs of the response to comments on section 219.9.
    Comment: Threatened, and endangered species. Some respondents felt 
the Department should consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
and the National Marine Fisheries Service on potential effects to 
threatened and endangered species as a result of the proposed planning 
rule. Others felt recovery plans are not legally enforceable documents; 
therefore, they are not mandatory for Federal agency adoption.

[[Page 21215]]

    Response: Beginning in 2009 and continuing through the development 
of this planning rule and its accompanying PEIS, representatives from 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries 
Service met regularly with the Forest Service to discuss ESA issues 
related to the rule. The three agencies worked together to identify the 
relevant issues and appropriate level of analysis associated with the 
final rule and environmental analysis, and have collaborated on a 
consultation process and on the biological assessment. The Agency 
requested consultation with these regulatory agencies in July 2011. 
Additionally, the Agency requested conferencing on the potential 
effects of the rule on all species proposed for Federal listing that 
currently occur on NFS lands and those that are candidates for Federal 
listing occurring on or are suspected to occur on NFS lands. The Agency 
completed consultation, as discussed in this preamble in the section 
with the caption of: Compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as Amended.
    NFS lands are a major contributor to threatened and endangered 
species recovery plans and actions, maintaining habitat for such 
species as red-cockaded woodpecker, Canada lynx, bull trout, steelhead, 
and many other listed species. As part of the Forest Service mission, 
the actions needed to recover T&E species and maintain or restore 
critical habitats are a high priority. These species are at risk of 
extinction and are protected under the ESA. Under the ESA, the Forest 
Service is to carry out ``programs and activities for the conservation 
of endangered species and threatened species'' (16 U.S.C. 1536(a)(1)) 
and ``insure that any action authorized, funded or carried out by [it] 
is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered 
species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of [designated critical habitat]'' (16 U.S.C. 1635(a)(2)).
    As did the proposed rule, the final rule requires that the plan 
include plan components to provide ecological conditions in the plan 
area necessary to contribute to the recovery of T&E species, using 
coarse-filter plan components and adding species-specific plan 
components where necessary. While the 1982 rule at section 219.19(a)(7) 
did have specific requirements for protection of T&E critical habitat, 
and required objectives to remove T&E species from listing, where 
possible, through appropriate conservation measures, the requirement in 
the final rule that requires plan components to provide ecological 
conditions to ``contribute to the recovery of'' T&E species is more 
comprehensive. The final rule recognizes that these species may not be 
viable or have a viable population at this time, and in many cases may 
rely on lands and conditions outside NFS boundaries and beyond Agency 
control. Thus an individual NFS unit rarely can fully meet the recovery 
needs of a listed species. Under this final rule, the Department 
anticipates that plan components, including standards or guidelines, 
for the plan area would address conservation measures and actions 
identified in recovery plans relevant to T&E species. When implemented 
over time, these requirements would be expected to result in plans that 
will be proactive in the recovery and conservation of the threatened, 
endangered, proposed, and candidate species in the plan areas. These 
requirements will further the purposes of Sec.  7(a)(1) of the ESA, by 
actively contributing to threatened and endangered species recovery and 
maintaining or restoring the ecosystems upon which they depend.
    The Forest Service frequently collaborates with the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration (NOAA) in the development and implementation of recovery 
plans for many species. The Forest Service will continue to work with 
USFWS, NOAA, States, and other partners to conserve and recover 
federally listed plant and animal species. The responsible official may 
also contribute to other recovery actions, such as species 
reintroductions to increase species distribution and threatened and 
endangered species monitoring programs. In addition, the Agency will 
continue to evaluate effects of proposed management actions to T&E 
species or designated critical habitat. Consultation with the 
appropriate regulatory agency(s) will also occur at the plan 
development, amendment, or revision stage and again at the project 
stage, if they may affect any federally listed species or designated 
critical habitat. Additional guidance will be forthcoming on procedures 
for conducting ESA section 7(a)(1) conservation reviews of plans in the 
Forest Service directives.
    Complementary sections of the final rule, Sec. Sec.  219.3, 219.4, 
and 219.6, in combination emphasize: the role of science in preparing, 
revising, or amending a plan; collaboration, including coordination 
with other planning efforts; consideration of objectives of other 
agencies and entities; the encouragement of appropriate agencies and 
entities to participate in determining assessment needs and identify 
contributions of relevant broad-scale assessments and plans of other 
agencies and governments; and the incorporation of broad-scale 
monitoring to address questions that are more appropriately answered at 
scales beyond NFS boundaries. These processes, programs, and activities 
would be incorporated into future unit planning processes and plans, 
and as these plans are implemented, they will actively contribute to 
ESA goals.
    Comment: Candidate and proposed species. Many respondents supported 
the proposed rule requirement to conserve species that are candidates 
for Federal listing. Other respondents questioned why the proposed rule 
requires candidate species conservation as these species have not 
received Federal protection under ESA, and this may lead to more 
petitions for species listings being filed in the future and further 
limit the management options of the Agency.
    Response: The Department added definitions for ``candidate 
species,'' and ``proposed species,'' and ``conserve'' to Sec.  219.19 
of the final rule to clarify the definitions of these terms and to 
avoid misunderstanding. Under the ESA, candidate and proposed species 
do not receive the special legal protections afforded to threatened and 
endangered species. However, the Department believes it is important to 
develop plan components for those plant and animal species that are 
proposed or candidates for Federal listing that occur on NFS lands, in 
order to assist in their recovery such that a Federal listing is no 
longer required. Similar to T&E species, candidate and proposed species 
may not have a viable population that can be maintained in the plan 
area at this time. In the final rule, the Agency would provide coarse-
filter, and where necessary, additional fine-filter plan components for 
ecological conditions that would conserve candidate and proposed 
species, reducing risks to those species and providing for the 
maintenance or restoration of needed ecological conditions.
    Comment: Authority for viability. Some respondents felt the 
proposed rule's concept of species viability may be outside the 
Agency's authority to implement; they take the position that managing 
for species diversity and viability is the responsibility of State 
agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service.
    Response: The requirement, to ``provide for diversity of plant and 
animal communities'' as set forth under

[[Page 21216]]

Sec.  1604(g)(3)(B) of the NFMA, does not specifically reference the 
diversity or viability of particular species. It is a statutory 
requirement that there be a planning rule that provides for diversity. 
However, it is within the Department's authority to require that plans 
provide ecological conditions to maintain viable populations of species 
of conservation concern. The Department's ability to maintain the 
diversity of plant and animal communities is dependent on protecting 
the plant and animal species and the interactions and processes the 
species perform. The Department developed the final rule in recognition 
that many Agency plans, programs, and activities are important 
influences on providing the desired ecological conditions for plant and 
animal communities and native species on NFS lands. In accordance with 
the MUSYA, plans must also provide for multiple uses including wildlife 
and fish.
    The provisions in this final rule are focused on providing the 
ecological conditions necessary to support the diversity and 
persistence of native plant and animal species. The final rule 
maintains and provides additional direction to work with State fish and 
wildlife agencies, other Federal agencies, as well as others, to 
conserve fish, wildlife, and plant habitats and populations on NFS 
lands and to contribute to shared goals, such as those provided in 
state wildlife action plans or in threatened or endangered species 
recovery plans. Requirements in Sec. Sec.  219.4, 219.6, 219.10, and 
219.12 of this final rule complement and support interagency 
collaboration on habitat and species conservation.
    Comment: Species of Conservation Concern (SCC) and Viability. Some 
respondents felt the rule should include the following wording from 
Sec.  219.19 of the 1982 rule: ``Fish and wildlife habitat shall be 
managed to maintain viable populations of existing native and desired 
non-native vertebrate species in the planning area.'' Some felt this 
standard should be extended to plants and invertebrates as well as 
vertebrates, and not only to SCC. Some respondents felt the proposed 
rule weakens current protections for plant and animal species 
therefore, the rule needs inclusion of clear, strong requirements 
focused on protecting and maintaining all native species within a plan 
area. On the other hand several respondents felt the proposed 
requirement to maintain viability of SCC is too expensive and 
cumbersome to implement. They felt this requirement is unattainable and 
procedurally impossible to demonstrate. Some respondents were opposed 
to providing protections for species other than vertebrates as it could 
lead to the possibility of maintaining viable populations of 
invertebrates, fungi, microorganisms, and other life forms, which these 
respondents suggest is inappropriate and beyond the Agency's authority.
    Response: The Department concludes that managing ecological 
conditions for species protection is well within the authority of the 
Forest Service to manage the NFS for multiple use, and that the 
requirements of this section are more strategic and implementable than 
the 1982 rule while providing strong requirements focused on 
maintaining diversity and the persistence of native species within the 
plan area. The 1982 rule required that ``habitat shall be managed to 
maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native 
vertebrate species in the planning area.'' There may be hundreds of 
vertebrate species on a particular plan area. For some vertebrate 
species there may be little scientific information about their life 
requirements and habitat relationships, even though they may be 
considered common and secure within habitats provided on a NFS unit. 
For other vertebrate species, the requirement to maintain viable 
populations in the planning area may be unattainable, for reasons 
outside of the Agency's control.
    The final rule instead relies on current scientific literature to 
adopt the complementary ecosystem and species-specific approach 
described above in the introduction to this section, and to focus 
species-specific management attention on those species that are 
vulnerable. Ecosystem (coarse-filter) plan components are expected to 
provide the necessary ecological conditions for species that are 
common, with viable populations in the plan area and no reason for 
concern about their ability to persist in the plan area over the long 
term. For species that are known to be imperiled (threatened, 
endangered, proposed and candidate species), the final rule requires 
coarse-filter, and where necessary, fine-filter plan components to 
provide ecological conditions that contribute to recovery or 
conservation of the species, recognizing that there is likely not a 
viable population of such species in the plan area at the time of plan 
approval.
    The final rule provides direction for a third category of species: 
species that are vulnerable within the plan area, but not federally 
recognized for purposes of the ESA. These are species known to occur in 
the plan area, for which the best available scientific information 
indicates a substantial concern about the species' capability to 
persist in the plan area over the long term. The Department called this 
category ``species of conservation concern.''
    For this category of species, the final rule requires coarse-
filter, and where necessary, fine-filter plan components to provide 
ecological conditions to maintain a viable population of such species 
within the plan area, where it is within Forest Service authority and 
the inherent capability of the land to do so. If providing the 
ecological conditions to maintain a viable population within the plan 
area is beyond Forest Service authority or the inherent capability of 
the land, then the final rule requires coarse-filter, and where 
necessary, fine-filter plan components to provide ecological conditions 
to contribute to maintaining a viable population of the species within 
its range. For example, if a unit is incapable of providing a 
sufficient amount of the ecological conditions necessary to maintain a 
viable population of a species of conservation concern within the plan 
area, then the responsible official must include plan components that 
provide the ecological conditions in the plan area necessary to 
contribute to a viable population of that species in the broader 
landscape. The rule requires the responsible official to work in 
coordination with other relevant land managers when developing such 
plan components.
    Species of conservation concern, like the categories of common 
species and imperiled species, is not limited to native and desired 
non-native vertebrates (as in the 1982 rule); it may include any native 
plant or animal species that meets the definition. The Department has 
the authority to include requirements for species other than vertebrate 
species under the NFMA and the MUSYA. Non-vertebrate species can be 
federally recognized as threatened or endangered. In addition, in each 
NFS region, the regional forester has developed and maintained a list 
of regional forester sensitive species (RFSS) for over two decades. The 
RFSS list can include any native plant or animal species. RFSS are 
those plant and animal species identified by a regional forester for 
which population viability is a concern, as evidenced by: significant 
current or predicted downward trends in population numbers or density; 
or significant current or predicted downward trends in habitat 
capability that would reduce a species' existing distribution. RFSS are 
similar to SCC. The conservation and management of many RFSS has been a 
part of many land management

[[Page 21217]]

plans and projects and activities for decades.
    The projected costs of carrying out the rule are found in the 
Regulatory Planning and Review section of the preamble and in the final 
PEIS supporting this final rule. These costs are not expected to be too 
expensive or cumbersome to be carried out by the Agency. Because these 
requirements adopt a scientifically supported approach, acknowledge 
that there are limits to Agency control, and focus management attention 
more strategically on ecosystem plan components that will provide for 
most species and where necessary on additional species-specific plan 
components for species that are vulnerable, the Department believes 
that the requirements of this section, combined with the requirements 
in other sections of the rule for public participation, assessment and 
monitoring, will result in a strong, more effective, efficient, and 
implementable framework for providing for species diversity and 
persistence.
    Comment: Distribution of species or habitat. Some respondents 
raised concerns that the definition of a viable population and the 
requirements for species of conservation concern do not include the 
requirement that these species or habitats be ``well-distributed'' as 
is required in the 1982 rule and they feel that this omission results 
in a lessening of protection for species between the 1982 rule and this 
final planning rule.
    Response: NFMA does not require that species or habitats be well-
distributed within the plan area. The 1982 rule stated at Sec.  219.19 
that: ``Fish and wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable 
populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate 
species in the planning area. For planning purposes, a viable 
population shall be regarded as one which has the estimated numbers and 
distribution of reproductive individuals to insure its continued 
existence is well distributed in the planning area. In order to insure 
that viable populations will be maintained, habitat must be provided to 
support, at least, a minimum number of reproductive individuals and 
that habitat must be well distributed so that those individuals can 
interact with others in the planning area.''
    This final rule includes requirements to restore or maintain 
ecological conditions to support viable populations of species of 
conservation concern. It requires that the responsible official 
determine whether or not the plan components required by paragraph (a) 
``provide the ecological conditions necessary to * * * maintain a 
viable population of each species of conservation concern within the 
plan area. If the responsible official determines that the plan 
components required in paragraph (a) are insufficient to provide such 
ecological conditions, then additional, species-specific plan 
components, including standards or guidelines, must be included in the 
plan to provide such ecological conditions in the plan area'' (Sec.  
219.9(b)(1)). The rule defines a viable population as: ``A population 
of a species that continues to persist over the long term with 
sufficient distribution to be resilient and adaptable to stressors and 
likely future environments'' (Sec.  219.19) (emphasis added).
    The intent behind both the 1982 provisions and the final rule 
provisions is the same: To provide habitat to maintain viable 
populations. However, there are a number of reasons for the 
Department's decision not to include the term ``well-distributed'' in 
the final rule and instead used the phrase ``with sufficient 
distribution to be resilient and adaptable.'' The term is not defined 
in the 1982 rule, has been inconsistently interpreted in plans, and has 
been applied in many different ways.
    Importantly, the term ``well-distributed'' on its own is not 
clearly biological: Many people have interpreted the term in a 
geographical context as opposed to a biological context. This 
geographic interpretation has proven problematic at times, because the 
plan area is not an ecological boundary; it is an administrative 
boundary that may overlap completely or only partially with a species' 
natural ecological range. In addition, for some species, those areas of 
overlap may be changing in response to changing conditions.
    Since 1982, we have learned more about what is important for a 
species to persist on the landscape, with an evolving understanding of 
important ecological concepts like resilience, connectivity, and 
adaptability, and of stressors such as climate change. For these 
reasons, instead of relying on the term ``well-distributed,'' the 
Department chose instead to include a more ecologically-based 
definition of a viable population, ``with sufficient distribution to be 
resilient and adaptable to stressors and likely future environments'' 
such that the population ``continues to persist over the long term.''
    Combined with the requirement in section 219.3 to use the best 
available scientific information to inform the plan, this definition is 
intended to focus the development of plan components on providing 
ecological conditions where they will be most useful and important to 
the species, which may or may not lead to habitat that is evenly or 
``well'' distributed across the plan area for every species. For some 
species, that may mean having the appropriate ecological conditions 
throughout the plan area. For others, it may mean focusing on a small 
portion of the plan area. For others, it may mean working to restore or 
provide ecological conditions for a species whose range is migrating in 
response to changing conditions. For still others, it may mean 
providing a corridor or corridors to connect habitat.
    The change from ``well distributed'' to ``sufficient distribution 
to be resilient and adaptable'' is intended to clarify that we are 
using ``distribution'' in an ecological context to support species' 
long term persistence and to help increase consistency in 
implementation. The Department recognizes that the long-term security 
of species improves as distribution increases and habitat and other 
ecological conditions are maintained or improved. Whether distribution 
is ``sufficient'' will be evaluated in the context of what a population 
needs for resilience and adaptability such that it can continue to 
persist over the long term, considering the species' natural history, 
the ability of individuals to interact, historical distribution and 
potential future distribution, and recognizing that habitat and species 
distribution will be dynamic over time. The responsible official will 
use the best available scientific information to inform this 
evaluation. In making this evaluation, it is the Department's 
expectation that for the purposes of this subpart, the individuals of a 
species of conservation concern that exist in the plan area will be 
considered to be members of one population of that species. The 
responsible official would consider the distribution of individuals or 
groups that would support a viable population of that species in the 
plan area. Additional guidance will be included in the directives, 
which will be available for public notice and comment.
    It is important to recognize that the requirements of Sec.  
219.9(b)(1) and the definition of viable population support and are 
part of a broader set of requirements in the final rule that are 
important for species conservation, including the requirements in 
Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9 to maintain or restore ecological integrity, 
including connectivity of ecosystems in the plan area; and the 
requirement in Sec.  219.9(a) to provide a diversity of ecosystem types 
throughout the plan area.
    Combined, the requirements in the final rule are expected to 
provide the

[[Page 21218]]

conditions that support the persistence of native species in the plan 
area and maintain the diversity of plant and animal communities. For 
these reasons, the Department believes that the set of requirements in 
the final rule is not a lessening of protection from the 1982 rule, and 
represents a science-based approach to species conservation.
    Comment: Identification and definition of species of conservation 
concern. Some respondents felt the proposed rule was unclear on who the 
responsible official for identifying SCC was, what criteria would be 
used to identify SCC; and whether or not that criteria should be 
established in the planning rule. Some respondents offered suggested 
criteria for identifying SCC. Several respondents expressed concern the 
proposed rule provides too much discretion to the responsible official 
in deciding which species will receive protection.
    Response: In response to these comments, the definition of species 
of conservation concern was moved from Sec.  219.19 to a new paragraph 
(c) in this section and was modified. The Department changed the line 
officer who identifies the SCC for the plan area from the responsible 
official (normally the forest supervisor) to the regional forester in 
the final rule. The change was made to provide additional consistency 
and promote efficiency in identifying species of conservation on and 
among national forests and grasslands within a region. The broader-
scale monitoring strategy will also be developed by the regional 
forester.
    The final rule's definition of SCC makes the criterion for 
identifying such species narrower and more scientific than the 
definition in the proposed rule. The species must be ``known to occur 
in the plan area,'' and ``the best available scientific information'' 
must indicate ``substantial concern'' about the species' capability to 
persist over the long-term in the plan area.
    Additional guidance for the identification of species of 
conservation concern will be included in the Forest Service Directives 
System, with an opportunity for public comment. The Department expects 
that State or Tribal lists of endangered, threatened, rare, endemic, or 
other classifications of species, such as those listed as threatened 
under State law; and other sources such as the NatureServe conservation 
status system may be used to inform the identification of SCC.
    Comment: Circumstances not within Forest Service authority, 
consistent with the inherent capability of the plan area. Some 
respondents felt the rule needs to clarify what is meant by ``within 
Forest Service authority, and consistent with the inherent capability 
of the plan area,'' to provide consistency in their application and 
intent. Others felt use of these terms allowed the Agency to avoid 
responsibilities for maintaining the diversity of plant and animal 
communities and the persistence of native species within the plan area. 
Still others felt the rule should describe the types of circumstances 
that make the Agency's ability to meet the requirement for maintaining 
viable populations of species of conservation concern infeasible or 
impractical. Some respondents said the rule should provide more 
discretion and flexibility.
    Response: The acknowledgment of limits to Agency authority and the 
inherent capability of the land do not ``allow'' the Agency to avoid 
responsibility for maintaining the diversity of plant and animal 
communities and the persistence of native species within the plan area. 
These limits exist whether they are acknowledged in the rule or not. 
The Department believes it is more transparent and effective to require 
a robust and scientifically supported approach to providing for the 
diversity of plant and animal communities and the persistence of native 
species within the plan area and openly acknowledge that there are some 
circumstances outside of Agency control, allowing responsible officials 
to adjust, adapt, and work more collaboratively with other land 
managers to protect species in the context of the broader landscape.
    The ``inherent capability of the land'' is defined in Sec.  219.19 
of the final rule as: ``The ecological capacity or ecological potential 
of an area characterized by the interrelationship of its physical 
elements, its climatic regime, and natural disturbances'' Examples of 
circumstances where the plan area may lack the inherent capability to 
maintain a viable population of a species include where a plan area is 
not large enough to produce sufficient habitat on the unit or where, 
due to current or projected changes in climate, it would be impossible 
for the plan area to produce or maintain the required amount or quality 
of habitat conditions necessary to sustain a viable population of the 
species within the plan area. Additional examples of circumstances 
outside the Agency's control, including those that may be outside the 
Agency's authority or the inherent capability of the land, are 
discussed earlier in this document as part of the rational for non-
selection of Alternative B (No Action).
    There may also be circumstances where the plan area has the 
inherent capability over time to provide for certain ecological 
conditions, but cannot produce such ecological conditions within the 
lifetime of the plan: for example, where a species needs old growth or 
late successional habitat where there is none (for example, where bark 
beetle has killed all of the late successional stands in a plan area). 
The plan would include plan components to move the plan area towards 
providing that habitat in the future, but would not have the capability 
to produce it instantly.
    Examples of circumstances not within the authority of the Agency 
include land use patterns on private lands within or adjacent to NFS 
units that fragment and reduce habitat for a species whose range 
extends well beyond the plan area, habitat loss or degradation along 
important migration routes or wintering grounds for a species who 
spends some of its life history on other lands or in other countries, 
or the influence of disease or invasive species.
    Section 219.3 requires the use of the best available scientific 
information to inform the plan components required by this section, and 
Sec.  219.14 requires the responsible official to document how the 
requirements of this section were met. Section 219.2 requires that the 
Chief establish a national oversight process for accountability and 
consistency. The Forest Service Directives System will include 
additional direction for implementing the requirements of this section, 
and will be available for public comment.
    Comment: Diversity of tree and other plant species. Some 
respondents felt the rule is not protective enough of the diversity of 
tree and other plant species. Others felt the rule should have specific 
requirements for old growth and large, intact blocks of forest; leaving 
more snags and dead wood; reforestation guidelines that include diverse 
tree mixtures; and use of herbicides.
    Response: The Department based the requirements of Sec.  
219.9(a)(2)(iii) on the NFMA.
    The final rule requires in paragraph (a)(2)(i) and (ii) plan 
components to provide for key characteristics associated with 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem types and rare aquatic and 
terrestrial plant and animal communities, which may include old growth 
stands, meadows, snags, or other characteristics. These characteristics 
are similar to what was required in the proposed rule at Sec.  
219.8(2)(i) and (ii) and (iii)). More specific requirements were not 
included in the final rule, because these issues are best identified 
and determined at the forest or grassland level, reflecting ecosystems

[[Page 21219]]

and plant and animal communities on the unit. Further direction will be 
provided in the Forest Service Directives System and in individual 
plans.
    Comment: Additional species comments. Some respondents felt the 
rule should include direction on species assessments, developing the 
coarse-filter, and disclosing specific environmental effects.
    Response: The Department agrees the issues raised are important. 
The final rule is intended to provide overall planning direction 
applicable throughout the entire National Forest System. The type of 
guidance requested by these respondents is more appropriately found in 
the Forest Service Directives System and/or in the plans themselves or 
in the subsequent decisions regarding projects and activities on a 
particular national forest, grassland, prairie, or other comparable 
administrative unit. Some of the requested guidance, such as how to do 
assessments for particular species, would not apply to planning 
throughout the entire System. Other types of guidance, instructing the 
Agency on how to carry out the rule's requirements, may be so detailed 
that if, included in the rule, may make it unmanageably long and 
complicated. Also, including instructions in the rule on how to carry 
out various planning tasks may tie the Agency to procedures even when 
it learns better ways to carrying out those tasks. The Department 
concludes that placing such direction in Forest Service directives, 
which can change more readily than a rule, or allowing the Agency to 
try out various ways to carry out the rule, is likely to result in more 
effective and efficient planning than including such detail in the 
final rule itself.
    Comment: ``survey and manage.'' Several respondents requested the 
planning rule require ``survey and manage'' procedures currently 
employed in the Pacific Northwest under the Northwest Forest Plan. 
Several respondents said one foreseeable outcome could be court ordered 
service-wide requirements for ``survey and manage'' as they believe is 
currently mandated in the Northwest Forest Plan. One respondent 
believes by expanding the requirements for viability beyond vertebrates 
the Forest Service will be forced to use ``survey and manage'' 
procedures of the Northwest Forest Plan on a nationwide basis.
    Response: The final rule does not require ``survey and manage'' 
procedures similar to those in the Northwest Forest Plan. ``Survey and 
manage'' is a Northwest Forest Plan program where, before ground 
disturbing projects can be approved, the Forest Service must inventory 
late successional and old structure stands for nearly 400 species 
including fungi, lichens, bryophytes, mollusks, and several vascular 
plants, arthropods and vertebrates. None of the species are listed 
under ESA, but little is known about them. The final rule requires an 
assessment of existing, relevant information, and the use of best 
available scientific information to inform plan components to meet the 
species and diversity requirements of the rule. The final rule 
clarifies that species of conservation concern must be known to occur 
in the plan area and that the best available scientific information 
must indicate substantial concern about the species' capability to 
persist over the long term in the plan area.
Section 219.10--Multiple Use
    This section requires that plans provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, 
wildlife, and fish, within Forest Service authority and the inherent 
capability of the plan area, through integrated resource management. 
The responsible official must consider a range of uses, resources, 
services, and opportunities relevant to the plan area when developing 
plan components to provide ecosystem services and multiple uses, along 
with reasonably foreseeable risks to ecological, social, and economic 
sustainability. In addition, this section includes specific 
requirements for plan components for a new plan or plan revision. This 
section builds on the requirements in Sec.  219.8 for plans to provide 
for ecological sustainability and contribute to social and economic 
sustainability.
Section 219.10--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on multiple use requirements, 
requirements for ecosystem services, recreation, cultural and historic 
resources, wilderness and wild and scenic rivers, and designated areas. 
In response to public comment, the Department made a number of changes 
to this section to clarify intent.
    The Department rearranged the wording of the introductory paragraph 
of this section to clarify the intent of the Agency that plans must 
provide for ecosystem services and multiple uses. The Department 
removed the term ``fiscal capability'' from the introductory paragraph 
because direction about fiscal capability is now included in Sec.  
219.1(g), and to be consistent with Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9.
    The Department modified the requirements of paragraph (a) to 
clarify the wording, make these requirements parallel to other sections 
of the rule, and to respond to public comments. The Department added a 
requirement to have plan components, including standards or guidelines, 
for integrated resource management to provide for ecosystem services 
and multiple uses in the plan area. This change is in response to 
public comment to clarify that plan components for integrated resource 
management are to provide for ecosystem services and multiple uses, and 
to require standards or guidelines as part of the set of plan 
components developed to comply with the requirements of paragraph (a). 
As in earlier sections, the Department also changed the phrase 
``multiple uses, including ecosystem services'' to ``ecosystem services 
and multiple uses,'' consistent with the MUSYA (see response to 
comments for Sec.  219.1). The Department added a definition of 
integrated resource management in Sec.  219.19, reflecting the 
interdependence of ecological resources as well as economic, 
ecological, and social systems.
    Paragraph (a)(1) to (a)(10) includes a list of elements the 
responsible official shall consider when developing plan components for 
integrated resource management to provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses in the plan area. The Department modified this list in 
response to public comments; some of these modifications are additional 
requirements. The Department modified the list as follows: In paragraph 
(a)(1), changed the term recreational values to recreation 
opportunities to make the wording consistent with other sections and 
with paragraph (b)(1), and added ``and uses'' to the end of the list in 
paragraph (a)(1) to recognize that the list includes both resources and 
uses and that there may be other resources and uses relevant to the 
plan area; in paragraph (a)(3), added the words ``appropriate placement 
of infrastructure'' to recognize that there may be new infrastructure 
needs or proposals in addition to the need for sustainable management 
of already existing infrastructure; in paragraph (a)(5), modified 
wording to emphasize that responsible officials, in addition to meeting 
the requirements in Sec.  219.9 for diversity and species and providing 
for wildlife and fish as part of the earlier direction in Sec.  219.10 
and paragraph (a)(1), should specifically consider habitat conditions 
for species that are used or enjoyed by the public for recreational 
opportunities such as

[[Page 21220]]

hunting and fishing, or for subsistence, and added a requirement that 
the responsible official collaborate with other land managers in doing 
so; in paragraph (a)(6), dropped the wording in the proposed rule to 
consider ``the landscape context for management as identified in the 
assessment'' because it was redundant with modifications made to the 
requirements in Sec.  219.7, and moved the text at proposed paragraph 
(a)(7) to the final paragraph (a)(6); moved the text from proposed rule 
paragraphs (a)(7), (8) and (9), with some modifications, to the final 
rule paragraphs (a)(6),(7), and (8); in paragraph (a)(9) in the final 
rule added a new requirement, to consider ``public water supplies and 
associated water quality,'' in recognition of the role that national 
forests and grasslands play in providing drinking water to nearly one 
in five Americans; and added a requirement at (a)(10), to require 
consideration of opportunities to connect people to nature, recognizing 
that plans should consider both the resources on the plan area and 
people's connection to them.
    Paragraph (b)(1)(i) to (b)(1)(vi) sets forth a list of requirements 
for plan components for new plans or plan revisions, adding the 
requirement that the set of plan components developed to meet these 
requirements include standards or guidelines, consistent with similar 
changes in other sections. The Department modified the requirements of 
paragraph (b) to clarify the wording, make these requirements parallel 
to other sections of the rule, and to respond to public comments. In 
paragraph (b)(1)(i), the Department slightly modified the requirement 
to require that plans must provide for sustainable recreation, 
including recreation settings, opportunities, and access; and scenic 
character; and to make clear in this section that recreation 
opportunities may include non-motorized, motorized, developed, and 
dispersed recreation on land, water, and in the air.
    In addition, the Department modified paragraph (b) by: Changing the 
wording for protection of wilderness and management of areas 
recommended for wilderness to be clearer; adding a requirement for 
management of rivers ``determined suitable'' for inclusion in the Wild 
and Scenic River System; changed paragraph (b)(1)(vi) to be consistent 
with changes made to Sec.  219.7(c)(2)(vii) that clarify that the 
responsible official may establish new designated areas as part of the 
plan; and made additional edits for clarity. Some of these are 
additional requirements to respond to public comment.
    Comment: Inclusion of MUSYA, multiple use. Some respondents felt 
proposed Sec.  219.10 does not specifically reference MUSYA. Other 
respondents felt that administering the NFS lands for multiple uses 
should not be included in the final rule. Some respondents requested 
the rule include specific uses.
    Response: The Department made changes to this section to clarify 
that plans must include plan components to provide for multiple uses. 
The MUSYA has guided NFS management since it was enacted in 1960, and 
will continue to do so, regardless of whether it is specifically 
referenced in this section, or any other section, of the rule. The 
MUSYA expanded upon the original purposes for which national forests 
may be established and administered, which were identified in the 
Organic Administration Act: ``to improve and protect the forest within 
the boundaries, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of 
water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the use 
and necessities of citizens of the United States.'' (Act of June 4, 
1897 (16 U.S.C. 475)).
    The MUSYA states that the Forest Service is to ``administer the 
renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use 
and sustained yield of the several products and services obtained 
therefrom.'' (16 U.S.C. 529). The Act defines ``multiple use'' as ``The 
management of all the various renewable surface resources of the 
national forests so that they are utilized in the combination that will 
best meet the needs of the American people; making the most judicious 
use of the land for some or all of these resources or related services 
* * *.'' (16 U.S.C. 531(a)).
    The Department acknowledges and applies the MUSYA throughout the 
final rule. In the very first section of the final rule, Sec.  219.1(b) 
states that the Forest Service manages the NFS to sustain the multiple 
use of its renewable resources in perpetuity while maintaining the long 
term health and productivity of the land, consistent with MUSYA. The 
rest of the sections in subpart A give additional direction on how to 
do that. The assessment phase and public participation will help the 
responsible official determine the range of ecosystem services and 
multiple uses provided by the unit. Section 219.10 requires plan 
components to provide for ecosystem services and multiple uses, using 
an integrated approach to resource management. These plan components 
will be informed by the assessment, public input, and the best 
available scientific information, as well as monitoring.
    Comment: Ecosystem services and methods for assessing multiple use. 
Some respondents felt the proposed rule improperly expands the MUSYA's 
specified multiple use purposes to include ecosystem services, which 
the proposed rule defines as educational, aesthetic, spiritual, and 
cultural heritage values. Some respondents felt ecosystem services 
should be determined by research.
    Response: The phrase ``multiple uses, including ecosystem 
services'' has been changed throughout the rule to ``ecosystem services 
and multiple uses.'' The Department believes this revised wording is 
consistent with the MUSYA, which directs the Agency to ``develop and 
administer the renewable surface resources of the national forests for 
multiple use and sustained yield of the several products and services 
obtained therefrom'' (16 U.S.C. 529). MUSYA anticipated and provided 
for ``periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and 
conditions.'' (16 U.S.C 531). ``Ecosystem services'' may be a 
relatively new term, but it is entirely within the scope of the Act to 
acknowledge that the ``several products and services obtained'' from 
national forests and grasslands incorporates the full range of values, 
resources, uses and benefits that these lands provide.
    Research has provided insights into the ecosystem services to be 
obtained from the NFS. During the planning process, the assessment 
phase, public input, monitoring, and the best available scientific 
information will help the responsible official identify and develop 
plan components to provide for the ecosystem services to be obtained 
from each NFS unit.
    Comment: Relationship of ecosystem services to other multiple uses. 
Some respondents felt proposed Sec.  219.10 gave ecosystem services 
higher priority than other multiple uses.
    Response: The final rule does not give ecosystem services higher 
priority than multiple uses. It provides an integrated resource 
management approach, where interdependent elements of sustainability 
are considered as a whole, instead of as separate resources or uses. 
The mix of plan components included in each plan will reflect local 
conditions in the broader landscape, the best available scientific 
information, and public input.
    Comment: Procedures for economic analysis. Some respondents felt 
the rule should include specific economic indicators for the economic 
analysis, the model paradigm for social and economic resources, and 
means of weighing relative values of multiple uses. Some respondents 
suggested the

[[Page 21221]]

rule should include specific procedures for analysis of ecosystem 
services. Several respondents suggested the rule include specific 
methods for assessing multiple uses.
    Response: The final rule does not include this type of guidance as 
it is more appropriate in the Agency's directives, because methods, 
models, and indicators will alter over time. Forest Service directives 
will be developed for the final rule, and members of the public will 
have the opportunity to comment on them. In addition, economic 
information and models represent one kind of best available scientific 
information that the responsible official must use to inform the 
planning process and plan components.
    Comment: Identification of those providing multiple use 
information. Some respondents felt the rule should specify who should 
be included to provide information about multiple uses.
    Response: Section 219.4 of the final rule requires the responsible 
official to provide opportunities for public participation in all 
phases of the planning framework. Section 219.3 requires the 
identification and use of the best available scientific information to 
inform the planning process. Section 219.6 requires identifying and 
evaluating existing information relevant to the plan area, including 
with regard to multiple uses. Monitoring will also provide information 
about multiple uses. Communities, groups, or individuals interested in 
these issues can provide input on plan components for multiple uses by 
becoming engaged in the public participation process required under 
this section.
    Comment: Specific objectives, prohibitions, and inclusion of 
specific multiple uses and ecosystem services. Several respondents felt 
the final rule should establish specific objectives for resources and 
prohibitions of uses. Several respondents requested that the rule 
include specific uses. Some respondents were for and others against a 
rule requirement for specific ecosystem services. Some respondents felt 
the rule provides the responsible official with too much discretion 
over multiple uses and instead should prioritize multiple uses or 
require inclusion of specific multiple uses. Some respondents felt it 
was unclear if multiple uses listed in proposed Sec.  219.10 would have 
priority over those not listed.
    Response: The final rule recognizes that conditions on each plan 
area will vary. The final rule therefore focuses on providing a 
framework for sustainability and integrated resource management and 
requiring associated plan components, including standards and 
guidelines. Objectives for resources and constraints on uses will be 
established by the responsible official in the plans themselves, or in 
the subsequent decisions regarding projects and activities. Agency 
regulations at 36 CFR part 261 establish certain national prohibitions. 
The final rule provides a planning framework to be used on all units in 
the NFS. As part of the planning process, the final rule includes 
direction for the responsible official to identify, evaluate, and 
consider all relevant resources when developing plan components for 
ecosystem services and multiple uses. Section 219.6 includes general 
direction to identify and evaluate existing relevant information for 
ecosystem services and multiple uses, in addition to direction to 
identify and evaluate information about specific resources and uses 
such as air, soil, water, and recreation. Section 219.7 includes 
direction to develop a list of relevant resources as part of the plan 
revision or development process, building on the assessment and any 
additional information developed in the planning process. Sections 
219.8-219.11 include requirements for some specific resources, in 
addition to the requirement in Sec.  219.10(a) to consider all relevant 
resources and uses in developing plan components. Throughout, the 
responsible official will use the best available scientific 
information, and will be informed by public participation.
    The final rule does not prioritize multiple uses; rather, it 
requires the responsible official to provide plan components for 
integrated resource management, based on the resources and uses 
relevant to the plan area. Specific direction or guidance for specific 
uses will be included in the Forest Service Directives System, the 
plans themselves, and/or in the subsequent decisions regarding projects 
and activities.
    Comment: Mineral exploration and development. Some respondents felt 
that the Forest Service should establish specific, detailed 
requirements to address mining of mineral resources on NFS lands while 
some respondents felt the Forest Service fails to address delays and 
impediments to mineral exploration and development caused by the 
failure of the rule to address minerals consistent with applicable 
statutes.
    Response: The planning rule does not impose requirements that would 
create inconsistencies with existing laws or regulations governing 
mineral exploration and development on Federal lands. Plans developed 
under the final rule must comply with all applicable laws and 
regulations (Sec.  219.1(f)). It is not expected that the rule will 
cause delays or impede mineral exploration and development on NFS 
units. Section 219.10(a) specifically recognizes mineral resources and 
directs the responsible official to consider mineral resources when 
developing plan components for integrated resource management for 
multiple use and sustained yield under the MUSYA. In addition, Sec.  
219.8 requires the responsible official take into account multiple uses 
that contribute to the local, regional or national economies.
    Comment: Relationship of livestock grazing with ecological 
sustainability and other uses. Some respondents felt range resource 
activities should not be supported in the rule, while others felt it 
should be supported. Some respondents felt the rule should include more 
specific direction for livestock grazing.
    Response: The final rule sets the stage for a planning process that 
is responsive to the multiple use desires and needs of present and 
future generations of Americans. Rangeland ecosystems are part of many 
units, and the MUSYA specifically provides that range is one of the 
multiple uses for which the national forests are managed. The 
appropriate level of grazing on a unit or other direction regarding 
range use in the plan area is best determined in individual plans and 
at the site-specific level, so that direction is appropriate to the 
conditions in the plan area.
    Comment: Game species. Some respondents felt the rule should 
include requirements for species that are hunted, fished, or trapped, 
including recognition of their social and economic importance to 
sportsman, photographers, and other enthusiasts who enjoy viewing all 
wildlife. Several Indian Tribes and State game and fish departments 
said that certain species play a special role in contributing to 
social, cultural, and economic sustainability, and that plans should 
consider habitat for those species beyond what is required to provide 
diversity.
    Response: The Agency recognizes the important role of NFS lands in 
providing the habitat for these species. Plan components designed to 
meet the ecosystem integrity and ecosystem diversity requirements of 
Sec.  219.9, along with additional components where needed if the 
species is in the categories listed in Sec.  219.9(b), will provide the 
habitat and other ecological conditions necessary to support these 
species.

[[Page 21222]]

Sections 219.6, 219.8 and 219.12 also recognize the importance of 
outdoor recreation opportunities and uses, including hunting and 
fishing. In addition, section 219.10 of the final rule retains the 
provision of the proposed rule that specifically requires consideration 
of habitat conditions for wildlife, fish, and plants commonly enjoyed 
and used by the public for hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, 
observing, and subsistence. The final rule adds a provision that such 
consideration is to be done in collaboration with federally recognized 
Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations, other Federal agencies, and State 
and local governments. This addition, combined with the requirements of 
Sec. Sec.  219.4 and 219.6, should ensure appropriate consideration is 
given to species of importance to these groups and entities. The final 
rule is not intended to require that units maintain ecological 
conditions that meet all population goals of State agencies.
    Comment: Recreational priority and opportunities. Several 
respondents felt recreation and its relationship with ecological 
sustainability deserves greater importance in the rule, including 
discussion of specific recreational opportunities under a separate 
section. Other respondents felt more specific requirements for 
recreational activities and opportunities should be included in the 
rule. Some respondents felt it was inappropriate to include 
recreational facilities with transportation and utility corridors as 
examples of infrastructure.
    Response: The final rule recognizes the importance of recreation, 
both for its contributions to economic and social sustainability, and 
as an important use connecting people to the land. The high value 
placed on recreation has been a common theme throughout the public 
participation process leading to this final rule. Americans make over 
170 million visits to national forests and grasslands each year. These 
visits provide an important contribution to the economic vitality of 
rural communities as spending by recreation visitors in areas 
surrounding national forests amounts to nearly 13 billion dollars 
annually. Recreation is also a critical part of social sustainability, 
connecting people to nature, providing for outdoor activities that 
promote long-term physical and mental health, enhancing the American 
public's understanding of their natural and cultural environments, and 
catalyzing their participation and stewardship of the natural world. 
Providing for sustainable recreation is one of the biggest challenges 
and opportunities facing the Forest Service, and land management 
planning is a critical process in meeting this need.
    The final rule provides direction for sustainable recreation 
throughout the planning process. The final rule retains the term 
``sustainable recreation'' to recognize that planning should identify, 
evaluate, and provide a set of recreational settings, opportunities and 
access for a range of uses, recognizing the need for that set to be 
sustainable over time. Ecosystem services include ``cultural services'' 
such as recreational experiences, and social sustainability recognizes 
the activities and traditions that connect people to the land. The rule 
recognizes and states in Sec.  219.10 and the definition section in 
Sec.  219.19 that recreational opportunities include non-motorized, 
motorized, developed, and dispersed recreation on land, water, and in 
the air. Examples include activities such as hiking, biking, hunting, 
fishing, horseback riding, skiing, off-highway vehicle use, camping, 
picnicking, bird and other wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, 
geocaching, recreational aviation, hang gliding, and many more. A 
detailed list was not included in Sec.  219.10 so as not to 
inadvertently leave a recreation use out, and also in recognition that 
new recreational uses are always being developed.
    In the assessment phase (Sec.  219.6), the responsible official 
must identify and evaluate existing information relevant to recreation 
settings, opportunities, and access, in addition to recreational 
infrastructure, benefits people obtain from the plan area and the 
contribution of multiple uses to the local, regional, and national 
economies. Section 219.8 requires the responsible official to take 
sustainable recreation and scenic character into account when 
developing plan components to contribute to social and economic 
sustainability.
    Section 219.10 requires plan components to provide for multiple 
uses including outdoor recreation. In paragraph (a), responsible 
officials must consider aesthetic values, ecosystem services, 
recreation settings and opportunities, and habitat conditions 
specifically for species used and enjoyed by the public for 
recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, and wildlife 
observation. Responsible officials must also consider placement and 
management of infrastructure, including recreational facilities. It is 
appropriate to refer to such facilities as infrastructure because 
recreational facilities are fixed capital installations that enhance 
recreational experiences. These facilities include: campgrounds, roads, 
trails, backcountry airstrips, and drinking water and wastewater 
infrastructure. In paragraph (b), the final rule requires that plan 
revisions and new plans include plan components to provide for 
sustainable recreation; including recreation settings, opportunities, 
access; and scenic character. Section 219.12 requires monitoring for 
visitor use and progress toward meeting recreational objectives.
    These requirements are in response to public comment and in 
recognition of the importance of recreation.
    Comment: Objectives, standards and guidelines for sustainable 
recreation. Several respondents felt the rule should require the plan 
to identify objectives, standards and guidelines for sustainable 
recreation. A respondent felt the rule should use the term ``must'' 
instead of ``should'' with respect to identifying recreational 
settings, and desired conditions for scenic landscape character. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule provision that the plan should 
identify desired conditions for ``scenic landscape character'' was too 
narrow; others felt it expanded Agency authorities beyond legal 
mandates.
    Response: The requirement in Sec.  219.10(b)(1)(i) is changed in 
the final rule; where the proposed rule provided that the plan ``should 
identify recreational settings and desired conditions for scenic 
landscape character,'' the final rule requires that a new plan or plan 
revision must include plan components, including standards or 
guidelines, to provide for sustainable recreation; including recreation 
settings, opportunities, and access; and scenic character. The term 
``landscape character'' in proposed Sec.  219.19 has been replaced in 
the final rule with ``scenic character'' to clarify what resource is 
being considered. The scenic resource falls under the Agency's multiple 
use and sustained yield mandate. ``Landscape character'' in the 
proposed rule was defined in terms of visual and cultural identity; 
``scenic character'' is defined in the final rule in terms of scenic 
identity.
    Comment: Use of land allocations. Some respondents felt the rule 
should require land allocations to allow the Agency to establish a 
recreation zoning system.
    Response: Section 219.7(d) of the final rule requires management 
areas or geographic areas in every plan. A plan could include 
management areas based on recreation settings and opportunities.
    Comment: Preservation easement. A respondent expressed concern the 
Agency is considering putting grazing allotments under a ``preservation 
easement.''
    Response: ``Preservation easements'' were not proposed for 
inclusion in the

[[Page 21223]]

planning rule and are not included in the final rule.
    Comment: Protection of cultural and historic resources. Several 
respondents felt the proposed rule would allow responsible officials to 
damage or destroy cultural and historic resources if done for the 
purpose of achieving other resources objectives. Some respondents felt 
specific direction for management of cultural and historic resources 
and uses should be added to the rule. Some respondents suggested that 
Sec.  219.10(b)(1)(ii) include protection of the ``uses'' and 
``cultural landscapes.'' Other respondents felt the rule should 
establish priorities between cultural and historic resources and other 
resource objectives.
    Response: The Department considers cultural and historic resources 
to be very important for social sustainability as well as important 
economic contributors. Benefits of cultural and historic sites include: 
expanded knowledge and understanding of history; cultural and spiritual 
connections to our heritage; scientific data about past cultures or 
historical conditions and similar matters; and tourism that benefits 
rural economies. The final rule provides direction for cultural and 
historic resources throughout the planning process. The assessment 
phase requires identifying and evaluating information about cultural 
and historic resources and uses and areas of Tribal importance, in 
addition to ecosystem services, which include ``cultural services.'' 
Section 219.8 also requires the responsible official to take cultural 
and historic resources on the plan area into account when developing 
plan components to contribute to economic sustainability and social 
sustainability, which includes the traditions and culture that connect 
people to the land.
    In Sec.  219.10, paragraph (a) requires that the responsible 
official consider cultural and heritage resources, habitat conditions 
for species used and enjoyed by the public, and opportunities to 
connect people with nature, when developing plan components for 
integrated resource management to provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses, which include cultural and historic resources and uses. 
Paragraph (b) retains the requirement of the proposed rule that plan 
components must provide for the protection of cultural and historic 
resources. The use of the word ``protect'' is to ensure that the 
responsible official takes into account the effect a plan may have on 
cultural and historic values and provide for these resources, within 
the context of managing for multiple use purposes. It does not create a 
preservation mandate, but where actions might impair the resources or 
use, the Department expects that the responsible official would seek to 
avoid or minimize potential harm by following established procedures 
for cultural and historic resource management. The rule does not remove 
or change Agency obligations to meet the National Historic Preservation 
Act and other laws and Executive orders for the protection of these 
resources.
    The final rule does not include more specific direction for 
cultural and historic uses or activities and does not establish 
priorities among the multiple uses. Additional process requirements and 
guidance are more appropriately located in Agency directives, land 
management plans, and projects or activities.
    Comment: Non-Tribal indigenous rights. Several respondents stated 
the final rule should address the management of areas of importance for 
non-Tribal indigenous entities with pre-existing cultural and natural 
resources access, maintenance and use rights based on historical and 
documented claims to lands now managed by the Forest Service.
    Response: Section 219.1(d) of the final rule states that the 
planning rule ``does not affect treaty rights or valid existing rights 
established by statute or legal instruments.'' Section 219.4(a) of the 
final rule requires the responsible official to provide opportunities 
for public participation, during which non-Tribal indigenous entities 
can inform the responsible official of areas of importance to them. 
Section 219.6(a)(1) requires the responsible official to identify and 
consider, ``relevant information, including local knowledge,'' and to 
identify areas of Tribal importance, as well as cultural and historic 
resources and uses. Section 219.10 requires plan components to provide 
for management of areas of Tribal importance. Specific issues of access 
and use will be addressed at the levels of unit planning or project or 
activity planning.
    Comment: Spiritual sustenance. Some respondents felt the rule 
should not provide for spiritual sustenance, because there is no legal 
mandate for doing it. A respondent stated that the First Amendment 
prohibits ``making of any law respecting an establishment of 
religion.''
    Response: Plans are not required to provide for spiritual 
sustenance. The final rule recognizes in Sec.  219.1(c) and in the 
definition of ``ecosystem services'' that spiritual values is one of 
the benefits people derive from the NFS. To contribute to social and 
economic sustainability, plans must provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses as provided in this section. Managing NFS lands and 
resources such that they provide opportunities for spiritual benefits 
does not establish a religion, and no preference is given to one 
religion over another.
    Comment: Management of wilderness areas and areas recommended for 
wilderness designation. Some respondents felt the rule should ensure 
wilderness protection is not extended to recommended wilderness areas 
so de facto wilderness areas are not created by the Agency. Some 
respondents felt the rule should address activities affecting 
designated wilderness areas or with the potential to degrade areas 
recommended for wilderness and reduce their potential for designation. 
One respondent states the rule should include wilderness management 
direction parallel to the Wilderness Act wording. Another respondent 
felt the rule should provide wilderness management flexibility to 
respond to changing conditions.
    Response: Wilderness areas provide important places for recreation, 
solitude, and renewal; are refuges for species; and can attract tourism 
that benefits rural economies. Section 219.1 of the final rule states 
plans must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, including 
the Wilderness Act. The Department changed the wording of Sec.  
219.10(b)(iv) of the final rule from ``protection of wilderness areas 
as well as the protection of recommended wilderness areas to protect 
the ecologic and social values and character for which they might be 
added to the National Wilderness System,'' in the proposed rule to 
``protection of congressionally designated wilderness areas as well as 
management of areas recommended for wilderness designation to protect 
and maintain the ecological and social characteristics that provide the 
basis for their suitability for wilderness designation.'' The changes 
were made to increase clarity and better reflect the Department's 
intent from the proposed rule. This requirement, in addition to related 
requirements in Sec. Sec.  219.6, 219.7, and 219.10(a)(1), reflect the 
Agency's responsibilities under the Wilderness Act and are consistent 
with the recognition in the MUSYA that wilderness is consistent with 
its purposes and provisions.
    The protection of designated wilderness areas is a requirement of 
law. Management of areas recommended for wilderness designation to 
protect and maintain the characteristics that provide the basis for

[[Page 21224]]

their suitability for designation is lawful and within the Agency's 
authority. In fact, many State wilderness acts require that any areas 
recommended for wilderness designation are to be managed for the 
purpose of protecting the area's suitability for wilderness. The Utah 
Wilderness Act of 1984 is one example (Pub. L. 98-428. Sec.  201(b)(4); 
98 Stat 1660).
    The Department believes the requirement in the final rule meets the 
Agency's intent to ensure that the types and levels of use allowed 
would maintain wilderness character and would not preclude future 
designation as wilderness. Specific direction regarding incompatible 
uses in recommended wilderness areas will be found in the Forest 
Service Directives System and in plans themselves.
    Comment: Responsible official discretion to recommend areas for 
wilderness designation. Some respondents felt the proposed rule 
provides the responsible official with too much discretion about 
evaluations for, determinations of, and management of areas recommended 
for wilderness designation.
    Response: Section 219.7 of the final rule was modified to require 
the identification and evaluation of areas that may be suitable for 
inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Public input 
during the opportunities for public participation will help the 
responsible official determine whether to recommend any such areas for 
wilderness designation. State wilderness acts, typically require the 
Forest Service to review the wilderness option of areas during plan 
revision. The Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 is one example (Pub. L. 98-
428. Sec.  201(b)(2); 98 Stat. 1659). The responsible official's 
recommendation in a plan is not the President's recommendation to 
Congress. So, the recommendation is not necessarily what is recommended 
to Congress. The Agency's process for identifying and evaluating areas 
for recommendation is established in the Forest Service Directives 
System in the Forest Service Handbook 1909.12, which will be revised 
and made available for public comment. Specific direction and 
requirements for management of wilderness areas are also included in 
the Forest Service Directives System, and are in the process of being 
revised and put out for public comment.
    Comment: Wilderness designation. Several respondents felt that the 
Agency should increase wilderness areas, while others felt that the 
Agency should reduce wilderness areas.
    Response: Only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness 
areas or change the boundaries of designated wilderness areas, under 
the Wilderness Act of 1964. Wilderness areas provide a number of 
benefits, and the MUSYA recognizes wilderness as consistent with its 
multiple use purposes and provisions. The responsible official will 
determine whether or not to recommend any new areas for designation as 
part of the planning process.
    Comment: Wild and scenic river protection. Some respondents 
supported protection of rivers not designated as a wild and scenic 
river, while others did not. One respondent commented that proposed 
Sec.  219.10(b)(1)(v) provides protection for only eligible rivers.
    Response: The final rule has been changed to include suitable 
rivers in Sec.  219.10(b)(1)(v). The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act 
requires ``every wild, scenic, or recreational river in its free-
flowing condition, or upon restoration to this condition, shall be 
considered eligible for inclusion in the national wild and scenic river 
system.'' To be eligible for inclusion, a river must be free-flowing 
and, with its adjacent land area, possess one or more ``outstandingly 
remarkable'' values. The determination of eligibility is an assessment 
that does not require a decision or approval document, although the 
results of this inventory need to be documented as a part of the plan 
document or plan set of documents.
    Once a river is determined to be eligible, a suitability study 
gives the basis for determining which rivers to recommend to Congress 
as potential additions to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System 
(National System). Therefore, the Department decided it is appropriate 
and consistent with the Act for the Agency to protect rivers determined 
to be suitable until Congress decides on designation and those eligible 
until the Agency determines if the rivers are suitable for the values 
for which they may be included in the national wild and scenic river 
system.
    Comment: Special designations. Some respondents felt the rule 
should provide for special designations including a comprehensive list 
of designated or recommended special areas. Several respondents felt 
the rule should include specific procedures for identifying areas for 
special designation. A respondent felt the rule should provide the 
responsible official the opportunity to designate special areas.
    Response: The Agency manages many kinds of designated areas in 
addition to wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers, including 
experimental forests, national heritage areas, national monuments, 
national recreational areas, national scenic trails, research natural 
areas, and scenic byways. These areas can contribute in important ways 
to social and economic sustainability as well as ecologic 
sustainability.
    The definition of designated areas in Sec.  219.19 has been 
modified so that it is clear that designated areas may be established 
in the land management planning process or by a separate process by 
statute or by an administrative process in accord with NEPA 
requirements and other applicable laws. Section 219.7(c)(2) has been 
modified to make clear that responsible officials may designate an area 
if they have the delegated authority to do so. Section 219.10(b)(1)(vi) 
of the final rule requires plan components to provide for the 
``appropriate management of other designated or recommended special 
areas in the plan area, including research natural areas.'' Specific 
guidance on designation procedures is more appropriate for the Agency's 
directives, and is not found in the rule.
Section 219.11--Timber Requirements Based on the NFMA
    This section of the final rule includes provisions for identifying 
lands as not suitable for timber production and for limitations on 
timber harvest. This section meets the statutory requirements of the 
NFMA related to management of the timber resource. The NFMA, along with 
the requirements of this section, would provide for mitigation of the 
effects of timber harvest on other resources and multiple uses. Other 
sections of the final rule contain provisions that supplement the 
requirements of this section.
    Timber is one of the multiple use purposes of the NFS, as 
recognized by the MUSYA and the Act of 1897, also known as the Organic 
Administration Act. Timber is also recognized by Sec.  219.10 of this 
subpart. The National Forest Management Act of 1976 signaled a new 
direction for the planning and management of NFS lands, especially with 
regard to management of the timber resource and impacts to other 
resources. Management and use of timber harvest on NFS lands continues 
to evolve. Today, harvest of timber on NFS lands occurs for many 
different reasons, including ecological restoration, community 
protection in wildland urban interfaces, habitat restoration, and 
protection of municipal water supplies. Timber harvest also supports 
economic sustainability through the production of timber, pulp for 
paper, specialty woods for furniture, and fuel for small-scale 
renewable

[[Page 21225]]

energy projects. Timber harvesting, whether for restoration or wood 
production objectives, also supports employment and provides payments 
in lieu of taxes in many counties throughout the country.
    This final rule provides the guidance for developing plans, not 
guidance for individual projects, and it is important to recognize that 
any individual timber project or activity could not provide for all 
aspects of social, economic, or ecological sustainability. However, all 
projects and activities must be consistent with the plan components in 
the plan, including those developed to meet the requirements of 
sustainability, diversity, multiple use, and timber (Sec. Sec.  219.8 
through 219.11), as required by Sec.  219.15.
Section 219.11--Response to Comments
    Many concerns were raised over direction for timber harvest for 
purposes other than timber production, responsible official discretion 
in determining timber harvest on lands not suited for timber 
production, and suitability of lands for timber production. For 
clarity, the Department modified this section from the wording of the 
proposed rule.
    In the opening paragraph of this section, the Department removed 
the phrase ``the plan must provide for multiple uses and ecosystem 
services including timber'' because that requirement is found in Sec.  
219.10 and replaced that phrase with the words ``the plan must include 
plan components, including standards or guidelines, and other plan 
content regarding timber management'' to more accurately reflect the 
requirements of this section. The Department changed the term 
``capability'' to ``inherent capability'' to be consistent with other 
sections of this subpart. The Department defines the term inherent 
capability in Sec.  219.19. The Department removed the term ``fiscal 
capability'' from this section. Fiscal capability is now discussed in 
Sec.  219.1 and is an overarching consideration throughout the planning 
process, rather than being pointed out for only selected portions of 
the planning process. Other minor wording changes were made for 
clarity.
    Paragraph (a) has a new caption of ``Lands not suited for timber 
production.'' In paragraph (a)(1) of this section, in the discussion of 
identifying lands not suitable for timber production, the Department 
removed the sentence ``The responsible official may determine, 
considering physical, economic, and other pertinent factors, that lands 
are not suitable for timber production.'' The Department removed this 
sentence about factors because the criteria at paragraphs (a)(1)(i) 
through (a)(1)(vi) are the physical, economic, and other pertinent 
factors to deal with the requirements of the statute (16 U.S.C. 
1604(k)), and include the consideration of other desired conditions and 
objectives in the plan. In particular, paragraph (a)(1)(iii) of this 
section deals with the economic factors as the responsible official 
develops desired conditions to provide for social, economic, and 
ecological sustainability (Sec. Sec.  219.8-219.11).
    The provision discussing the 10-year review of lands not suitable 
for timber production that was in paragraph (a) of the proposed rule 
has been removed from paragraph (a)(1) and moved to modified paragraph 
(a)(2) of this section.
    The specific factors in paragraph (a) for identifying lands not 
suitable for timber production are based on the NFMA requirements 
limiting timber harvest (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(E)) and the Agency 
policy. Paragraph (a)(1)(iv) of this section contains a specific 
criterion that would not allow lands to be identified as suitable for 
timber production unless technology is currently available for 
conducting timber harvest without causing irreversible damage to soil, 
slope, or other watershed conditions. Available technology may vary 
from place to place, and could be, for example: horse logging, ground 
based skidding, aerial systems, or cable logging systems. This 
provision has been in place since the 1979 rule, to meet the NFMA 
obligation to consider physical factors to determine the suitability of 
lands for timber production. The factor has been effective in 
protecting watershed conditions. However, the Department removed the 
words ``or substantial and permanent impairment of the productivity of 
the land'' from paragraph (a)(1)(iv) in the final rule because it 
caused confusion and the Department's intent was captured by the 
remaining term ``irreversible damage to soil, slope, or watershed 
conditions.''
    Paragraph (a)(2) of this section now discusses the requirements of 
the 10-year review of lands not suitable for timber production. This 
paragraph combines and modifies discussions from paragraph (a)(1) and 
paragraph (a)(3) of the proposed rule for clarity.
    Paragraph (a)(2) of the proposed rule has been modified and 
redesignated as paragraph (b) with a new caption of ``Timber harvest 
for the purposes of timber production.'' The Department removed the 
wording of the proposed rule about lands which are not identified in 
the plan as ``not suitable'' for timber production are suited for 
timber production because some respondents believed this required the 
designation of these lands as suitable for timber production, which was 
not the Department's intent. In addition, the Department added a 
requirement in paragraph (b) of this section to clarify that where a 
plan identifies lands as suitable for timber production the plan must 
include plan components to guide timber harvest for timber production 
or for other multiple purposes on such lands.
    Modified paragraph (c) of this section combined provisions from 
paragraph (b)(2) and paragraph (c) of the proposed rule. Paragraph (c) 
has a new caption of ``timber harvest for purposes other than timber 
production.''
    Paragraph (c) of this section sets forth that the plan may include 
plan components to allow for timber harvest for purposes other than 
timber production as a tool to assist in achieving or maintaining one 
or more applicable desired condition(s) or objective(s) of the plan in 
order to protect other multiple-use values, and for salvage, 
sanitation, or public health or safety. The wording ``in order to 
protect other multiple-use values'' was added for consistency with the 
intent of the NFMA, which allows for timber harvest ``necessitated to 
protect * * * multiple use values'' other than timber production on 
lands not suited for timber production (16 U.S.C. 1604(k)). The wording 
of this paragraph also reflects longstanding Agency practices of using 
timber harvest to protect other multiple use values and public health 
and safety in areas not suited for timber production.
    In modified paragraph (d) of this section, the rule discusses the 
limitations on timber harvest based on statutory requirements, 
incorporating and modifying wording from the paragraphs (b)(1) and (d) 
of this section of the proposed rule. Paragraph (d)(1) of this section 
in the final rule states the same requirement as paragraph (b)(1) of 
the proposed rule.
    At paragraph (d)(2) in this section, the rule includes the 
provision that plan components shall ensure timber harvest would occur 
only where soil, slope, or other watershed conditions would not cause 
irreversible damage, which is a requirement of NFMA (16 U.S.C. 
1604(g)(3)(E)(i)); the proposed rule (at paragraph (d)(1)) included a 
citation to this part of NFMA, therefore this change does not add a new 
requirement.
    Paragraph (d)(3) of this section includes the same requirement as 
paragraph (d)(2) of the proposed rule.

[[Page 21226]]

    In paragraphs (d)(4)(i) through (d)(4)(iii) of this section, the 
rule directs that plan components must ensure that plans include size 
limits for regeneration of even-aged stand of trees in one harvest 
operation. The rule retains wording of paragraphs (d)(3), (d)(3)(i), 
(d)(3)(ii), and (d)(3)(iii) of the proposed rule, with minor changes 
for clarity. The changes include: (1) Clarifying what the plan may or 
may not provide, rather than set out a prohibition on projects; (2) the 
term ``areas to be cut in one harvest operation'' has been replaced 
with ''openings that may be cut in one harvest operation;'' and (3) the 
discretion for plans to exceed the default maximum size of paragraph 
(d)(3)(i) of the proposed rule has been changed from ``Cut openings 
larger than those specified may be permitted where larger units will 
produce a more desirable combination of benefits'' to ``Plan standards 
may allow for openings larger than those specified in paragraph (d)(4) 
of this section to be cut in one harvest operation where the 
responsible official determines that larger harvest openings are 
necessary to help achieve desired ecological conditions in the plan 
area.'' These changes in wording from the proposed to the final rule 
are not changes in requirements, but simply clarify the Department's 
intent.
    In paragraph (d)(5) of this section, the rule directs that plan 
components must ensure that timber will be harvested only where the 
harvest complies with resource protection requirements of the NFMA. 
Paragraph (d)(5) is a modification of paragraph (d)(1) of the proposed 
rule and this modification is not a change in requirements. These 
requirements reference the provisions of NFMA to limit harvest to 
situations where the productivity of the land could be sustained and 
harvesting prescriptions are appropriately applied. For example, by 
referencing NFMA paragraph (d)(5) requires plan components for even-
aged timber harvest that: (1) Limit clearcutting to locations where it 
is determined to be the optimum method for regenerating the site; (2) 
require interdisciplinary review of the harvest proposal; and (3) 
require cutting to be blended with the natural terrain. These 
requirements are referenced but not repeated in the final rule because 
the Department believes they are incorporated and enhanced by the 
requirements for resource protection in other sections of the rule and 
plan consistency requirements of Sec.  219.15. In addition, some 
requirements are not repeated because they are addressed by other 
regulations; for example, the NEPA regulations direct environmental 
analysis and the use of interdisciplinary teams.
    In paragraph (d)(6) of this section, the rule directs that plan 
components must set forth the limit on the quantity of timber that may 
be sold in the national forest. The Department modified the wording of 
paragraph (d)(4) of the proposed rule, and moved the provision to 
paragraph (d)(6) of the final rule as follows:
    (1) The proposed rule required plan components to limit the 
quantity of timber that can be removed annually in perpetuity on a 
sustained-yield basis. The final rule says plan components must ensure 
the quantity of timber that may be sold from the national forest is 
limited to an amount equal to or less than that which can be removed 
from such forest annually in perpetuity on a sustained-yield basis. 
This change was made to agree with the NFMA wording.
    (2) The Department added a sentence that this limit may be measured 
on a decadal basis to reflect the Agency practice, and 16 U.S.C. 1611. 
Note that under this paragraph the quantity sold in any given year may 
exceed the annual average for the decade, but the total quantity sold 
over a 10-year period may not exceed the decadal limit.
    (3) The Department changed the provision that required the plan to 
``provide for departure from the limit, as provided by NFMA'' to ``The 
plan may provide for departures from this limit as provided by the NFMA 
where departure would be consistent with the plan's desired conditions 
and objectives.''
    (4) The Department added that exceptions for departure from this 
limit on the quantity sold must be made with a public review and 
comment period of at least 90 days, to be consistent with the NFMA.
    The Department concludes that these changes in wording at revised 
paragraphs (d)(6) of this section clarify the Department's intent and 
reflect the requirements of the NFMA.
    In paragraph (d)(7) of this section, the rule directs that plan 
components must ensure that the regeneration harvest of even-aged 
stands of trees is limited to stands that generally have reached the 
culmination of mean annual increment of growth (CMAI). The Department 
retains the wording of paragraphs (d)(5) of the proposed rule, with 
minor changes for clarity. The changes include: Changing the provision 
that ``Exceptions, set out in 16 U.S.C. 1604(m), are permitted only if 
consistent with the land management plan'' to ``Plan components may 
allow for exceptions, set out in 16 U.S.C. 1604(m), only if such 
harvest is consistent with other plan components of the land management 
plan.'' The Department removed the provision of the proposed rule at 
paragraph (d)(5) that stated: ``If such exceptions are anticipated, the 
responsible official should include those exceptions in the land 
management plan as standards or guidelines'' because it is now 
redundant with the sentence ``Plan components may allow for exceptions 
* * *.'' The Department removed the provision about directives and 
CMAI, because that sentence is redundant with the provision at Sec.  
219.2(b)(5)(i) requiring Forest Service directives. These modifications 
at revised paragraphs (d)(7) of this section are not changes in 
requirements but clarify the Department's intent and reduce redundancy.
    Comment: Timber harvest for other purposes. Some respondents felt 
the proposed rule at Sec.  219.11(b)(2) was either too discretionary or 
too restrictive in meeting NFMA's allowance for salvage sales and other 
limited timber harvest on lands not suited for timber production. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule should prohibit timber harvesting on 
unsuitable lands or specify that timber salvage on those lands be 
solely for non-commercial purposes.
    Response: Today, timber harvest is often used to achieve ecological 
conditions and other multiple use benefits for purposes other than 
timber production. Therefore, the Department clarified at Sec.  
219.11(c) that a plan may include plan components to allow for timber 
harvest for purposes other than timber production as a tool to assist 
in achieving or maintaining one or more applicable desired conditions 
or objectives of the plan to protect other multiple-use values. 
Consistent with Section 1604(k) of NFMA, Sec.  219.11(c) of the 
proposed rule also allows timber harvest for salvage, sanitation or 
public health or safety in areas not suitable for timber production. 
The Department believes that the provisions of this section provide a 
balanced approach recognizing that timber harvest will be necessary in 
many places to assist the Agency in accomplishing restoration and other 
multiple use objectives.
    Section 219.11(d)(1) of the final rule restates the prohibition 
that had been in the proposed rule at 219.11(b)(1), that no harvest for 
the purpose of timber production may occur on lands not suitable for 
timber production. The final rule at Sec.  219.11(d) also requires plan 
components to ensure no timber harvest may occur on lands where timber 
harvest would cause irreversible damage to soil, slope, or other 
watershed

[[Page 21227]]

conditions. Timber harvest must be consistent with the desired 
conditions set out in the plan (Sec.  219.15).
    Comment: Responsible official discretion in determining timber 
harvest on lands not suited for timber production. Some respondents 
felt the proposed rule allows the responsible official too much 
discretion in allowing or permitting timber harvesting on lands not 
suited for timber production.
    Response: This section, as well as other sections of the rule, 
provides sideboards to the responsible official's discretion. The rule 
identifies factors to be considered by the responsible official in 
paragraph (c) of this section consistent with the NFMA, specific 
limitations that require standards or guidelines for timber harvest, 
and consistency with other applicable plan components.
    Section 219.3 of the rule requires the responsible official to use 
the best available scientific information. The rule also allows those 
interested communities, groups, or persons to engage in the public 
participation process for the development of plan components and 
monitoring programs and for the subsequent development of proposed 
projects and activities under the plan. Individual proposed projects 
for timber harvesting will still undergo additional opportunities for 
public involvement during the project's NEPA process. The Department 
believes that these requirements provide an appropriate balance of 
requirements and discretion.
    Comment: Suitability of lands with a primary conservation focus. A 
respondent felt the rule should state that timber production is not 
suitable on lands managed with a primary conservation or restoration 
focus, including inventoried roadless areas, old-growth forests, 
priority and municipal watersheds, and riparian areas.
    Response: The proposed rule provides overall direction for how 
plans are developed, revised, and amended. Section 219.11(a)(1)(iii) 
requires that where timber production would not be compatible with 
desired conditions and objectives established by the plan, including 
those established in accordance with the requirements for suitability 
(Sec.  219.8), diversity (Sec.  219.9), and multiple use (Sec.  
219.10), the responsible official shall identify such lands as not 
suitable for timber production. Additional guidance regarding 
suitability of lands will be found in the plans themselves, or in the 
subsequent decisions regarding projects and activities on a particular 
national forest, grassland, prairie, or other comparable administrative 
unit. The rule also allows those interested communities, groups, or 
persons to engage in the public participation process for the 
development of plans. Public participation will also be used during the 
subsequent development of proposed projects and activities under the 
plan, during which concerns regarding suitability of lands may be 
raised.
    Comment: Cost and revenues of timber harvesting. Some respondents 
felt the rule should require full and explicit disclosure of costs and 
benefits of timber harvesting in order for the public to more 
accurately compare plan alternatives and plan components. They felt 
timber harvesting should only be allowed where direct revenues will 
exceed all direct costs, and lands not cost-efficient should be 
designated unsuitable. Some felt the Government should not subsidize 
the logging industry or compete against private timber forest owners.
    Response: The costs and benefits of each alternative for a plan 
developed under the final rule is required to be disclosed under the 
NEPA process at the time of plan development, revision, or (if 
relevant) amendment. The Department recognizes that the cost of timber 
harvest is a major concern. The real measure of the worth of the timber 
program; however, is not net cost versus revenues, but costs versus 
public benefits. The final rule requires plan components for 
restoration which will likely result in projects to achieve multiple 
benefits. Some of these benefits can be measured as receipts; others 
are public benefits for which revenues are not received, such as 
restored watersheds; improved wildlife habitat; and improved bird 
watching, fishing, and hunting opportunities. The emphasis of the final 
rule is sustainability; and managing vegetation can help attain 
sustainability. Selling timber and managing vegetation is a key tool 
for restoration and providing wildlife habitat (cover types and age 
classes), creating diversity in the visual appearance of the landscape, 
improving the overall ecological integrity, producing timber products, 
providing jobs, and providing additional recreational opportunities by 
increasing forest access. Increasingly, the Agency uses stewardship 
contracts to offer projects to achieve multiple objectives including 
harvesting timber for restoration purposes.
    For lands to be identified in the plan as suitable for timber 
production, timber production on those lands must be compatible with 
the achievement of the desired conditions and objectives established by 
the plan. The desired conditions include those to meet requirements for 
plan development or revision (Sec.  219.7); social, economic, and 
ecological sustainability (Sec.  219.8); plant and animal diversity 
(Sec.  219.9); multiple use (Sec.  219.10); and timber (Sec.  219.11). 
The responsible official will establish management areas with different 
desired conditions based on providing social, economic, and ecological 
sustainability. This suitability determination is complex and will be 
based on analysis of costs, benefits, and values.
    Additional rule requirements for a detailed analysis of costs and 
benefits other than the final rule requirement for an EIS for plan 
development and plan revision and that plans be amended to be 
consistent with Forest Service NEPA procedures are not necessary.
    Comment: Review of lands suitable for timber production. A 
respondent felt lands suitable and not suitable for timber production 
should be reviewed every 10 years to ensure these designations are 
still appropriate. A respondent said the proposed rule has incorrectly 
expanded and interpreted the base requirements of the NFMA by: (1) 
falsely stating that the NFMA requires the identification of lands 
suitable for timber production (the respondent declared that the NFMA 
only requires identification of land not suited for timber production); 
and (2) stating that all lands not identified as not suitable are 
therefore suitable.
    Response: The NFMA requires a review of lands designated not 
suitable every 10 years, and the rule follows this mandate. The rule 
requires identification of land not suited for timber production and 
imposes specific factors to be considered. The purpose of identifying 
lands not suitable for timber production is to identify the land base 
upon which timber production harvest levels are subsequently calculated 
(lands suitable for timber production). To avoid confusion, the 
provision saying that ``all lands not identified in the plan as not 
suitable for timber production are suited for timber production'' has 
been removed from the final rule. The Department believes the 
respondent's assumption behind this comment is that all lands except 
those determined to be not suitable will be harvested. That is not the 
Agency's expectation. The identification of lands suitable for timber 
production is not a final decision compelling or approving projects and 
activities. A final determination of suitability is made through 
project and activity decisionmaking.

[[Page 21228]]

    Comment: Aesthetic resources. A respondent felt ``aesthetic 
resources'' should be removed from proposed Sec.  219.11(d)(2) wording 
because timber harvesting can create less appealing aesthetics but can 
be an integral part of sustaining high quality wildlife habitat.
    Response: The final rule retains the wording of the proposed rule 
at Sec.  219.11(d) ensuring timber harvesting is consistent with 
protection of aesthetic resources, because the wording matches the NFMA 
at 16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(F)(v). However, the Department recognizes that 
selling timber and managing vegetation are important tools for 
providing wildlife habitat (cover types and age classes), creating 
diversity in the visual appearance of the landscape, and improving the 
overall forest health.
    Comment: Allowable sale quantity. A respondent felt the planning 
rule should include a requirement for allowable sale quantity as in the 
1982 rule.
    Response: Section 219.11 includes timber requirements based on the 
NFMA. The term ``allowable sale quantity'' (ASQ) is a term of art of 
the 1982 rule. The term ASQ is used in the NFMA in discussions about 
departures that exceed the quantity of timber that may be sold from the 
national forest (16 U.S.C. 1611). However, the NFMA does not require 
that the term be used in the implementing regulations (16 U.S.C. 1604). 
The term has caused confusion about whether ASQ is a target or an upper 
limit under the 1982 rule procedures, the Agency wants to avoid this 
confusion under this final rule. Plans will have an upper limit for 
timber harvest for the quantity of timber sold as required in Sec.  
219.11(d)(6). The requirements in Sec.  219.7(f) that plan content must 
include information about the planned timber sale program and timber 
harvesting levels, and in Sec.  219.11(d)(6) that the plan must limit 
the quantity of timber that may be sold from the national forest to 
that which can be removed annually in perpetuity on a sustained-yield 
basis, provide a more practicable way to give direction than using the 
term ``ASQ.'' Additional requirements will be found in the Forest 
Service Directive System.
    Comment: Changing plan harvest levels relationship with plan 
amendments. A respondent felt changing the timber harvesting level 
specified in the unit plan should be done through a revision or 
amendment of the unit plan because timber harvesting is an important 
objective.
    Response: Any change to plan components related to timber 
harvesting level requires a plan amendment under this final rule. Such 
plan components may include objectives for annual timber harvest or 
standards limiting the amount of timber harvested in the first decade. 
However, changing the tables or graphs of associated timber information 
in other plan content (Sec.  219.7(f)) may be done with an 
administrative change.
    Comment: Levels of timber harvest. A respondent felt the rule 
should require forest plans to identify three timber production levels. 
Those three levels were: (1) The long-term sustained-yield capacity, 
which is the theoretical maximum sustainable level in perpetuity; (2) 
the timber harvest level associated with achieving the desired future 
conditions contemplated in the plan; and (3) the probable timber 
harvest level given anticipated budgets and other priorities.
    Response: Final rule Sec. Sec.  219.7(f) and 219.11(d)(6) require 
determination of the long-term sustained-yield capacity (the quantity 
of timber that may be sold from the national forest) and require 
determination of the planned timber sale program. A requirement for the 
timber harvest level associated with achieving the desired future 
conditions is not included because the NFMA does not require such a 
calculation and it would be a highly speculative harvest level that 
would not likely be realistic. Harvest levels must be within the fiscal 
capability of the unit.
    Comment: Timber harvest unit size limits. Some respondent felt the 
proposed rule standards for maximum size limits for areas to be cut in 
one regeneration harvest operation should be determined by local 
conditions, individual forest plans objectives, based on science, and 
mimic historic forest disturbance regimes.
    Response: These limits on the maximum opening sizes were 
established in the 1979 planning rule and have been in use under the 
1982 rule. In 1979, the committee of scientists recommended the maximum 
size for openings created by timber cutting be set by regional plans or 
regional silvicultural guides, not be set as a national standard. 
However, the Department decided in 1979 to set maximum size of harvest 
cut openings (40-, 60-, or 100-acre maximums depending on geographic 
location) with exceptions provided for through regional plans where 
larger openings will produce more desirable combinations of benefits. 
In the final rule, the Department continues these standards with the 
exceptions provided through the responsible official, who is normally 
the forest or grassland supervisor. The procedure for varying these 
limits is an established process that has worked effectively, providing 
a limit on opening size and public involvement with higher level 
approval for exceeding the limits. The Department believes that the 
procedure for varying from these limits may be particularly justifiable 
in the future for ecological restoration, species recovery, improvement 
of vegetation diversity, mitigation of wildland fire risk, or other 
reasons. For example, some rare species are adapted to large patch 
sizes with similar habitat attributes for critical parts of their life 
cycle.
    Comment: Limiting the quantity of timber removed annually. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule was unclear on direction for 
limiting the quantity of timber removed annually in perpetuity on a 
sustained-yield basis as it simply repeats NFMA wording.
    Response: The Department changed the wording in paragraph (d)(6) of 
this section of the final rule to add clarity. In addition, the 
Department requires the Chief to set forth procedures for planning in 
the Forest Service Directives System to further explain the methods for 
determining the limit of the quantity of timber removed annually in 
perpetuity on a sustained-yield basis for an individual unit plan 
(Sec.  219.11(d)(6)).
    Comment: Use of culmination of mean annual increment. A respondent 
felt the proposed use of culmination of mean annual increment (CMAI) of 
growth to limit regeneration harvests of even-aged stands will not 
address issues of poor forest health, and the likelihood of 
uncharacteristic insect, disease, and fire. Another respondent felt 
CMAI should also be used where timber is cut in non-even-aged stands.
    Response: The Department does not agree that the national policy of 
CMAI as required by 16 U.S.C. 1604(m) has caused problems with issues 
of forest heath and the likelihood of uncharacteristic insect, disease, 
and fire. The national policy gives the Agency authority for exceptions 
from this standard for recreation, wildlife habitat, and other 
purposes. The NFMA requires that standards shall not preclude the use 
of sound silvicultural practices, such as thinning or other stand 
improvement measures. CMAI does not apply to uneven-aged stands as 
these stands are multi-aged; therefore, the final rule continues to 
limit the use of CMAI to regeneration harvests of even-aged stands.
Section 219.12--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on requirements for the plan 
monitoring program, broad-scale monitoring strategies, and use of the 
monitoring information and the monitoring report. Throughout this 
section of the final rule, the Department

[[Page 21229]]

made minor edits for clarity and changed the name from ``unit 
monitoring program'' in the proposed rule to the ``plan monitoring 
program'' In the final rule. This change to the name clarifies that 
monitoring is intended to focus on the plan components and is not 
geographically defined or applicable to other resource program 
monitoring on the unit. Additionally, the Department added a sentence 
to paragraph (a) to draw a clearer link between the monitoring program 
and the use of monitoring information for adaptive management of the 
plan area.
    The Department removed the requirements for science in paragraph 
(a)(4)(ii) because the requirements of Sec.  219.3 apply to the entire 
subpart and therefore do not need to be repeated here. The Department 
is committed to using science to inform monitoring and the decisions 
based on monitoring information.
    At paragraph (a)(5) of this section, the Department corrected the 
phrase monitoring ``questions or indicators'' to ``questions and 
associated indicators'' to better reflect the way questions and 
indicators are used for monitoring. In response to public comment the 
Department made several changes to the list of required monitoring 
questions and associated indicators of paragraph (a)(5) as follows:
    (1) At paragraph (a)(5)(ii) of this section, the Department added 
direction that the monitoring for the status of select ecological 
conditions include questions and indicators for key characteristics of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, to link this monitoring requirement 
to the ecological requirements in Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9.
    (2) At paragraph (a)(5)(iii) of this section, the Department 
clarified that questions and indicators for the status of focal species 
are to assess the ecological conditions required under Sec.  219.9, to 
link this monitoring requirement more clearly to the coarse-filter 
requirements.
    (3) At paragraph (a)(5)(iv) the Department added a new requirement 
for questions and indicators for the status of a select set of 
ecological conditions required under Sec.  219.9 to contribute to the 
recovery of federally listed threatened and endangered species; 
conserve proposed and candidate species; and maintain a viable 
population of each species of conservation concern. This change was 
made in response to comments to more closely link monitoring with the 
need to assess progress towards meeting plan components for the species 
requirements in Sec.  219.9. Additional discussion of this addition is 
discussed in the comment on monitoring of at risk species.
    (4) At paragraph (a)(5)(v), the Department added the status of 
visitor satisfaction to the requirement for questions and indicators 
for the status of visitor use designated at paragraph (a)(5)(iv) of the 
proposed rule, in response to public comment.
    (5) At paragraph (a)(5)(vi), the Department retained the 
requirement for questions and indicators related to climate change 
designated at paragraph (a)(5)(v) of the proposed rule, and changed the 
words ``and other stressors on the unit'' to ``and other stressors that 
may be affecting the plan area.''
    (6) The Department removed the requirement for questions and 
indicators for the carbon stored in above ground vegetation previously 
designated at paragraph (a)(5)(vi) of the proposed rule. This change is 
accompanied by a change to Sec.  219.6(b)(4) that requires responsible 
officials to identify and evaluate existing information for a baseline 
assessment of carbon stocks as part of the assessment. This change in 
requirements will lead to a more comprehensive assessment of carbon 
stocks (as opposed to carbon stored in above ground vegetation) earlier 
in the planning process. The Department retains the requirement to 
monitor changes related to climate change and other stressors (Sec.  
219.12(a)(5)(vi).
    (7) At paragraph (a)(5)(vii), the Department removed the 
requirement for questions and indicators for the progress toward 
fulfilling the unit's distinctive roles and contributions and added a 
requirement for questions and indicators addressing the progress toward 
meeting the desired conditions and objectives in the plan, including 
for providing multiple use opportunities. This change more accurately 
reflects what the Department intended to accomplish with the previous 
requirement at paragraph (a)(5)(vii) and the other requirements of 
(a)(5), and will help inform management effectiveness.
    (8) At paragraph (a)(5)(viii), the Department changed the term 
``management system'' to ``each management system'' to use words of the 
NFMA at 16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(C) and respond to public comments.
    The Department added wording to paragraph (a)(7) to clarify that 
project and activity monitoring may be used to gather information for 
the plan monitoring program, and that plan monitoring may inform the 
development of specific projects and activities; but that the plan 
monitoring requirements of this section are not a prerequisite for 
making a decision to carry out a project or activity.
    At paragraph (c) of this section on timing and process, the 
Department removed the requirement at paragraph (c)(1) where the 
proposed rule required the responsible official to work with the public 
to identify potential monitoring needs during the assessment. The 
Department removed this requirement from the assessment phase in 
response to public comments to make the assessment phase more efficient 
and focused. As required in Sec.  219.7, the assessment information 
will inform the development of monitoring questions and indicators 
during the plan development or revision phase.
    The Department removed paragraph Sec.  219.12(c)(4) of the proposed 
rule, the requirement that responsible officials ensure that scientists 
are involved in the design and evaluation of unit and broad-scale 
monitoring, because wording of the requirement was confusing and the 
substance of the requirement was redundant with the coordination 
requirements at Sec. Sec.  219.12(a)(1) and (b)(2) of the rule.
    The Department reorganized paragraph (d) for clarity. The 
Department removed the second sentence of paragraph (d)(1) of the 
proposed rule and moved to paragraph (d)(2) the requirement the 
monitoring evaluation report indicate whether a change to plan 
components or other plan content may be warranted. In addition, at 
paragraph (d)(2) the Department added the requirement that the report 
must be used to inform adaptive management of the unit.
    At paragraph (d)(1)(iii) of the proposed rule the Department 
removed the requirement that the monitoring evaluation report must 
describe how best available science was taken into account, because the 
report is intended to be an evaluation of data and information gathered 
by the plan monitoring program, which must be informed by best 
available scientific information. A new requirement was added to 
section 219.14(a)(4) to make clear that the plan decision document must 
document how the responsible official used best available scientific 
information to inform the plan monitoring program.
    In addition, paragraph (d)(3) of the proposed rule is now paragraph 
(d)(1)(iii) of the final rule, paragraph (d)(2) of the proposed rule is 
now (d)(3) of the final rule, but no changes to these requirements were 
made.
    Comment: Scope of monitoring. Some respondents felt the proposed 
rule was unclear as to the extent of topics, including ones for desired 
conditions, responsible officials could consider when choosing the 
scope and scale of

[[Page 21230]]

plan monitoring. A respondent felt the rule should require the scope of 
the monitoring question be as complete as possible even if the scope of 
the final monitoring program cannot address all the questions.
    Response: Because the information needs most critical for informed 
and adaptive management will vary by unit, the rule allows the 
responsible official the discretion to set the scope and scale of the 
plan monitoring program, subject to the minimum requirements in 
paragraph (a)(5) of this section. Paragraph (a)(2) directs that 
questions and indicators should be based on one or more desired 
conditions, objectives, or other plan component(s), but makes clear 
that not every plan component needs to have a corresponding monitoring 
question. Furthermore, the questions and indicators must be designed to 
inform the management of resources on the plan area, including by 
testing assumptions, tracking changes, and measuring management 
effectiveness and progress towards achieving or maintaining the plan's 
desired conditions or objectives. This direction allows the responsible 
official to develop the most strategic, effective and useful monitoring 
program for the plan area, based on the plan components in the plan and 
informed by best available scientific information and public input. 
This direction also recognizes possible limits to the technical or 
financial capabilities of the Agency: not all parts of a plan, or every 
acre, can be monitored each year--and it may not be a strategic 
investment to do so.
    However, section 219.12(a)(5) of the final rule provides direction 
for a set of monitoring questions and associated indicators that must 
be part of every plan monitoring program. The list reflects substantive 
requirements of the final rule and links to the assessment phase. The 
responsible official can always consider additional factors and add 
questions and indicators.
    Every plan monitoring program would contain one or more questions 
and associated indicators that address each of the following: (1) The 
status of select watershed conditions; (2) the status of select 
ecological conditions including key characteristics of terrestrial and 
aquatic ecosystems; (3) the status of focal species to assess the 
ecological conditions required under Sec.  219.9; (4) the status of a 
select set of ecological conditions required under Sec.  219.9 to 
contribute to the recovery of federally listed threatened and 
endangered species; conserve proposed and candidate species; and 
maintain a viable population of each species of conservation concern 
within the plan area; (5) the status of visitor use, visitor 
satisfaction, and progress toward meeting recreation objectives; (6) 
measurable changes on the plan area related to climate change and other 
stressors affecting the plan area; (7) progress toward meeting the 
desired conditions and objectives in the plan, including for providing 
multiple use opportunities; and (8) the effects of each management 
system to determine that they do not substantially and permanently 
impair the productivity of the land.
    Comment: Accountability and public oversight for monitoring: Some 
respondents felt the rule should provide sufficient opportunity for 
public enforcement of monitoring quality and for public input on the 
Agency's use of monitoring information affecting project decisions. 
Several respondents felt the proposed rule did not establish 
accountability for monitoring and suggested the rule either require 
review by the Chief or specify the consequences of not conducting 
monitoring. Another suggested that the monitoring effort be 
periodically reviewed objectively by disinterested parties. Some 
respondents felt to improve accountability findings from monitoring 
program reports, the reports should be decisions subject to review.
    Response: The rule cannot grant enforcement authorities to the 
public. Those authorities can only be granted by Congress. However, the 
rule's public participation and reporting requirements allow for a more 
transparent Government and holds officials accountable for sharing 
monitoring information and data with the public. This data will be open 
to public scrutiny, criticism, and objective review. The public will be 
able to evaluate and provide input on the Agency's use of the 
monitoring information to inform future decisions during opportunities 
for public participation and comment for those decisions, including 
future plan amendments, plan revisions, projects, and activities.
    Accountability is achieved through the rule by requiring officials 
to develop monitoring, plan monitoring programs with questions and 
indicators and broader-scale monitoring strategies, and to prepare 
biennial monitoring reports. All these requirements allow for public 
involvement and review. Section 219.2(b)(5) of the rule further 
requires the Chief of the Forest Service to administer a national 
oversight and accountability process to review NFS land management 
planning which includes monitoring programs. The Agency already follows 
Departmental standards for the objectivity of information used to 
inform significant decisions under the Information Quality Act (Section 
515 of Public Law 106-554). In addition, the responsible official is 
subject to performance review and accountability for fulfilling 
requirements of the rule and policies of the Agency. The Forest Service 
is required to report monitoring information consistent with the USDA 
Strategic Plan. (http://www.ocfo.usda.gov/usdasp/sp2010/sp2010.pdf).
    Monitoring reports (like assessment reports) will include 
information that will be used to inform decisions, but are not decision 
documents because they do not compel an action or make a decision on an 
action; therefore, subjecting monitoring specifications to objection or 
appeal procedures is not necessary.
    Comment: Monitoring requirements. A respondent felt the rule should 
include monitoring requirements for scientific grounding, thoughtful 
design, and sufficient funding, regularly scheduled, and analysis of 
cumulative impacts.
    Response: The final rule requires the use of the best available 
scientific information to inform the monitoring program, requires the 
responsible official to identify the fundamental questions and 
indicators that will inform the design of monitoring programs, and will 
lead to a robust monitoring program that will be used to inform 
management. The public will have opportunities to provide input into 
the design of the monitoring program and to review the monitoring data. 
The monitoring information can be used in a number of ways, including 
analyzing cumulative effects. The final rule includes direction to take 
financial and technical capabilities of the Agency into account in 
designing the monitoring program, and requires in Sec.  219.1(g) that 
the plan be within the fiscal capability of the unit.
    Comment: Monitoring and consistency of methods. Some respondents 
felt the rule should include national monitoring standards to enable 
consistency across units so each national forest and grassland could be 
compared to others. Some respondents felt units could not develop 
monitoring programs efficiently in the absence of regional or national 
standards or guidance. Some respondents felt units will need additional 
guidance to enable them to design and conduct monitoring because the 
necessary resources and expertise is not often available on each unit. 
A respondent felt clarification was needed for how broader-scale 
monitoring could be associated with

[[Page 21231]]

assessments by the plan unit in the absence of regional guidelines. A 
respondent felt specific terminology should be used regarding 
monitoring types: range and distribution monitoring, status and change 
monitoring, and cause and effect monitoring. Some respondents felt the 
rule should require technical details like methods for data collection, 
sampling methods, specific measurements to sample, statistically sound 
set of monitoring guidelines, reference conditions or baseline data, 
cause-effect designs for monitoring, or possible contaminants to water 
quality, or that schedules of work be required in monitoring programs 
and documented in plans.
    Response: The Department and Agency recognize the importance of 
having a system of monitoring that allows for information to be 
collected, used and compared across planning units. For that reason the 
final rule directs that the plan monitoring program must be coordinated 
and integrated with broader scale monitoring strategies to ensure that 
monitoring is complementary and efficient, and gathered at the 
appropriate scales, along with direction to coordinate with Research 
and Development, State and Private Forestry, and others. To support 
implementation of these requirements, the Agency is currently reviewing 
its inventory and monitoring system. However, the final rule does not 
include national monitoring standards for consistency across units 
because there is no fully tested national approach available at this 
time. The kinds of things to be monitored are varied, monitoring 
techniques and protocols evolve and improve over time, and different 
techniques may be more or less appropriate depending on what is being 
monitored and the information needs most critical to inform adaptive 
management on the unit. In addition, monitoring techniques may vary by 
partner, impacting opportunities to coordinate monitoring across 
landscapes and among neighboring land managers.
    For these reasons the Department concluded it would be more 
appropriate to include additional direction and guidance, including for 
the kinds of technical specifications identified by the respondents, in 
the Forest Service Directives and in the unit plans. The final rule 
makes clear in paragraph (a)(6) of this section that a range of 
monitoring techniques may be used to carry out the monitoring required 
by this section: different questions and indicators will require the 
use of different, and evolving, techniques or methodologies. The 
responsible officials will use the best available scientific 
information to inform those choices. Monitoring protocols and methods 
would be coordinated with the regional forester and Forest Service 
State and Private Forestry and Research and Development.
    Comment: Monitoring triggers. Some respondents thought that the 
monitoring program should include triggers or thresholds for action.
    Response: The rule did not include triggers or thresholds because 
not all monitoring elements and indicators are suited to triggers. 
Establishing triggers can be complex and time consuming. The rule does 
not preclude the inclusion of triggers where they can be developed and 
where they are informed by the best available scientific information. 
The Department does intend the three phases of planning to be 
connected, and for each phase to inform the others. The information 
gathered and evaluated in the assessment phase will help the 
responsible official to develop a strategic monitoring program, and the 
information from monitoring will be used to indicate whether a new 
assessment is warranted, and to inform future assessments and plan 
components and other plan content. Wording was added to Sec.  219.7 to 
make clear that the assessment and monitoring reports should be used to 
inform the plan development or revision, and to Sec.  219.12 to make 
clear that the monitoring report should be used to inform adaptive 
management.
    Comment: Use of non-agency data. Some respondents felt the Agency 
is reluctant to accept monitoring data about environmental conditions 
from a third party, like livestock permittees, and that the proposed 
rule funding requirements would further reduce funding available for 
monitoring. These conditions would cause the Agency to unfairly 
restrict some special uses, like grazing. Other respondents felt the 
rule should clearly provide opportunities for the responsible official 
to use information and assistance from non-agency organizations and 
individuals to contribute to monitoring programs. Other respondents 
felt non-agency data must meet Agency data standards. Still others felt 
the rule should allow the public opportunity to assist in gathering and 
submitting data.
    Response: The rule provides more encouragement to use secondary 
data including sources external to the Agency than previous planning 
rules. Section 219.4 requires opportunities for public participation 
throughout the planning process, including developing the monitoring 
program. Section 219.12(c)(3)(i and ii) specifically directs the 
responsible official to take into account existing NFS and non-NFS 
inventory, monitoring and research programs, and to take into account 
opportunities to design and carry out multi-party monitoring. Many 
current monitoring programs and assessments rely on secondary data from 
a variety of sources, governmental and non-governmental sources. 
Monitoring data will be used to inform adaptive management. The 
requirements in this rule are intended to result in a more strategic 
use of monitoring dollars, and to leverage those investments where it 
is feasible and appropriate to do so.
    Comment: Collection of data beyond unit boundaries. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule inappropriately makes the 
responsible officials undertake broader-scale monitoring analyses, 
monitoring of significant areas not federally owned, and to collect 
data beyond unit boundaries.
    Response: The final rule does not impose a requirement for 
responsible officials or regional foresters to monitor non-NFS lands. 
The monitoring requirements do not give responsible officials license 
to monitor where they lack authority.
    It is appropriate and efficient to recognize that some monitoring 
questions are best evaluated at scales broader than one unit, to best 
inform management of a 193 million acre National Forest System that 
spans the country. The final rule directs the regional forester to 
develop a broader-scale monitoring strategy, in coordination with 
others, and encourages identifying opportunities for multi-party 
monitoring. The rule encourages responsible officials to coordinate 
monitoring across NFS units. The rule allows the Agency to continue 
efforts to use data from other agencies and sources because monitoring 
cooperation is in the best interest of Americans and the land, 
informing effective management and facilitating the strategic use of 
monitoring dollars.
    Comment: Use of the Forest Inventory and Analysis system (FIA). A 
respondent suggests the rule should use the FIA system to monitor the 
health of forests and changes related to climate change.
    Response: Many Agency units actively use FIA information as an 
integral part of their monitoring programs. The final rule directs the 
responsible official to take into account existing national and 
regional inventory, monitoring, and research programs, including from 
Forest Service State and

[[Page 21232]]

Private Forestry and Research and Development which includes FIA data.
    Comment: Scientist involvement in plan and broader-scale monitoring 
design. A respondent felt the proposed rule sets too high a standard of 
ensuring scientists are involved in plan and broader-scale monitoring 
design. Another respondent felt the proposed rule did not specify in 
detail how the external scientific community would be involved.
    Response: The requirement under Sec.  219.12(c)(4) of the proposed 
rule for scientists to be involved in the design and evaluation of unit 
and broader-scale monitoring has been removed in response to public 
comment because the requirement was confusing and can be met through 
the coordination requirements at Sec. Sec.  219.12(a)(1), (b)(2) and 
(c)(3)(ii) of the final rule. The final rule requires the use of best 
available scientific information to inform the design and content of 
the monitoring program, opportunities for public participation, and 
coordination in development of the monitoring program with Forest 
Service Research and Development, along with other partners and the 
public. The external science community may be involved in variety of 
ways, for example, through public participation opportunities or the 
use of external scientific reports.
    Comment: Changes to specific subjects to be addressed in monitoring 
programs. A respondent suggested the responsible official discretion 
would be improved by deleting proposed wording ``related to climate 
change and other stressors'' and ``carbon stored in vegetation.'' 
Others felt requirements to monitor accomplishment of plan objectives 
and progress towards achieving plan ``desired conditions'' should be 
added. Some respondents felt the proposed rule's monitoring 
requirements for specific resource areas unduly limited responsible 
official discretion in determining what questions and indicators to 
include in the unit monitoring program. Some respondents felt specific 
subjects should be required in all plan monitoring programs including: 
grazing impacts, off-road vehicle use, species populations, vegetation, 
ecological conditions, social and economic sustainability, effects of 
long-term uses, noise pollution, water quality, recreational use 
satisfaction, and public safety, among others. Some respondents felt 
the proposed rule would limit monitoring programs to consider only one 
monitoring question or indicator.
    Response: Section 219.12(a)(5) of the rule requires the responsible 
official to develop a plan monitoring program that describes, at a 
minimum, one or more questions and associated indicators on eight 
specific topics. The number of monitoring questions and indictors may 
vary by topic. The Department believes that the set of minimum 
requirements for the plan monitoring program included in paragraph 
(a)(5) of the final rule is appropriate, reflects the substantive 
requirements of the final rule, builds on the information gathered 
during the assessment phase, and is focused on informing adaptive 
management of the plan area.
    Paragraph (a)(5) does not limit the questions and indicators in any 
given plan. The responsible official has the authority to determine 
whether additional monitoring elements are warranted or necessary to 
inform management decisions if they are within the fiscal capability of 
the unit to implement. The Department's intent is for the responsible 
official to determine what information needs are most critical for 
informed and adaptive management of the plan area. Because most 
resource management concerns vary by forests or grasslands, the rule 
allows the responsible official discretion to set priorities for 
monitoring where it is most needed. This discretion is also important 
for fostering opportunities to coordinate monitoring with other 
government agencies and non-government entities. Therefore, an 
extensive list of other possible monitoring requirements in addition to 
the set in paragraph (a)(5) is not included in the final rule.
    The requirements to include questions and associated indicators to 
monitor measurable changes on the plan area related to climate change 
and other stressors was retained in the final rule, because it is 
important to track changing conditions. The final rule removes the 
monitoring requirement for carbon stored in above ground vegetation 
because the Department added a requirement in the assessment phase 
(Sec.  219.6(b)) to identify and evaluate existing information for a 
baseline assessment of carbon stocks. This change reflected comments to 
this section and the assessment section, and is consistent with the 
Agency's Climate Change Scorecard which also requires a baseline 
assessment of carbon stocks. The Department added a requirement for the 
plan monitoring program to monitor progress toward meeting the plan's 
desired conditions and objectives and a requirement to monitor visitor 
satisfaction in Sec.  219.12(a)(5) of the final rule.
    Comment: Ecological Conditions and Focal Species (Sec.  219.9). 
Some respondents felt the required monitoring questions and indicators 
of Sec.  219.12(a) of the proposed rule did not adequately address fish 
and wildlife populations or gauge progress towards meeting the 
requirements of Sec.  219.9 of the proposed rule.
    Response: In response to these comments, the Department added 
wording to the required questions and indicators of Sec.  219.12 to 
link them to the ecological conditions required by Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 
219.9, added the requirement in paragraph (a)(5)(iv) to monitor 
ecological conditions associated with the species requirements in Sec.  
219.9, and modified two definitions. The changes to the requirements 
for questions and indicators are explained in the introduction to the 
response to comments of this section. The Department modified the 
definition of ``ecosystem'' to explain these interrelated ecosystem 
elements so the relationship between monitoring questions and 
indicators are clearly related to the ecological conditions of 
Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9. The Department modified the definition of 
focal species to clarify the intended role of focal species in 
assessing the effectiveness of the plan in maintaining the diversity of 
plant and animal communities in the plan area.
    Comment: Questions about focal species. Respondents asked questions 
about focal species. (1) What are they? (2) What do they represent? (3) 
What criteria will be used to select them? (4) How many will there be 
for a particular plan area? (5) How will they be monitored?
    Response: (1) The inclusion of the focal species (Sec.  219.19) in 
the monitoring section is based on concepts from the March 15, 1999, 
Committee of Scientists report, which recommended focal species as an 
approach to monitor and assess species viability. The term ``focal 
species'' is defined in the rule as: A small subset of species whose 
status permits inference to the integrity of the larger ecological 
system to which it belongs and provides meaningful information 
regarding the effectiveness of the plan in maintaining or restoring the 
ecological conditions to maintain the diversity of plant and animal 
communities in the plan area. Focal species would typically be selected 
on the basis of their functional role in ecosystems.
    (2) The requirement for monitoring questions that address the 
status of focal species is linked to the requirement of Sec.  219.9 of 
the final rule to provide for ecosystem integrity and diversity, which 
describes the coarse-filter approach for providing diversity of plant 
and animal

[[Page 21233]]

communities and the persistence of native species in the plan area. The 
rule requires plan components designed to maintain or restore a range 
of ecological conditions at a variety of spatial and temporal scales 
(Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9). Appropriate monitoring of focal species 
will provide information about the integrity of the ecosystem and the 
effectiveness of the plan components in maintaining diversity of plant 
and animal communities in the plan area. In other words, focal species 
monitoring is used as means of understanding whether a specific 
ecological condition or set of conditions is present and functioning in 
the plan area. Focal species monitoring is not intended to provide 
information about the persistence of any individual species. The rule 
does not require managing habitat conditions for focal species, nor 
does it confer a separate conservation requirement for these species 
simply based on them being selected as focal species.
    (3) The Committee of Scientists report said focal species may be 
indicator species, keystone species, ecological engineers, umbrella 
species, link species, or species of concern. Agency directives will 
provide guidance for considering the selection of a focal species from 
these or other categories. Criteria for selection may include: the 
number and extent of relevant ecosystems in the plan area; the primary 
threats or stressors to those ecosystems, especially those related to 
predominant management activities on the plan area; the sensitivity of 
the species to changing conditions or their utility in confirming the 
existence of desired ecological conditions; the broad monitoring 
questions to be answered; factors that may limit viability of species; 
and others. This does not preclude the use of an invasive species as a 
focal species, whose presence is a major stressor to an ecosystem.
    (4) The final planning rule does not require a specific number or 
numeric range of focal species to be selected. The number will vary 
from unit to unit. The definition of focal species requires a small 
subset of species. The responsible official has discretion to choose 
the number of focal species that he or she determines will be useful 
and reasonable in providing the information necessary to make informed 
management decisions. It is not expected that a focal species be 
selected for every element of ecological conditions.
    (5) The rule does not specify how to monitor the status of focal 
species. Monitoring methods may include measures of abundance, 
distribution, reproduction, presence/absence, area occupied, survival 
rates, or others. The objective is not to choose the monitoring 
technique(s) that will provide the most information about the focal 
species, but to choose a monitoring technique(s) for the focal species 
that will provide useful information with regard to the purpose for 
which the species is being monitored.
    The final rule does not require monitoring species population 
trends. Species population trend monitoring is costly, time intensive, 
and may not provide conclusive or relevant information. In addition, 
traditional monitoring of species population size and trend is not 
reliable for many species because of wide variations in population 
size. For certain species, for example, a more reliable method may be 
presence-absence data obtained through non-invasive genetic sampling. 
Presence-absence modeling could be used to map and predict species 
distribution, help model habitat requirements and use occurrence data 
to help estimate the probability of a species being present in 
sustainable numbers within a geographic area. Genetic sampling, which 
is drawing DNA from physical species evidence collected at sites under 
evaluation, can be used to acquire data for this approach. Other 
monitoring techniques in addition to these examples may be more 
appropriate in a given circumstance. Therefore, although population 
trend monitoring may be used where feasible and appropriate, the final 
rule explicitly provides discretion to the responsible official to 
choose the most appropriate methods for monitoring, using the best 
available scientific information to inform the monitoring program.
    Specific guidance on focal species selection and monitoring 
methodology is expected to be further described in the Agency's 
planning directives. Some focal species may be monitored at scales 
beyond the plan area boundary, while others may be more appropriately 
monitored and assessed at the plan area scale.
    Comment: Focal species vs. management indicator species. Many 
respondents expressed concern or confusion over the role of focal 
species monitoring in meeting the requirements of Sec.  219.9; and how 
focal species would be used differently from management indicator 
species (MIS) as required under the 1982 planning rule.
    Response: The Department's decision to require monitoring of focal 
species as well as select ecological and watershed conditions is a 
shift from the 1982 rule's requirement to specifically monitor 
population trends of ``management indicator species,'' or MIS. The 
theory of MIS has been discredited since the 1982 rule. Essentially, 
monitoring the population trend of one species should not be 
extrapolated to form conclusions regarding the status and trends of 
other species. The requirement for monitoring questions that address 
the status of focal species is linked to the requirement of Sec.  219.9 
of the final rule to provide for ecosystem integrity and diversity, 
which describes the coarse-filter approach for providing diversity of 
plant and animal communities and the persistence of native species in 
the plan area. Focal species are not intended to provide information 
about the persistence of any individual species.
    In addition, population trends for most species are extremely 
difficult to determine within the 15-year life of a plan, as it may 
take decades to establish accurate trend data, and data may be needed 
for a broader area than an individual national forest or grassland. Nor 
is this data the most useful to inform management for the purposes of 
meeting the diversity requirements of the rule. Instead, the Agency 
expects to take advantage of recent technological advancements in 
monitoring the status of focal species, such as genetic sampling to 
estimate area occupied by species.
    The provisions under Sec.  219.9 of the final planning rule are 
focused on maintaining or restoring the ecological conditions necessary 
to maintain the diversity of plant and animal communities and support 
the persistence of native species in the plan area. Because of the 
problems with MIS as stated above, and because the concept of 
monitoring focal species, as described by the Committee of Scientists 
report of March 15, 1999, is used to assess the integrity of ecological 
systems, the final planning rule incorporates the concept of focal 
species for monitoring the ecological conditions required in Sec.  
219.9. Focal species are not intended to be a proxy for other species. 
Instead, they are species whose presence, numbers, or status are useful 
indicators that are intended to provide insight into the integrity of 
the larger ecological system, the effects of management on those 
ecological conditions, and the effectiveness of the Sec.  219.9 
provisions. The monitoring questions and associated indicators required 
in Sec.  219.12(a)(5)(i-iv) as discussed above are expected to assess 
progress towards meeting the desired ecological conditions required 
under Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9, and the effectiveness of those 
conditions in maintaining the diversity of plant and animal communities 
and

[[Page 21234]]

supporting the persistence of native species in the plan area.
    Comment: Selection and monitoring of focal species. Respondents 
felt the rule should require 3 items for selection and monitoring of 
focal species: (1) The best available scientific information; (2) the 
engagement of research, state fish and wildlife agencies, and others; 
and (3) a broader spatial scale then one plan area.
    Response: The rule requires (1) all aspects of planning to use the 
best available scientific information to inform the planning process, 
plan components, and other plan content, including the monitoring 
program (Sec. Sec.  219.3 and 219.14); (2) coordination with research, 
and consideration of opportunities to design and carry out monitoring 
with a variety of partners including state agencies (Sec. Sec.  
219.12(a)(1), (b)(2), and (c)(3)(ii)); and (3) broader-scale monitoring 
strategies be developed in addition to the plan monitoring program, to 
address questions that are best answered at a broader scale than one 
plan area (Sec.  219.12(b)), which may include monitoring for one or 
more focal species.
    Comment: Monitoring of at risk species. Some respondents felt the 
rule should require monitoring of populations of federally listed 
threatened and endangered species, species that are candidates for 
Federal listing, and species of conservation concern.
    Response: In response to public comments, the Department added a 
requirement to the rule for monitoring questions and associated 
indicators to monitor the status of a select set of the ecological 
conditions required under Sec.  219.9 to contribute to the recovery of 
federally listed threatened and endangered species; conserve proposed 
and candidate species; and maintain a viable population of each species 
of conservation concern within the plan area (Sec.  219.12(a)(5)(iv). 
It is expected that monitoring a select set of the ecological 
conditions required by these species will give the responsible official 
information about the effectiveness of the coarse and fine-filter plan 
components included to meet the requirements of at risk species. The 
intent of the term ``a select set'' is to focus the monitoring on a few 
important ecological conditions that may be monitored in an efficient 
way. Monitoring for watershed conditions, other ecological conditions, 
and focal species will also provide information about the effectiveness 
of plan components for at risk species.
    In some circumstances, a threatened, endangered, proposed, or 
candidate species, or a species of conservation concern may be the most 
appropriate focal species for assessing the ecological conditions 
required by Sec.  219.9. However, as explained in earlier responses in 
this section, population trend monitoring is not required by the final 
rule.
    Comment: Monitoring of habitat conditions. Respondents felt that 
monitoring habitat conditions only, specifically related to vegetation 
composition and structure, will not adequately address the reasons why 
species may or may not occupy those habitats; and that there may be 
other stressors unrelated to habitat that make suitable habitat 
conditions unsuitable for occupation by a particular species.
    Response: The final rule requires monitoring the status of select 
ecological conditions. The concept of ecological conditions as defined 
in the proposed rule and the final rule includes more than vegetation 
composition and structure: it is designed to encompass those factors as 
well as others, including stressors that are relevant to species and 
ecological integrity.
    Examples of ecological conditions include the abundance and 
distribution of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, connectivity, roads 
and other structural developments, human uses, and invasive species.
    Comment: Distinctive roles and contributions. A respondent felt 
``distinctive roles and contributions'' wording in proposed Sec.  
219.12(a)(5)(vii) is inappropriate and should be stricken from the 
monitoring section.
    Response: The final rule removes ``distinctive roles and 
contributions'' from Sec.  219.12 in response to public comment because 
the Department has decided that the new requirement at paragraph 
(a)(5)(vii) for questions and indicators addressing the progress toward 
meeting the desired conditions and objectives in the plan, including 
for providing multiple use opportunities, more accurately reflects what 
the Department intended to accomplish with the previous requirement at 
paragraph (a)(5)(vii) in the proposed rule and the other proposed 
requirements of (a)(5).
    Comment: Management systems in NFMA. Some respondents felt the 
proposed rule misinterprets the NFMA reference to management systems by 
not repeating the word ``each'' and by overly restricting the types of 
management systems.
    Response: The final rule adds the word ``each'' to the monitoring 
requirement for management systems. As clarification, Sec.  219.19 of 
the final rule also includes a definition of management system as a 
timber management system such as even-aged management or uneven-aged 
management. Management system is a term of art of the NFMA (16 U.S.C. 
1604(g)(3)(C)). The term management system must be understood in the 
context of the NFMA which was developed to give guidance to the Agency 
in how to manage timber. The Department understands the intent of 
Congress was that research and evaluation would be done on a sample 
basis. The Forest Service Research and Development staff began the 
long-term soil productivity program in 1989 to examine the long term 
consequences of soil disturbance on fundamental forest productivity 
through a network of designed experiments. (Powers, R.F. 2006. Long-
Term Soil Productivity: genesis of the concept and principles behind 
the program. Can. J. For. Res. 36:519-528.)
    Comment: Monitoring effects of management procedures. A respondent 
felt the 1982 provisions for requiring documentation of the measured 
prescriptions and effects of management procedures (practices) are 
superior to the monitoring requirements of the proposed rule. The 
respondent felt the proposed provisions would fail to ensure that 
actions do not jeopardize biodiversity.
    Response: The Department requires monitoring questions and 
indicators to monitor eight topics including the status of ecological 
conditions. Ecological conditions include vegetation composition and 
structure, abundance and distribution of aquatic and terrestrial 
habitats, connectivity, roads and other structural developments, human 
uses, and invasive species. Questions and indicators associated with 
the required topics in Sec.  219.12(a)(5) of the final rule can be used 
to evaluate effects of management procedures (practices) based on the 
outcomes observed in ecological conditions. The Department concludes 
that these monitoring requirements support the substantive requirements 
for ecological integrity and ecosystem and species diversity in the 
final rule.
    Comment: Conservation education: A respondent felt monitoring 
should include conservation education.
    Response: Conservation education can be a valuable outcome from 
collaborative planning and reaching out to engage others in design of 
monitoring programs. The rule gives discretion to the responsible 
officials to consider the extent and methods chosen to address 
conservation education. Other sections direct the responsible official 
to

[[Page 21235]]

consider opportunities to connect people to nature. However, a specific 
requirement for monitoring conservation education was not added to the 
final rule.
    Comment: Financial feasibility of monitoring. Some respondents felt 
the proposed rule was obligating the Agency to undertake unaffordable 
or unachievable monitoring work, in particular broad-scale monitoring 
extending beyond the boundaries of NFS lands. Some felt the monitoring 
requirements may cause the Agency to increase fees to cover costs or 
that broad-scale monitoring would become a precondition before issuing 
special use permits.
    Response: The proposed rule does not obligate the Agency to monitor 
beyond its fiscal means. Final rule Sec. Sec.  219.1(g), 
219.12(a)(4)(ii) and 219.12(b)(3) ensures that responsible officials 
must exercise discretion to develop technically and financially 
feasible monitoring programs. Although monitoring information will be 
used by responsible officials to inform the need to change plan 
components, including standards or guidelines, the rule specifically 
makes clear in Sec.  219.12(a)(7) that monitoring is not a prerequisite 
for carrying out a project or activity such as the renewal of special 
use permits.
    Comment: Financial feasibility of monitoring economic and social 
structures of communities. A respondent felt the financial feasibility 
of monitoring under the proposed rule was unattainable and additional 
discussion was needed on how economic and social structures of local 
communities will be monitored.
    Response: The rule requires certain subjects be addressed with one 
or more questions and associated indicators as the basis for plan 
monitoring. The NEPA compliance in support of proposed plans and 
projects will disclose the economic and social effects to local 
communities, and paragraph (a)(5)(vii) of this section requires 
monitoring progress towards meeting desired conditions and objectives 
in the plan, which will include plan components developed to contribute 
to social and economic sustainability. However, there is no requirement 
to monitor the economic and social structures of local communities. The 
Department believes that the monitoring requirements of the final rule 
will be achievable.
    Comment: Feasibility of climate change monitoring. Some respondents 
felt the requirement for plan monitoring programs to include one 
question and indictor associated with measurable changes on the unit 
related to climate change and other stressors would be neither 
affordable nor achievable.
    Response: The Department believes that including monitoring 
questions and indicators associated with measureable changes on the 
unit related to climate change and other stressors is achievable. The 
Agency is already conducting monitoring for climate change and other 
stressors such as insects, diseases, invasive species, wildfire, and 
more. In addition, the Agency is implementing the Climate Change 
Roadmap and Scorecard, which includes monitoring for climate change. 
This section allows the responsible official to use and build on other 
data and programs, encourages coordination with others and multi-party 
monitoring, and recognizes that some monitoring questions may best be 
answered at a scale broader than on plan area. The flexibility provided 
in this section will allow the responsible official to develop a 
strategic, effective, and financially achievable monitoring program, 
while meeting the requirements of paragraph (a)(5).
    Comment: Project monitoring. Some respondents felt project 
monitoring requirements should be included in the rule. Citing 
Department of Army regulations, a respondent felt the rule should 
require project monitoring funding be allocated before project 
implementation. Some respondents felt proposed Sec.  219.12(a)(7) meant 
project monitoring would not occur.
    Response: The Department agrees project monitoring is important and 
is a valuable means of understanding the effects of projects and can 
provide information useful to adapt future project plans to improve 
resource protection and restoration. The Department added wording to 
paragraph (a)(7) to clarify that project and activity monitoring may be 
used to gather information for the plan monitoring program, and that 
plan monitoring may inform the development of specific projects and 
activities. The Department anticipates that project and activity 
monitoring will be used as part of the plan monitoring program, but the 
responsible official has the discretion to strategically select which 
projects to monitor and the monitoring questions related to those 
projects that will best inform the monitoring program and test 
assumptions, track changing conditions, or evaluate management 
effectiveness. However, the final rule makes clear the monitoring 
requirements of this section are not a prerequisite for making a 
decision to carry out a project or activity. Each project carried out 
under the plan will not automatically include the monitoring 
requirements for the plan.
    Project monitoring may also occur for purposes other than 
supporting the plan monitoring program, and the final rule does not 
preclude project-specific monitoring requirements developed as part of 
project or activity decisions. The planning rule does not discuss 
requirements for project monitoring; therefore, funding of project 
monitoring is an issue outside the scope of the planning rule.
    Comment: Risks from lack of monitoring or monitoring information. 
Some respondents felt the lack of monitoring, or information not 
available through monitoring, could delay management actions or 
foreclose activities and projects because of uncertainties. A 
respondent felt the rule should clearly state monitoring goals are not 
preconditions to approve, continue, or renew special use permits or 
provide for public uses, or State fish and wildlife management 
activities.
    Response: Although monitoring information may be used by 
responsible officials to inform the need to change the plan, monitoring 
is not a precondition of conducting projects or carrying out management 
actions. The rule establishes those elements of monitoring necessary to 
inform adaptive management of the resources on the unit. None of the 
requirements of monitoring for the plan monitoring program apply to 
individual projects or activities. These monitoring requirements do not 
delay or foreclose management activities.
    Comment: Monitoring and extractive actions. A respondent felt the 
rule should require all extractive actions to cease on a unit until 
timely monitoring has been completed.
    Response: The planning rule does not apply to any ongoing projects 
or activities except as provided by Sec.  219.15.
    Comment: Monitoring and assessment data. A respondent felt the rule 
should specifically state new and accurate data is important to the 
success of monitoring and assessment, and use of new and accurate data 
is required.
    Response: The final rule requires the use of best available 
scientific information to inform the development of the monitoring 
program. However, the final rule does not add the requirement suggested 
by the respondent as some monitoring questions or indicators may be 
adequately addressed with existing data. Accuracy in data is met 
through data protocols and quality control standards covered in other 
Agency guidance outside the planning regulations.
    Comment: Feedback needed from monitoring to planning and

[[Page 21236]]

management actions. Some respondents felt the proposed rule lacks 
feedback between monitoring and changes to plan components. Some 
respondents felt the rule should include accountability measures and 
explicitly include ``adaptive management'' requirements rather than 
just describing a framework for planning consistent with principles of 
``adaptive management.''
    Response: The Department made changes in response to public 
comments to make clear the focus on adaptive management. The monitoring 
program is required to be designed to inform management (Sec.  
219.12(a)). The final rule requires that the monitoring evaluation 
report be used to inform adaptive management of the plan area (Sec.  
219.12(d)(2)), in addition to the requirement that the report indicate 
whether new information indicates that changes are warranted. The final 
rule requires that the responsible official review relevant information 
from both the assessment and monitoring to inform the development of 
plan components and other plan content (Sec.  219.7(c)(2)(i)). Section 
219.5(a) sets forth a responsive planning process that informs 
integrated resource management and allows the Agency to adapt to 
changing conditions, including climate change, and improve management 
based on new information and monitoring. The final rule also requires 
the Chief to administer a national oversight process for accountability 
and consistency to review NFS land management planning in the context 
of this framework (Sec.  219.2(b)(5)).
    Comment: Biennial evaluations. Some respondents felt the proposed 
biennial evaluations requirement would be too costly, time consuming 
and complex. Others felt the rule should require an annual evaluation. 
Others thought the biennial evaluation time is too short because of 
long-term aspects, such as climate change, require long periods of time 
before meaningful evaluations can be conducted. Still others felt the 
rule should require a public comment period on the biennial evaluation. 
One respondent felt the rule should not allow the responsible official 
to publish monitoring evaluation reports without approval at a higher 
level. Some respondents felt the proposed requirement for biennial 
reporting would not meet NFMA's requirement for continuous monitoring.
    Response: The Department decided to retain the requirement that the 
responsible official conduct a biennial evaluation of the monitoring 
information and issue a written report of the evaluation and make it 
available to the public. The biennial evaluation of monitoring is 
intended to collect, evaluate, and report on new data or results that 
provide information for adaptive management: for example, information 
about management effectiveness, progress towards meeting desired 
conditions or objectives, changing conditions, or validation (or 
invalidation) of assumptions. The biennial monitoring evaluation does 
not need to evaluate all questions or indicators on a biennial basis 
but must focus on new data and results that provide new information for 
adaptive management. The responsible official may postpone the 
monitoring evaluation for 1 year after providing notice to the public 
in the case of exigencies such as a natural disaster or catastrophic 
fire. The Department believes that this requirement is implementable 
and important to inform adaptive management.
    The Agency's experience is that an annual evaluation is too 
frequent to determine trends or to accumulate meaningful information 
and the 5-year time frame (Sec.  219.10(g) of the 1982 rule) is too 
long to wait in order to respond to changing conditions or new 
information. Therefore, the Department determined the monitoring 
evaluation would occur at a 2-year interval. The Department recognizes 
some kinds of monitoring indicators require longer time frames for 
thorough evaluation of results, but a biennial review of what 
information has been collected will ensure evaluation of available 
information is timely and can be used to inform planning and adaptive 
management of the unit.
    The Department also retained the requirement that the responsible 
official publish the monitoring evaluation report, so that it is 
available to the public. Section 219.4(a) of the final rule requires 
the responsible official to provide opportunities for the public to 
participate in reviewing the results of monitoring information. The 
responsible official may elect various methods for this participation, 
but the rule does not direct any specific form for this participation 
such as requiring formal comment on the biennial evaluation. Public 
notice of the availability of the monitoring evaluation report is 
required, and must be posted online. Additional notice may be made in 
any way the responsible official deems appropriate. Any changes to the 
monitoring program require consideration of public comment.
    Section 219.5(a)(3) of the final rule states that under the 
planning framework ``monitoring is continuous.'' The biennial 
monitoring evaluation report would not halt monitoring; it would simply 
report new information obtained from that monitoring.
    Comment: Evaluation reports and changes to plan components based on 
information from petition(s). A respondent suggested the biennial 
evaluation report incorporate science contained in environmental 
analyses and the plan be updated to incorporate information from 
petition(s).
    Response: The requirement in this section for a biennial evaluation 
report is focused on providing systematic and transparent reporting and 
evaluation of information obtained pursuant to the monitoring program 
established consistent with this section. The report will be used to 
inform adaptive management on the unit. As part of the planning 
process, the responsible official may also consider any additional 
relevant information contained in other sources, such as petitions or 
new environmental analyses.
    Comment: Required actions in response to monitoring. Some 
respondents felt monitoring results might be of no consequence if there 
are no requirements in the rule to take specific actions to respond to 
monitoring results. These changes should not wait for another planning 
cycle. Others felt the rule should include criteria as to when a need 
to change the plan is indicated by monitoring. A respondent suggested 
unit monitoring incorporate efforts to focus on non-native invasive 
species not present but can reasonably be foreseen as posing a risk to 
eventually enter the plan area. Another respondent felt proposed Sec.  
219.12(a)(7) would result in monitoring programs not dealing with 
watershed degradation associated with projects or activities, such as 
grazing, and the rule should focus on watersheds in poor condition, 
degraded riparian and upland habitats, substantial and permanent losses 
in soil productivity, and streams. A respondent felt the requirement to 
monitor ``the status of select watershed conditions'' was vague and 
could lead to the collection of disparate types of information across 
planning units and could create local conflicts over the requirement's 
interpretation. A respondent felt more explanation was necessary in the 
rule on why topics were not included in requirements under Sec.  
219.12(a)(5). A respondent felt the rule should require the monitoring 
program to substantiate why certain portions of the plan do not warrant 
monitoring. A respondent suggested the rule specify a framework for 
reporting on forest conditions such as the Montreal Protocol.

[[Page 21237]]

    Response: The final rule requires that the monitoring evaluation 
report indicate whether a change to the plan, management activities, 
the monitoring program, or a new assessment may be warranted based on 
the new information. It also requires that the monitoring evaluation 
report be used to inform adaptive management of the plan area to ensure 
that the plan remains effective and relevant. The responsible official 
will need to evaluate when the information warrants a change to the 
plan. The public will have the opportunity to review the biennial 
monitoring report, and is welcome to provide input to the responsible 
official. The Department modified the requirements of paragraph (a)(5) 
in response to public comments and to more closely link the monitoring 
requirements to the assessment topics and to the substantive 
requirements in Sec. Sec.  219.7 through 219.11. The responsible 
official is not limited to the monitoring requirements identified in 
paragraph (a)(5) of this section. The responsible official may add 
questions and indicators to reflect the monitoring needs most 
appropriate to inform effective management for that unit. In addition, 
the broader-scale monitoring strategies will identify questions and 
indicators best monitored at a broader geographic scale than the plan 
area.
    The Department concluded that the set of monitoring requirements in 
the final rule provides an appropriate balance between requiring core 
monitoring on each unit and recognizing that there will be a wide and 
diverse array of monitoring needs across each system, including with 
regard to what specific questions and indicators may be most relevant 
for the topics in paragraph (a)(5) of this section. The responsible 
official will need to document the rationale for decisionmaking, as 
well as how best available scientific information was used to inform 
the monitoring program. Additional direction will be included in the 
Forest Service Directive System, and may be provided as a result of the 
Agency's ongoing review of its monitoring system.
    The final rule requires monitoring of watershed conditions, as well 
as ecological conditions associated with aquatic ecosystems, and 
progress towards meeting desired conditions and objectives. The 
Department believes that these monitoring requirements will support the 
substantive requirements in the final rule for plan components for 
watersheds, water quality, water resources, and riparian areas, 
including those considerations with regard to water identified in the 
comment, and will inform management effectiveness and adaptive 
management.
    The Department expects monitoring will be informed by FIA data. The 
FIA program inventories and reports on changing conditions across all 
forested lands and provides information that reflects many Montreal 
Process indicators.
    Comment: Adjusting plans without adequate monitoring information. A 
respondent felt the proposed rule's emphasis on making rapid changes 
may cause the responsible official to make changes to plan components 
without the benefit of monitoring over an appropriate period of time, 
as some monitoring questions and indicators cannot be adequately 
evaluated annually. A respondent felt the proposed rule's support of 
rapid adjustment of management through monitoring could lead to 
mistakes when causal factors are not understood. Another respondent 
felt the adaptive management approach was too vague and the rule needed 
wording to endorse a precautionary approach when the responsible 
official has only limited data available for a decision about a 
significant change in resource management.
    Response: The Department agrees numerous monitoring questions and 
indicators could take many years of monitoring data collection before 
the information can be credibly evaluated. The use of the monitoring 
information is one factor in deciding when and how to change a plan. 
Any amendment or revision conducted as a result of new information from 
monitoring would be carefully done in accordance with the NEPA and the 
requirements of this final rule. Rapid, narrow amendments can help 
plans stay current and relevant, while recognizing that more 
information will be available over time. Since responsible officials 
already have discretion to consider precautionary measures when risks 
to resources are uncertain during NEPA analysis, the Department decided 
it is not necessary to add precautionary wording to the final rule. Any 
significant change in resource management would need to be consistent 
with the sustainability and other requirements in the final rule.
    Comment: Administrative change applied to monitoring program. A 
respondent felt modifying monitoring programs with an administrative 
change would pose a risk of not conducting good monitoring because 
changes could be done too easily.
    Response: Section 219.2 requires national oversight and process for 
accountability for planning. In addition, a substantive change to a 
monitoring program via an administrative change can only be made after 
public notice and consideration of public comment. Monitoring design 
and specification of details about measurement quality objectives, 
techniques, and frequency are subject to changing scientific knowledge. 
The final rule allows monitoring programs to be changed in a timely way 
to respond to evolving science and to maintain scientific credibility. 
Additionally, monitoring programs do not rely exclusively on protocols 
authored by the Agency. For example, other agencies such as 
Environmental Protection Agency, US Geological Survey, and National 
Park Service possess expertise and have already incurred substantial 
expense developing, reviewing, and testing protocols. It will be 
important, especially for multi-party monitoring, to be able to 
evaluate and incorporate these protocols when appropriate in the plan 
monitoring program as new partnerships are formed.
Section 219.13--Plan Amendment and Administrative Changes
    This section of the rule sets out the process for changing plans 
through plan amendments or administrative changes. The section would 
allow the responsible official to use new information obtained from the 
monitoring program or other sources and react to changing conditions to 
amend or change the plan. The Department's intent is that plans will be 
kept more current, effective, and relevant by the use of more frequent 
and efficient amendments, and administrative changes over the life of 
the plan, also reducing the amount of work needed for a full revision.
Plan Amendments
    Plan amendments incrementally change the plan as need arises. Plan 
amendments could range from project specific amendments or amendments 
of one plan component, to the amendment of multiple plan components. 
For example, a monitoring evaluation report may show that a plan 
standard is not sufficiently protecting streambeds, indicating that a 
change to that standard may be needed to achieve an objective or 
desired condition in the plan for riparian areas. In that case, the 
responsible official could choose to act quickly to propose an 
amendment to change that particular standard.
    The process requirements for plan amendments and administrative 
changes are simpler than those for new plan development or plan 
revisions in order to allow responsible officials to keep plans current 
and adapt to new information or changed conditions.

[[Page 21238]]

    As discussed in Sec.  219.6, the final rule does not require an 
assessment prior to initiating a plan amendment, because a new 
assessment will not always be necessary or useful. However, the 
responsible official can always choose to conduct an assessment and 
take additional time to develop a proposal when the potential amendment 
is broader or more complex or requires an updated understanding of the 
landscape-scale context for management. For example, a monitoring 
evaluation report may indicate that a new invasive species is affecting 
forest health on the plan area. The responsible official may want to 
conduct a new, focused assessment to synthesize new information about 
the spread of that species, how other plan areas or land management 
agencies are dealing with the threat, what stressors make a resource 
more vulnerable to the species, how the species may be impacting social 
or economic values, or how neighboring landowners are approaching 
removal of the species. The responsible official, consistent with the 
requirements for public participation in Sec.  219.4, would then 
collaboratively develop a proposal to amend several plan components to 
deal with the invasive species.
    All plan amendments must comply with Forest Service NEPA 
procedures. This final rule provides that appropriate NEPA 
documentation for an amendment could be an EIS, an environmental 
assessment (EA), or a categorical exclusion (CE) depending upon the 
scope and scale of the amendment and its likely effects. A proposed 
amendment that may create a significant environmental effect and thus 
require preparation of an EIS is considered a significant change in the 
plan for the purposes of the NFMA.
Administrative Changes
    Administrative changes allow for rapid correction of errors in the 
plan components. In addition, other content in the plan, as identified 
in Sec.  219.7(f), could be altered with an administrative change, 
including the monitoring plan, the identification of watersheds that 
are a priority for maintenance or restoration, the plan area's 
distinctive roles and contributions, and information about proposed or 
possible actions that may occur on the plan area during the life of the 
plan. This final rule requires the responsible official to provide 
public notice before issuing any administrative change. If the change 
would be a substantive change to the monitoring program, the 
responsible official must also provide an opportunity for the public to 
comment on the intended change and consider public concerns and 
suggestions before making a change. The Department believes that 
allowing administrative changes to other content, other than plan 
components, would help the responsible official rapidly adapt that 
content to changing conditions and respond to new information, while 
requiring the responsible official to keep the public informed. For 
example, a major fire event may make a particular watershed a new 
priority, or a new collaborative monitoring effort may require the 
addition of one or more monitoring questions.
Section 219.13--Response to Comments
    The Department made minor modifications to the wording of this 
section from the 2011 proposed rule for clarity.
    At the end of paragraph (a), the words ``(including management 
areas or geographic areas)'' were added to reflect the modifications of 
Sec.  219.7, and to clarify that an amendment is required for any 
change in how or whether plan components apply to those areas.
    The Department merged provisions about plan amendments found in two 
sections of the proposed rule (Sec. Sec.  219.6(c) and 219.13(b)(1)) 
into one paragraph (paragraph (b)(1) of this section) of the final 
rule, for clarity. The provisions were removed from Sec.  219.6(c) of 
the final rule.
    The Department added a sentence to the end of paragraph (b)(3) of 
this section to make clear that a proposed amendment that may have a 
significant environmental effect and thus require preparation of an EIS 
is considered a ``significant change in the plan'' for purposes of the 
NFMA. The NFMA at 16 U.S.C. 1604(f)(4) states that plans shall be 
amended in any matter whatsoever after public notice, and, if such 
amendment would result in a significant change in a plan, the plan must 
be amended in accordance to the requirements of 16 U.S.C. 1604(e) and 
(f) and public involvement required by 16 U.S.C. 1604(d). Likewise, as 
part of the NEPA process, the responsible official must determine 
whether the significance of the proposed amendment's impact on the 
environment would require an environmental impact statement. This 
addition to the final rule makes the NEPA and NFMA findings of 
``significance'' one finding. If under NEPA a proposed amendment may 
have a significant effect on the environment and an EIS must be 
prepared, the amendment would automatically be considered a significant 
change to a plan.
    The Department finds that the process requirements for an EIS, the 
90-day public comment period required by this final rule, and the 
additional requirements for amendments under this final rule meet the 
requirements for a amendment that results in a significant change to 
the plan under 16 U.S.C. 1604(f)(4). Thus, the responsible official 
must make only one determination of significance, under the well-known 
standards of NEPA.
    For other plan amendments, less detailed levels of NEPA compliance 
such as the preparation of environmental assessment or a decision memo 
using a categorical exclusion may be appropriate. There is the same 
opportunity for persons to file objections to all proposed amendments 
as there is for proposed revisions (subpart B of the final rule).
    Paragraph (c)(1) of both the proposed and the final rule provide 
that changes to ``other plan content,'' may be made via an 
administrative change (unlike the plan components, which require an 
amendment to make substantive changes). Because of the importance of 
the monitoring program to the public, the proposed rule provided and 
the final rule retained a requirement that substantive changes to the 
monitoring program made via an administrative change can be made only 
after notice and consideration of public comment. In the final rule, 
the Department added the word ``substantive'' to convey the 
Department's intent that minor changes or corrections to the monitoring 
program can be made via an administrative change without providing an 
opportunity for public comment.
    Comment: Appropriate NEPA for plan amendments. Some respondents 
felt plans should be as simple and programmatic as possible and NEPA 
compliance should occur only at the project level. Another respondent 
said categorical exclusions should be used for minor amendments, 
environmental assessments for more significant amendments. Some 
respondents felt any action requiring an amendment should be considered 
a significant action, therefore requiring development of an EIS to 
disclose the anticipated effects of the amendment. A respondent felt it 
was unclear as to when an EIS was done for an amendment and when it was 
done for a plan revision. Other respondents felt use of categorical 
exclusions was inappropriate for a plan amendment as any changes to the 
plan should be subject to careful environmental review, scrutiny, and 
analysis.

[[Page 21239]]

    Response: Requiring an EIS for all amendments would be burdensome, 
and unduly expensive for amendments with no significant environmental 
effect. It would also inhibit the more frequent use of amendments as a 
tool for adaptive management to keep plans relevant, current and 
effective between plan revisions based on changing conditions and new 
information. The Department requires the responsible official to follow 
NEPA procedures and choose the appropriate level of analysis: EIS, EA, 
or CE, based on the scale and scope of the amendment. As clarification, 
Sec.  219.13 of the final rule clarifies that any plan amendment that 
may create a significant environmental effect and therefore require 
preparation of an EIS will be considered ``a significant change in the 
plan'' for the purposes of the NFMA; requiring a 90-day comment period 
under Sec.  219.16. An EIS is always required for a plan revision or 
for development of a new plan.
    Comment: Amendment verses administrative change. Some respondents 
felt the proposed rule was confusing regarding when an amendment and 
when an administrative change was to be used.
    Response: Plan components are the plan's desired conditions, 
objectives, standards, guidelines, suitability of areas, or goals 
described in Sec.  219.7. An amendment is required if a change, other 
than correction of a clerical error or a change needed to conform to 
new statutory or regulatory requirements, needs to be applied to any of 
these plan components.
    Administrative changes are made to correct clerical errors to plan 
components, to alter content in the plan other than the plan 
components, or to achieve conformance of the plan to new statutory or 
regulatory requirements. A clerical error is an error of the 
presentation of material in the plan such as phrasing, grammar, 
typographic errors, or minor errors in data or mapping that were 
appropriately evaluated in the development of the plan, plan revision, 
or plan amendment. An administrative change could not otherwise be used 
to change plan components or the location in the plan area where plan 
components apply, except to conform the plan to new statutory or 
regulatory requirements. Changes that could be made through an 
administrative change may also be made as part of a plan amendment or 
revision instead.
    Comment: Thirty-day comment period on environmental assessments 
(EAs). Some respondents felt more than 30 days was needed for public 
review of a large and complicated plan amendment supported by an EA. 
They proposed a three tiered public response period: 90 days for 
proposals requiring an EIS, 60 days for those requiring an EA, and 30 
days for all others.
    Response: The final rule retains the 30-day minimum comment period 
for a plan amendment (Sec.  219.16(a)). Agency practice shows 30 days 
can be reasonable when an EA is prepared.
    Comment: Project specific plan amendments. Some respondents 
expressed concern with the use of project specific plan amendments 
because they felt that they do not get sufficient analysis, review, 
public input, and may not use the best available science. A respondent 
felt these amendments should only be allowed for unforeseen events or 
special circumstances. Another respondent felt the supporting NEPA 
documentation should include a `no amendment' alternative which 
accomplishes the proposed action without amending the plan.
    Response: No change was made to this provision in the final rule. 
Project-specific amendments are short-lived with the project, and 
localized to the project area. The point of a project-specific 
amendment is to allow a project that would otherwise not be consistent 
with the plan to be authorized and carried out in a manner appropriate 
to the particular time and place of the project, without changing how 
the plan applies in other respects. Project specific amendments give a 
way to deal with exceptions. An exception is similar to a variance to a 
county zoning ordinance. If the amendment changed plan components that 
would apply to future projects, the exception would not be applicable. 
Section 219.16(b) requires use of the Agency's notification 
requirements used for project planning at 36 CFR parts 215 or 218 for 
project-specific of amendment.
    Comment: Amending plans under existing regulations. A respondent 
felt the rule should allow for the option of amending existing plans 
under the existing planning regulations.
    Response: Final rule Sec.  219.17(b)(2) allows amendments to 
existing plans to be initiated for a period of 3 years under the 
provisions of the prior planning regulation. This provision is 
unchanged from the proposed rule.
    Comment: Administrative changes. Some respondents felt allowing 
wilderness area boundaries to be changed with administrative changes 
was inappropriate. Some respondents felt changes to monitoring programs 
should not be done administratively as these changes should be 
transparent and have public accountability.
    Response: Wilderness area boundaries may only be changed by an act 
of Congress, therefore a change to the wilderness area boundaries 
identified in the plan would only be made to conform the plan to the 
congressionally mandated change, with no discretion available to the 
responsible official or to the public. When there is no agency 
discretion, an administrative change to the plan is appropriate.
    The rule requirements for administrative changes will facilitate 
more rapid adjustment of plans. The technical aspects of monitoring may 
need adjustment due to new information or advances in scientific 
methods, or a change may be needed to reflect a new monitoring 
partnership or for other reasons. The responsible official must involve 
the public in the development of the plan monitoring program and post 
notice of changes to the monitoring program online. If the change to 
the monitoring program is substantive, the public must be given an 
opportunity to comment. These requirements are intended to keep the 
public engaged and informed of the monitoring program, while allowing 
the program to build on new information and stay current.
Section 219.14--Decision Documents and Planning Records
    This section of the rule requires the responsible official to 
record approval of a new plan, plan revision, or amendment in a 
decision document prepared according to Forest Service's NEPA 
procedures and this section. This section describes requirements for 
decision documents and associated records for approval of plans, plan 
amendments, or plan revisions. These requirements will increase the 
transparency of the decision and the rationale for approval, and 
require the responsible official to document how the plan complies with 
the requirements in this final rule.
    This section also sets forth basic requirements for the responsible 
official to maintain public documents related to the plan and 
monitoring program. It requires the responsible official to ensure that 
certain key documents are readily accessible to the public online and 
through other means, and that the planning record be available to the 
public.
Section 219.14--Response to Comments
    Comments on this section focused on the availability of documents. 
The Department largely retained the wording from the 2011 proposed 
rule; however,

[[Page 21240]]

the Department did make changes for consistency in this section to 
reflect changes made in other sections of the rule.
    At paragraph (a)(2) the proposed rule wording of ``An explanation 
of how the plan components meet the sustainability requirements of 
Sec.  219.8 and the diversity requirements of Sec.  219.9, taking into 
account the limits of Forest Service authority and the capability of 
the plan area'' was modified to ``An explanation of how the plan 
components meet the sustainability requirements of Sec.  219.8, the 
diversity requirements of Sec.  219.9, the multiple use requirements of 
Sec.  219.10, and the timber requirements of Sec.  219.11.'' The 
Department added the requirements to explain how plan components meet 
the requirements of Sec. Sec.  219.10 and 219.11 to cover all the 
substantive requirements for plan components. The Department removed 
the words taking into account the limits of Forest Service authority 
and the capability of the plan area, because they are part of 
Sec. Sec.  219.8-11 and Sec.  219.1(g).
    At paragraph (a)(4), the Department changed the wording from the 
proposed rule wording of ``taken into account and applied in the 
planning process,'' to ``how the best scientific information was used 
to inform planning, the plan components, and other plan content, 
including the plan monitoring program'' to be consistent with the final 
rule wording of Sec.  219.3. This change was made to make clear that 
Sec.  219.3 applies to every aspect of planning, and the public must be 
able to see and understand how it has been applied. Additional minor 
edits were made for clarity.
    Comment: Content of decision document. Some respondents felt these 
proposed requirements should be reduced to what is required by the 
NEPA. Others felt a discussion on multiple use and timber requirements 
per the NFMA, and use of best available scientific information should 
be included.
    Response: The Council on Environmental Quality NEPA regulations at 
40 CFR 1505.5 requires a record of decision to identify and discuss all 
factors and essential considerations of national policy which were 
balanced by the Agency in making its decision and state how those 
considerations entered into its decision. The plan only provides the 
management direction approved by the decision, while the decision 
document provides the rationale for the decision; therefore, the 
factors used in decisionmaking are most appropriate for the discussion 
in the decision document. The requirements of this section will help 
increase transparency and public understanding of the responsible 
official's decisions. Based on public comment, the Department added the 
multiple use requirements of Sec.  219.10 and the timber requirements 
of Sec.  219.11 to the list of items (Sec.  219.14(a)(2)) that the 
responsible official address in explaining how plan components meet the 
requirements of the rule. Section 219.14(a)(4) of the final rule also 
requires the decision document to document how the best available 
scientific information was used to inform the planning process, the 
plan components, and other plan content.
    Comment: Availability of planning documents on the Internet. Some 
respondents supported the proposed requirement to make available online 
assessment reports; plan decision documents; proposed plans, plan 
revisions, or plan amendments; public notices and environmental 
documents associated with a plan; the monitoring program and monitoring 
evaluation reports. Some respondents felt the plan should also include 
all documents supporting analytical conclusions made and alternatives 
considered throughout the planning process source data, including GIS 
data, the monitoring program, and any plan revision. Some respondents 
made specific requests about when and how documents are made available 
online.
    Response: Section 219.14(b)(1) of the final rule requires online 
availability of documents including assessments, the monitoring 
evaluation report, the current plan and proposed plan changes or 
decision documents, and any public notices or environmental documents 
associated with the plan. The final rule keeps the wording of the 
proposed rule that these documents must be ``readily accessible'' 
online; the expectation is that the documents would be posted as soon 
as they are finished and formatted for public viewing. Documents that 
require formal notifications will be posted when formal notice is made, 
if not before. In addition, the final rule requires that documents 
identified in Sec.  219.52(c)(1) must be available online at the time 
of notification of the start of the objection period.
    Making all data and information used in the planning process 
available online would be very time-consuming and expensive. However, 
to ensure that units continue to make all planning records available 
for those who may be interested, the final rule requires the 
responsible official to make all documents available at the office 
where the plan, plan revision, or amendment was developed. The final 
rule does not prohibit the responsible official from using other means 
of making documents available.
    Comment: Availability of NEPA documents. Some respondents stated 
the final EIS supporting a plan should be made available no later than 
the start of objection process.
    Response: The Department requires the objection process to begin 
after the NEPA documents are final and made available. Section 
219.52(c) lists the required items that the public notice must contain 
in notifying the public of the beginning of the objection process 
including a draft plan decision document. In addition, the final rule 
requires that documents identified in Sec.  219.52(c)(1) must be 
available online at the time of notification of the start of the 
objection period.
Section 219.15--Project and Activity Consistency With the Plan
    This section of the final rule provides that projects and 
activities authorized after approval of a plan, plan revision, or plan 
amendment developed pursuant to the final rule must be consistent with 
plan components as set forth in this section. The NFMA requires that 
``resource plans and permits, contracts and other instruments for the 
use and occupancy of National Forest System lands shall be consistent 
with the land management plans'' (16 U.S.C. 1604(i)). However, no 
previous planning rule provided specific criteria to evaluate 
consistency of projects or activities with the plan.
    This section provides that every project and activity authorized 
after approval of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision developed 
pursuant to the final rule must be consistent with the plan and the 
applicable plan components as set forth in this section. Project 
decision documents must describe how the project or activity is 
consistent with the plan. This final rule specifies criteria to use to 
evaluate consistency with the plan components.
    The Agency has experienced difficulty in the past in determining 
how new plan components and content in a plan apply to projects and 
activities approved prior to the effective date of a plan amendment or 
revision. With respect to such projects and activities, the rule 
requires that: 1) the plan decision document must expressly allow such 
projects to go forward or continue, and thus deem them consistent, or 
2) in the absence of such express provision, the authorizing instrument 
(permit, contract, and so forth) approving the use, occupancy, project, 
or activity must be adjusted as soon as practicable to be consistent 
with

[[Page 21241]]

the plan, plan amendment, or plan revision, subject to valid existing 
rights.
    Other types of plans may be developed for the lands or resources of 
the planning area. These resource plans, such as travel management 
plans, wild and scenic river plans, and other resource plans, may be 
developed for the lands or resources of the planning area. This section 
requires that other resource plans be consistent with the land 
management plan and applicable plan components. If such plans are not 
consistent, modifications of the resource plan must be made or 
amendments to the land management plan must be made to resolve any 
inconsistencies.
Section 219.15--Response to Comments
    The Department retained the wording of the proposed rule, except 
for three modifications. The Department clarified the first sentence of 
paragraph (a)(1) to say every decision document approving a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision must state whether authorizations of 
occupancy and use made before the decision document may proceed 
unchanged.
    At paragraph (d), the Department added that every project and 
activity must be consistent with the applicable plan components and 
removed those words from Sec.  219.7(d) of the proposed rule, because 
this provision is more appropriate in this section of the final rule.
    At paragraph (d)(3), in response to comments received on the 
preferred alternative, the Department modified the direction for 
determining consistency with guidelines to make the Department's intent 
more clear. Paragraph (d)(3)(i) was modified to reflect the structure 
of the requirement for standards in paragraph (d)(2), and now reads: 
``Complies with applicable guidelines as set out in the plan.'' In 
paragraph (d)(3)(ii), the Department replaced ``carrying out the 
intent'' to ``achieving the purpose'' of the applicable guidelines.
    The Department removed the wording at Sec.  219.15(d)(3)(ii) of the 
proposed rule that repeated text from Sec.  219.7(e)(1)(iv), to avoid 
duplication and because the reference to Sec.  219.7(e)(1)(iv) is 
adequate.
    Comment: Consistency requirement. Some respondents felt the 
proposed rule was too vague and unclear about project or activity 
consistency with the plan. They felt the rule needs specific criteria 
for determining if a project or activity is consistent with the plan, 
and achieving consistency may not be feasible unless guidelines are 
made mandatory.
    Response: No previous planning rule provided specific criteria to 
evaluate consistency of projects or activities with the plan. The 
Forest Service policy was that consistency could only be determined 
with respect to standards and guidelines, or just standards, because an 
individual project alone could almost never achieve objectives and 
desired conditions. See the 1991 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking 
56 FR 6508, 6519-6520 (Feb 15, 1991) and the 1995 Proposed Rule, at 60 
FR 18886, 18902, 18909 (April 13, 1995).
    The Department continues to believe that the consistency 
requirement cannot be interpreted to require achievement of the desired 
conditions or objectives of a plan by any single project or activity, 
but we believe that we can provide direction for consistency to move 
the plan area toward desired conditions and objectives, or to not 
preclude the eventual achievement of desired conditions or objectives, 
as well as direction for consistency with the other plan components.
    This section requires that every project and activity authorized 
after the approval of a plan, plan revision or plan amendment must be 
consistent with the plan as provided in paragraph (d) of this section. 
Paragraph (d) specifies criteria to evaluate consistency, and requires 
that project approval documents describe how the project or activity is 
consistent. Given the very large number of project and activities, and 
the wide variety of those projects and activities, it is not feasible 
to provide any direction more specific than that set out in paragraph 
(d).
Section 219.16--Public Notifications
    In this section, the final rule sets forth requirements for public 
notification designed to ensure that information about the planning 
process reaches the public in a timely and accessible manner. This 
section describes when public notification is required, how it must be 
provided, and what must be included in each notice. This section of the 
final rule is meant to be read with Sec.  219.4 of the rule in mind, 
which sets forth direction for responsible officials to engage the 
public and provide opportunities for interested individuals, entities, 
and governments to participate in the planning process.
    This final rule represents a significant new investment in public 
engagement designed to involve the public early and throughout the 
planning process. The Department is making this investment in the 
belief that public participation throughout the planning process will 
result in a more informed public, better plans, and plans that are more 
broadly accepted by the public than in the past. The requirements in 
this section respond to the consensus that people want to be informed 
about the various stages of the planning process, with clear parameters 
for when and how they can get involved.
    Public input at several points during the development of the rule 
emphasized the importance of updating the way we provide notice to the 
public to ensure that we successfully reach a diverse array of people 
and communities and inform them about the process and how they could 
participate. Many people said that using only one outreach method would 
not reach all needed communities. In response, this section directs 
responsible officials to use contemporary tools to provide notice to 
the public, and, at a minimum, to post all notices on the relevant 
Forest Service Web site.
    This section of the final rule provides that ``notifications may be 
combined where appropriate.'' This provision would allow flexibility 
for plan amendments to have a more streamlined, efficient process than 
new plans or plan revisions, where appropriate. This approach is in 
keeping with the public's desire and the Agency's need for a process 
that allows plan areas to quickly and efficiently adapt to new 
information and changing conditions. (see Sec.  219.13 for further 
discussion.)
Section 219.16--Response to Comments
    The Department made the following changes to this section of the 
final rule:
    In the introduction to paragraph (a) the Department changed the 
term ``formal notifications'' to ``notifications.'' This change is a 
clarification.
    The Department removed the requirement at paragraph (a)(1) for a 
formal notice for the preparation of an assessment, in response to 
public comments on the efficiency of the assessment process. A 
requirement for notice of opportunities to provide information for 
assessments is now in paragraph (c)(6) of this section: notice must be 
posted online, and additional notice may be provided in any way the 
responsible official deems appropriate.
    The wording of paragraph (a)(1) in the final rule, formerly 
paragraph (a)(2) in the proposed rule, was modified to remove the words 
``when appropriate'' before plan amendment. The change reflects the 
Department's intent in the proposed rule and responds to public 
comments about confusion over whether notice to initiate the 
development of plan amendments is required (it is). This change is not 
a change in requirement, this is a clarification.

[[Page 21242]]

    At paragraph (c)(3) the Department added a new paragraph that 
requires that when the notice is for the purpose of inviting comments 
on a proposed plan, plan revision, or plan amendment, and a draft EIS 
is prepared, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Federal Register 
notice of availability of an EIS shall serve as the required Federal 
Register notice. This change makes the procedure similar to the prior 
rule procedures and eliminates an additional Federal Register notice at 
the time of a DEIS.
    At paragraph (c)(6), the Department modified ``plan amendment 
assessments'' to ''assessment reports'' in the list of public notices 
that may be made in any way the responsible official deems appropriate 
that was in paragraph (c)(5) of the proposed rule. This change 
clarifies how the public will receive notice of a completed assessment 
report. The word ``additional'' was added to the beginning of paragraph 
(c)(6) to make clear that, at a minimum, notice for the items in the 
paragraph must be posted online. This change is a clarification.
    At paragraph (d), the Department added an exception for the content 
for public notices when the notice is for the purpose of inviting 
comments on a proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision for which 
a draft EIS is prepared. This change is necessary because of the change 
at paragraph (c)(3), stating that the Federal Register notice of 
availability for the draft EIS will serve as the required public 
notice. The EPA has a standard format for notices that does not include 
the requirements of paragraph (d). The public will be able to find the 
additional information online.
    Comment: When appropriate. Some respondents felt proposed rule 
Sec.  219.16(a)(2) wording ``when appropriate'' should be removed in 
reference to public notification of plan amendments.
    Response: The final rule removes the wording ``when appropriate'' 
in relation to plan amendments in what is now Sec.  219.16(a)(1) in the 
final rule, in response to public comment and to clarify the 
Department's intent from the proposed rule.
    Comment: Notification. Some respondents felt the words ``deems 
appropriate'' in paragraph (c)(5) of the proposed rule should be 
removed, and requested clarification of what contemporary tools would 
be used. Some respondents requested direct notification, or 
notification of changes to a specific use. A respondent felt Federal 
Register notice should be mandatory for all plan amendments and any 
other notification such as administrative changes. Some respondents 
suggested changes to the proposed notification process to better inform 
those individuals and groups who would be most affected and interested 
in these activities. Some respondents felt that use of a newspaper of 
record is not effective since newspaper subscriptions are declining 
across the country.
    Response: Section 219.16 of the final rule requires, at a minimum, 
that all public notifications must be posted online and the responsible 
official should use contemporary tools to provide notice to the public. 
These could include an array of methods, such as meetings, town halls, 
email, or Facebook posts. The best forms of notice will vary by plan 
area and over time, therefore the rule does not seek to predetermine 
what those tools might be. The wording ``deems appropriate'' in 
paragraph (c)(6) for the notices not listed in paragraph (a) allows the 
responsible official the flexibility to determine the notification 
method that best meets the needs of interested individuals, groups, and 
communities; therefore, it has been retained in the final rule.
    Additionally, there are requirements outlined in (c)(1)-(5) for 
posting notices in the Federal Register and applicable newspaper(s) of 
record for the notices required in paragraph (a). The use of the 
Federal Register to give notice for all amendments and administrative 
changes would be inefficient for the Agency; therefore the requirements 
in paragraph (c) vary.
    Persons desiring notification of changes to a specific use on a 
national forest or grassland should contact that office. A requirement 
for direct notification has not been added. The Department concludes 
that such a requirement would be unworkable, and that the forms of 
public notice required by this section, including the requirement that 
all notices be posted online, will enable informed and active public 
engagement.
Section 219.17--Effective Dates and Transition
    This section of the final rule describes when approval of plans, 
plan revisions, or plan amendments would take effect and when units 
must begin to use the new planning regulations.
Section 219.17--Response to Comments
    Many comments on this section focused on the efficiency of the 
process, clarity, and potential additional requirements. The Department 
retained the wording from the proposed rule except for the following 
changes:
    The Department changed the wording of paragraph (a) of the proposed 
rule about effective dates of the proposed rule in response to public 
comments about the efficiency of the planning process. The final rule 
retains the requirement that a plan or plan revision, is effective 30 
days after publication of notice of approval, and also retains that 
requirement for a plan amendment for which an EIS is prepared. The 
final rule removes the 30 day delay for amendments that do not require 
an EIS; such amendments are effective immediately upon publication of 
the notice of approval. This change in requirements improves the 
efficiency of amendments.
    Paragraphs (b)(1)-(3) were modified slightly to reflect that the 
effective date of the final rule will be 30 days after the date of 
publication of the final rule in the Federal Register.
    In paragraph (b)(2) of this section, the Department modified the 
wording and added a new first sentence to clarify that all new plan 
amendments initiated after the effective date of this rule must use the 
objections process of subpart B, even if the amendment is developed 
using the planning procedures of the prior planning regulation. This is 
a change made to require that subpart B apply to all plans, plan 
revisions and plan amendments initiated after the effective date of the 
final rule. In the rest of paragraph (b)(2) the Department: Revised the 
sentences to improve the ease, flow, and clarity of this paragraph, and 
clarified that when initiating plan amendments the optional appeal 
procedures are not available.
    In paragraph (b)(3) of this section, the Department clarified that 
the objection process of subpart B of this part applies if the 
responsible official completing a plan process initiated prior to this 
part chooses objections instead of optional appeal procedures. This 
change was made to avoid confusion about which objection procedures 
would apply in that case (prior rule of December 18, 2009, or subpart B 
of this final rule). In addition, the Department clarified that the 
objection process of subpart B may be chosen only if the public is 
provided the opportunity to comment on a proposed plan, plan amendment, 
or plan revision, and associated environmental analysis. These 
clarifications are not a change in requirements.
    In paragraph (c) the Department added wording in response to public 
comments to clarify that existing plans will remain in effect until 
revised, and that the final rule does not compel a

[[Page 21243]]

change to any existing plan, except as required in Sec.  219.12(c)(1). 
In addition the Department added wording that none of the requirements 
of this part apply to projects or activities on units with plans 
developed or revised under a prior planning rule until the plan is 
revised under this part, except that projects and activities must be 
consistent with plan amendments developed under this final rule. These 
changes are not changes in requirements; the changes clarify the intent 
of the Department in the proposed rule. This paragraph in the final 
rule is needed for clarity so that all NFS units understand they are 
subject to the new planning rule for plan development, plan amendment, 
and plan revision, while still requiring NFS units to follow the plan 
provisions of their current plans.
    Comment: Timing of compliance. Some respondents felt the rule 
should establish a time limit beyond which any action which is being 
performed under a previous regulation must be brought into compliance 
with this part, and the responsible official should not have discretion 
to apply prior planning regulation in completing a plan development, 
plan amendment, and plan revisions initiated before the effective date 
of this part. A respondent felt newly started plan amendments should 
follow the new planning direction without exception. Another respondent 
felt the rule should allow the option of amending existing plans under 
either the existing planning regulations or the new planning rule 
requirements until the current plan is revised under the new rule. Some 
respondents felt the rule's transition provisions should state the 
Agency will operate under existing plans until all legal challenges to 
a new plan or plan revision are resolved to avoid disruption of 
existing contracts.
    Response: There is no transition period for new plans or plan 
revisions initiated after the effective date of the final rule: all new 
plans and plan revisions must conform to the new planning requirements 
in subpart A. Plan revisions that are currently ongoing or initiated 
prior to the effective date of the final rule may be completed using 
either the previous rule or the final rule. Many of the ongoing plan 
revision efforts have taken many years, and it could be expensive in 
terms of both time and costs to require them to follow the new 
procedures, in addition to delaying needed improvements to outdated 
plans. It could also be unfair to the public who have invested time in 
these efforts. The responsible official does have the discretion to 
conform an ongoing revision effort to the requirements of the new rule 
after providing notice to the public, if doing so would be feasible and 
appropriate for that effort.
    For amendments, there would be a 3-year transition window during 
which amendments may be initiated and completed using the 2000 rule, 
including the 1982 procedures via the 2000 rule's transition 
provisions, or may conform to the new rule. After 3 years, all new plan 
amendments must conform to the new rule. This transition period for new 
amendments would give the responsible official the option to facilitate 
amendments for plans developed under previous rules for a limited time, 
using a familiar process, until full familiarity with the new rule 
develops.
    Plan decisions will not be approved until the Agency has resolved 
any objections filed under subpart B. This delay of the effective date 
until after the objections are resolved should adequately avoid 
disruptions. Many legal challenges to plans go on for years, however, 
and it would not be workable to wait to implement a plan until after 
all legal challenges are resolved.
    Comment: Climate change requirements for 1982 revisions. A 
respondent felt the rule's transition provisions should require forests 
currently planning revisions under the 1982 planning rule to consider 
climate change impacts and actions to address climate change and to 
reduce stressors to provide for greater habitat resiliency.
    Response: The Department decided not to include this requirement in 
the transition provisions of the final rule. However, all NFS units are 
working to implement the climate change roadmap released in 2009, and 
are using the climate change scorecard, which requires consideration of 
climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptability, as well as 
monitoring and other requirements. The Department decided that the 
Roadmap and Scorecard implementation is the most appropriate method for 
working to address climate change in plan revisions currently being 
conducted under the 1982 rule.
    Comment: Conflicts between rules. A respondent felt the proposed 
rule's transition section is confusing because there will be situations 
where the old rule can be in conflict with the new rule and the final 
rule should therefore include guidance to handle those conflicting 
situations. Another respondent also felt the entire section needs more 
clarity.
    Response: The transition provision is important to provide a smooth 
change to the new rule, and is workable. Changes were made as described 
above to improve clarity.
    Comment: Planning schedule for revisions. A respondent felt the 
rule should establish some schedule by which overdue plans, or ones due 
within the next year or two, will be revised as currently 68 plans of 
127 plans are past due for revision.
    Response: The Agency does not have the resources to revise all 68 
plans that need revision within the next few years. The Agency posts 
the Chief's schedule for plan revision online at http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/index.htm.
    Comment: Compliance with regulatory scheme. A respondent felt the 
Forest Service should eliminate the proposed rule Sec.  219.2(c) (none 
of the requirements of the final rule applies to projects) and Sec.  
219.17(c) (projects completed under existing forest plans need only be 
consistent with the plan and not the 1982 rule). They believe the 
provisions are inconsistent with case law. They cite several judicial 
decisions. Another respondent felt Sec.  219.17(c) of the proposed rule 
allows plans to be revised free of any obligation to demonstrate 
compliance with the regulatory scheme under which it was developed.
    Response: The Ninth Circuit and Tenth Circuits Court of Appeals 
have confirmed the Agency's position that the 1982 rule was superseded 
by the 2000 Rule, and no longer applies. See, Land Council v. McNair, 
537 F. 3d 981, 989 n. 5 (9th Cir. 2008); Forest Guardians v. U.S. 
Forest Service, 641 F. 3d. 423 (10th Cir. 2011). This provision is 
needed for clarity so that all NFS units understand they are subject to 
the new planning rule for plan development, plan amendment, and plan 
revision, but otherwise are governed by the plan provisions of their 
current plans. Responsible officials, who continue plan development, 
revisions or amendments initiated prior to the effective date of the 
final rule using the procedures of the 1982 rule, must comply with the 
1982 rule procedures in developing those plans, plan revisions or 
amendments. Plan amendments initiated after the effective date of this 
rule, may for three years follow the 1982 rule procedures or the 
requirements of this rule for amendments.
    Comment: Delay of project-specific plan amendments. Some 
respondents felt the rule should require a 30-day delay for the 
effective date of all project-specific plan amendments, as plan 
amendments are significant actions and no amendment may apply only to a 
single concurrent project.

[[Page 21244]]

    Response: Not all plan amendments are significant actions. The 
final rule does not require a 30 day-delay for project-specific plan 
amendments, and provides for site-specific project amendments, in 
keeping with the Department's intent that the amendment process be 
efficient and used more frequently.
Section 219.18--Severability
    If any part of this final rule is held invalid by a court, this 
section provides that the invalid part would be severed from the other 
parts of the rule, which would remain valid.
Section 219.18--Response to Comments
    This section explains that it is the Department's intent that the 
individual provisions of the final rule be severable from each other. 
The Department retains the 2011 proposed rule wording in the final 
rule.
    Comment: Invalidation of entire rule. A respondent felt if any part 
of the proposed rule is judged invalid by a court the rule should state 
the entire rule is invalid.
    Response: The Department retained the provision in the final rule, 
because rulemaking is an extensive Departmental and public undertaking, 
and the entire rule should not be dismissed if a court finds only a 
portion of the rule is inappropriate.
Section 219.19--Definitions
    This section sets out and defines the special terms used in the 
final subpart A. Changes to this section were made in response to 
public comments.
    The Department added definitions for: best management practices, 
candidate species, conserve, disturbance regime, ecological integrity, 
inherent capability of the plan area, integrated resource management, 
maintain, management system, native species, persistence, proposed 
species, recreation opportunity, restore, recovery, riparian management 
zone, scenic character, and stressors for clarity and to define new 
terms.
    The Department removed definitions for: Health(y), landscape 
character, potential wilderness areas, and resilience, because the 
terms are not used in the final rule. The Department moved a modified 
definition of species of conservation concern from Sec.  219.19 to 
Sec.  219.9. The Department removed the definition of system drivers, 
because the term is defined in the rule in Sec.  219.6 as disturbance 
regimes, dominant ecological processes, and stressors--including 
wildland fire, invasive species, and climate change.
    The Department modified the definitions for: assessment, 
collaboration, connectivity, conservation, designated areas, ecological 
conditions, ecosystem, focal species, landscape, multiple use, 
recreation setting, restoration, riparian areas, sole source aquifer, 
sustainability, and sustainable recreation to improve clarity.
    The Department modified the definition of ``ecosystem'' to further 
explain and describe the key characteristics related to ecosystem 
composition, structure, function, and connectivity so the relationship 
between monitoring questions and indicators are clearly related to the 
ecological conditions of Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9.
Section 219.19--Response to Comments
    Comment: Definitions for various terms. Some respondents felt more 
detailed definitions or explanations about specific terms should be 
included in the rule, including: access, aesthetic value, air quality, 
capability, clerical error, concurrence, coordination, cultural images, 
cultural sustenance, decision document, documented need, ecological 
integrity, educational, evaluation, extent practicable, feedbacks, 
fiscal capability of the unit, grasslands, identify, Indian, interested 
parties, irreversible damage, landscape character, no reasonable 
assurance, opportunity, partners, reasonably foreseeable budgets, 
renewable energy projects, renewable resources, scenic attractiveness, 
scenic integrity, small-scale reasonably foreseeable risks, spatial 
mosaic, spiritual, substantial and permanent impairment, sustainable 
management of infrastructure, transportation and utility corridors, 
valid existing rights, and watershed conditions.
    Response: Some of the requested definitions were included in the 
final rule, where including a definition provides additional meaning or 
clarity, or where the term is uncommon terms or used with a specific 
meaning. Other requested definitions were not included, either because 
the term was not included in the final rule, or the Department used the 
terms in their ordinary meaning.
    Comment: Requests for inclusion of definitions. Some respondents 
felt additional definitions should be included in the rule, including: 
airstrip, alternate disputes resolution methods, animal welfare, 
appropriately interpreted and applied, biodiversity, biological 
integration, completeness or wholeness, cost effectiveness, cost 
efficiency, default width, ecological unit, ecologically sustainable, 
economic efficiency, efficiency, environmental justice, healthy and 
resilient ecosystem, incidental recreation, Indian land, internal 
trailheads, materially altered, measureable progress, national historic 
trails, net public benefits, non-Tribal indigenous entity, primitive 
road, reasonable basis, recreational values, roadless area, scenic 
landscape character, science-based understanding, silviculture, 
soundscape, substantive way, sustainable multiple uses, and timely 
manner.
    Response: The final rule either does not use the term; therefore, a 
definition is not provided or the final rule uses the commonly 
understood meaning, making definition unnecessary.
    Comment: Definition of assessment. A respondent felt the definition 
of assessment should be revised to allow for the development of new 
information if and when it is necessary for a successful assessment.
    Response: The Department has modified the definition to be clear 
that an assessment is to focus on and rapidly evaluate existing 
information to provide an informed basis and context for initiating a 
change to a plan or plan development. The need for new information may 
be identified in the assessment report, but development of new 
information is not required or intended during the assessment process.
    Comment: Definition of collaboration processes. A respondent felt 
the Agency should define collaborative process. A respondent requested 
the Agency add the concept of feedback to collaboration definition.
    Response: The proposed rule defined collaboration; the final rule 
defines both collaboration and collaborative process using the proposed 
rule's definition of collaboration. The definition is unchanged except 
that the last sentence of the proposed rule's definition was moved to 
Sec.  219.4. The concept of feedback is indirectly included in the 
proposed rule definition. The concept of feedback is an important part 
of why the Department supports an adaptive framework that provides 
meaningful opportunities for public participation early and throughout 
the process. The moved sentence clarifies that under collaboration the 
Forest Service retains decisionmaking authority and responsibility for 
all decisions throughout the process.
    Comment: Definitions for congressionally designated areas and 
administratively designated areas. A respondent felt separating of 
congressionally designated and administratively designated areas 
through the definition would help in clarifying their differences, 
including a

[[Page 21245]]

definition for national scenic and historic trail. A comment was 
received on the preferred alternative, asking if the lists in the 
definition of designated areas were exhaustive.
    Response: The Department clarified the definition of designated 
areas in the final rule. The definition encompasses both 
congressionally and administratively designated areas, and provides 
examples of areas that are designated by each process. National scenic 
trails are referenced as one of the examples of a designated area, but 
a separate definition was not added to the final rule. The final rule 
provides direction for wilderness and wild and scenic rivers in Sec.  
219.10(b) separately from other designated or recommended areas because 
their associated legislation contains specific requirements for the 
Secretary of Agriculture. The final rule in Sec.  219.10(b)(vi) 
provides for appropriate management of other designated or recommended 
areas, which would include areas such as congressionally designated 
national historic trails. To respond to the comment on the preferred 
alternative, the Department clarified the definition of designated 
areas to explicitly show that the list of examples is not exhaustive by 
removing the word ``include'' and added the words: Examples of * * * 
designated areas are.
    Comment: Definition of connectivity. Some respondents felt the 
definition should remove the word ``separate'' so that it includes 
connectivity both within and between national forests at multiple 
scales, reflecting the disparate needs of different species with 
different capacities for mobility. A respondent said the term is not 
appropriate because it might trigger counterproductive litigation.
    Response: Connectivity is an important part of the concept of 
ecological integrity. The Department therefore retained the term in the 
final rule, and modified it in response to public comments. The 
Department modified the definition of connectivity, removing the words 
that would limit the concept to ``separate national forest or grassland 
areas.'' The final rule definition is worded to apply to several scales 
and to identify the types of the biophysical aspects of ecological 
functions that the term encompasses.
    Comment: Definition of conservation. Respondents felt the proposed 
rule definition fails to include elements of resource use and wise use, 
or should not include preservation or should not include management.
    Response: The Department retains the definition of conservation 
because the definition is consistent with the use of the term in the 
rule. However, the Department added species to the list of resources 
included in the definition so that conservation is defined as the 
protection, preservation, management, or restoration of natural 
environments, ecological communities, and species.
    Comment: Definition of disturbance. A respondent felt the 
definition of disturbance should go beyond biological resources and 
extend to cultural, historic, recreational, and aesthetic resources as 
well.
    Response: In the final rule, the concept of disturbance is limited 
to any disruption of an ecosystem, watershed, plant and animal 
community, or species population: therefore the Department retained the 
proposed rule definition. Such disturbance may result in impacts to 
cultural, historic, recreation, aesthetic, or other resources or uses.
    Comment: Definition of diversity. A respondent felt the rule needs 
a definition of ``diversity.'' One respondent requested a definition of 
biodiversity.
    Response: When the term diversity is used alone in the rule, its 
meaning is the commonly understood use of the term and therefore no 
rule definition of the term is necessary. The final rule retains a 
definition of the term ecosystem diversity. The term biodiversity is 
not in the rule, and therefore no definition of that term is needed.
    Comment: Definition of ecosystem services. Some respondents felt 
specific aspects of services should be included in the definition. 
Other respondents felt the proposed definition is too limiting to 
``direct human utility.'' A respondent felt the proposed rule 
definition mixes services with uses and resources, making the term 
``ecosystem services'' confusing.
    Response: The final rule retains the proposed definition, which 
focuses on the ``benefits people obtain from ecosystems.'' The 
definition is consistent with the MUSYA mandate to ``administer the 
renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use 
and sustained yield of the several products and services obtained 
therefrom'' (16 U.S.C. 529), and allows for changing conditions and 
needs.
    Comment: Definition of focal species. A respondent felt the 
definition of focal species is too narrow: it should not be limited to 
a small number because of fiscal capability.
    Response: The Department changed the definition of focal species 
based on public comment to clarify the intended role of focal species 
in assessing the effectiveness of the plan in maintaining the diversity 
of plant and animal communities in the plan area, as required in Sec.  
219.9. The Department retained the concept of a small number in the 
final rule because the responsible official has discretion to choose 
the small subset of focal species that he or she determines will be 
useful and reasonable in providing the information necessary to make 
informed management decisions. The Department does not expect a focal 
species to be selected for every element of ecological conditions.
    Comment: Definition of integrated resource management. Several 
respondents felt the phrase ``integrated resource management'' needed 
to be defined.
    Response: In the final rule the term has been defined as multiple-
use management that recognizes the interdependence of ecological 
resources and is based on the need for integrated consideration of 
ecological, social, and economic factors. The approach of integrated 
resource management considers all relevant interdependent elements of 
sustainability as a whole, instead of as separate resources or uses. 
``Integrated resource management'' is not the same as the ``all-lands 
approach.'' ``Integrated resource management'' refers to the way in 
which the resources are to be considered, as a whole instead of by 
individual resource. The ``all-lands approach'' refers to the area of 
analysis for the planning phases, which can extend beyond the national 
forest and grassland boundary.
    Comment: Definition of landscape. A respondent felt landscapes 
should not be defined as being irrespective of ownership.
    Response: The Department recognizes and respects ownership 
boundaries. The definition applies to a perspective for assessment 
purposes for resources and influences that may extend beyond the NFS 
boundary. The Department retained the landscape term in the final rule 
because conditions and trends across the broader area may influence, or 
be influenced by projects or activities on NFS lands. Plan components 
would apply only the NFS lands, but the responsible official should be 
informed by an understanding of the broader landscape when developing 
plan components.
    Comment: Definition of local and indigenous knowledge. Some 
respondents felt the rule should provide a definition for local and 
indigenous knowledge, and this knowledge should not be considered on 
the same level as scientifically- or historically-based information.
    Response: Section 219.19 of the final rule retains the proposed 
rule's

[[Page 21246]]

definition for native knowledge. The final rule requires the use of the 
best available scientific information to inform decisions. The final 
rule strikes a balance for using science as an integral and 
foundational, but not the sole, influence on planning, allowing for 
other sources of information or input, including native knowledge, to 
be considered during the planning process.
    Comment: Definition of monitoring. A respondent felt the definition 
of monitoring should be revised to capture the concept of measuring the 
response of resources to land management over time. Another respondent 
felt the definition should include the concepts of inventory, 
continuity, desired conditions, public participation, and open and 
transparent process.
    Response: The final rule revised the proposed rule definition to 
remove the words ``over time and space'' to ensure that the definition 
is broad enough to incorporate the concept of measuring the response of 
resources to land management over time, or at a single instant, at a 
broad geographic scale, or at a specific location, depending on the 
objective for an individual monitoring question or indicator. The rule 
framework itself is based on the concept that the set of monitoring 
questions and indicators that make up the monitoring program will be 
used to inform adaptive management on the unit over time. The terms 
that the commenter wishes added to the definition are key concepts and 
terms in the rule, but adding them to the definition of monitoring is 
unnecessary.
    Comment: Multiple use definition. Some respondents requested 
specific inclusions and exclusions from the definition of ``multiple 
use. Other respondents requested more detailed definitions or 
explanations about specific terms associated with Sec.  219.10 Multiple 
use, such as access, aesthetic value, small-scale renewable energy 
projects and transportation and utility corridors.
    Response: The definition does not reference specific uses or 
services. The definition was established by Congress at 16 U.S.C. 531. 
The type of direction requested by the respondents is more appropriate 
as part of the specific requirements of the final rule, as part of 
plans, or as part of projects or activities carried out under the 
plans.
    Other terms used in Sec.  219.10 are defined where necessary; see 
the first response to comments in this section for additional 
discussion.
    Comment: Definition of participation. A respondent felt that the 
definition of participation be defined as engagement in activities.
    Response: The Department retained the proposed rule definition for 
participation because the Department cannot require engagement; but it 
can offer participation opportunities.
    Comment: Definition of productivity. A respondent felt the current 
definition of ``productivity'' should be amended to include economic 
productivity.
    Response: The Department's use of the term productivity in the rule 
does not include economic productivity; therefore, the proposed rule 
definition is retained in the final rule.
    Comment: Definition of restoration. Several respondents felt the 
definition should not include the concept of going back to ecosystem 
conditions that once existed, especially under changing climatic 
conditions. Still others felt that the definition should be clearer and 
more in line with definitions found in the scientific literature.
    Response: The final planning rule adopts the definition advanced by 
the Society for Ecological Restoration International, but retains from 
the proposed rule (with minor word changes) the additional explanation 
that ecological restoration focuses on reestablishing the composition, 
structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to facilitate 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem sustainability, resilience, and 
health under current and future conditions. Chapter 3 of the Final PEIS 
discusses the relevance of evaluating the range of natural variation in 
the ``Historical Range of Variability (HRV) as a Way of Understanding 
the Historical Nature of Ecosystems and Their Variation'' under the 
``Dynamic Nature of Ecosystems'' portion of the Affected Environment 
discussion.
    Comment: Definition of riparian area vs. riparian management zones. 
Some respondents felt the use of the terms ``riparian areas'' and 
``riparian management zones'' between the preamble and the proposed 
rule were inconsistent. Some felt the proposed definition of riparian 
areas was outdated and did not reflect current science and 
understanding of riparian areas function and management.
    Response: The final rule rewords the proposed rule's definition for 
``riparian areas'' and adds a definition for ``riparian management 
zone.'' Riparian areas are ecologically defined areas of transition 
between terrestrial and aquatic systems and have unique 
characteristics, values, and functions within the landscape. Riparian 
management zones are portions of watersheds areas where riparian-
dependent resources receive primary emphasis. ``Riparian areas'' are 
defined in physical and biological terms; riparian management zones are 
defined in administrative terms. A riparian area and a riparian 
management zone would overlap, but one may be wider or narrower than 
the other.
    Comment: Definition of risk. A respondent felt the definition of 
``risk'' should refer to ``probability'' and ``magnitude.''
    Response: The Department retains the definition of the proposed 
rule for risk because ``probability and magnitude'' are equivalent to 
``likelihood and severity'' in the proposed rule definition, which is 
``a combination of the likelihood that a negative outcome will occur 
and the severity of the subsequent negative consequences.''
    Comment: Definition of social science. A respondent felt the final 
rule should define social science.
    Response: The term ``social science'' was not in the proposed rule 
and is not in the final rule, and therefore need not be defined. The 
final rule includes reference to social sustainability in the 
definition for sustainability.
    Comment: Definition of stressor. A respondent felt the Agency 
should define the term stressor.
    Response: The Department defines the term stressor in the final 
rule as a factor that may directly or indirectly degrade or impair 
ecosystem composition, structure, or ecological process in a manner 
that may impair its ecological integrity, such as invasive species, 
loss of connectivity, or the disruption of a natural disturbance 
regime.
    Comment: Definition of sustainable recreation. A respondent felt 
the term was defined vaguely and should be deleted from the rule. A 
respondent felt ecosystem services and sustainable recreation are 
equivalent concepts but defined differently so that it is confusing. A 
respondent felt the definition should include the predictability of 
opportunities, programs, and facilities over time. A respondent said 
the definition should include ecologically sustainable, economically 
sustainable, fiscally sustainable, socially sustainable, and be focused 
on outcomes. A respondent objected to the inclusion of the undefined 
term ``social sustainability'' in the definition of sustainable 
recreation, because social sustainability might be an opportunity to 
remove hunting and fishing from the NFS.
    Response: The Department decided to keep the term but modify the 
definition for clarity. The definition in the rule is: ``the set of 
recreation settings and opportunities on the National Forest System 
that is ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable

[[Page 21247]]

for present and future generations.'' In addition, the Department 
defined the terms economic sustainability and social sustainability as 
part of the definition of sustainability. The socially sustainable part 
of sustainable recreation (when considered within the boundaries of the 
NFS, which is how we have now defined it) deals largely with addressing 
conflicts between uses.
    The Department's use of the term socially sustainable is intended 
to give the opposite direction as the respondent's concern, leading to 
support for hunting and fishing opportunities because hunting and 
fishing are important to sustain traditions and connect people to the 
land and to one another.
    Comment: Definition of viable population. Some respondents felt the 
rule should replace ``sufficient distribution to be resilient and 
adaptable'' in the proposed definition and incorporate the phrase 
``well-distributed in habitats throughout the plan area'' and ``high 
likelihood'' over a specified time period (50 years) into the 
definition of viable population.
    Response: See the response to comments to section 219.9 for a 
discussion of the term well-distributed.
    The final planning rule does not specifically incorporate ``high 
likelihood'' or a specified time period into the definition of viable 
population because it is difficult to interpret and measure 
consistently and because estimating the probabilities of maintaining a 
viable population of a particular species of conservation concern over 
a certain period time will vary from species to species and from unit 
to unit, depending on existing conditions and potential existing and 
future threats and stressors, especially those related to climate 
change, that may affect species differently on different NFS units.
Subpart B--Pre-Decisional Administrative Review Process
Introduction to This Subpart
    Subpart B sets forth the requirements for the objection process in 
this final rule.
    Prior to the 2000 rule, the administrative review process for plan 
decisions provided an opportunity for a post-decisional appeal. With 
this process, a plan was generally put into effect before the appeal 
was resolved. This scenario has often been problematic because when 
reviewing appeals, if a reviewing officer finds fault with a plan 
already in effect, the remedy can be costly to both the Forest Service 
and the public in terms of time and money. Such a situation can also 
damage public trust in the planning process. Interim direction is often 
put into place while the responsible official prepares further analysis 
and other appropriate corrections.
    After receiving initial public input, reviewing public comments, 
and taking into account agency history and experience regarding pre- or 
post-decision administrative appeal processes, the Department decided 
to include a pre-decisional administrative review process, called an 
objection process, in the final rule. An objection prompts an 
independent administrative review by an official at a level above the 
deciding official and a process for resolution of issues. This process 
allows interested individuals to voice objections and point out 
potential errors or violations of law, regulations, or agency policy 
prior to approval and implementation of a decision. The Forest Service 
has successfully used a similar process since 2004 for administrative 
review of hazardous fuel reduction projects developed pursuant to the 
Healthy Forests Restoration Act.
Section 219.50--Purpose and Scope
    This section states that the purpose of the subpart is to establish 
a process for pre-decisional administrative review of plans, plan 
amendments, and plan revisions.
Section 219.50--Response to Comments
    This subpart describes a pre-decisional administrative review 
(objection) process for plans, plan amendments, or plan revisions. The 
Department retains the 2011 proposed rule wording in the final rule of 
Sec.  219.50. To respond to comments on the preferred alternative, the 
Department changed the wording in Sec.  219.50 and throughout subpart B 
to clarify that the parties that may object include States and Tribes 
as well as organizations and individuals. The preferred alternative and 
the proposed rule used the terms ``individual'' and ``organization'' 
for those who may file an objection. States and Tribes are not 
organizations; therefore, the Department changed the term 
``organization'' to ``entity'' in sections 219.50, 219.53, 219.55 and 
219.61. These modifications to subpart B are clarifications, not 
changes in requirements,
    Comment: Objection process over appeals process. Some respondents 
expressed support for the objection process while some respondents want 
the objection process removed and replaced with the appeals process, or 
want to see both processes used.
    Response: The Department's choice of this approach is based on two 
primary considerations. First, a pre-decisional objection is more 
consistent with the collaborative nature of this final rule and 
encourages interested parties to bring specific concerns forward 
earlier in the planning process, allowing the Forest Service a chance 
to consider and respond to potential problems in a plan or decision 
before it is approved and implemented. Second, pre-decisional 
objections lead to a more timely and efficient planning process, 
reducing waste of taxpayer and agency time and dollars spent 
implementing projects under plans subsequently found to be flawed.
    With a pre-decisional objection process, the responsible official, 
the reviewing official, interested parties, and the objector have the 
opportunity to seek reasonable solutions to conflicting views of plan 
components before a responsible official approves a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision. This approach fits well with a 
collaborative approach to planning, and encourages resolution before a 
plan, plan amendment, or plan revision is approved.
    The Department believes that having both a pre-decisional objection 
process and a post decision appeals process would be redundant and 
inefficient.
Section 219.51--Plans, Plan Amendments, or Plan Revisions Not Subject 
To Objection
    This section identifies those plans, plan amendments, or plan 
revisions that would not be subject to the pre-decisional objection 
process under the final rule.
Section 219.51--Response to Comments
    The Department retains the 2011 proposed rule wording in the final 
rule except to change the term formal comments to substantive formal 
comments. This change was made throughout this subpart.
    Comment: Secretary decisions subject to administrative review. Some 
respondents felt decisions made by the Secretary or the Under Secretary 
for Natural Resources and Environment affecting the Forest Service 
should be subject to administrative review.
    Response: Land management plan decisions made by the Secretary or 
Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment have never been 
subject to appeal or objection. The Department chooses not to change 
this approach. The Agency anticipates that approvals of plans, plan 
amendments, or plan revisions by the Secretary or

[[Page 21248]]

Under Secretary will continue to be rare occurrences.
Section 219.52--Giving Notice of a Plan, Plan Amendment, or Plan 
Revision Subject To Objection Before Approval
    Section 219.52 provides additional information for providing the 
public notice, required by Sec.  219.16 subpart A, that would begin the 
objection filing period. This notice serves three particular purposes: 
(1) To notify parties eligible to file objections that the objection 
filing period is commencing; (2) to notify parties eligible to file 
objections and others of the availability of planning documents and how 
to obtain those documents; and, (3) to establish a publicly and legally 
verifiable start date for the objection filing period.
    Section 219.52 would require the Forest Service to make a special 
effort to ensure the public understands how the objection process in 
this subpart would be used for each plan, plan amendment, and plan 
revision. Specifically, the responsible official would be required to 
disclose the objection procedures by stating that this process will be 
used during scoping under the NEPA process and in the appropriate NEPA 
documents. Early disclosure will help ensure that those parties who may 
want to file objections are aware of the necessary steps to be 
eligible.
    The final rule also requires the responsible official to make the 
public notice for beginning the objection filing period available to 
those who have requested the environmental documents or who are 
eligible to file an objection. This requirement is intended to ensure 
that the necessary information reaches those who have specifically 
requested it and those who could have a particular interest in the 
start of the objection filing period by virtue of their eligibility to 
file an objection.
    Paragraph (c) outlines the format and content of the public notice 
to ensure potential objectors have necessary procedural information, 
can find underlying documents, and understand the process, timing, and 
requirements for filing an objection.
Section 219.52--Response to Comments
    Changes were made to wording in this section to be consistent with 
changes made in response to public comments on other sections in this 
subpart, including changing the term ``formal comments'' to 
``substantive formal comments'' and the objection periods from 30 days 
in the proposed rule to 45 days, or 60 days if an EIS was prepared.
    The Department added a sentence to paragraph (a) of this section to 
allow the responsible official to choose to use the objection process 
for a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision initiated before the 
effective date of the rule even when the scoping notice had not 
indicated that an objection process would be used. To ensure meaningful 
notice is given, however, the notice that the objection process will be 
used must be given prior to an opportunity to provide substantive 
formal comment on a proposed plan, plan amendment, or revision and 
associated environmental analysis.
    A requirement to make the documents identified in paragraph (c)(1) 
of this section available online at the time of public notice was added 
for clarity, to reflect the Department's intent.
    Comment: Notice of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision subject 
to objection. Some respondents felt ``making available'' the public 
notice for the beginning of the objection period for a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision was not adequate notification.
    Response: Section 219.16(a)(3) of subpart A requires formal 
notification of the beginning of the objection period by posting the 
information online, and via the Federal Register and/or the newspaper 
of record as set forth in Sec.  219.16(c). The term ``making 
available'' is used in this section to allow the responsible official 
the flexibility to use other tools at his or her disposal for 
notification, for example, sending an email to a list of interested 
parties or issuing a news release, in addition to the formal 
notifications identified in Sec.  219.16.
    Comment: Specific date for the start of the objection process. Some 
respondents felt there is a need for a specific publication date for 
the beginning of the objection period.
    Response: The Department believes the matter is best addressed by 
having the objection filing deadline begin the day after publication of 
the public notice as outlined in Sec.  219.56(b)(2). Although the 
Agency can request newspapers publish notices on a certain date, a 
publication date is not guaranteed. When publication occurs on a 
different date than estimated, the result could lead to confusion. By 
not publishing a (potentially different) starting date, the Department 
believes the potential for confusion is reduced or eliminated and 
leaves all parties with the same information.
    Comment: Need to guess and predict decision. Some respondents said 
the objection process forces the public to guess and predict what the 
actual decision will be.
    Response A draft plan decision document is one of the items Sec.  
219.52 (c) requires to be made available to the public when public 
notice of the beginning of the objection process is given. If no 
objections are filed, the draft, once signed would become the decision. 
If an objection is filed, there may be changes made for the final 
decision. The objection process allows objectors and interested parties 
to meet with the reviewing officer to try to resolve issues raised in 
an objection before a final plan decision. This process is more 
efficient and more consistent with the participatory approach used in 
the final rule.
Section 219.53--Who May File an Objection
    This section of the rule identifies eligibility requirements for 
filing an objection under this subpart. This section is written in the 
context of Sec.  219.4 in subpart A, which expresses the Agency's 
intent to involve the public early and throughout the planning process 
in keeping with the collaborative nature of this final rule.
Section 219.53--Response to Comments
    Except for minor corrections of editorial errors, the Department 
retains the proposed rule wording. The Department changed the term 
``formal comments'' to ``substantive formal comments.'' In the proposed 
rule, we used both terms; in the final rule, we used the term 
``substantive formal comments'' consistently throughout. The Department 
clarified in paragraph (a) that objections must be based on previously 
submitted substantive formal comments ``attributed to the objector'' to 
be consistent with Sec.  219.54(c)(7). As discussed in response to 
comments for Sec.  219.50, the Department changed the term 
``organizations'' to ``entities'' in this section. These changes are 
not changes in requirements, but are clarifications.
    Comment: Substantive formal comment. Some respondents requested the 
rule define ``substantive formal comment.''
    Response: The proposed rule included a definition for ``formal 
comments.'' The final rule includes instead a definition of 
``substantive formal comments,'' the term used throughout this subpart 
in the final rule, at Sec.  219.62 of the final rule, in response to 
this comment. The definition is consistent with the definition used in 
Agency appeal regulations 36 CFR part 215 for ``substantive comment.''
    Comment: Who may file an objection? Some respondents felt limiting 
the opportunity for filing an objection to

[[Page 21249]]

those who have participated in providing substantive formal comments 
was the correct approach. Other respondents felt anyone should be able 
to file an objection.
    Response: The rule requires the responsible official to engage the 
public early and throughout the planning process in an open and 
transparent way, providing opportunities for meaningful public 
participation to inform all stages of planning. The requirement for 
limiting the opportunity for filing an objection to those who have 
provided substantive formal comments during at least one public 
participation opportunity is intended to encourage public engagement 
throughout the planning process and help ensure that the Agency has the 
opportunity to hear and respond to potential problems as early as 
possible in the process. Without this requirement some substantive 
problems might not be identified until the end of the planning process.
    This requirement will increase the efficiency of the planning 
process and the effectiveness of plans by encouraging early and 
meaningful public participation. Engaging the public early and often 
results in better identification of issues and concerns and allows the 
Agency to respond earlier in the process and in a way that is 
transparent to all members of the public.
    Comment: Substantive comment submittal requirement. Some 
respondents felt the proposed rule requirement for participation by a 
formal comment submittal in order to file an objection is an undue 
burden on the public because organizations and individuals with limited 
resources cannot be expected to participate in all public involvement 
opportunities. Others felt it places an unreasonable limitation on the 
ability of citizens to participate in the objection process. Still 
others disagree with the basic concept of not submitting formal 
comments equates to not having an opportunity to object.
    Response: Because the final rule requires significant investment in 
providing opportunities for public participation, the Department 
believes it is important to honor that process and ensure that issues 
arise as early in the process as possible, when then can best be 
addressed. The Department does not believe it is too high a burden for 
a potential objector to first engage in and provide formal substantive 
comments during at least one of the numerous opportunities for public 
participation during the planning process for a plan, plan amendment, 
or plan revision. Subpart B does not require participation in every one 
of those opportunities. This requirement should assist in the timely 
involvement of the public. The objection process is expected to resolve 
many potential conflicts by encouraging resolution before a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision is approved.
    Comment: Objection eligibility. Some respondents felt the objection 
process forces the public to submit comments on everything in order to 
preserve their right to object based on submitted comments. A number of 
respondents stated objections should be permitted on issues raised by 
any party at any time.
    Response: The planning process is intended to engage interested 
individuals and entities in an ongoing dialogue in which all 
substantive issues and concerns are identified. The Department decided 
to retain the requirements in this section to make sure that issues are 
identified as early as possible, by the parties interested in those 
issues. At the same time, this subpart recognizes that there may be 
issues that arise after the opportunities for public comment, and 
allows parties who have participated earlier to object on those issues.
    Comment: Objections by other Federal agencies and Federal 
employees. A respondent stated that objections from other Federal 
agencies should be allowed. Another respondent stated that a Federal 
employee should be allowed to file an objection and should be allowed 
to include and discuss non-public information in their objection.
    Response: The objection process is an administrative review 
opportunity for individuals and entities, other than Federal agencies. 
Federal agencies have other avenues for working together to resolve 
concerns, including consultations required by various environmental 
protection laws. It is expected that Federal agencies will work 
cooperatively during the planning process.
    Federal employees who meet eligibility requirements of Sec.  
219.53(a) and choose to file an objection may do so, but not in an 
official capacity. They must not be on official duty or use Government 
property or equipment in the preparation or filing of an objection, nor 
may they include information only available to them in their official 
capacity as Federal employees.
Section 219.54--Filing an Objection
    This section of the final rule sets out how to file an objection, 
and the minimum content that must be included.
Section 219.54--Response to Comments
    Minor changes were made to this section in response to public 
comment. Paragraph (a) was changed to clarify that all objections must 
be submitted to the reviewing officer for the plan. The Department 
added ``other published Forest Service documents'' to (b)(2) of this 
section to indicate that, along with Forest Service Directives System 
documents and land management plans, published Forest Service documents 
may be referenced rather than included in an objection. The Department 
also clarified in Paragraph (b) that any documents not listed in 
(b)(1)-(4) that are referenced in an objection must be included with 
the objection or a web link must be provided. These minor changes and 
clarifications reflect public comments.
    Comment: Proposed prohibition on incorporation by reference. Some 
respondents felt the proposed prohibition on incorporation by reference 
is unduly burdensome. Some felt the wording on what references are 
required to be included in an objection were unclear.
    Response: Section 219.54(b) of the final rule retains the proposed 
rule wording. The Department believes the requirements are clear, and 
will help the reviewing officer understand the objection and review it 
in a timely way. The documents that can be included by reference 
include: Federal laws and regulations, Forest Service Directives System 
documents, land management plans, and other published documents, 
documents referenced by the Forest Service in the planning 
documentation related to the proposal subject to objection, and formal 
comments previously provided to the Forest Service by the objector 
during a proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision comment 
period. The final rule was modified to allow for published Forest 
Service documents to be included by reference as well. All documents 
not identified in the list in Sec.  219.54(b), or Web links to those 
documents, must be included with the objection, if referenced in the 
objection.
    Comment: Internet submission of objections. Some respondents felt 
the rule should allow filing of objections via Internet communication.
    Response: An email submittal to the appropriate email address is an 
acceptable form of filing an objection.
    Comment: Remedy inclusion requirement. Some respondents felt 
requiring inclusion of a potential remedy presents an obstacle for 
participation in the objection process.

[[Page 21250]]

    Response: The objection process sets the stage for meaningful 
dialogue on how a proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision could 
be improved. The objection, including suggesting about how the proposed 
plan may be improved, can be concise, but should provide a basis for 
dialogue to resolve concerns. The reviewing officer should be able to 
use the objection to engage with the objector and other interested 
parties during the objection period to determine an appropriate course 
of action.
Section 219.55--Objections Set Aside From Review
    This section describes the various circumstances that would require 
a reviewing officer to set aside an objection from review and the 
notification requirements related to setting an objection aside.
Section 219.55--Response to Comments
    The Department made minor changes for clarity and consistency. 
Comments on this section were answered in response to comments 
regarding Sec.  219.53. As discussed in response to comments for Sec.  
219.50, the Department changed the term ``organization'' to ``entity'' 
in this section.
Section 219.56--Objection Time Periods and Process
    This section details the time in which objections can be filed, how 
time periods are calculated, the evidence required to demonstrate a 
timely filing, the role and responsibilities of the reviewing officer, 
publication of notifications, and the reviewing officer's response 
requirements.
Section 219.56--Response to Comments
    Two changes were made to this section. The Department lengthened 
the amount of time from 30 days to 60 days to file an objection if an 
EIS has been prepared and the Department lengthened the time from 30 
days to 45 days if an EIS is not prepared. This change in procedural 
requirements was made to give more time to the public in response to 
public comment on the proposed rule. Changes to other sections in this 
subpart were made to be consistent with this change.
    In addition, in paragraph (e) of this section, the Department added 
the requirement that for an objection or part of an objection related 
to the selection of species of conservation concern, the reviewing 
officer may not be the regional forester who identified those species, 
but must be a different line officer. The Chief may be the reviewing 
officer or may delegate the reviewing officer authority and 
responsibility to a line officer at the same administrative level as 
the regional forester. In addition, the Department added a requirement 
for the reviewing officer for the plan to convey any such objections to 
the appropriate line officer. These changes in requirements are needed 
because of the change in Sec.  219.9(c) subpart A requiring that the 
regional forester, rather than the responsible official for the plan, 
identify the species of conservation concern.
    Comment: Thirty-day comment period. Some respondents felt the 30-
day time limit for filing an objection is too short.
    Response: Section 219.56 was changed to modify the objection filing 
period to 60 days for a new plan, plan revision, or a plan amendment 
for which an EIS is prepared, and 45 days for amendments for which an 
EIS is not prepared in response to this comment.
    Comment: Interested person's timeframe. Some respondents felt the 
proposed interested person's timeframe of 10 days is insufficient and 
would limit interested parties ability to fully participate in the 
objection process.
    Response: The final rule retains the 10-day requirement. Persons 
who have been participating throughout the process should already be 
familiar with those issues, and should be able to file a request to 
participate within this timeframe. Granting a longer timeframe for 
filing a request to participate in an objection would affect the 
reviewing officer's ability to schedule meetings in a timely manner to 
discuss issues raised in the objection with the objector and interested 
parties, thereby delaying resolution of an objection and impacting the 
reviewing officer's ability to respond to all objections within the 
timeframe provided by Sec.  219.57.
Section 219.57--Resolution of Objections
    This section explains the Department's requirements for the process 
and responsibilities related to the resolution of objectives. The 
intent of this process is to have a meaningful dialogue with objectors 
and interested parties in order to resolve as many concerns as possible 
prior to approval of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision.
Section 219.57--Response to Comments
    The Department retains the proposed rule wording in the final rule.
    Comment: Some respondents felt that not requiring a point by point 
written response to objections is contrary to the objective of 
resolving issues before decisions are made.
    Response: It is the intent of the Agency that all issues raised 
through objection will be responded to, although the responses may not 
necessarily address each issue individually. Consolidating objection 
issues and answering with a single response may be appropriate for 
objection issues of a similar or related nature. Consolidated responses 
allow similar issues to be examined and responded to consistently and 
efficiently.
Section 219.58--Timing of a Plan, Plan Amendment, or Plan Revision 
Decision
    This section describes when a responsible official could approve a 
plan, plan amendment, or plan revision.
Section 219.58--Response to Comments
    Other than a minor correction to paragraph (c) to change ``30-day 
time period'' to ``allotted filing period'' to be consistent with the 
option of either the 60-day or 45-day time period for filing of an 
objection under Sec.  219.56, the Department retains the proposed rule 
wording in the final rule.
    Comment: A respondent felt that the 5-day business period following 
the objection period should be increased to 10 days.
    Response: The Department determined that 5 business days are an 
adequate time period for an objection that was timely filed to be 
received by the reviewing officer, under any delivery option.
Section 219.59--Use of Other Administrative Review Processes
    This section would allow for the use of other administrative review 
processes in lieu of the objection process in certain circumstances 
when the Forest Service is participating in a multi-Federal agency 
planning process or when a plan amendment is approved in a decision 
document approving a project or activity.
Section 219.59--Response to Comments
    The proposed rule authorized the reviewing officer to choose 
whether to adopt the administrative review procedure of another Federal 
agency. The final rule instead gives the responsible official this 
authority, to better reflect the Department's intent, and consistent 
with the requirement for the responsible official to notify the public 
early in the planning process that a review process other than the 
objection process of this subpart would be used.
    Comment: Public burden. Some respondents expressed concern about 
the unreasonable and unfair burden placed on the public for site-
specific

[[Page 21251]]

plan amendments by having to respond to two processes, the NEPA appeal 
of project level activity and the planning NFMA objection process for 
planning decision.
    Response: The Department recognizes there may be limited 
circumstances when a plan amendment decision applicable to a project 
and all future projects in the plan area is made at the same time as 
that project or activity decision. In such circumstances, the objection 
process applies to the plan amendment decision, and the review process 
of 36 CFR part 215 or 218 would apply to the project or activity 
decision (Sec.  219.59(b)). In these circumstances, while the NEPA 
analysis for amendment and project may be combined, the responsible 
official is making two separate decisions: A project or activity 
decision and a plan amendment that applies to all future projects or 
activities. Each action, project, and amendment, should be reviewed 
under its appropriate review procedures. A person or entity may seek 
review of either or both, depending upon the person's or entity's 
concerns.
    The Department requires the public be notified during the NEPA 
process that the objection process will be used (unless the option 
provided by paragraph (a) of this section to use another process is 
available and chosen). The Agency's NEPA requirements serve to assure 
ample opportunities for notification of the public of the use of the 
objection process as well as the beginning of the objection process.
Section 219.60--Secretary's Authority
    This section clarifies that nothing in this subpart restricts the 
statutory authority of the Secretary of Agriculture regarding the 
protection, management, or administration of NFS lands.
Section 219.60--Response to Comments
    The section of the final rule is unchanged from the proposed rule. 
No comments were submitted by the public on this section.
Section 219.61--Information Collection Requirements
    This section explains that this subpart's requirements regarding 
information that an objector must provide are ``information collection 
requirements'' as defined by 5 CFR part 1320 and that these 
requirements have been approved by the Office of Management and Budget.
Section 219.61--Response to Comments
    This section of the final rule is unchanged from the proposed rule. 
No comments were submitted by the public on this section.
Section 219.62--Definitions
    This section defines some of the terms and phrases used in subpart 
B of the proposed rule.
Section 219.62--Response to Comments
    The Department has made a few minor changes throughout this 
section.
    The final rule dropped the definition of ``formal comments'' and 
added a definition of ``substantive formal comments.'' This definition 
includes the definition of the proposed rule's term, ``formal 
comments,'' and added wording to clarify when comments are considered 
substantive. The final rule also modified the definition of ``objection 
period'' by replacing the proposed rule's ``30 calendar day period'' 
with ``allotted filing period.'' As discussed in response to comments 
for Sec.  219.50, the Department changed the term ``organization'' to 
``entity'' in this section.
    Comment: Substantive formal comment: Some respondents requested the 
rule define ``substantive formal comment.''
    Response: In response to this comment, and because the term 
``substantive formal comment'' is now used consistently throughout this 
subpart, the final rule defines ``substantive formal comments.'' The 
definition is consistent with the definition used in Agency appeal 
regulations 36 CFR 215 for ``substantive comment.''

Regulatory Certifications

Regulatory Planning and Review

    The Agency reviewed this final rule under U.S. Department of 
Agriculture (Department) procedures and Executive Order (E.O.) 13563 
issued January 18, 2011, and E.O. 12866 issued September 30, 1993. 
Executive Orders 13563 and 12866 direct agencies to assess all costs 
and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, if regulation is 
necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits 
(including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety 
effects, distributive impacts, and equity). E.O. 13563 emphasizes the 
importance of quantifying both costs and benefits, of reducing costs, 
of harmonizing rules, and of promoting flexibility.
    The final rule will not have an annual effect of $100 million or 
more on the economy or adversely affect productivity, competition, 
jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State or local 
governments. This final rule will not interfere with an action taken or 
planned by another Agency. Finally, this final rule will not alter the 
budgetary impact of entitlements, grants, user fees, or loan programs 
or the rights and obligations of recipients of such programs. However, 
because of the extensive interest in National Forest System (NFS) 
planning and decisionmaking, this rule has been designated a 
significant regulatory action, although not economically significant, 
under section 3(f) of Executive Order 12866. Accordingly, the rule has 
been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
    A cost benefit analysis, including the regulatory impact analysis 
requirements associated with Executive Orders 13563 and 12866 and OMB 
circulars, has been developed. The analysis evaluates the regulatory 
impact and compares the costs and benefits of implementing the final 
rule to the baseline, which assumes planning pursuant to the 1982 rule 
procedures, as allowed by the transition provisions of the 2000 
planning rule (36 CFR 219.35(b), 74 FR 67073 (December 18, 2009)). This 
analysis is posted on the World Wide Web at: http://www.fs.usda/planningrule, along with other documents associated with this final 
rule.
    The scope of this analysis is limited to programmatic or agency 
procedural activities related to plan development, plan revision, and 
plan amendment of land management plans for management units (for 
example, national forests, grasslands, prairies) within the NFS. No 
costs or benefits associated with on-the-ground projects or activities 
are characterized or projected. Potential procedural effects evaluated 
in the analysis include potential changes in agency costs for planning 
and changes in overall planning efficiency. In this analysis, costs 
refer to planning costs to the Agency. Benefits refer to the benefits 
of the alternatives in terms of planning efficiency and capacity for 
land management plans to maintain long-term health and productivity of 
the land for the benefits of human communities and natural resources. 
This analysis identifies and compares the costs and benefits associated 
with developing, maintaining, revising, and amending NFS land 
management plans under six alternatives: Alternative A the proposed NFS 
planning rule (proposed rule); Modified Alternative A modification of 
the proposed rule (final rule); Alternative B the implementation of 
1982 rule procedures under the 2000 rule (No Action); Alternative C the 
minimum to meet the National Forest

[[Page 21252]]

Management Act (NFMA) and purpose and need; Alternative D a modified 
version of the proposed rule with an alternative approach to species 
diversity and an emphasis on watershed health; Alternative E a modified 
version of the proposed rule with emphasis on monitoring performance 
and collaboration. Alternative B is the no action alternative and 
therefore the baseline for this analysis.
    The final rule includes the same concepts and underlying principles 
as the proposed rule. However, there are a number of changes to the 
rule text and to the document structure. The changes are based on 
public comment received during the comment period on the DEIS and the 
proposed rule (Alternative A).
    The cost and benefits of the final rule are evaluated within the 
context of a planning framework consisting of the three-part learning 
and planning cycle: Assessment, development/revision/amendment, and 
monitoring. The cost-benefit analysis focuses on key activities related 
to this three-part planning cycle for which agency costs can be 
estimated with the 1982 rule procedures as a baseline. Differences in 
costs across alternatives are estimated when possible, but benefits are 
discussed qualitatively as potential changes in procedural or 
programmatic efficiency. The key activities for which costs were 
analyzed include: (1) Assessments (for example, identification and 
evaluation of existing information relevant to the plan area to 
establish a basis of information and the landscape-scale context for 
management prior to changing the plan); (2) public participation (for 
example, collaboration and public participation activities not 
including those required by the NFMA and NEPA); (3) development and 
analysis of plan revision and amendment decisions (developing of 
alternatives to address the need to change the plan, analyzing and 
comparing the effects of alternatives, notification and comment 
solicitation requirements under NEPA, and finalizing and documenting 
plan revision and plan amendment decisions); (4) science support 
(activities for assuring identification and use of the best available 
scientific information); (5) resolution of issues regarding plan 
revisions or plan amendments through the administrative processes of 
appeals or objections; (6) monitoring (limited to those monitoring 
activities that support planning); and (7) minimum plan maintenance 
(minimum expenses to maintain a plan during non-revision years, 
excluding assessment, collaboration, and analysis/decision costs 
associated specifically with plan amendments).
    Primary sources of data used to estimate agency costs include 
recent cost-benefit analyses, business evaluations, and budget 
justifications for planning rules issued between 2000 and 2008 and 
recent historical data (1996-2009) regarding regional and unit-level 
budget allocations and paid expenditures for planning and monitoring 
activities related to planning. The 1982 rule procedures are considered 
the baseline for this analysis. Until a new planning rule is in place, 
the 1982 rule procedures are being used, as permitted by the transition 
provision of the 2000 rule, to develop, revise, and amend all plans. 
Agency costs are initially estimated for the 1982 rule procedures and 
then used as a baseline from which adjustments are made, based on 
explicit differences in planning procedures, to estimate the 
incremental impact of the final rule. However, it should be noted that 
cost projections of the final rule are speculative because there are 
challenges anticipating the process costs of revising and amending 
plans at this programmatic level of analysis. Annual costs are 
estimated separately for years during which units (with regional 
support) are engaged in plan revision and the years units are engaged 
in plan maintenance/amendment. The estimated costs are then aggregated 
to estimate total planning costs. Based on past studies and analyses of 
plan revisions under the 1982 rule procedures, the agency determines 
that plan revisions under the 1982 rule procedures will take 
approximately 5 years. These studies and analyses indicate that plan 
revisions for some units may take 7 years or longer. For estimation of 
average agency costs for planning over a 15-year planning cycle, it is 
assumed that management units will be engaged in plan revision for 3 to 
4 years under the final rule and 5 years under the 1982 rule 
procedures, assuming annual plan maintenance or more frequent but 
shorter amendments than the 1982 rule procedures will be occurring for 
the remaining years between revision cycles.
    Monitoring is assumed to occur every year, but monitoring differs 
slightly for plan revision years compared to maintenance years. Shorter 
revision periods reflect the expectation that the process for revising 
plans will be more efficient under the final rule because of procedural 
changes described below (see ``Efficiency and Cost Effectiveness 
Impacts''). It is also assumed that approximately 120 management units 
will initiate plan revision over the next 15 years (2012 through 2026). 
Total costs are assumed to cover activities directly related to 
planning (and monitoring for planning purposes) at the unit and 
regional office levels, as well as indirect or overhead (cost pools) 
activity for supporting planning activities, but do not include 
project-level costs. Costs associated with planning at the national 
office and research stations are assumed to remain relatively constant 
across alternatives; these costs are unknown but not expected to be 
substantial compared to other costs evaluated. Total costs (2009 
dollars ($)) are estimated for a 15-year planning cycle and then 
annualized assuming a 3 percent and 7 percent discount rate. Annualized 
costs accrued over the 15-year period reflect the annual flow of costs 
that have been adjusted to acknowledge society's time value of money.
    Due to the programmatic nature of the final action, the benefits 
derived from land management plans developed, revised, or amended under 
the different alternatives are not quantified. Instead, the benefits of 
the alternatives are assessed qualitatively for procedural or 
programmatic efficiency. Efficiency is a function of (1) the time and 
resources used (costs) to complete and maintain plans, and (2) the 
degree to which those plans are capable of providing direction for 
resource monitoring, management, and use/access that sustains multiple 
uses (including ecosystem services) in perpetuity and maintains long-
term health and productivity of the land for the benefit of human 
communities and natural resources, giving due consideration to relative 
values of resources (that is, meets the objectives of the NFMA and 
other key guiding legislation).
Agency Cost Impacts
    Results of the cost analysis indicate agency costs increase for 
some key activities and decrease for others under the final rule and 
alternatives. However, total annual planning costs are not projected to 
be substantially different between the final rule and the 1982 rule 
procedures. Estimates of potential differences in planning costs are 
complicated by the unknown effects of any future Forest Service 
directives that might be developed to support the final rule.
    As shown in Table 1, the annual average undiscounted cost to the 
Agency for all planning-related activities under the final rule ($97.7 
million per year) are estimated to be $4.8 million per year lower 
compared to the proposed rule ($102.5 million per year), and $6.3 
million per year lower

[[Page 21253]]

compared to the 1982 rule procedures ($104 million per year).

                                         Table 1--Summary of Estimated Annual Average Costs of Alternative Rules
                                                                [In million $ per year *]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                               Estimated annual average costs            Net savings/(cost)  comparisons
                                                                    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                          Final rule to
                                                                        Final rule     Proposed rule      1982 rule      Final rule to      1982 rule
                                                                                                          procedures     proposed rule      procedures
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Annual average undiscounted costs..................................             97.7            102.5            104                4.8              6.3
Annualized discounted costs at 3%..................................             97              102              103                5                6
Annualized discounted costs at 7%..................................             96.3            101.2            102.2              4.9              5.9
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Estimates are in 2009 dollars.

    Assuming a 3 percent discount rate, the projected annualized cost 
for the final rule is estimated to be $97 million, while the projected 
annualized cost for the proposed rule is $102 million, implying an 
annualized cost difference between the final rule and the proposed rule 
of $5 million, while the projected annualized cost for the 1982 rule 
procedures is $103 million, implying a projected annualized cost 
difference of $6 million. Assuming a 7 percent discount rate for the 
same timeframe, the projected annual cost estimate for the final rule 
is $96.3 million compared to $102.2 million under the 1982 rule 
procedures.
    Given the relatively small change in estimated costs, combined with 
the uncertainty associated with costing assumptions, estimated annual 
planning costs for the final rule are not projected to be substantially 
different from the proposed rule and the 1982 procedures. However, over 
a 15-year period more plan revisions and amendments are expected to be 
completed under the final rule as compared to the 1982 rule procedures 
for about the same amount of cost estimated. It is anticipated that 
units will have greater capacity to maintain the currency, reliability, 
and legitimacy of plans to meet the objectives of the MUSYA, the NFMA, 
and the planning rule (Sec.  219.1(b) and (c)): Thereby improving the 
quality of plans and therefore the efficiency of the planning process.
    Based on the above quantitative comparison, annual average planning 
costs to the Agency are projected to be similar for the final rule, the 
proposed rule, and the 1982 procedures. A learning curve is expected 
under the final rule. During the initial efforts by management units to 
develop, revise, or amend plans under the new rule, costs are expected 
to reflect additional time and resources needed to adjust to a new 
planning framework, including training. It is likely the cost of 
training will decrease gradually over time. Therefore, during the first 
15-year period, planning costs will be slightly elevated and not 
significantly different from the no-action alternative as units adjust 
to the new planning process and build collaborative capacity. In 
subsequent 15-year periods, planning costs are likely to decrease as 
the new process becomes more established. Planning costs in subsequent 
planning cycles are expected to decrease, recognizing there will still 
be efficiency gains during the initial planning efforts.
    The cost and benefit analysis assumed eight management units will 
start plan revision annually. Therefore, approximately 120 management 
units will at least initiate plan revision over the next 15 years (2012 
through 2026). This analysis also assumed each management unit would 
take 3 to 4 years to revise a plan under the final rule and 5 years 
under the 1982 rule procedures. Given these assumptions, over a 15 year 
period, there would be approximately 104 plan revisions completed under 
the final rule in contrast to an estimated 88 plans revised under the 
1982 rule procedures, a net increase of 16 plans revised under the 
final rule.
Efficiency and Cost-Effectiveness Impacts
    The numerous public meetings, forums, and roundtable discussions 
revealed growing concern about a variety of risks, stressors, and 
challenges to planning (for example, climate change; insects and 
disease; recreation, timber, and other shifts in demands; population 
growth, and other demographic shifts; water supply protection and other 
ecosystem support services). Addressing these types of risks and 
contingencies requires a larger landscape perspective, information from 
a broad spectrum of sources, and a framework that can facilitate 
adaptation to new information. The new procedural requirements under 
the rule are designed to recognize these needs. The requirements are 
intended to increase agency capacity to adapt management plans in 
response to new and evolving information about risks, stressors, 
contingencies, and management constraints as described in the section 
above. It is anticipated under the final rule that the Agency will be 
able to establish plans that are efficient and legitimate frameworks 
for managing resources that meet public demand in a sustainable fashion 
and satisfy the goals of the MUSYA and the NFMA, and that management 
units will be better able to keep plans updated and current with 
evolving science and public concerns without substantial changes in 
planning costs over a 15-year period.
    Under the final rule, costs are projected to be redirected toward 
collaboration, assessment, and monitoring activities and away from 
development and analysis of alternatives compared to the 1982 rule 
procedures. Costs are also expected to be redirected more toward 
maintenance or plan amendments under the final rule, due in part to 
expectations that less time will be needed to complete plan revisions. 
These effects are projected to occur, in part, because of broader 
support and resolution of issues at earlier stages of plan revision, 
achieved through collaboration as well as other procedural changes.
    The reallocation of efforts and costs across different phases of 
planning, and across key planning activities under the final rule is 
expected to improve overall planning efficiency. Shifts in emphasis and 
resources under the final rule are projected to improve the currency, 
reliability, and legitimacy of plans to serve as a guide for: (1) 
Reducing uncertainty by identifying and gathering existing and new 
information about conditions, trends, risks, stressors, contingencies, 
vulnerabilities, values/needs, contributions, and management

[[Page 21254]]

constraints; (2) integrating and assessing ecological, social, and 
economic information to determine if outputs and outcomes related to 
unit contributions to ecological, social, and economic conditions 
indicate a need to change the plan; and (3) responding to the need for 
change in management activities, projects, or revisions and amendments 
to plan components. Potential increases and/or reallocation of costs 
associated with assessment, analysis, and monitoring requirements for 
elements such as diversity and sustainability are expected to provide 
clearer direction for subsequent project planning. Project-level costs 
are not included in the analysis of land management planning costs.
    Agency planning costs under the final rule are estimated to be 
slightly lower compared to the proposed rule and the 1982 rule 
procedures, however, due to relatively small differences in estimated 
costs, combined with uncertainty associated with costing assumptions, 
the estimated agency costs are not projected to be substantially 
different between the proposed rule, the final rule, and the 1982 rule 
procedures. Changes in rule requirements under the final rule will 
enhance planning efficiency, and more plan revisions and amendments, as 
well as more effective plans, are expected as a result of the final 
rule. Details about the potential effects of specific procedural 
changes on agency costs and planning efficiency are described below, by 
activity category.
    Assessment: Slight increases in assessment costs (compared to the 
cost of doing an analysis of the management situation under the 1982 
rule procedures) are anticipated under the final rule. This is due to 
an increased emphasis on characterizing factors such as assessing 
conditions, trends, and sustainability within a broader ecological and 
geographic context (landscapes), ecosystem and species diversity, 
climate change, as well as other system drivers, risks, threats, and 
vulnerabilities. Gains in cost effectiveness are achieved through other 
elements such as direction to rely on existing information and the 
removal of required prescriptive benchmark analysis. Changes in the 
assessment requirements and guidance are expected to increase planning 
efficiency and effectiveness by improving capacity to assimilate and 
integrate existing and new information to inform changes to the plan.
    Assessments would identify and evaluate information at landscape 
levels and at a geographic scale based on ecological, economic, or 
social factors relevant to the plan area, rather than reliance on 
administrative boundaries. This broader approach would enhance capacity 
to incorporate information about conditions outside of NFS boundaries 
relevant to management of the plan area.
    Risks and vulnerabilities to ecosystem elements and functions would 
be considered in assessments thereby encouraging consideration of the 
effects of long-term environmental or social/economic variability, 
events, and trends on future outputs, ecosystem services, and outcomes.
    For the final rule, the level of effort, or reallocation of effort 
(and cost) to the assessment phase is reduced as compared with the 
proposed rule, due to a narrower focus on rapid review and evaluation 
of existing information (for example, assessments completed by States 
and other entities, and so forth), as well as the inclusion of a 
specific set of topics to focus on for the assessment, as opposed to 
the broader direction in the proposed rule. Requirements to discuss 
roles and contributions, ``need-to-change,'' as well as monitoring 
questions have been removed under the final rule. The `benefits people 
obtain from NFS planning areas' (ecosystem services) have been 
highlighted under the final rule. Direction to gather and evaluate 
information about potential species of conservation concern is more 
explicit (and transparent) under the final rule. The changes in 
assessment requirements under the final rule are expected to improve 
the cost effectiveness of assessments. These changes are also designed 
to increase the likelihood of improving capacity to respond to changes 
in conditions and trends, as originally intended under the proposed 
rule.
    Public Participation: Requirements for public participation 
(including collaboration) have not changed between the proposed and 
final rules. Costs associated with public participation are projected 
to increase under the final rule as compared to the 1982 rule 
procedures due primarily to requirements that opportunities for 
participation, including collaboration where feasible and appropriate, 
be provided throughout the planning process. Gains in cost 
effectiveness may occur, in part, by providing responsible officials 
with discretion to design collaborative strategies that meet unit-
specific needs and constraints and recognize local collaborative 
capacity. Costs for some units may be higher where potential barriers 
to collaboration are present (for example, pre-existing relationships 
may exacerbate perceived inequities; absence of pre-existing social 
networks or capacity; or false commitments). Recognizing these 
challenges, the final rule provides responsible officials with 
discretion to determine the scope, methods, and timing of opportunities 
for public participation that are appropriate to the circumstances 
specific to the action being taken, and the final rule states that 
opportunities for collaboration be offered when feasible and 
appropriate. However, changes in guidance and requirements for public 
participation under the final rule are expected to increase planning 
efficiency, especially as related to the relevance and effectiveness of 
plans, because of the following:
    (1) Improved analysis and decisionmaking efficiency during latter 
stages of planning due to increases in public input during early 
phases;
    (2) Improved capacity to reduce uncertainty by gathering, 
verifying, and integrating information from a variety of sources, 
including Tribal or other forms of knowledge, within and beyond unit 
boundaries;
    (3) Potential to offset or reduce agency monitoring costs as a 
result of collaboration during monitoring plan development and 
monitoring itself;
    (4) Improved capacity to consider values and concerns for all 
economic sectors and social segments, including amenity-driven 
demographic shifts associated with local or rural communities in 
wildland dependent counties;
    (5) Reduced need for large numbers of plan alternatives as well as 
time needed to complete plan revisions as a consequence of broader 
support and resolution of issues achieved through public participation 
and collaboration during early phases of final plan development;
    (6) Improved perceptions regarding the legitimacy of plans and the 
planning process and improved ability to address issues and concerns 
prior to the need for litigation by increasing transparency, developing 
awareness of the values and expected behavior of others, and seeking 
greater understanding about values, needs, tradeoffs, and outcomes 
during earlier stages of planning; and,
    (7) Building unit (and regional) capacity to overcome existing 
barriers to collaboration (for example, absence of social networks or 
capacity; perceptions about pre-existing power relationships) through 
training and facilitation.
    Analysis and decisions (plan development, plan revision or 
amendment): Costs associated with analysis and decisions are estimated 
to decrease overall under the final rule due primarily to the effect of 
fewer prescriptive requirements (relative to

[[Page 21255]]

1982 rule procedures) regarding probable (management) actions, timber 
program elements, number and types of alternatives, evaluation of 
alternatives, and minimum management requirements. The forces affecting 
the cost include (1) increased emphasis on consideration of resource 
attributes and conditions such as sustainability, watershed health, and 
water supply, and (2) adaptation to new approaches for addressing 
species viability and diversity in the short-term (with long-term 
potential for gains in cost-effectiveness).
    The following elements associated with the final rule are expected 
to increase planning efficiency by facilitating plan revisions and 
amendments, expanding capacity for adaptive management, and improving 
guidance for responding to diverse determinations of a need to change 
the plan:
    The adoption of a coarse-filter/fine-filter approach for addressing 
species viability and diversity within plan components, combined with 
the recognition of land management and resource limits which constrain 
the Agency, is expected to make management units better able to develop 
plans that provide feasible or realistic direction for responding to 
species and ecosystem sustainability and recovery needs and meeting 
requirements for plant and animal diversity.
    A greater emphasis on sustainability and ecosystem integrity in 
plan components is expected to facilitate restoration responses 
triggered by new information regarding environmental, social, and 
economic risks and stressors, including climate change and changes in 
demand for goods and services. Expected results include reduced effects 
from anthropogenic stressors, thereby helping to restore healthy 
ecosystems and compatible uses (especially in areas sensitive to 
disturbance and changing conditions) as well as increased protection of 
riparian area function.
    Refocusing the use of the term ``restoration'' to focus on recovery 
of resiliency and ecosystem functions (instead of historical reference 
points) provides greater flexibility to respond to need-for-change 
regarding damaged ecosystems.
    Greater emphasis placed on identifying each unit's role in 
providing ecosystem services within a broader landscape or region 
should facilitate the design of management responses that recognize the 
marginal effects or contributions of ecological, social, or economic 
conditions originating from outside of the traditional unit study area 
boundaries.
    More frequent amendments expected under the final rule could 
potentially lead to fewer need-for-change determinations when plans are 
revised. Assessments and proposal steps may not be needed for some 
amendments.
    Under the final rule, slightly more effort is re-directed to 
activities associated with development and analysis of plan revisions 
(or amendments) compared to the proposed rule. Examples of changes 
under the final rule that can enhance overall planning efficiency 
include:
     Moving ``Need-to-change'' determinations from assessments 
to the plan revision phase to clarify the separation between the 
assessment and NEPA phases;
     Clarifying how plan area ecosystems are integrated into 
landscape-level ecological, social, and economic sustainability;
     Refining and clarifying requirements for riparian zones; 
and
     Clarifying unit responsibilities for the diversity of 
plant and animal communities.
    These changes are expected to contribute to planning efficiency by 
improving the capacity of plans to provide for sustainability and 
diversity.
    Science support: Slight cost increases for science support may 
occur under the final rule due in part to more prescriptive wording to 
use the best available scientific information during the planning 
process to inform the planning process, plan components, and other plan 
content, including the monitoring program. On the other hand, 
requirements under the final rule for using the best available 
scientific information to inform decisions contribute to planning 
efficiency by maximizing coverage of scientific input from diverse 
sources, integrating science throughout all stages of planning, and 
taking advantage of scientific knowledge from external partners and 
agency research stations, thereby strengthening the decisionmaking 
process. Also the final rule has fewer documentation requirements, 
concentrating the burden of documentation on the most relevant and 
appropriate points in the planning process. Additional changes are made 
to clarify the responsible official's use of best available scientific 
information in informing the planning process.
    Resolutions: The cost effect of a shift from a post-decisional 
appeals process (under the 1982 rule procedures) to a pre-decisional 
objection period under the final rule is difficult to project. Ongoing 
litigation under the current planning rule is costly and time consuming 
and may continue under the new rule. However, the new planning 
framework (i) places greater emphasis on public participation and 
collaboration early and throughout the planning process, (ii) adopts a 
pre-decisional objection process, and (iii) changes the regional office 
responsible official from regional forester to forest supervisor. These 
changes are expected to improve legitimacy and trust in the planning 
process and contribute to more efficient resolution of issues early in 
the process, prior to the plan development, plan revision or plan 
amendment approval. Making a decision on an objection before plan 
approval can be less disruptive than an appeal decision which can come 
months after plan implementation begins. The more frequent use of 
amendments expected under the final rule will keep plans more current 
and is expected to narrow the focus of changes over time. In addition, 
the assessment and monitoring phases of the planning framework are 
expected to build public support and improve the legitimacy and 
relevance of plans by providing and continually updating a transparent 
base of information to inform management decisions. There is no 
expectation of unanimous support for any given proposed plan 
development, plan revision or plan amendment under any of the 
alternatives, however early resolution of issues is expected to occur 
and contribute to overall planning efficiency under the final rule. 
Efficiency gains under the final rule are expected to be similar to the 
proposed rule for resolution of issues, recognizing that the objection 
period for actions involving environmental impact statements is 
extended to 60 days under the final rule and to 45 days when there is 
no environmental impact statement.
    Monitoring: Relative increases in monitoring costs as compared to 
the 1982 rule procedures are anticipated as a consequence of a greater 
emphasis on broader input and participation in the design and 
implementation of monitoring, new approaches for characterizing 
diversity and resiliency, and two-level (plan and broad-scale) 
monitoring. However, over time, the two-level approach to monitoring is 
expected to increase monitoring efficiencies and decrease the cost of 
other planning related activities. Under the final rule, the two-level 
approach to monitoring is intended to inform the plan area management 
and make progress toward desired outcomes. By testing assumptions, 
tracking changing conditions, and assessing management effectiveness, 
monitoring information will inform adaptive management and lead to more 
effective and relevant

[[Page 21256]]

plans. Plan monitoring and broader-scale monitoring levels are related. 
The monitoring framework would require monitoring to be more consistent 
across units of the NFS. The final rule would mobilize multi-party 
monitoring resources by working across all Forest Service branches and 
engage partners and other Government agencies in its monitoring efforts 
to help reduce the cost of added monitoring requirements and provide 
for monitoring efforts that are complementary. There is also potential 
that collaboration would result in more cooperative monitoring programs 
with other agencies and the public. This could help leverage resources 
to accomplish additional monitoring.
    Changes in guidance and requirements for monitoring under the final 
rule as compared to the 1982 rule procedures are expected to increase 
planning effectiveness by improving capacity to gather information and 
reduce uncertainty for a number of integrated ecological, social, and 
economic conditions, trends, risks, stressors, constraints, and values 
within and beyond unit boundaries.
    Monitoring under the final rule focuses to a greater extent on 
ecosystems, habitat diversity, and smaller numbers of species to 
monitor (relative to MIS under Alternative B), with the intent that 
tracking of species diversity and habitat sustainability will be more 
cost-effective and reflective of unit-specific capabilities. Two-level 
monitoring is intended to create a more systematic and unified 
monitoring approach to detect effects of management within unit 
boundaries as well as track risks, stressors, and conditions beyond 
unit boundaries that affect, or are affected by, unit conditions and 
actions.
    Emphasis on coordination between plan area monitoring and broader-
scale monitoring helps ensure information is complementary, is gathered 
at scales appropriate to monitoring questions, reduces redundancy, and 
improves cost-effectiveness.
    Efficiency gains under the final rule are expected to be similar to 
the proposed rule. Changes to monitoring requirements under the final 
rule should enhance those gains by: (1) Clarifying that monitoring 
information should inform need-to-change, (2) modifying requirements 
for engaging various partners in developing the monitoring program, and 
(3) clarifying the connection between the monitoring requirements and 
the requirements for diversity in Sec.  219.9.
Distributional Impacts
    Due to the programmatic nature of this rule, it is not feasible to 
assess distributional impacts (for example, changes in jobs, income, or 
other measures for social and economic conditions across demographics 
or economic sectors) in detail. Under the final rule, units would 
continue to use their timber sale program and other forest management 
activities to enhance timber and other forest resource values and 
benefits over time (similar to the 1982 procedures). Continued 
monitoring of recreation use is expected under the final rule as a 
result of continuation of the national visitor use monitoring system. 
Collaboration under the final rule would help assure consideration of a 
broad spectrum of recreational values and an integrated mix of 
sustainable recreation opportunities relevant to each NFS unit.
    Grazing allotments are parcels or designated areas of rangeland 
leased or permitted to a livestock grazer. Their use is planned and 
monitored to maintain sustainable production and rangeland health. 
Plans would include plan components to maintain or restore ecological 
integrity of lands, including rangelands, and grazing allotment 
management plans would continue to be modified to be consistent with 
plans developed under the final rule, as they are for plans developed 
using the 1982 rule procedures.
    In general, the final rule is designed to facilitate engagement and 
involvement throughout all phases of planning, thereby improving 
capacity to consider and incorporate values and concerns for all 
economic sectors and social segments affected by any given plan, plan 
revision, or plan amendment. The final rule is also intended to 
facilitate assimilation of existing or new information about local or 
rural, as well as national, concerns and values throughout the planning 
process. Increased opportunities for considering and addressing social 
and economic concerns through participation and collaboration under the 
final rule therefore apply evenly across all sectors and populations.
    The final rule requires plans to have plan components that ``guide 
the plan area's contributions to social and economic sustainability.'' 
The final rule also requires that plans include a statement of the 
roles and contributions of the unit within a broader landscape and that 
assessments, plan component development, and monitoring consider social 
and economic conditions, including a broad spectrum of goods and 
services. These requirements provide a flexible means for acknowledging 
the varying and relative importance of plan area contributions to 
social and economic sustainability as it relates to a range of economic 
sectors and populations across units and regions.
    The final rule is more prescriptive about considering and 
facilitating restoration of damaged resources as well as improving 
resource capacity to withstand environmental risks and stressors (that 
is, resiliency), thereby providing greater capacity for sustaining 
local or rural economic opportunities to benefit from forest resources 
and ecosystem services, including recreation/tourism and water supply/
watershed health as well as restoration based activities.
Proper Consideration of Small Entities
    The final rule has also been considered in light of Executive Order 
13272 regarding proper consideration of small entities and the Small 
Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA), which 
amended the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et. seq.). The 
Department has determined this action will not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small entities as defined by 
the E.O. 13272 and SBREFA, because the final rule imposes no 
requirements or costs on small entities, nor does it impose 
requirements or costs on specific types of industries or communities. 
In addition, the final rule provides more opportunities for small 
entities to engage with the Department and become more involved in all 
phases of planning, thereby expanding capacity to identify and consider 
the needs and preferences of small entities. Timelier planning and 
management decisions under the final rule should increase opportunities 
for small entities to benefit from implementation of updated land 
management plans. Additional emphasis on ecosystem resiliency to 
facilitate restoration activities and on sustainable recreation 
opportunities should help sustain economic opportunities linked to 
local or rural communities, many of which are host to small entities. 
Therefore, a regulatory flexibility analysis is not required for this 
final rule.

Energy Effects

    This final rule has been reviewed under Executive Order (E.O.) 
13211 issued May 18, 2001), ``Actions Concerning Regulations That 
Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use.'' It has been 
determined that this final rule does not constitute a significant 
energy action as

[[Page 21257]]

defined in E.O. 13211. While the Agency does not manage subsurface 
minerals, mineral exploration and development does occur on NFS lands. 
Similarly, the Agency recognizes the growing demand for geothermal, 
wind, and solar energy development on NFS lands. Agency management of 
the renewable resources mandated by MUSYA recognizes ongoing and 
potential exploration and development while protecting and conserving 
these renewable resources. The final rule set out administrative 
procedural requirements whereby NFS land management plans are 
developed, revised, and amended. The final rule recognizes in Sec.  
219.10 that development of renewable and non-renewable energy resources 
are among the potential uses in a plan area. However, the final rule 
does not dictate the activities that may occur or not occur on 
administrative units of the NFS. Accordingly, the final rule does not 
have energy requirements or energy conservation potential.
    Plans developed under the final rule will provide the guidance for 
making future project or activity resource management decisions. The 
final rule recognizes in Sec.  219.10 that the placement and 
maintenance of infrastructure such as transmission lines are among the 
potential uses in a plan area. Land management plans may identify major 
rights-of-way corridors for utility transmission lines, pipelines, and 
water canals. The effects of the construction of utility transmission 
lines, pipelines, and canals are, of necessity, considered on a case-
by-case basis as specific construction proposals. While these plans may 
consider the need for such facilities and may include standards and 
guidelines that may constrain energy exploration and development, they 
would not authorize construction of them; therefore, the final rule 
does not constitute a significant energy action within the meaning of 
E.O. 13211. Consistent with E.O. 13211, direction to incorporate 
consideration of energy supply, distribution, and use in the planning 
process will be included in the Agency's administrative directives for 
carrying out the final rule.

Environmental Impacts

    This final rule establishes the administrative procedures to guide 
development, amendment, and revision of NFS land management plans. The 
Agency has prepared a final programmatic environmental impact statement 
to analyze possible environmental effects of the final rule, present 
several alternatives to the final rule, and disclose the potential 
environmental impacts of those alternatives. The final programmatic 
environmental impact statement is available on the Web at http://www.fs.usda.gov/planningrule.
    The final rule requires plan development, amendment, or revision to 
follow NEPA procedures. The rule requires an EIS for plan development 
and plan revisions. The rule also requires that plan amendments comply 
with Forest Service NEPA procedures. The appropriate NEPA documentation 
for an amendment may be an EIS, an EA, or a CE, depending upon the 
scope and scale of the amendment and its likely effects.

Controlling Paperwork Burdens on the Public

    In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 
3501 et seq.), the information collection or reporting requirements for 
the objection process were previously approved by the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) and assigned control number 0596-0172 for 
the objection process included in the Title 36, Code of Federal 
Regulations, Part 218--Predecisional Administrative Review Processes, 
Subpart. A--Predecisional Administrative Review Process for Hazardous 
Fuel Reduction Projects Authorized by the Healthy Forests Restoration 
Act of 2003.
    The information required by subpart B of this rule is needed for an 
objector to explain the nature of the objection being made to a land 
management plan, plan amendment, or plan revision. This final rule 
retains the objection process established in the CFR 218 objection 
regulation and does not require additional information be provided from 
the public. This rule does instead give direction that is more detailed 
to both the public and Forest Service personnel on the timelines, 
requirements, and procedures of the objection process.

Federalism

    The Agency has considered this final rule under the requirements of 
Executive Order (E.O.) 13132 issued August 4, 1999, ``Federalism.'' The 
Agency has made an assessment that the final rule conforms with the 
Federalism principles set out in this Executive Order; would not impose 
any compliance costs on the States; and would not have substantial 
direct effects on the States, on the relationship between the national 
Government and the States, nor on the distribution of power and 
responsibilities among the various levels of government. Therefore, the 
Agency concludes that this final rule does not have Federalism 
implications. Moreover, Sec.  219.4(a) of this final rule shows 
sensitivity to Federalism concerns by requiring the responsible 
official to encourage participation of State and local governments and 
Indian Tribes in the planning process. In addition, Sec.  219.4(b) 
requires the responsible official to coordinate planning with State and 
local governments and Indian Tribes.
    In the spirit of E.O. 13132, the Agency provided many opportunities 
for State and local officials, including their national 
representatives, to share their ideas and concerns in developing the 
final regulation. Respondents to the February 14, 2011, proposed rule 
included the following: 113 county government agencies or elected 
officials, 62 State government agencies, elected officials, or 
associations, and 18 American Indian government agency, or elected 
officials. Many Tribal, State, and local government agencies submitted 
comments requesting that collaboration and coordination be mandatory 
before beginning plan revisions. Some respondents suggested that forest 
plans be made locally and adapted to ``local management,'' ``local 
control,'' and ``local collaboration.'' Intergovernmental planning 
coordination was supported by many respondents as well. Many 
respondents cited Federal, Tribal, State, local, and other types of 
planning they felt the Agency should be careful to consider and 
integrate into forest plans. Respondents often agreed that the Agency's 
planning efforts are strengthened when achieved in careful 
collaboration with local governments and other local interests. 
Comments of this nature were sometimes followed up with considerations 
for ``cooperating agency'' provisions to solidify the process and 
outcomes to be achieved through the participation of cooperating 
agencies. The Department carefully considered these comments when 
making changes to the rule.

Consultation With Indian Tribal Governments

    On September 23, 2010, the Deputy Chief for the National Forest 
System sent letters inviting more than 600 federally recognized Tribes 
and Alaska Native Corporations to begin consultation on the proposed 
planning rule. The Forest Service continued to conduct government-to-
government consultation on the planning rule while developing the final 
rule. The Forest Service considers Tribal consultation as an ongoing, 
iterative process through the issuance of the final rule.
    The Agency held 16 consultation meetings across the country in 
November and December 2010. During these meetings, Forest Service 
leaders

[[Page 21258]]

met with Tribal and Alaska Native Corporation leaders, or their 
designees, to discuss a Tribal consultation paper, which described how 
the draft proposed rule discussed concerns Tribes had raised during the 
collaborative sessions held earlier in the year. Forest Service leaders 
also met one-on-one with Tribal leaders that requested consultation in 
this manner. In July 2011, the Deputy Chief for the National Forest 
System sent letters encouraging federally recognized Tribes and Alaska 
Native Corporations to continue consult prior to release of the final 
rule. Tribes have continued to consult one-on-one with Forest Service 
leaders, as well as through regional or sub-regional consultation 
meetings. All of the consultation meetings that have occurred 
throughout development of the proposed and final rule have strengthened 
the government-to-government relationship with the Tribes as well as 
improved the final rule. Consultation is an ongoing process and can 
occur at any time, including following publication of the final rule.
    The Agency incorporated the input received through consultation 
before December 13, 2010, into the proposed rule. Those concerns heard 
during Tribal consultation after December 13 and which were given to 
the Agency by October 21, 2011, were considered for incorporation in 
the final rule.
    The Agency also held two national Tribal roundtable conference 
calls to provide additional opportunities for Tribes and Tribal 
associations to comment prior to the development of the proposed 
planning rule. More than 45 Tribes and Tribal associations participated 
in the First National Tribal Roundtable on May 3, 2010, and more than 
35 Tribes and Tribal associations participated in the Second National 
Tribal Roundtable on August 5, 2010. Transcripts and summaries of these 
meetings are available on the planning rule Web site. Additionally, six 
Tribal roundtables were held in California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
    On March 11, 2011, after publication of the proposed rule, the 
Forest Service held a Tribal teleconference to provide information on 
the proposed rule and answer questions. Sixteen Tribes participated in 
the discussion and had the opportunity to have their questions answered 
by the Ecosystem Management Coordination Director and the Associate 
Chief of the Forest Service. A number of Tribes submitted comments on 
the proposed rule during the public comment period and the content of 
these letters has been carefully considered in developing the final 
rule.
    The Agency heard from Tribal leaders that the rule should clearly 
state how the special rights and interests of Tribes would be provided 
for in the planning process and show how Tribes will be engaged early 
throughout the planning process. They emphasized the obligation the 
Forest Service has to Tribes to fulfill treaty obligations and trust 
responsibilities, protect and honor reserved rights, and fully 
recognize the unique government-to-government relationship that exists 
between the Federal Government and Tribes. Tribal leaders also stated 
that the role of science in the planning process must account for 
traditional Tribal knowledge. In response to these concerns, the final 
rule recognizes and does not modify the unique government-to-government 
relationship between the United States and Indian Tribes. The final 
rule recognizes and does not modify prior existing Tribal rights, 
including those involving hunting, fishing, gathering, and protecting 
cultural and spiritual sites. The rule requires the agency to work with 
federally recognized Indian Tribes, government-to-government, as 
providing in treaties and laws and consistent with Executive orders 
when developing, amending, or revising plans. The final rule encourages 
Tribal participation in NFS planning. Further, the rule recognizes the 
responsibility of Forest Service officials to consult early with Tribal 
governments and to work cooperatively with them where planning issues 
affect Tribal interests. Nothing in the final rule should be construed 
as eliminating public input or Tribal consultation requirements for 
future projects conducted in accordance with the final rule. The 
responsible official shall request information from Tribes about native 
knowledge, including information about land ethics, cultural issues, 
and sacred and culturally significant sites, during the planning 
process.
    At Sec.  219.4(b)(2), for plan development or revision, the 
responsible official shall review the planning and land use policies of 
federally recognized Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations, other 
Federal agencies, and State and local governments. The results of the 
review would be displayed in the environmental impact statement for the 
plan. The final rule at Sec.  219.4(a)(1)(v) requires, where 
appropriate, the responsible official to encourage federally recognized 
Tribes to seek cooperating agency status. This provides an additional 
opportunity for Tribes to be engaged in the planning process and 
provides further avenues for Tribes to provide input during the 
planning process. Additionally, the responsible official may 
participate in planning efforts of federally recognized Indian Tribes 
and Alaska Native Corporations, where practicable and appropriate. For 
federally recognized Tribes, cooperating agency status does not replace 
or superseded the trust responsibilities and requirements for 
consultation also recognized and included in the final rule.
    Tribal leaders stated that they want to see non-federally 
recognized Tribes and groups included in the consultation or planning 
process, as well as the involvement of youth. Non-federally recognized 
groups and Tribes would be able to participate in the planning process 
under the public requirements in Sec.  219.4. Section 219.4(a)(1)(ii) 
requires the responsible officials to encourage participation by youth, 
as well as low-income and minority populations.
    Tribes place great emphasis on protection of water resources and 
want to see the planning rule include stipulations for water 
protection. Water resources are discussed throughout this final rule, 
including specifically in Sec.  219.7 (New plan development or plan 
revision), Sec.  219.8 (Sustainability), Sec.  219.9 (Diversity of 
Plant and Animal Communities), and Sec.  219.10 (Multiple Use). Tribes 
support a management approach that moves away from monoculture 
management and promotes sustainable and diverse populations of plants 
and animals. Section 219.9 of the final rule requires land management 
plans to contain components, including standards or guidelines, to 
maintain or restore the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic 
ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area.
    The definition of native knowledge in Sec.  219.19 has been 
retained based on the feedback that we received during consultation. 
The definition acknowledges that native knowledge is a way of knowing 
or understanding the world derived from multiple generations of 
indigenous peoples' interactions, observations, and experiences with 
their ecological systems, and that it is also place-based and culture-
based knowledge in which people learn to live in and adapt to their own 
environment through interactions, observations, and experiences with 
their ecological system.
    Many Tribes had a variety of concerns regarding social, economic, 
and ecological sustainability, and suggested that the Agency 
specifically discuss cultural sustainability within the final rule and 
protect cultural resources. The definition in the final rule of

[[Page 21259]]

``sustainability'' notes that ``social sustainability refers to the 
capability of society to support the network of relationships, 
traditions, culture, and activities that connect people to the land and 
to one another, and support vibrant communities.'' In addition, Sec.  
219.1(c) recognizes that NFS lands provide people and communities with 
a wide array of benefits, including ``cultural benefits.'' Section 
219.4 requires opportunities for public and Tribal participation and 
coordination throughout the planning process. Section 219.4(a)(3) 
requires that the responsible official request ``information about 
native knowledge, land ethics, cultural issues, and sacred and 
culturally significant sites'' during consultation and opportunities 
for Tribal participation. Section 219.6(b) requires assessment content 
to include cultural conditions and cultural and historic resources and 
uses. Section 219.8 in the final rule recognizes cultural aspects of 
sustainability by requiring ``cultural and historic resources and uses 
``be taken into account when designing plan components to guide 
contributions to social and economic sustainability.'' Section 
219.10(b)(1)(ii) of the rule requires ``plan components * * * for a new 
plan or plan revision must provide for protection of cultural and 
historic resources,'' and ``management of areas of Tribal importance.'' 
The final rule also includes recognition of and requirements for 
``ecosystem services,'' which include ``cultural heritage values.'' 
These requirements, in combination with the requirement that plan 
content include descriptions of a unit's roles and contributions within 
the broader landscape under Sec.  219.7(e), ensure the cultural aspects 
of sustainability will be taken into account when developing plan 
components that guide unit contributions to social sustainability.
    During the consultation meetings, the Agency heard from Tribal 
leaders that confidentiality is a big concern. To explicitly discuss 
confidentiality, Sec.  219.1(e) states that the responsible official 
shall comply with Section 8106 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy 
Act of 2008, Executive Order 13007 of May 24, 1996, Executive Order 
13175 of November 6, 2000, laws and other requirements with respect to 
disclosing or withholding under the Freedom of Information Act certain 
information regarding reburial sites or other information that is 
culturally sensitive to Indian Tribe or Tribes.
    The Agency has heard from Tribal leaders that they want to see 
sacred sites protected. The final rule requires that responsible 
officials request information from Tribes about sacred sites, and 
provides for protection of cultural and historic resources and 
management of areas of Tribal importance. In addition, a separate 
initiative by the USDA Office of Tribal Relations and the Forest 
Service is conducting a policy review concerning sacred sites and is 
consulting with Tribes during their effort. The Agency has informed 
Tribes of this separate initiative and how they can participate during 
the consultation meetings. Information that the Agency received during 
the planning rule consultation process regarding sacred sites has been 
shared with the USDA Office of Tribal Relations and the Forest Service 
initiative.
    The Forest Service received many other comments during the Tribal 
consultation meetings. A number of these comments were regarding 
concerns that are outside of the scope of the national planning rule or 
that will be discussed at the local level during the development of 
land management plans. Tribes received responses to these comments in 
separate documents, which were mailed to those Tribes and Alaska Native 
Corporations that participated in the October and November 2010 
consultation meetings following the publication of the proposed rule. 
Additionally, a document summarizing the comments and responses from 
these meetings was made available to federally recognized Tribes and 
Alaska Native Corporations as part of the consultation documents 
provided in August 2011.
    Many of the public participation and other requirements in the 
final rule have significant potential to involve Tribes and tribal 
members in NFS planning and management, and to incorporate information 
into the process that will be relevant with regard to local effects of 
management on individual units, including to Tribal communities. 
However, pursuant to Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, 
``Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments,'' the 
final rule itself does not have ``substantial direct effects.'' 
Effects, both positive and adverse, may occur at the local planning 
level, which is one of the many reasons the final rule includes 
requirements for tribal consultation as well as outreach to Tribes 
during public participation opportunities. Effects may also occur at 
the project or activity level, which have additional opportunities for 
public engagement.
    The Agency has also determined that this final rule does not impose 
substantial direct compliance costs on Indian Tribal governments. This 
final rule does not mandate Tribal participation in NFS planning. 
Rather, the final rule imposes an obligation on Forest Service 
officials to provide Tribes an opportunity to consult and to reach out 
early to engage them throughout the planning process.

Takings of Private Property

    The Agency analyzed this rule in accordance with the principles and 
criteria contained in Executive Order 12630 issued March 15, 1988, and 
the Agency determined that the rule does not pose the risk of a taking 
of private property.

Civil Justice Reform

    The Agency reviewed the rule under Executive Order 12988, ``Civil 
Justice Reform.'' The Agency has not identified any State or local laws 
or regulations that are in conflict with this regulation or that would 
impede full implementation of this rule. Nevertheless, in the event 
that such conflicts were to be identified, the final rule, if 
implemented, would preempt the State or local laws or regulations found 
to be in conflict. However, in that case, (1) no retroactive effect 
would be given to this final rule; and (2) the Department would not 
require the use of administrative proceedings before parties could file 
suit in court challenging its provisions.

Unfunded Mandates

    Pursuant to Title II of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (2 
U.S.C. 1531-1538), the Agency has assessed the effects of this final 
rule on State, local, and Tribal governments and the private sector. 
This final rule does not compel the expenditure of $100 million or more 
by any State, local, or Tribal governments or anyone in the private 
sector. Therefore, a statement under Sec.  202 of the Act is not 
required.

Environmental Justice

    The Department considered impacts of the final rule to civil rights 
and environmental justice (pursuant to Executive Order 12898 (59 FR 
7629, February 16, 1994)). If implemented, with outreach, public 
engagement and using NEPA procedures to document effects, this analysis 
concludes that no adverse civil rights or environmental justice impacts 
from the planning rule are anticipated to the delivery of benefits or 
other program outcomes on a national level for any under-represented 
population or to other U.S. populations or communities from the 
adoption of the final planning rule.
    While national level impacts are not expected to be 
disproportionate, yet-to-

[[Page 21260]]

be-identified adverse impacts may be possible on a regional or local 
scale at the unit planning level. Differences in national level effects 
and regional/local level effects are the result of uneven distribution 
of minorities, low-income populations, and variations in regional, 
cultural, or traditional use, and differences in local access to 
resources. Impacts on the national forest level will be further 
examined at the unit level, including NEPA analysis for plan 
development, plan revision, or plan amendment and site-specific 
projects.
    The participation efforts required by the final rule have 
significant potential to reach and involve diverse segments of the 
population that historically have not played a large role in NFS 
planning and management. Section 219.4(a) requires that when developing 
opportunities for public participation, the responsible official shall 
take into account the discrete and diverse roles, jurisdictions, 
responsibilities, and skills of interested and affected parties as well 
as the accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information. 
The responsible official is required to be proactive and use 
contemporary tools, such as the Internet, to engage the public, and 
share information in an open way with interested parties. Requirements 
of Sec.  219.4 to consider accessibility and requirements to encourage 
participation by youth, low-income populations, and minority 
populations may improve environmental justice outcomes.
    The final rule includes provisions for filing an objection before 
the final decision if the objector has filed a substantive formal 
comment related to a new plan, plan revision, or plan amendment. In the 
past, substantive formal comments were required to be in writing and 
submitted during the formal comment period when developing land 
management plans. The final rule expands the definition of a 
substantive formal comment to include written or oral comments 
submitted or recorded during an opportunity for public participation 
provided during the local unit's planning process (Sec. Sec.  219.4 and 
219.16).
    If implemented, there are no anticipated adverse or 
disproportionate impacts to underserved, protected groups, low income, 
or socially disadvantaged communities. The final rule requirements, 
including outreach and collaboration, and the requirement for NEPA 
analysis are designed to avoid adverse or disproportionate effects; 
therefore, mitigating measures are not necessary or appropriate for 
adopting or implementing the planning rule. Local site-specific 
mitigation may occur as NFS projects and activities are planned and 
executed consistent with Department policy.

List of Subjects in 36 CFR Part 219

    Administrative practice and procedure, Environmental impact 
statements, Indians, Intergovernmental relations, National forests, 
Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Science and technology.
    Therefore, for the reasons set forth in the preamble, the Forest 
Service revises part 219 of Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations 
to read as follows:

PART 219--PLANNING

Subpart A--National Forest System Land Management Planning
Sec.
219.1 Purpose and applicability.
219.2 Levels of planning and responsible officials.
219.3 Role of science in planning.
219.4 Requirements for public participation.
219.5 Planning framework.
219.6 Assessment.
219.7 New plan development or plan revision.
219.8 Sustainability.
219.9 Diversity of plant and animal communities.
219.10 Multiple use.
219.11 Timber requirements based on the NFMA.
219.12 Monitoring.
219.13 Plan amendment and administrative changes.
219.14 Decision document and planning records.
219.15 Project and activity consistency with the plan.
219.16 Public notifications.
219.17 Effective dates and transition.
219.18 Severability.
219.19 Definitions.
Subpart B--Pre-Decisional Administrative Review Process
219.50 Purpose and scope.
219.51 Plans, plan amendments, or plan revisions not subject to 
objection.
219.52 Giving notice of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
subject to objection before approval.
219.53 Who may file an objection.
219.54 Filing an objection.
219.55 Objections set aside from review.
219.56 Objection time periods and process.
219.57 Resolution of objections.
219.58 Timing of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision decision.
219.59 Use of other administrative review processes.
219.60 Secretary's authority.
219.61 Information collection requirements.
219.62 Definitions.

    Authority: 5 U.S.C. 301; 16 U.S.C. 1604, 1613.

Subpart A--National Forest System Land Management Planning


Sec.  219.1  Purpose and applicability.

    (a) This subpart sets out the planning requirements for developing, 
amending, and revising land management plans (also referred to as 
plans) for units of the National Forest System (NFS), as required by 
the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, as 
amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1600 
et seq.) (NFMA). This subpart also sets out the requirements for plan 
components and other content in land management plans. This part is 
applicable to all units of the NFS as defined by 16 U.S.C. 1609 or 
subsequent statute.
    (b) Consistent with the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 
(16 U.S.C. 528-531) (MUSYA), the Forest Service manages the NFS to 
sustain the multiple use of its renewable resources in perpetuity while 
maintaining the long-term health and productivity of the land. 
Resources are managed through a combination of approaches and concepts 
for the benefit of human communities and natural resources. Land 
management plans guide sustainable, integrated resource management of 
the resources within the plan area in the context of the broader 
landscape, giving due consideration to the relative values of the 
various resources in particular areas.
    (c) The purpose of this part is to guide the collaborative and 
science-based development, amendment, and revision of land management 
plans that promote the ecological integrity of national forests and 
grasslands and other administrative units of the NFS. Plans will guide 
management of NFS lands so that they are ecologically sustainable and 
contribute to social and economic sustainability; consist of ecosystems 
and watersheds with ecological integrity and diverse plant and animal 
communities; and have the capacity to provide people and communities 
with ecosystem services and multiple uses that provide a range of 
social, economic, and ecological benefits for the present and into the 
future. These benefits include clean air and water; habitat for fish, 
wildlife, and plant communities; and opportunities for recreational, 
spiritual, educational, and cultural benefits.
    (d) This part does not affect treaty rights or valid existing 
rights established by statute or legal instruments.
    (e) During the planning process, the responsible official shall 
comply with Section 8106 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 
2008 (25 U.S.C. 3056), Executive Order 13007 of May

[[Page 21261]]

24, 1996, Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, laws, and other 
requirements with respect to disclosing or withholding under the 
Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552) certain information regarding 
reburial sites or other information that is culturally sensitive to an 
Indian Tribe or Tribes.
    (f) Plans must comply with all applicable laws and regulations, 
including NFMA, MUSYA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the 
Wilderness Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
    (g) The responsible official shall ensure that the planning 
process, plan components, and other plan content are within Forest 
Service authority, the inherent capability of the plan area, and the 
fiscal capability of the unit.


Sec.  219.2  Levels of planning and responsible officials.

    Forest Service planning occurs at different organizational levels 
and geographic scales. Planning occurs at three levels--national 
strategic planning, NFS unit planning, and project or activity 
planning.
    (a) National strategic planning. The Chief of the Forest Service is 
responsible for national planning, such as preparation of the Forest 
Service strategic plan required under the Government Performance and 
Results Modernization Act of 2010 (5 U.S.C. 306; 31 U.S.C. 1115-1125; 
31 U.S.C. 9703-9704), which is integrated with the requirements of the 
Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, as 
amended by the NFMA. The strategic plan establishes goals, objectives, 
performance measures, and strategies for management of the NFS, as well 
as the other Forest Service mission areas: Research and Development, 
State and Private Forestry, and International Programs.
    (b) National Forest System unit planning. (1) NFS unit planning 
results in the development, amendment, or revision of a land management 
plan. A land management plan provides a framework for integrated 
resource management and for guiding project and activity decisionmaking 
on a national forest, grassland, prairie, or other administrative unit. 
A plan reflects the unit's expected distinctive roles and contributions 
to the local area, region, and Nation, and the roles for which the plan 
area is best suited, considering the Agency's mission, the unit's 
unique capabilities, and the resources and management of other lands in 
the vicinity. Through the adaptive planning cycle set forth in this 
subpart, a plan can be changed to reflect new information and changing 
conditions.
    (2) A plan does not authorize projects or activities or commit the 
Forest Service to take action. A plan may constrain the Agency from 
authorizing or carrying out projects and activities, or the manner in 
which they may occur. Projects and activities must be consistent with 
the plan (Sec.  219.15). A plan does not regulate uses by the public, 
but a project or activity decision that regulates a use by the public 
under 36 CFR Part 261, Subpart B, may be made contemporaneously with 
the approval of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision. Plans should 
not repeat laws, regulations, or program management policies, 
practices, and procedures that are in the Forest Service Directive 
System.
    (3) The supervisor of the national forest, grassland, prairie, or 
other comparable administrative unit is the responsible official for 
development and approval of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
for lands under the responsibility of the supervisor, unless a regional 
forester; the Chief; the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and 
Environment; or the Secretary acts as the responsible official. Two or 
more responsible officials may undertake joint planning over lands 
under their respective jurisdictions.
    (4) A plan for a unit that contains an experimental area may not be 
approved without the concurrence of the appropriate research station 
director with respect to the direction applicable to that area, and a 
plan amendment applicable to an experimental area may not be approved 
without the concurrence of the appropriate research station director.
    (5) The Chief is responsible for leadership and direction for 
carrying out the NFS land management planning program under this part. 
The Chief shall:
    (i) Establish planning procedures for this part in the Forest 
Service Directive System in Forest Service Manual 1920--Land Management 
Planning and in Forest Service Handbook 1909.12--Land Management 
Planning Handbook.
    (ii) Establish and administer a national oversight process for 
accountability and consistency of NFS land management planning under 
this part.
    (iii) Establish procedures in the Forest Service Directive System 
for obtaining inventory data on the various renewable resources, and 
soil and water.
    (c) Project and activity planning. The supervisor or district 
ranger is the responsible official for project and activity decisions, 
unless a higher-level official acts as the responsible official. 
Requirements for project or activity planning are established in the 
Forest Service Directive System. Except as provided in the plan 
consistency requirements in Sec.  219.15, none of the requirements of 
this part apply to projects or activities.


Sec.  219.3  Role of science in planning.

    The responsible official shall use the best available scientific 
information to inform the planning process required by this subpart. In 
doing so, the responsible official shall determine what information is 
the most accurate, reliable, and relevant to the issues being 
considered. The responsible official shall document how the best 
available scientific information was used to inform the assessment, the 
plan decision, and the monitoring program as required in Sec. Sec.  
219.6(a)(3) and 219.14(a)(4). Such documentation must: Identify what 
information was determined to be the best available scientific 
information, explain the basis for that determination, and explain how 
the information was applied to the issues considered.


Sec.  219.4  Requirements for public participation.

    (a) Providing opportunities for participation. The responsible 
official shall provide opportunities to the public for participating in 
the assessment process; developing a plan proposal, including the 
monitoring program; commenting on the proposal and the disclosure of 
its environmental impacts in accompanying NEPA documents; and reviewing 
the results of monitoring information. When developing opportunities 
for public participation, the responsible official shall take into 
account the discrete and diverse roles, jurisdictions, 
responsibilities, and skills of interested and affected parties; the 
accessibility of the process, opportunities, and information; and the 
cost, time, and available staffing. The responsible official should be 
proactive and use contemporary tools, such as the Internet, to engage 
the public, and should share information in an open way with interested 
parties. Subject to the notification requirements in Sec.  219.16, the 
responsible official has the discretion to determine the scope, 
methods, forum, and timing of those opportunities. The Forest Service 
retains decisionmaking authority and responsibility for all decisions 
throughout the process.
    (1) Outreach. The responsible official shall engage the public--
including Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations, other Federal 
agencies, State and local

[[Page 21262]]

governments, individuals, and public and private organizations or 
entities--early and throughout the planning process as required by this 
part, using collaborative processes where feasible and appropriate. In 
providing opportunities for engagement, the responsible official shall 
encourage participation by:
    (i) Interested individuals and entities, including those interested 
at the local, regional, and national levels.
    (ii) Youth, low-income populations, and minority populations.
    (iii) Private landowners whose lands are in, adjacent to, or 
otherwise affected by, or whose actions may impact, future management 
actions in the plan area.
    (iv) Federal agencies, States, counties, and local governments, 
including State fish and wildlife agencies, State foresters and other 
relevant State agencies. Where appropriate, the responsible official 
shall encourage States, counties, and other local governments to seek 
cooperating agency status in the NEPA process for development, 
amendment, or revision of a plan. The responsible official may 
participate in planning efforts of States, counties, local governments, 
and other Federal agencies, where practicable and appropriate.
    (v) Interested or affected federally recognized Indian Tribes or 
Alaska Native Corporations. Where appropriate, the responsible official 
shall encourage federally recognized Tribes to seek cooperating agency 
status in the NEPA process for development, amendment, or revision of a 
plan. The responsible official may participate in planning efforts of 
federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations, 
where practicable and appropriate.
    (2) Consultation with federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska 
Native Corporations. The Department recognizes the Federal Government 
has certain trust responsibilities and a unique legal relationship with 
federally recognized Indian Tribes. The responsible official shall 
honor the government-to-government relationship between federally 
recognized Indian Tribes and the Federal government. The responsible 
official shall provide to federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska 
Native Corporations the opportunity to undertake consultation 
consistent with Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, and 25 
U.S.C. 450 note.
    (3) Native knowledge, indigenous ecological knowledge, and land 
ethics. As part of tribal participation and consultation as set forth 
in paragraphs (a)(1)(v) and (a)(2) of this section, the responsible 
official shall request information about native knowledge, land ethics, 
cultural issues, and sacred and culturally significant sites.
    (b) Coordination with other public planning efforts. (1) The 
responsible official shall coordinate land management planning with the 
equivalent and related planning efforts of federally recognized Indian 
Tribes, Alaska Native Corporations, other Federal agencies, and State 
and local governments.
    (2) For plan development or revision, the responsible official 
shall review the planning and land use policies of federally recognized 
Indian Tribes (43 U.S.C. 1712(b)), Alaska Native Corporations, other 
Federal agencies, and State and local governments, where relevant to 
the plan area. The results of this review shall be displayed in the 
environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan (40 CFR 1502.16(c), 
1506.2). The review shall include consideration of:
    (i) The objectives of federally recognized Indian Tribes, Alaska 
Native Corporations, other Federal agencies, and State and local 
governments, as expressed in their plans and policies;
    (ii) The compatibility and interrelated impacts of these plans and 
policies;
    (iii) Opportunities for the plan to address the impacts identified 
or contribute to joint objectives; and
    (iv) Opportunities to resolve or reduce conflicts, within the 
context of developing the plan's desired conditions or objectives.
    (3) Nothing in this section should be read to indicate that the 
responsible official will seek to direct or control management of lands 
outside of the plan area, nor will the responsible official conform 
management to meet non-Forest Service objectives or policies.


Sec.  219.5  Planning framework.

    (a) Planning for a national forest, grassland, prairie, or other 
comparable administrative unit of the NFS is an iterative process that 
includes assessment (Sec.  219.6); developing, amending, or revising a 
plan (Sec. Sec.  219.7 and 219.13); and monitoring (Sec.  219.12). 
These three phases of the framework are complementary and may overlap. 
The intent of this framework is to create a responsive planning process 
that informs integrated resource management and allows the Forest 
Service to adapt to changing conditions, including climate change, and 
improve management based on new information and monitoring.
    (1) Assessment. Assessments rapidly evaluate existing information 
about relevant ecological, economic, and social conditions, trends, and 
sustainability and their relationship to the land management plan 
within the context of the broader landscape. The responsible official 
shall consider and evaluate existing and possible future conditions and 
trends of the plan area, and assess the sustainability of social, 
economic, and ecological systems within the plan area, in the context 
of the broader landscape (Sec.  219.6).
    (2) Plan development, plan amendment, or plan revision.
    (i) The process for developing or revising a plan includes: 
Assessment, preliminary identification of the need to change the plan 
based on the assessment, development of a proposed plan, consideration 
of the environmental effects of the proposal, providing an opportunity 
to comment on the proposed plan, providing an opportunity to object 
before the proposal is approved, and, finally, approval of the plan or 
plan revision. A new plan or plan revision requires preparation of an 
environmental impact statement.
    (ii) The process for amending a plan includes: Preliminary 
identification of the need to change the plan, development of a 
proposed amendment, consideration of the environmental effects of the 
proposal, providing an opportunity to comment on the proposed 
amendment, providing an opportunity to object before the proposal is 
approved, and, finally, approval of the plan amendment. The appropriate 
NEPA documentation for an amendment may be an environmental impact 
statement, an environmental assessment, or a categorical exclusion, 
depending upon the scope and scale of the amendment and its likely 
effects.
    (3) Monitoring. Monitoring is continuous and provides feedback for 
the planning cycle by testing relevant assumptions, tracking relevant 
conditions over time, and measuring management effectiveness (Sec.  
219.12). The monitoring program includes plan-level and broader-scale 
monitoring. The plan-level monitoring program is informed by the 
assessment phase; developed during plan development, plan amendment, or 
plan revision; and implemented after plan decision. The regional 
forester develops broader-scale monitoring strategies. Biennial 
monitoring evaluation reports document whether a change to the plan or 
change to the monitoring program is warranted based on new information, 
whether a new assessment may be needed, or whether there is no need for 
change at that time.
    (b) Interdisciplinary team(s). The responsible official shall 
establish an interdisciplinary team or teams to

[[Page 21263]]

prepare assessments; new plans, plan amendments, and plan revisions; 
and plan monitoring programs.


Sec.  219.6  Assessment.

    The responsible official has the discretion to determine the scope, 
scale, and timing of an assessment described in Sec.  219.5(a)(1), 
subject to the requirements of this section.
    (a) Process for plan development or revision assessments. An 
assessment must be completed for the development of a new plan or for a 
plan revision. The responsible official shall:
    (1) Identify and consider relevant existing information contained 
in governmental or non-governmental assessments, plans, monitoring 
reports, studies, and other sources of relevant information. Such 
sources of information may include State forest assessments and 
strategies, the Resources Planning Act assessment, ecoregional 
assessments, non-governmental reports, State comprehensive outdoor 
recreation plans, community wildfire protection plans, public 
transportation plans, State wildlife data and action plans, and 
relevant Agency or interagency reports, resource plans or assessments. 
Relevant private information, including relevant land management plans 
and local knowledge, will be considered if publicly available or 
voluntarily provided.
    (2) Coordinate with or provide opportunities for the regional 
forester, agency staff from State and Private Forestry and Research and 
Development, federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native 
Corporations, other governmental and non-governmental parties, and the 
public to provide existing information for the assessment.
    (3) Document the assessment in a report available to the public. 
The report should document information needs relevant to the topics of 
paragraph (b) of this section. Document in the report how the best 
available scientific information was used to inform the assessment 
(Sec.  219.3). Include the report in the planning record (Sec.  
219.14).
    (b) Content of the assessment for plan development or revision. In 
the assessment for plan development or revision, the responsible 
official shall identify and evaluate existing information relevant to 
the plan area for the following:
    (1) Terrestrial ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, and watersheds;
    (2) Air, soil, and water resources and quality;
    (3) System drivers, including dominant ecological processes, 
disturbance regimes, and stressors, such as natural succession, 
wildland fire, invasive species, and climate change; and the ability of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the plan area to adapt to change;
    (4) Baseline assessment of carbon stocks;
    (5) Threatened, endangered, proposed and candidate species, and 
potential species of conservation concern present in the plan area;
    (6) Social, cultural, and economic conditions;
    (7) Benefits people obtain from the NFS planning area (ecosystem 
services);
    (8) Multiple uses and their contributions to local, regional, and 
national economies;
    (9) Recreation settings, opportunities and access, and scenic 
character;
    (10) Renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources;
    (11) Infrastructure, such as recreational facilities and 
transportation and utility corridors;
    (12) Areas of tribal importance;
    (13) Cultural and historic resources and uses;
    (14) Land status and ownership, use, and access patterns; and
    (15) Existing designated areas located in the plan area including 
wilderness and wild and scenic rivers and potential need and 
opportunity for additional designated areas.
    (c) Plan amendment assessments. Where the responsible official 
determines that a new assessment is needed to inform an amendment, the 
responsible official has the discretion to determine the scope, scale, 
process, and content for the assessment depending on the topic or 
topics to be addressed.


Sec.  219.7  New plan development or plan revision.

    (a) Plan revisions. A plan revision creates a new plan for the 
entire plan area, whether the plan revision differs from the prior plan 
to a small or large extent. A plan must be revised at least every 15 
years. But, the responsible official has the discretion to determine at 
any time that conditions on a plan area have changed significantly such 
that a plan must be revised (16 U.S.C. 1604(f)(5)).
    (b) New plan development. New plan development is required for new 
NFS units. The process for developing a new plan is the same as the 
process for plan revision.
    (c) Process for plan development or revision. (1) The process for 
developing or revising a plan includes: Public notification and 
participation (Sec. Sec.  219.4 and 219.16), assessment (Sec. Sec.  
219.5 and 219.6), developing a proposed plan, considering the 
environmental effects of the proposal, providing an opportunity to 
comment on the proposed plan, providing an opportunity to object before 
the proposal is approved (subpart B), and, finally, approving the plan 
or plan revision. A new plan or plan revision requires preparation of 
an environmental impact statement.
    (2) In developing a proposed new plan or proposed plan revision, 
the responsible official shall:
    (i) Review relevant information from the assessment and monitoring 
to identify a preliminary need to change the existing plan and to 
inform the development of plan components and other plan content.
    (ii) Consider the goals and objectives of the Forest Service 
strategic plan (Sec.  219.2(a)).
    (iii) Identify the presence and consider the importance of various 
physical, biological, social, cultural, and historic resources on the 
plan area (Sec.  219.6), with respect to the requirements for plan 
components of Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.11.
    (iv) Consider conditions, trends, and stressors (Sec.  219.6), with 
respect to the requirements for plan components of Sec. Sec.  219.8 
through 219.11.
    (v) Identify and evaluate lands that may be suitable for inclusion 
in the National Wilderness Preservation System and determine whether to 
recommend any such lands for wilderness designation.
    (vi) Identify the eligibility of rivers for inclusion in the 
National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, unless a systematic inventory 
has been previously completed and documented and there are no changed 
circumstances that warrant additional review.
    (vii) Identify existing designated areas other than the areas 
identified in paragraphs (c)(2)(v) and (c)(2)(vi) of this section, and 
determine whether to recommend any additional areas for designation. If 
the responsible official has the delegated authority to designate a new 
area or modify an existing area, then the responsible official may 
designate such area when approving the plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision.
    (viii) Identify the suitability of areas for the appropriate 
integration of resource management and uses, with respect to the 
requirements for plan components of Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.11, 
including identifying lands which are not suitable for timber 
production (Sec.  219.11).
    (ix) Identify the maximum quantity of timber that may be removed 
from the plan area (Sec.  219.11(d)(6)).

[[Page 21264]]

    (x) Identify questions and indicators for the plan monitoring 
program (Sec.  219.12).
    (xi) Identify potential other content in the plan (paragraph (f) of 
this section).
    (3) The regional forester shall identify the species of 
conservation concern for the plan area in coordination with the 
responsible official.
    (d) Management areas or geographic areas. Every plan must have 
management areas or geographic areas or both. The plan may identify 
designated or recommended designated areas as management areas or 
geographic areas.
    (e) Plan components. Plan components guide future project and 
activity decisionmaking. The plan must indicate whether specific plan 
components apply to the entire plan area, to specific management areas 
or geographic areas, or to other areas as identified in the plan.
    (1) Required plan components. Every plan must include the following 
plan components:
    (i) Desired conditions. A desired condition is a description of 
specific social, economic, and/or ecological characteristics of the 
plan area, or a portion of the plan area, toward which management of 
the land and resources should be directed. Desired conditions must be 
described in terms that are specific enough to allow progress toward 
their achievement to be determined, but do not include completion 
dates.
    (ii) Objectives. An objective is a concise, measurable, and time-
specific statement of a desired rate of progress toward a desired 
condition or conditions. Objectives should be based on reasonably 
foreseeable budgets.
    (iii) Standards. A standard is a mandatory constraint on project 
and activity decisionmaking, established to help achieve or maintain 
the desired condition or conditions, to avoid or mitigate undesirable 
effects, or to meet applicable legal requirements.
    (iv) Guidelines. A guideline is a constraint on project and 
activity decisionmaking that allows for departure from its terms, so 
long as the purpose of the guideline is met. (Sec.  219.15(d)(3)). 
Guidelines are established to help achieve or maintain a desired 
condition or conditions, to avoid or mitigate undesirable effects, or 
to meet applicable legal requirements.
    (v) Suitability of lands. Specific lands within a plan area will be 
identified as suitable for various multiple uses or activities based on 
the desired conditions applicable to those lands. The plan will also 
identify lands within the plan area as not suitable for uses that are 
not compatible with desired conditions for those lands. The suitability 
of lands need not be identified for every use or activity. Suitability 
identifications may be made after consideration of historic uses and of 
issues that have arisen in the planning process. Every plan must 
identify those lands that are not suitable for timber production (Sec.  
219.11).
    (2) Optional plan component: goals. A plan may include goals as 
plan components. Goals are broad statements of intent, other than 
desired conditions, usually related to process or interaction with the 
public. Goals are expressed in broad, general terms, but do not include 
completion dates.
    (3) Requirements for the set of plan components. The set of plan 
components must meet the requirements set forth in this part for 
sustainability (Sec.  219.8), plant and animal diversity (Sec.  219.9), 
multiple use (Sec.  219.10), and timber (Sec.  219.11).
    (f) Other content in the plan. (1) Other required content in the 
plan. Every plan must:
    (i) Identify watershed(s) that are a priority for maintenance or 
restoration;
    (ii) Describe the plan area's distinctive roles and contributions 
within the broader landscape;
    (iii) Include the monitoring program required by Sec.  219.12; and
    (iv) Contain information reflecting proposed and possible actions 
that may occur on the plan area during the life of the plan, including: 
the planned timber sale program; timber harvesting levels; and the 
proportion of probable methods of forest vegetation management 
practices expected to be used (16 U.S.C. 1604(e)(2) and (f)(2)). Such 
information is not a commitment to take any action and is not a 
``proposal'' as defined by the Council on Environmental Quality 
regulations for implementing NEPA (40 CFR 1508.23, 42 U.S.C. 
4322(2)(C)).
    (2) Optional content in the plan. A plan may include additional 
content, such as potential management approaches or strategies and 
partnership opportunities or coordination activities.


Sec.  219.8  Sustainability.

    The plan must provide for social, economic, and ecological 
sustainability within Forest Service authority and consistent with the 
inherent capability of the plan area, as follows:
    (a) Ecological sustainability. (1) Ecosystem Integrity. The plan 
must include plan components, including standards or guidelines, to 
maintain or restore the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic 
ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area, including plan components 
to maintain or restore structure, function, composition, and 
connectivity, taking into account:
    (i) Interdependence of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the 
plan area.
    (ii) Contributions of the plan area to ecological conditions within 
the broader landscape influenced by the plan area.
    (iii) Conditions in the broader landscape that may influence the 
sustainability of resources and ecosystems within the plan area.
    (iv) System drivers, including dominant ecological processes, 
disturbance regimes, and stressors, such as natural succession, 
wildland fire, invasive species, and climate change; and the ability of 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the plan area to adapt to change.
    (v) Wildland fire and opportunities to restore fire adapted 
ecosystems.
    (vi) Opportunities for landscape scale restoration.
    (2) Air, soil, and water. The plan must include plan components, 
including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore:
    (i) Air quality.
    (ii) Soils and soil productivity, including guidance to reduce soil 
erosion and sedimentation.
    (iii) Water quality.
    (iv) Water resources in the plan area, including lakes, streams, 
and wetlands; ground water; public water supplies; sole source 
aquifers; source water protection areas; and other sources of drinking 
water (including guidance to prevent or mitigate detrimental changes in 
quantity, quality, and availability).
    (3) Riparian areas. (i) The plan must include plan components, 
including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the 
ecological integrity of riparian areas in the plan area, including plan 
components to maintain or restore structure, function, composition, and 
connectivity, taking into account:
    (A) Water temperature and chemical composition;
    (B) Blockages (uncharacteristic and characteristic) of water 
courses;
    (C) Deposits of sediment;
    (D) Aquatic and terrestrial habitats;
    (E) Ecological connectivity;
    (F) Restoration needs; and
    (G) Floodplain values and risk of flood loss.
    (ii) Plans must establish width(s) for riparian management zones 
around all lakes, perennial and intermittent streams, and open water 
wetlands, within which the plan components required by paragraph 
(a)(3)(i) of this section will apply, giving special attention to land 
and vegetation for approximately 100 feet from the edges of all 
perennial streams and lakes.

[[Page 21265]]

    (A) Riparian management zone width(s) may vary based on ecological 
or geomorphic factors or type of water body; and will apply unless 
replaced by a site-specific delineation of the riparian area.
    (B) Plan components must ensure that no management practices 
causing detrimental changes in water temperature or chemical 
composition, blockages of water courses, or deposits of sediment that 
seriously and adversely affect water conditions or fish habitat shall 
be permitted within the riparian management zones or the site-specific 
delineated riparian areas.
    (4) Best management practices for water quality. The Chief shall 
establish requirements for national best management practices for water 
quality in the Forest Service Directive System. Plan components must 
ensure implementation of these practices.
    (b) Social and economic sustainability. The plan must include plan 
components, including standards or guidelines, to guide the plan area's 
contribution to social and economic sustainability, taking into 
account:
    (1) Social, cultural, and economic conditions relevant to the area 
influenced by the plan;
    (2) Sustainable recreation; including recreation settings, 
opportunities, and access; and scenic character;
    (3) Multiple uses that contribute to local, regional, and national 
economies in a sustainable manner;
    (4) Ecosystem services;
    (5) Cultural and historic resources and uses; and
    (6) Opportunities to connect people with nature.


Sec.  219.9  Diversity of plant and animal communities.

    This section adopts a complementary ecosystem and species-specific 
approach to maintaining the diversity of plant and animal communities 
and the persistence of native species in the plan area. Compliance with 
the ecosystem requirements of paragraph (a) is intended to provide the 
ecological conditions to both maintain the diversity of plant and 
animal communities and support the persistence of most native species 
in the plan area. Compliance with the requirements of paragraph (b) is 
intended to provide for additional ecological conditions not otherwise 
provided by compliance with paragraph (a) for individual species as set 
forth in paragraph (b). The plan must provide for the diversity of 
plant and animal communities, within Forest Service authority and 
consistent with the inherent capability of the plan area, as follows:
    (a) Ecosystem plan components. (1) Ecosystem integrity. As required 
by Sec.  219.8(a), the plan must include plan components, including 
standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the ecological 
integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the 
plan area, including plan components to maintain or restore their 
structure, function, composition, and connectivity.
    (2) Ecosystem diversity. The plan must include plan components, 
including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore the diversity 
of ecosystems and habitat types throughout the plan area. In doing so, 
the plan must include plan components to maintain or restore:
    (i) Key characteristics associated with terrestrial and aquatic 
ecosystem types;
    (ii) Rare aquatic and terrestrial plant and animal communities; and
    (iii) The diversity of native tree species similar to that existing 
in the plan area.
    (b) Additional, species-specific plan components. (1) The 
responsible official shall determine whether or not the plan components 
required by paragraph (a) of this section provide the ecological 
conditions necessary to: contribute to the recovery of federally listed 
threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and candidate 
species, and maintain a viable population of each species of 
conservation concern within the plan area. If the responsible official 
determines that the plan components required in paragraph (a) are 
insufficient to provide such ecological conditions, then additional, 
species-specific plan components, including standards or guidelines, 
must be included in the plan to provide such ecological conditions in 
the plan area.
    (2) If the responsible official determines that it is beyond the 
authority of the Forest Service or not within the inherent capability 
of the plan area to maintain or restore the ecological conditions to 
maintain a viable population of a species of conservation concern in 
the plan area, then the responsible official shall:
    (i) Document the basis for that determination (Sec.  219.14(a)); 
and
    (ii) Include plan components, including standards or guidelines, to 
maintain or restore ecological conditions within the plan area to 
contribute to maintaining a viable population of the species within its 
range. In providing such plan components, the responsible official 
shall coordinate to the extent practicable with other Federal, State, 
Tribal, and private land managers having management authority over 
lands relevant to that population.
    (c) Species of conservation concern. For purposes of this subpart, 
a species of conservation concern is a species, other than federally 
recognized threatened, endangered, proposed, or candidate species, that 
is known to occur in the plan area and for which the regional forester 
has determined that the best available scientific information indicates 
substantial concern about the species' capability to persist over the 
long-term in the plan area.


Sec.  219.10  Multiple use.

    While meeting the requirements of Sec. Sec.  219.8 and 219.9, the 
plan must provide for ecosystem services and multiple uses, including 
outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife, and fish, 
within Forest Service authority and the inherent capability of the plan 
area as follows:
    (a) Integrated resource management for multiple use. The plan must 
include plan components, including standards or guidelines, for 
integrated resource management to provide for ecosystem services and 
multiple uses in the plan area. When developing plan components for 
integrated resource management, to the extent relevant to the plan area 
and the public participation process and the requirements of Sec. Sec.  
219.7, 219.8, 219.9, and 219.11, the responsible official shall 
consider:
    (1) Aesthetic values, air quality, cultural and heritage resources, 
ecosystem services, fish and wildlife species, forage, geologic 
features, grazing and rangelands, habitat and habitat connectivity, 
recreation settings and opportunities, riparian areas, scenery, soil, 
surface and subsurface water quality, timber, trails, vegetation, 
viewsheds, wilderness, and other relevant resources and uses.
    (2) Renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources.
    (3) Appropriate placement and sustainable management of 
infrastructure, such as recreational facilities and transportation and 
utility corridors.
    (4) Opportunities to coordinate with neighboring landowners to link 
open spaces and take into account joint management objectives where 
feasible and appropriate.
    (5) Habitat conditions, subject to the requirements of Sec.  219.9, 
for wildlife, fish, and plants commonly enjoyed and used by the public; 
for hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, observing, subsistence, and 
other activities (in

[[Page 21266]]

collaboration with federally recognized Tribes, Alaska Native 
Corporations, other Federal agencies, and State and local governments).
    (6) Land status and ownership, use, and access patterns relevant to 
the plan area.
    (7) Reasonably foreseeable risks to ecological, social, and 
economic sustainability.
    (8) System drivers, including dominant ecological processes, 
disturbance regimes, and stressors, such as natural succession, 
wildland fire, invasive species, and climate change; and the ability of 
the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the plan area to adapt to 
change (Sec.  219.8);
    (9) Public water supplies and associated water quality.
    (10) Opportunities to connect people with nature.
    (b) Requirements for plan components for a new plan or plan 
revision. (1) The plan must include plan components, including 
standards or guidelines, to provide for:
    (i) Sustainable recreation; including recreation settings, 
opportunities, and access; and scenic character. Recreation 
opportunities may include non-motorized, motorized, developed, and 
dispersed recreation on land, water, and in the air.
    (ii) Protection of cultural and historic resources.
    (iii) Management of areas of tribal importance.
    (iv) Protection of congressionally designated wilderness areas as 
well as management of areas recommended for wilderness designation to 
protect and maintain the ecological and social characteristics that 
provide the basis for their suitability for wilderness designation.
    (v) Protection of designated wild and scenic rivers as well as 
management of rivers found eligible or determined suitable for the 
National Wild and Scenic River system to protect the values that 
provide the basis for their suitability for inclusion in the system.
    (vi) Appropriate management of other designated areas or 
recommended designated areas in the plan area, including research 
natural areas.
    (2) Other plan components for integrated resource management to 
provide for multiple use as necessary.


Sec.  219.11  Timber requirements based on the NFMA.

    While meeting the requirements of Sec. Sec.  219.8 through 219.10, 
the plan must include plan components, including standards or 
guidelines, and other plan content regarding timber management within 
Forest Service authority and the inherent capability of the plan area, 
as follows:
    (a) Lands not suited for timber production. (1) The responsible 
official shall identify lands within the plan area as not suited for 
timber production if any one of the following factors applies:
    (i) Statute, Executive order, or regulation prohibits timber 
production on the land;
    (ii) The Secretary of Agriculture or the Chief has withdrawn the 
land from timber production;
    (iii) Timber production would not be compatible with the 
achievement of desired conditions and objectives established by the 
plan for those lands;
    (iv) The technology is not currently available for conducting 
timber harvest without causing irreversible damage to soil, slope, or 
other watershed conditions;
    (v) There is no reasonable assurance that such lands can be 
adequately restocked within 5 years after final regeneration harvest; 
or
    (vi) The land is not forest land.
    (2) The responsible official shall review lands identified in the 
plan as not suited for timber production at least once every 10 years, 
or as otherwise prescribed by law, to determine whether conditions have 
changed so that they have become suitable for timber production. As a 
result of this 10-year review, the plan may be amended to identify any 
such lands as suitable for timber production, if warranted by changed 
conditions.
    (b) Timber harvest for purposes of timber production. A plan that 
identifies lands as suitable for timber production must include plan 
components, including standards or guidelines, to guide timber harvest 
for timber production or for other multiple use purposes on such lands.
    (c) Timber harvest for purposes other than timber production. 
Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, the plan may 
include plan components to allow for timber harvest for purposes other 
than timber production throughout the plan area, or portions of the 
plan area, as a tool to assist in achieving or maintaining one or more 
applicable desired conditions or objectives of the plan in order to 
protect other multiple-use values, and for salvage, sanitation, or 
public health or safety. Examples of using timber harvest to protect 
other multiple use values may include improving wildlife or fish 
habitat, thinning to reduce fire risk, or restoring meadow or savanna 
ecosystems where trees have invaded.
    (d) Limitations on timber harvest. Whether timber harvest would be 
for the purposes of timber production or other purposes, plan 
components, including standards or guidelines, must ensure the 
following:
    (1) No timber harvest for the purposes of timber production may 
occur on lands not suited for timber production.
    (2) Timber harvest would occur only where soil, slope, or other 
watershed conditions would not be irreversibly damaged;
    (3) Timber harvest would be carried out in a manner consistent with 
the protection of soil, watershed, fish, wildlife, recreation, and 
aesthetic resources.
    (4) Where plan components will allow clearcutting, seed tree 
cutting, shelterwood cutting, or other cuts designed to regenerate an 
even-aged stand of timber, the plan must include standards limiting the 
maximize size for openings that may be cut in one harvest operation, 
according to geographic areas, forest types, or other suitable 
classifications. Except as provided in paragraphs (d)(4)(i) through 
(iii) of this section, this limit may not exceed 60 acres for the 
Douglas-fir forest type of California, Oregon, and Washington; 80 acres 
for the southern yellow pine types of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, 
Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, 
Oklahoma, and Texas; 100 acres for the hemlock-Sitka spruce forest type 
of coastal Alaska; and 40 acres for all other forest types.
    (i) Plan standards may allow for openings larger than those 
specified in paragraph (d)(4) of this section to be cut in one harvest 
operation where the responsible official determines that larger harvest 
openings are necessary to help achieve desired ecological conditions in 
the plan area. If so, standards for exceptions shall include the 
particular conditions under which the larger size is permitted and must 
set a maximum size permitted under those conditions.
    (ii) Plan components may allow for size limits exceeding those 
established in paragraphs (d)(4) and (d)(4)(i) of this section on an 
individual timber sale basis after 60 days public notice and review by 
the regional forester.
    (iii) The plan maximum size for openings to be cut in one harvest 
operation shall not apply to the size of openings harvested as a result 
of natural catastrophic conditions such as fire, insect and disease 
attack, or windstorm (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(F)(iv)).
    (5) Timber will be harvested from NFS lands only where such harvest 
would comply with the resource protections set out in sections 
6(g)(3)(E) and (F) of the NFMA (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(E) and (F)). Some 
of these

[[Page 21267]]

requirements are listed in paragraphs (d)(2) to (d)(4) of this section.
    (6) The quantity of timber that may be sold from the national 
forest is limited to an amount equal to or less than that which can be 
removed from such forest annually in perpetuity on a sustained-yield 
basis. This limit may be measured on a decadal basis. The plan may 
provide for departures from this limit as provided by the NFMA when 
departure would be consistent with the plan's desired conditions and 
objectives. Exceptions for departure from this limit on the quantity 
sold may be made only after a public review and comment period of at 
least 90 days. The Chief must include in the Forest Service Directive 
System procedures for estimating the quantity of timber that can be 
removed annually in perpetuity on a sustained-yield basis, and 
exceptions, consistent with 16 U.S.C. 1611.
    (7) The regeneration harvest of even-aged stands of trees is 
limited to stands that generally have reached the culmination of mean 
annual increment of growth. This requirement would apply only to 
regeneration harvest of even-aged stands on lands identified as 
suitable for timber production and where timber production is the 
primary purpose for the harvest. Plan components may allow for 
exceptions, set out in 16 U.S.C. 1604(m), only if such harvest is 
consistent with the other plan components of the land management plan.


Sec.  219.12  Monitoring.

    (a) Plan monitoring program. (1) The responsible official shall 
develop a monitoring program for the plan area and include it in the 
plan. Monitoring information should enable the responsible official to 
determine if a change in plan components or other plan content that 
guide management of resources on the plan area may be needed. The 
development of the plan monitoring program must be coordinated with the 
regional forester and Forest Service State and Private Forestry and 
Research and Development. Responsible officials for two or more 
administrative units may jointly develop their plan monitoring 
programs.
    (2) The plan monitoring program sets out the plan monitoring 
questions and associated indicators. Monitoring questions and 
associated indicators must be designed to inform the management of 
resources on the plan area, including by testing relevant assumptions, 
tracking relevant changes, and measuring management effectiveness and 
progress toward achieving or maintaining the plan's desired conditions 
or objectives. Questions and indicators should be based on one or more 
desired conditions, objectives, or other plan components in the plan, 
but not every plan component needs to have a corresponding monitoring 
question.
    (3) The plan monitoring program should be coordinated and 
integrated with relevant broader-scale monitoring strategies (paragraph 
(b) of this section) to ensure that monitoring is complementary and 
efficient, and that information is gathered at scales appropriate to 
the monitoring questions.
    (4) Subject to the requirements of paragraph (a)(5) of this 
section, the responsible official has the discretion to set the scope 
and scale of the plan monitoring program, after considering:
    (i) Information needs identified through the planning process as 
most critical for informed management of resources on the plan area; 
and
    (ii) The financial and technical capabilities of the Agency.
    (5) Each plan monitoring program must contain one or more 
monitoring questions and associated indicators addressing each of the 
following:
    (i) The status of select watershed conditions.
    (ii) The status of select ecological conditions including key 
characteristics of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
    (iii) The status of focal species to assess the ecological 
conditions required under Sec.  219.9.
    (iv) The status of a select set of the ecological conditions 
required under Sec.  219.9 to contribute to the recovery of federally 
listed threatened and endangered species, conserve proposed and 
candidate species, and maintain a viable population of each species of 
conservation concern.
    (v) The status of visitor use, visitor satisfaction, and progress 
toward meeting recreation objectives.
    (vi) Measurable changes on the plan area related to climate change 
and other stressors that may be affecting the plan area.
    (vii) Progress toward meeting the desired conditions and objectives 
in the plan, including for providing multiple use opportunities.
    (viii) The effects of each management system to determine that they 
do not substantially and permanently impair the productivity of the 
land (16 U.S.C. 1604(g)(3)(C)).
    (6) A range of monitoring techniques may be used to carry out the 
monitoring requirements in paragraph (a)(5) of this section.
    (7) This section does not apply to projects or activities. Project 
and activity monitoring may be used to gather information for the plan 
monitoring program, and information gathered through plan monitoring 
may be used to inform development of projects or activities. But, the 
monitoring requirements of this section are not a prerequisite for 
making a decision to carry out a project or activity.
    (b) Broader-scale monitoring strategies. (1) The regional forester 
shall develop a broader-scale monitoring strategy for plan monitoring 
questions that can best be answered at a geographic scale broader than 
one plan area.
    (2) When developing a monitoring strategy, the regional forester 
shall coordinate with the relevant responsible officials, Forest 
Service State and Private Forestry and Research and Development, 
partners, and the public. Two or more regional foresters may jointly 
develop broader-scale monitoring strategies.
    (3) Each regional forester shall ensure that the broader-scale 
monitoring strategy is within the financial and technical capabilities 
of the region and complements other ongoing monitoring efforts.
    (4) Projects and activities may be carried out under plans 
developed, amended, or revised under this part before the regional 
forester has developed a broader-scale monitoring strategy.
    (c) Timing and process for developing the plan monitoring program 
and broader-scale strategies. (1) The responsible official shall 
develop the plan monitoring program as part of the planning process for 
a new plan development or plan revision. Where a plan's monitoring 
program has been developed under the provisions of a prior planning 
regulation and the unit has not initiated plan revision under this 
part, the responsible official shall modify the plan monitoring program 
within 4 years of the effective date of this part, or as soon as 
practicable, to meet the requirements of this section.
    (2) The regional forester shall develop a broader-scale monitoring 
strategy as soon as practicable.
    (3) To the extent practicable, appropriate, and relevant to the 
monitoring questions in the plan monitoring program, plan monitoring 
programs and broader-scale strategies must be designed to take into 
account:
    (i) Existing national and regional inventory, monitoring, and 
research programs of the Agency, including from the NFS, State and 
Private Forestry, and Research and Development, and of other

[[Page 21268]]

governmental and non-governmental entities;
    (ii) Opportunities to design and carry out multi-party monitoring 
with other Forest Service units, Federal, State or local government 
agencies, scientists, partners, and members of the public; and
    (iii) Opportunities to design and carry out monitoring with 
federally recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.
    (d) Biennial evaluation of the monitoring information. (1) The 
responsible official shall conduct a biennial evaluation of new 
information gathered through the plan monitoring program and relevant 
information from the broader-scale strategy, and shall issue a written 
report of the evaluation and make it available to the public.
    (i) The first monitoring evaluation for a plan or plan revision 
developed in accordance with this subpart must be completed no later 
than 2 years from the effective date of plan decision.
    (ii) Where the monitoring program developed under the provisions of 
a prior planning regulation has been modified to meet the requirements 
of paragraph (c)(1) of this section, the first monitoring evaluation 
must be completed no later than 2 years from the date the change takes 
effect.
    (iii) The monitoring evaluation report may be postponed for 1 year 
in case of exigencies, but notice of the postponement must be provided 
to the public prior to the date the report is due for that year (Sec.  
219.16(c)(6)).
    (2) The monitoring evaluation report must indicate whether or not a 
change to the plan, management activities, or the monitoring program, 
or a new assessment, may be warranted based on the new information. The 
monitoring evaluation report must be used to inform adaptive management 
of the plan area.
    (3) The monitoring evaluation report may be incorporated into other 
planning documents if the responsible official has initiated a plan 
revision or relevant amendment.
    (4) The monitoring evaluation report is not a decision document 
representing final Agency action, and is not subject to the objection 
provisions of subpart B.


Sec.  219.13  Plan amendment and administrative changes.

    (a) Plan amendment. A plan may be amended at any time. Plan 
amendments may be broad or narrow, depending on the need for change, 
and should be used to keep plans current and help units adapt to new 
information or changing conditions. The responsible official has the 
discretion to determine whether and how to amend the plan. Except as 
provided by paragraph (c) of this section, a plan amendment is required 
to add, modify, or remove one or more plan components, or to change how 
or where one or more plan components apply to all or part of the plan 
area (including management areas or geographic areas).
    (b) Amendment process. The responsible official shall:
    (1) Base an amendment on a preliminary identification of the need 
to change the plan. The preliminary identification of the need to 
change the plan may be based on a new assessment; a monitoring report; 
or other documentation of new information, changed conditions, or 
changed circumstances. When a plan amendment is made together with, and 
only applies to, a project or activity decision, the analysis prepared 
for the project or activity may serve as the documentation for the 
preliminary identification of the need to change the plan;
    (2) Provide opportunities for public participation as required in 
Sec.  219.4 and public notification as required in Sec.  219.16. The 
responsible official may combine processes and associated public 
notifications where appropriate, considering the scope and scale of the 
need to change the plan; and
    (3) Amend the plan consistent with Forest Service NEPA procedures. 
The appropriate NEPA documentation for an amendment may be an 
environmental impact statement, an environmental assessment, or a 
categorical exclusion, depending upon the scope and scale of the 
amendment and its likely effects. A proposed amendment that may create 
a significant environmental effect and thus require preparation of an 
environmental impact statement is considered a significant change in 
the plan for the purposes of the NFMA.
    (c) Administrative changes. An administrative change is any change 
to a plan that is not a plan amendment or plan revision. Administrative 
changes include corrections of clerical errors to any part of the plan, 
conformance of the plan to new statutory or regulatory requirements, or 
changes to other content in the plan (Sec.  219.7(f)).
    (1) A substantive change to the monitoring program made outside of 
the process for plan revision or amendment may be made only after 
notice to the public of the intended change and consideration of public 
comment (Sec.  219.16(c)(6)).
    (2) All other administrative changes may be made following public 
notice (Sec.  219.16(c)(6)).


Sec.  219.14  Decision document and planning records.

    (a) Decision document. The responsible official shall record 
approval of a new plan, plan amendment, or revision in a decision 
document prepared according to Forest Service NEPA procedures (36 CFR 
220). The decision document must include:
    (1) The rationale for approval;
    (2) An explanation of how the plan components meet the 
sustainability requirements of Sec.  219.8, the diversity requirements 
of Sec.  219.9, the multiple use requirements of Sec.  219.10, and the 
timber requirements of Sec.  219.11;
    (3) A statement of how the plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
applies to approved projects and activities (Sec.  219.15);
    (4) The documentation of how the best available scientific 
information was used to inform planning, the plan components, and other 
plan content, including the plan monitoring program (Sec.  219.3);
    (5) The concurrence by the appropriate research station director 
with any part of the plan applicable to any experimental forests or 
experimental ranges (Sec.  219.2(b)(4)); and
    (6) The effective date of the plan, amendment, or revision.
    (b) Planning records. (1) The responsible official shall keep the 
following documents readily accessible to the public by posting them 
online and through other means: assessment reports (Sec.  219.6); the 
plan, including the monitoring program; the proposed plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision; public notices and environmental documents 
associated with a plan; plan decision documents; and monitoring 
evaluation reports (Sec.  219.12).
    (2) The planning record includes documents that support analytical 
conclusions made and alternatives considered throughout the planning 
process. The responsible official shall make the planning record 
available at the office where the plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision was developed.


Sec.  219.15  Project and activity consistency with the plan.

    (a) Application to existing authorizations and approved projects or 
activities. Every decision document approving a plan, plan amendment, 
or plan revision must state whether authorizations of occupancy and use 
made before the decision document may proceed unchanged. If a plan 
decision document does not expressly allow such occupancy and use, the 
permit, contract, and other authorizing instrument for the use and 
occupancy must be made

[[Page 21269]]

consistent with the plan, plan amendment, or plan revision as soon as 
practicable, as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, subject to 
valid existing rights.
    (b) Application to projects or activities authorized after plan 
decision. Projects and activities authorized after approval of a plan, 
plan amendment, or plan revision must be consistent with the plan as 
provided in paragraph (d) of this section.
    (c) Resolving inconsistency. When a proposed project or activity 
would not be consistent with the applicable plan components, the 
responsible official shall take one of the following steps, subject to 
valid existing rights:
    (1) Modify the proposed project or activity to make it consistent 
with the applicable plan components;
    (2) Reject the proposal or terminate the project or activity;
    (3) Amend the plan so that the project or activity will be 
consistent with the plan as amended; or
    (4) Amend the plan contemporaneously with the approval of the 
project or activity so that the project or activity will be consistent 
with the plan as amended. This amendment may be limited to apply only 
to the project or activity.
    (d) Determining consistency. Every project and activity must be 
consistent with the applicable plan components. A project or activity 
approval document must describe how the project or activity is 
consistent with applicable plan components developed or revised in 
conformance with this part by meeting the following criteria:
    (1) Goals, desired conditions, and objectives. The project or 
activity contributes to the maintenance or attainment of one or more 
goals, desired conditions, or objectives, or does not foreclose the 
opportunity to maintain or achieve any goals, desired conditions, or 
objectives, over the long term.
    (2) Standards. The project or activity complies with applicable 
standards.
    (3) Guidelines. The project or activity:
    (i) Complies with applicable guidelines as set out in the plan; or
    (ii) Is designed in a way that is as effective in achieving the 
purpose of the applicable guidelines (Sec.  219.7(e)(1)(iv)).
    (4) Suitability. A project or activity would occur in an area:
    (i) That the plan identifies as suitable for that type of project 
or activity; or
    (ii) For which the plan is silent with respect to its suitability 
for that type of project or activity.
    (e) Consistency of resource plans within the planning area with the 
land management plan. Any resource plans (for example, travel 
management plans) developed by the Forest Service that apply to the 
resources or land areas within the planning area must be consistent 
with the plan components. Resource plans developed prior to plan 
decision must be evaluated for consistency with the plan and amended if 
necessary.


Sec.  219.16  Public notifications.

    The following public notification requirements apply to plan 
development, amendment, or revision. Notifications may be combined 
where appropriate.
    (a) When formal public notification is required. Public 
notification must be provided as follows:
    (1) To initiate the development of a proposed plan, plan amendment, 
or plan revision;
    (2) To invite comments on a proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision, and associated environmental analysis. For a new plan, plan 
amendment, or a plan revision for which a draft environmental impact 
statement (EIS) is prepared, the comment period is at least 90 days. 
For an amendment for which a draft EIS is not prepared, the comment 
period is at least 30 days;
    (3) To begin the objection period for a plan, plan amendment, or 
plan revision before approval (Sec.  219.52);
    (4) To approve a final plan, plan amendment, or plan revision; or
    (5) To announce whenever a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
process initiated under the provisions of a previous planning 
regulation will be conformed to meet the provisions of this part (Sec.  
219.17(b)(3)).
    (b) Project or activity plan amendments. When a plan amendment is 
approved in a decision document approving a project or activity and the 
amendment applies only to the project or activity, the notification 
requirements of 36 CFR part 215 or part 218, subpart A, applies instead 
of this section.
    (c) How public notice is provided. The responsible official should 
use contemporary tools to provide notice to the public. At a minimum, 
all public notifications required by this part must be posted online, 
and:
    (1) When the Chief, the Under Secretary, or the Secretary is the 
responsible official, notice must be published in the Federal Register.
    (2) For a new plan or plan revision, when an official other than 
the Chief, the Under Secretary, or the Secretary is the responsible 
official, notice must be published in the Federal Register and the 
applicable newspaper(s) of record.
    (3) When the notice is for the purpose of inviting comments on a 
proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision for which a draft EIS 
is prepared, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Federal Register 
notice of availability of a draft EIS shall serve as the required 
Federal Register notice.
    (4) For a plan amendment when an official other than the Chief, the 
Under Secretary, or the Secretary is the responsible official, and for 
which a draft EIS is not prepared, notices must be published in the 
newspaper(s) of record.
    (5) If a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision applies to two or 
more units, notices must be published in the Federal Register and the 
newspaper(s) of record for the applicable units.
    (6) Additional public notice of administrative changes, changes to 
the monitoring program, opportunities to provide information for 
assessments, assessment reports, monitoring evaluation reports, or 
other notices not listed in paragraph (a) of this section may be made 
in any way the responsible official deems appropriate.
    (d) Content of public notices. Public notices required by this 
section except for notices applicable to paragraph (c)(3) of this 
section, must clearly describe the action subject to notice and the 
nature and scope of the decisions to be made; identify the responsible 
official; describe when, where, and how the responsible official will 
provide opportunities for the public to participate in the planning 
process; and explain how to obtain additional information.


Sec.  219.17  Effective dates and transition.

    (a) Effective dates. (1) A plan or plan revision is effective 30 
days after publication of notice of its approval.
    (2) Except as provided in paragraph (a)(3) of this section, a plan 
amendment for which an environmental impact statement (EIS) has been 
prepared is effective 30 days after publication of notice of its 
approval; a plan amendment for which an EIS has not been prepared is 
effective immediately.
    (3) A plan amendment that applies to only one specific project or 
activity is effective on the date the project may be implemented in 
accordance with administrative review regulations at 36 CFR parts 215 
and 218.
    (b) Plan amendment and plan revision transition. For the purposes 
of this section, initiation means that the Agency has issued a notice 
of intent or other notice announcing the beginning of the process to 
develop a proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision.
    (1) Initiating plan development and plan revisions. Plan 
development and plan revisions initiated after May 9,

[[Page 21270]]

2012 must conform to the requirements of this part.
    (2) Initiating plan amendments. All plan amendments initiated after 
May 9, 2012 are subject to the objection process in subpart B of this 
part. With respect to plans approved or revised under a prior planning 
regulation, including the transition provisions of the reinstated 2000 
rule (36 CFR part 209, published at 36 CFR parts 200 to 209, revised as 
of July 1, 2010), plan amendments may be initiated under the provisions 
of the prior planning regulation for 3 years after May 9, 2012, and may 
be completed and approved under those provisions (except for the 
optional appeal procedures of the prior planning regulation); or may be 
initiated, completed, and approved under the requirements of this part. 
After the 3-year transition period, all plan amendments must be 
initiated, completed, and approved under the requirements of this part.
    (3) Plan development, plan amendments, or plan revisions initiated 
before this part. For plan development, plan amendments, or plan 
revisions that were initiated before May 9, 2012, the responsible 
official may complete and approve the plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision in conformance with the provisions of the prior planning 
regulation, including its transition provisions (36 CFR part 209, 
published at 36 CFR parts 200 to 209, revised as of July 1, 2010), or 
may conform the plan, plan amendment, or plan revision to the 
requirements of this part. If the responsible official chooses to 
complete an ongoing planning process under the provisions of the prior 
planning regulation, but chooses to allow for an objection rather than 
an administrative appeal, the objection process in subpart B of this 
part shall apply. When the responsible official chooses to conform an 
ongoing planning process to this part, public notice must be made 
(Sec.  219.16(a)(5)). An objection process may be chosen only if the 
public is provided the opportunity to comment on a proposed plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision, and associated environmental analysis.
    (c) Plans developed, amended, or revised under a prior planning 
regulation. This part supersedes any prior planning regulation. No 
obligations remain from any prior planning regulation, except those 
that are specifically included in a unit's existing plan. Existing 
plans will remain in effect until revised. This part does not compel a 
change to any existing plan, except as required in Sec.  219.12(c)(1). 
None of the requirements of this part apply to projects or activities 
on units with plans developed or revised under a prior planning rule 
until the plan is revised under this part, except that projects or 
activities on such units must comply with the consistency requirement 
of Sec.  219.15 with respect to any amendments that are developed and 
approved pursuant to this part.


Sec.  219.18  Severability.

    In the event that any specific provision of this part is deemed by 
a court to be invalid, the remaining provisions shall remain in effect.


Sec.  219.19  Definitions.

    Definitions of the special terms used in this subpart are set out 
as follows.
    Alaska Native Corporation. One of the regional, urban, and village 
native corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement 
Act of 1971.
    Assessment. For the purposes of this subpart, an assessment is the 
identification and evaluation of existing information to support land 
management planning. Assessments are not decisionmaking documents, but 
provide current information on select topics relevant to the plan area, 
in the context of the broader landscape.
    Best management practices for water quality (BMPs). Methods, 
measures, or practices selected by an agency to meet its nonpoint 
source control needs. BMPs include but are not limited to structural 
and nonstructural controls and operation and maintenance procedures. 
BMPs can be applied before, during, and after pollution-producing 
activities to reduce or eliminate the introduction of pollutants into 
receiving waters.
    Candidate species. (1) For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service candidate 
species, a species for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
possesses sufficient information on vulnerability and threats to 
support a proposal to list as endangered or threatened, but for which 
no proposed rule has yet been published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service.
    (2) For National Marine Fisheries Service candidate species, a 
species that is:
    (i) The subject of a petition to list and for which the National 
Marine Fisheries Service has determined that listing may be warranted, 
pursuant to section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 
1533(b)(3)(A)), or
    (ii) Not the subject of a petition but for which the National 
Marine Fisheries Service has announced in the Federal Register the 
initiation of a status review.
    Collaboration or collaborative process. A structured manner in 
which a collection of people with diverse interests share knowledge, 
ideas, and resources while working together in an inclusive and 
cooperative manner toward a common purpose. Collaboration, in the 
context of this part, falls within the full spectrum of public 
engagement described in the Council on Environmental Quality's 
publication of October, 2007: Collaboration in NEPA--A Handbook for 
NEPA Practitioners.
    Connectivity. Ecological conditions that exist at several spatial 
and temporal scales that provide landscape linkages that permit the 
exchange of flow, sediments, and nutrients; the daily and seasonal 
movements of animals within home ranges; the dispersal and genetic 
interchange between populations; and the long distance range shifts of 
species, such as in response to climate change.
    Conservation. The protection, preservation, management, or 
restoration of natural environments, ecological communities, and 
species.
    Conserve. For purposes of Sec.  219.9, to protect, preserve, 
manage, or restore natural environments and ecological communities to 
potentially avoid federally listing of proposed and candidate species.
    Culmination of mean annual increment of growth. See mean annual 
increment of growth.
    Designated area. An area or feature identified and managed to 
maintain its unique special character or purpose. Some categories of 
designated areas may be designated only by statute and some categories 
may be established administratively in the land management planning 
process or by other administrative processes of the Federal executive 
branch. Examples of statutorily designated areas are national heritage 
areas, national recreational areas, national scenic trails, wild and 
scenic rivers, wilderness areas, and wilderness study areas. Examples 
of administratively designated areas are experimental forests, research 
natural areas, scenic byways, botanical areas, and significant caves.
    Disturbance. Any relatively discrete event in time that disrupts 
ecosystem, watershed, community, or species population structure and/or 
function and changes resources, substrate availability, or the physical 
environment.
    Disturbance regime. A description of the characteristic types of 
disturbance on a given landscape; the frequency, severity, and size 
distribution of these characteristic disturbance types; and their 
interactions.
    Ecological conditions. The biological and physical environment that 
can affect the diversity of plant and animal communities, the 
persistence of native species, and the productive capacity of 
ecological systems. Ecological

[[Page 21271]]

conditions include habitat and other influences on species and the 
environment. Examples of ecological conditions include the abundance 
and distribution of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, connectivity, 
roads and other structural developments, human uses, and invasive 
species.
    Ecological integrity. The quality or condition of an ecosystem when 
its dominant ecological characteristics (for example, composition, 
structure, function, connectivity, and species composition and 
diversity) occur within the natural range of variation and can 
withstand and recover from most perturbations imposed by natural 
environmental dynamics or human influence.
    Ecological sustainability. See sustainability.
    Ecological system. See ecosystem.
    Economic sustainability. See sustainability.
    Ecosystem. A spatially explicit, relatively homogeneous unit of the 
Earth that includes all interacting organisms and elements of the 
abiotic environment within its boundaries. An ecosystem is commonly 
described in terms of its:
    (1) Composition. The biological elements within the different 
levels of biological organization, from genes and species to 
communities and ecosystems.
    (2) Structure. The organization and physical arrangement of 
biological elements such as, snags and down woody debris, vertical and 
horizontal distribution of vegetation, stream habitat complexity, 
landscape pattern, and connectivity.
    (3) Function. Ecological processes that sustain composition and 
structure, such as energy flow, nutrient cycling and retention, soil 
development and retention, predation and herbivory, and natural 
disturbances such as wind, fire, and floods.
    (4) Connectivity. (see connectivity above).
    Ecosystem diversity. The variety and relative extent of ecosystems.
    Ecosystem services. Benefits people obtain from ecosystems, 
including:
    (1) Provisioning services, such as clean air and fresh water, 
energy, fuel, forage, fiber, and minerals;
    (2) Regulating services, such as long term storage of carbon; 
climate regulation; water filtration, purification, and storage; soil 
stabilization; flood control; and disease regulation;
    (3) Supporting services, such as pollination, seed dispersal, soil 
formation, and nutrient cycling; and
    (4) Cultural services, such as educational, aesthetic, spiritual 
and cultural heritage values, recreational experiences and tourism 
opportunities.
    Environmental assessment (EA). See definition in Sec.  219.62.
    Environmental document. For the purposes of this part: an 
environmental assessment, environmental impact statement, finding of no 
significant impact, categorical exclusion, and notice of intent to 
prepare an environmental impact statement.
    Environmental impact statement (EIS). See definition in Sec.  
219.62.
    Even-aged stand. A stand of trees composed of a single age class.
    Federally recognized Indian Tribe. An Indian or Alaska Native 
Tribe, band, nation, pueblo, village, or community that the Secretary 
of the Interior acknowledges to exist as an Indian Tribe under the 
Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994, 25 U.S.C. 479a.
    Focal species. A small subset of species whose status permits 
inference to the integrity of the larger ecological system to which it 
belongs and provides meaningful information regarding the effectiveness 
of the plan in maintaining or restoring the ecological conditions to 
maintain the diversity of plant and animal communities in the plan 
area. Focal species would be commonly selected on the basis of their 
functional role in ecosystems.
    Forest land. Land at least 10 percent occupied by forest trees of 
any size or formerly having had such tree cover and not currently 
developed for non-forest uses. Lands developed for non-forest use 
include areas for crops, improved pasture, residential or 
administrative areas, improved roads of any width and adjoining road 
clearing, and power line clearings of any width.
    Geographic area. A spatially contiguous land area identified within 
the planning area. A geographic area may overlap with a management 
area.
    Inherent capability of the plan area. The ecological capacity or 
ecological potential of an area characterized by the interrelationship 
of its physical elements, its climatic regime, and natural 
disturbances.
    Integrated resource management. Multiple use management that 
recognizes the interdependence of ecological resources and is based on 
the need for integrated consideration of ecological, social, and 
economic factors.
    Landscape. A defined area irrespective of ownership or other 
artificial boundaries, such as a spatial mosaic of terrestrial and 
aquatic ecosystems, landforms, and plant communities, repeated in 
similar form throughout such a defined area.
    Maintain. In reference to an ecological condition: To keep in 
existence or continuance of the desired ecological condition in terms 
of its desired composition, structure, and processes. Depending upon 
the circumstance, ecological conditions may be maintained by active or 
passive management or both.
    Management area. A land area identified within the planning area 
that has the same set of applicable plan components. A management area 
does not have to be spatially contiguous.
    Management system. For purposes of this subpart, a timber 
management system including even-aged management and uneven-aged 
management.
    Mean annual increment of growth and culmination of mean annual 
increment of growth. Mean annual increment of growth is the total 
increment of increase of volume of a stand (standing crop plus 
thinnings) up to a given age divided by that age. Culmination of mean 
annual increment of growth is the age in the growth cycle of an even-
aged stand at which the average annual rate of increase of volume is at 
a maximum. In land management plans, mean annual increment is expressed 
in cubic measure and is based on the expected growth of stands, 
according to intensities and utilization guidelines in the plan.
    Monitoring. A systematic process of collecting information to 
evaluate effects of actions or changes in conditions or relationships.
    Multiple use. The management of all the various renewable surface 
resources of the NFS so that they are utilized in the combination that 
will best meet the needs of the American people; making the most 
judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources or related 
services over areas large enough to provide sufficient latitude for 
periodic adjustments in use to conform to changing needs and 
conditions; that some land will be used for less than all of the 
resources; and harmonious and coordinated management of the various 
resources, each with the other, without impairment of the productivity 
of the land, with consideration being given to the relative values of 
the various resources, and not necessarily the combination of uses that 
will give the greatest dollar return or the greatest unit output, 
consistent with the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (16 U.S.C. 
528-531).
    National Forest System. See definition in Sec.  219.62.
    Native knowledge. A way of knowing or understanding the world, 
including traditional ecological and social knowledge of the 
environment derived from multiple generations of indigenous peoples' 
interactions, observations, and

[[Page 21272]]

experiences with their ecological systems. Native knowledge is place-
based and culture-based knowledge in which people learn to live in and 
adapt to their own environment through interactions, observations, and 
experiences with their ecological system. This knowledge is generally 
not solely gained, developed by, or retained by individuals, but is 
rather accumulated over successive generations and is expressed through 
oral traditions, ceremonies, stories, dances, songs, art, and other 
means within a cultural context.
    Native species. An organism that was historically or is present in 
a particular ecosystem as a result of natural migratory or evolutionary 
processes; and not as a result of an accidental or deliberate 
introduction into that ecosystem. An organism's presence and evolution 
(adaptation) in an area are determined by climate, soil, and other 
biotic and abiotic factors.
    Newspaper(s) of record. See definition in Sec.  219.62.
    Objection. See definition in Sec.  219.62.
    Online. See definition in Sec.  219.62.
    Participation. Activities that include a wide range of public 
involvement tools and processes, such as collaboration, public 
meetings, open houses, workshops, and comment periods.
    Persistence. Continued existence.
    Plan area. The NFS lands covered by a plan.
    Plan or land management plan. A document or set of documents that 
provide management direction for an administrative unit of the NFS 
developed under the requirements of this part or a prior planning rule.
    Plant and animal community. A naturally occurring assemblage of 
plant and animal species living within a defined area or habitat.
    Productivity. The capacity of NFS lands and their ecological 
systems to provide the various renewable resources in certain amounts 
in perpetuity. For the purposes of this subpart, productivity is an 
ecological term, not an economic term.
    Project. An organized effort to achieve an outcome on NFS lands 
identified by location, tasks, outputs, effects, times, and 
responsibilities for execution.
    Proposed Species. Any species of fish, wildlife, or plant that is 
proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine 
Fisheries Service in the Federal Register to be listed under Section 4 
of the Endangered Species Act.
    Recovery. For the purposes of this subpart, and with respect to 
threatened or endangered species: The improvement in the status of a 
listed species to the point at which listing as federally endangered or 
threatened is no longer appropriate.
    Recreation. See Sustainable recreation.
    Recreation opportunity. An opportunity to participate in a specific 
recreation activity in a particular recreation setting to enjoy desired 
recreation experiences and other benefits that accrue. Recreation 
opportunities include non-motorized, motorized, developed, and 
dispersed recreation on land, water, and in the air.
    Recreation setting. The social, managerial, and physical attributes 
of a place that, when combined, provide a distinct set of recreation 
opportunities. The Forest Service uses the recreation opportunity 
spectrum to define recreation settings and categorize them into six 
distinct classes: primitive, semi-primitive non-motorized, semi-
primitive motorized, roaded natural, rural, and urban.
    Responsible official. See definition in Sec.  219.62.
    Restoration. The process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem 
that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Ecological restoration 
focuses on reestablishing the composition, structure, pattern, and 
ecological processes necessary to facilitate terrestrial and aquatic 
ecosystems sustainability, resilience, and health under current and 
future conditions.
    Restore. To renew by the process of restoration (see restoration).
    Riparian Areas. Three-dimensional ecotones of interaction that 
include terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems that extend down into the 
groundwater, up above the canopy, outward across the floodplain, up the 
near-slopes that drain to the water, laterally into the terrestrial 
ecosystem, and along the water course at variable widths.
    Riparian management zone. Portions of a watershed where riparian-
dependent resources receive primary emphasis, and for which plans 
include plan components to maintain or restore riparian functions and 
ecological functions.
    Risk. A combination of the likelihood that a negative outcome will 
occur and the severity of the subsequent negative consequences.
    Scenic character. A combination of the physical, biological, and 
cultural images that gives an area its scenic identity and contributes 
to its sense of place. Scenic character provides a frame of reference 
from which to determine scenic attractiveness and to measure scenic 
integrity.
    Social sustainability. See sustainability.
    Sole source aquifer. Underground water supply designated by the 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the ``sole or principle'' 
source of drinking water for an area as established under section 
1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h-3(e)).
    Source water protection areas. The area delineated by a State or 
Tribe for a public water system (PWS) or including numerous PWSs, 
whether the source is ground water or surface water or both, as part of 
a State or tribal source water assessment and protection program (SWAP) 
approved by Environmental Protection Agency under section 1453 of the 
Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h-3(e)).
    Stressors. For the purposes of this subpart: Factors that may 
directly or indirectly degrade or impair ecosystem composition, 
structure or ecological process in a manner that may impair its 
ecological integrity, such as an invasive species, loss of 
connectivity, or the disruption of a natural disturbance regime.
    Sustainability. The capability to meet the needs of the present 
generation without compromising the ability of future generations to 
meet their needs. For purposes of this part, ``ecological 
sustainability'' refers to the capability of ecosystems to maintain 
ecological integrity; ``economic sustainability'' refers to the 
capability of society to produce and consume or otherwise benefit from 
goods and services including contributions to jobs and market and 
nonmarket benefits; and ``social sustainability'' refers to the 
capability of society to support the network of relationships, 
traditions, culture, and activities that connect people to the land and 
to one another, and support vibrant communities.
    Sustainable recreation. The set of recreation settings and 
opportunities on the National Forest System that is ecologically, 
economically, and socially sustainable for present and future 
generations.
    Timber harvest. The removal of trees for wood fiber use and other 
multiple-use purposes.
    Timber production. The purposeful growing, tending, harvesting, and 
regeneration of regulated crops of trees to be cut into logs, bolts, or 
other round sections for industrial or consumer use.
    Viable population. A population of a species that continues to 
persist over the long term with sufficient distribution to be resilient 
and adaptable to stressors and likely future environments.
    Watershed. A region or land area drained by a single stream, river, 
or drainage network; a drainage basin.

[[Page 21273]]

    Watershed condition. The state of a watershed based on physical and 
biogeochemical characteristics and processes.
    Wild and scenic river. A river designated by Congress as part of 
the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System that was established in the 
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 (16 U.S.C. 1271 (note), 1271-1287).
    Wilderness. Any area of land designated by Congress as part of the 
National Wilderness Preservation System that was established in the 
Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136).

Subpart B--Pre-Decisional Administrative Review Process


Sec.  219.50  Purpose and scope.

    This subpart establishes a pre-decisional administrative review 
(hereinafter referred to as objection) process for plans, plan 
amendments, or plan revisions. This process gives an individual or 
entity an opportunity for an independent Forest Service review and 
resolution of issues before the approval of a plan, plan amendment, or 
plan revision. This subpart identifies who may file objections to a 
plan, plan amendment, or plan revision; the responsibilities of the 
participants in an objection; and the procedures that apply to the 
review of the objection.


Sec.  219.51  Plans, plan amendments, or plan revisions not subject to 
objection.

    (a) A plan, plan amendment, or plan revision is not subject to 
objection when the responsible official receives no substantive formal 
comments (Sec.  219.62) on that proposal during the opportunities for 
public comment (Sec.  219.53(a)).
    (b) Plans, plan amendments, or plan revisions proposed by the 
Secretary of Agriculture or the Under Secretary for Natural Resources 
and Environment are not subject to the procedures set forth in this 
section. A decision by the Secretary or Under Secretary constitutes the 
final administrative determination of the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture.
    (c) A plan, plan amendment, or plan revision is not subject to 
objection under this subpart if another administrative review process 
is used consistent with Sec.  219.59.
    (d) When a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision is not subject to 
objection under this subpart, the responsible official shall include an 
explanation with the signed decision document.


Sec.  219.52  Giving notice of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
subject to objection before approval.

    (a) The responsible official shall disclose during the NEPA scoping 
process and in the appropriate NEPA documents that the proposed plan, 
plan amendment, or plan revision is subject to the objection procedures 
in this subpart. This disclosure is in addition to the public notice 
that begins the objection filing period, as required at Sec.  219.16. 
When a responsible official chooses to use the objection process of 
this subpart for a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision process 
initiated before the effective date of this rule, notice that the 
objection process will be used must be given prior to an opportunity to 
provide substantive formal comment on a proposed plan, plan amendment, 
or revision and associated environmental analysis.
    (b) The responsible official shall make available the public notice 
for the beginning of the objection period for a plan, plan amendment, 
or plan revision (Sec.  219.16(a)(3)) to those who have requested the 
environmental documents or are eligible to file an objection consistent 
with Sec.  219.53.
    (c) The content of the public notice for the beginning of the 
objection period for a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision before 
approval (Sec.  219.16(a)(3)) must:
    (1) Inform the public of the availability of the plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision, the appropriate final environmental 
documents, the draft plan decision document, and any relevant 
assessment or monitoring evaluation report; the commencement of the 
objection filing period under 36 CFR part 219 Subpart B; and the 
process for objecting. The documents in this paragraph will be made 
available online at the time of public notice.
    (2) Include the name of the plan, plan amendment, or plan revision, 
the name and title of the responsible official, and instructions on how 
to obtain a copy of the appropriate final environmental documents; the 
draft plan decision document; and the plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision.
    (3) Include the name and address of the reviewing officer with whom 
an objection is to be filed. The notice must specify a street, postal, 
fax, and email address; the acceptable format(s) for objections filed 
electronically; and the reviewing officer's office business hours for 
those filing hand-delivered objections.
    (4) Include a statement that objections will be accepted only from 
those who have previously submitted substantive formal comments 
specific to the proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision during 
any opportunity for public comment as provided in subpart A.
    (5) Include a statement that the publication date of the public 
notice in the applicable newspaper of record (or the Federal Register, 
if the responsible official is the Chief) is the exclusive means for 
calculating the time to file an objection (Sec.  219.56).
    (6) Include a statement that an objection, including attachments, 
must be filed with the appropriate reviewing officer (Sec.  219.62) 
within 60 days, if an environmental impact statement has been prepared, 
otherwise within 45 days of the date of publication of the public 
notice for the objection process.
    (7) Include a statement describing the minimum content requirements 
of an objection (Sec.  219.54(c)).


Sec.  219.53  Who may file an objection.

    (a) Individuals and entities who have submitted substantive formal 
comments related to a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision during the 
opportunities for public comment as provided in subpart A during the 
planning process for that decision may file an objection. Objections 
must be based on previously submitted substantive formal comments 
attributed to the objector unless the objection concerns an issue that 
arose after the opportunities for formal comment. The burden is on the 
objector to demonstrate compliance with requirements for objection. 
Objections that do not meet the requirements of this paragraph may not 
be accepted; however, objections not accepted must be documented in the 
planning record.
    (b) Formal comments received from an authorized representative(s) 
of an entity are considered those of the entity only. Individual 
members of that entity do not meet objection eligibility requirements 
solely based on membership in an entity. A member or an individual must 
submit substantive formal comments independently to be eligible to file 
an objection in an individual capacity.
    (c) When an objection lists multiple individuals or entities, each 
individual or entity must meet the requirements of paragraph (a) of 
this section. Individuals or entities listed on an objection that do 
not meet eligibility requirements may not be considered objectors, 
although an objection must be accepted (if not otherwise set aside for 
review under Sec.  219.55) if at least one listed individual or entity 
meets the eligibility requirements.
    (d) Federal agencies may not file objections.

[[Page 21274]]

    (e) Federal employees who otherwise meet the requirements of this 
subpart for filing objections in a non-official capacity must comply 
with Federal conflict of interest statutes at 18 U.S.C. 202-209 and 
with employee ethics requirements at 5 CFR part 2635. Specifically, 
employees may not be on official duty nor use government property or 
equipment in the preparation or filing of an objection. Further, 
employees may not include information unavailable to the public, such 
as Federal agency documents that are exempt from disclosure under the 
Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552(b)).


Sec.  219.54  Filing an objection.

    (a) All objections must be filed, in writing, with the reviewing 
officer for the plan. All objections must be open to public inspection 
during the objection process.
    (b) Including documents by reference is not allowed, except for the 
following list of items that may be referenced by including the name, 
date, page number (where applicable), and relevant section of the cited 
document. All other documents or Web links to those documents, or both 
must be included with the objection, if referenced in the objection.
    (1) All or any part of a Federal law or regulation.
    (2) Forest Service Directive System documents and land management 
plans or other published Forest Service documents.
    (3) Documents referenced by the Forest Service in the planning 
documentation related to the proposal subject to objection.
    (4) Formal comments previously provided to the Forest Service by 
the objector during the proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
comment period.
    (c) At a minimum, an objection must include the following:
    (1) The objector's name and address (Sec.  219.62), along with a 
telephone number or email address if available;
    (2) Signature or other verification of authorship upon request (a 
scanned signature for electronic mail may be filed with the objection);
    (3) Identification of the lead objector, when multiple names are 
listed on an objection (Sec.  219.62). Verification of the identity of 
the lead objector if requested;
    (4) The name of the plan, plan amendment, or plan revision being 
objected to, and the name and title of the responsible official;
    (5) A statement of the issues and/or the parts of the plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision to which the objection applies;
    (6) A concise statement explaining the objection and suggesting how 
the proposed plan decision may be improved. If applicable, the objector 
should identify how the objector believes that the plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision is inconsistent with law, regulation, or 
policy; and
    (7) A statement that demonstrates the link between prior 
substantive formal comments attributed to the objector and the content 
of the objection, unless the objection concerns an issue that arose 
after the opportunities for formal comment (Sec.  219.53(a)).


Sec.  219.55  Objections set aside from review.

    (a) The reviewing officer shall set aside and not review an 
objection when one or more of the following applies:
    (1) Objections are not filed in a timely manner (Sec.  219.56);
    (2) The proposed plan, plan amendment, or plan revision is not 
subject to the objection procedures of this subpart pursuant to 
Sec. Sec.  219.51 and 219.59;
    (3) The individual or entity did not submit substantive formal 
comments (Sec.  219.53) during opportunities for public comment on the 
proposed decision (Sec.  219.16(a)(1) and (a)(2));
    (4) None of the issues included in the objection is based on 
previously submitted substantive formal comments unless one or more of 
those issues arose after the opportunities for formal comment;
    (5) The objection does not provide sufficient information as 
required by Sec.  219.54(c);
    (6) The objector withdraws the objection in writing;
    (7) The objector's identity is not provided or cannot be determined 
from the signature (written or electronically scanned), and a 
reasonable means of contact is not provided (Sec.  219.54(c)); or
    (8) The objection is illegible for any reason and a legible copy 
cannot easily be obtained.
    (b) When an objection includes an issue that is not based on 
previously submitted substantive formal comments and did not arise 
after the opportunities for formal comment, that issue will be set 
aside and not reviewed. Other issues raised in the objection that meet 
the requirements of this subpart will be reviewed.
    (c) The reviewing officer shall give written notice to the objector 
and the responsible official when an objection or part of an objection 
is set aside from review and shall state the reasons for not reviewing 
the objection in whole or part. If the objection is set aside from 
review for reasons of illegibility or lack of a means of contact, the 
reasons must be documented in the planning record.


Sec.  219.56  Objection time periods and process.

    (a) Time to file an objection. For a new plan, plan amendment, or 
plan revision for which an environmental impact statement (EIS) is 
prepared, written objections, including any attachments, must be filed 
within 60 days following the publication date of the public notice for 
a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision before approval (Sec. Sec.  
219.16 and 219.52). For an amendment for which an EIS is not prepared, 
the time to file an objection is within 45 days. It is the 
responsibility of the objector to ensure that the reviewing officer 
receives the objection in a timely manner.
    (b) Computation of time periods. (1) All time periods are computed 
using calendar days, including Saturdays, Sundays, and Federal holidays 
in the time zone of the reviewing officer. However, when the time 
period expires on a Saturday, Sunday, or Federal holiday, the time is 
extended to the end of the next Federal working day (11:59 p.m. for 
objections filed by electronic means such as email or facsimile 
machine).
    (2) The day after publication of the public notice for a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision before approval (Sec. Sec.  219.16 and 
219.52), is the first day of the objection filing period.
    (3) The publication date of the public notice for a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision before approval (Sec. Sec.  219.16 and 
219.52), is the exclusive means for calculating the time to file an 
objection. Objectors may not rely on dates or timeframe information 
provided by any other source.
    (c) Evidence of timely filing. The objector is responsible for 
filing the objection in a timely manner. Timeliness must be determined 
by one of the following indicators:
    (1) The date of the U.S. Postal Service postmark for an objection 
received before the close of the fifth business day after the objection 
filing date;
    (2) The electronically generated posted date and time for email and 
facsimiles;
    (3) The shipping date for delivery by private carrier for an 
objection received before the close of the fifth business day after the 
objection filing date; or
    (4) The official agency date stamp showing receipt of hand 
delivery.
    (d) Extensions. Time extensions for filing are not permitted except 
as provided at paragraph (b)(1) of this section.

[[Page 21275]]

    (e) Reviewing officer role and responsibilities. The reviewing 
officer is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or Forest Service 
official having the delegated authority and responsibility to review an 
objection filed under this subpart. The reviewing officer is a line 
officer at the next higher administrative level above the responsible 
official; except that:
    (1) For a plan amendment, that next higher-level line officer may 
delegate the reviewing officer authority and responsibility to a line 
officer at the same administrative level as the responsible official. 
Any plan amendment delegation of reviewing officer responsibilities 
must be made prior to the public notification of an objection filing 
period (Sec.  219.52).
    (2) For an objection or part of an objection specific to the 
identification of species of conservation concern, the regional 
forester who identified the species of conservation concern for the 
plan area may not be the reviewing officer. The Chief may choose to act 
as the reviewing officer or may delegate the reviewing officer 
authority to a line officer at the same administrative level as the 
regional forester. The reviewing officer for the plan will convey any 
such objections or parts thereof to the appropriate line officer.
    (f) Notice of objections filed. Within 10 days after the close of 
the objection period, the responsible official shall publish a notice 
of all objections in the applicable newspaper of record and post the 
notice online.
    (g) Response to objections. The reviewing officer must issue a 
written response to the objector(s) concerning their objection(s) 
within 90 days of the end of the objection-filing period. The reviewing 
officer has the discretion to extend the time when it is determined to 
be necessary to provide adequate response to objections or to 
participate in discussions with the parties. The reviewing officer must 
notify all parties (lead objectors and interested persons) in writing 
of any extensions.


Sec.  219.57  Resolution of objections.

    (a) Meetings. Prior to the issuance of the reviewing officer's 
written response, either the reviewing officer or the objector may 
request to meet to discuss issues raised in the objection and potential 
resolution. The reviewing officer must allow other interested persons 
to participate in such meetings. An interested person must file a 
request to participate in an objection within 10 days after publication 
of the notice of objection by the responsible official (Sec.  
219.56(f)). The responsible official shall be a participant in all 
meetings involving the reviewing officer, objectors, and interested 
persons. During meetings with objectors and interested persons, the 
reviewing officer may choose to use alternative dispute resolution 
methods to resolve objections. All meetings are open to observation by 
the public.
    (b) Response to objections. (1) The reviewing officer must render a 
written response to the objection(s) within 90 days of the close of the 
objection-filing period, unless the allowable time is extended as 
provided at Sec.  219.56(g). A written response must set forth the 
reasons for the response but need not be a point-by-point response, and 
may contain instructions to the responsible official. In cases 
involving more than one objection to a plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision, the reviewing officer may consolidate objections and issue 
one or more responses. The response must be sent to the objecting 
party(ies) by certified mail, return receipt requested, and posted 
online.
    (2) The reviewing officer's review of and response to the 
objection(s) is limited to only those issues and concerns submitted in 
the objection(s).
    (3) The response of the reviewing officer will be the final 
decision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the objection.


Sec.  219.58  Timing of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
decision.

    (a) The responsible official may not issue a decision document 
concerning a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision subject to the 
provisions of this subpart until the reviewing officer has responded in 
writing to all objections.
    (b) A decision by the responsible official approving a plan, plan 
amendment, or plan revision must be consistent with the reviewing 
officer's response to objections.
    (c) When no objection is filed within the allotted filing period, 
the reviewing officer must notify the responsible official. The 
responsible official's approval of the plan, plan amendment, or plan 
revision in a plan decision document consistent with Sec.  219.14, may 
occur on, but not before, the fifth business day following the end of 
the objection-filing period.


Sec.  219.59  Use of other administrative review processes.

    (a) Where the Forest Service is a participant in a multi-federal 
agency effort that would otherwise be subject to objection under this 
subpart, the responsible official may waive the objection procedures of 
this subpart and instead adopt the administrative review procedure of 
another participating Federal agency. As a condition of such a waiver, 
the responsible official for the Forest Service must have agreement 
with the responsible official of the other agency or agencies that a 
joint agency response will be provided to those who file for 
administrative review of the multi-agency effort. When such an 
agreement is reached, the responsible official for the Forest Service 
shall ensure public notice required in Sec.  219.52 sets forth which 
administrative review procedure is to be used.
    (b) When a plan amendment is approved in a decision document 
approving a project or activity and the amendment applies only to the 
project or activity, the administrative review process of 36 CFR part 
215 or part 218, subpart A, applies instead of the objection process 
established in this subpart. When a plan amendment applies to all 
future projects or activities, the objection process established in 
this subpart applies only to the plan amendment decision; the review 
process of 36 CFR part 215 or part 218 would apply to the project or 
activity part of the decision.


Sec.  219.60  Secretary's authority.

    Nothing in this subpart restricts the Secretary of Agriculture from 
exercising any statutory authority regarding the protection, 
management, or administration of NFS lands.


Sec.  219.61  Information collection requirements.

    This subpart specifies the information that objectors must give in 
an objection to a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision (Sec.  
219.54(c)). As such, this subpart contains information collection 
requirements as defined in 5 CFR part 1320 and have been approved by 
the Office of Management and Budget and assigned control number 0596-
0158.


Sec.  219.62  Definitions.

    Definitions of the special terms used in this subpart are set out 
as follows.
    Address. An individual's or entity's current mailing address used 
for postal service or other delivery services. An email address is not 
sufficient.
    Decision memo. A concise written record of the responsible 
official's decision to implement an action that is categorically 
excluded from further analysis and documentation in an environmental 
impact statement (EIS) or environmental assessment (EA), where the 
action is one of a category of actions which do not individually or 
cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment, and 
does not give rise to extraordinary circumstances

[[Page 21276]]

in which a normally excluded action may have a significant 
environmental effect.
    Environmental assessment (EA). A public document that provides 
sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an 
EIS or a finding of no significant impact, aids an agency's compliance 
with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when no EIS is 
necessary, and facilitates preparation of a statement when one is 
necessary (40 CFR 1508.9; FSH 1909.15, Chapter 40).
    Environmental impact statement (EIS). A detailed written statement 
as required by section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) of 1969 (40 CFR 1508.11; 36 CFR 220).
    Formal comments. See substantive formal comments.
    Lead objector. For an objection submitted with multiple 
individuals, multiple entities, or combination of individuals and 
entities listed, the individual or entity identified to represent all 
other objectors for the purposes of communication, written or 
otherwise, regarding the objection.
    Line officer. A Forest Service official who serves in a direct line 
of command from the Chief.
    Name. The first and last name of an individual or the name of an 
entity. An electronic username is insufficient for identification of an 
individual or entity.
    National Forest System. The National Forest System includes 
national forests, national grasslands, and the National Tallgrass 
Prairie.
    Newspaper(s) of record. The newspaper(s) of record is (are) the 
principal newspaper(s) of general circulation annually identified and 
published in the Federal Register by each regional forester to be used 
for publishing notices as required by 36 CFR 215.5. The newspaper(s) of 
record for projects in a plan area is (are) the newspaper(s) of record 
for notices related to planning.
    Objection. The written document filed with a reviewing officer by 
an individual or entity seeking pre-decisional administrative review of 
a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision.
    Objection period. The allotted filing period following publication 
of a public notice in the applicable newspaper of record (or the 
Federal Register, if the responsible official is the Chief) of the 
availability of the appropriate environmental documents and draft 
decision document, including a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision 
during which an objection may be filed with the reviewing officer.
    Objection process. Those procedures established for pre-decisional 
administrative review of a plan, plan amendment, or plan revision.
    Objector. An individual or entity who meets the requirements of 
Sec.  219.53, and files an objection that meets the requirements of 
Sec. Sec.  219.54 and 219.56.
    Online. Refers to the appropriate Forest Service Web site or future 
electronic equivalent.
    Responsible official. The official with the authority and 
responsibility to oversee the planning process and to approve a plan, 
plan amendment, and plan revision.
    Reviewing officer. The USDA or Forest Service official having the 
delegated authority and responsibility to review an objection filed 
under this subpart.
    Substantive formal comments. Written comments submitted to, or oral 
comments recorded by, the responsible official or his designee during 
an opportunity for public participation provided during the planning 
process (Sec. Sec.  219.4 and 219.16), and attributed to the individual 
or entity providing them. Comments are considered substantive when they 
are within the scope of the proposal, are specific to the proposal, 
have a direct relationship to the proposal, and include supporting 
reasons for the responsible official to consider.

    Dated: March 23, 2012.
Harris D. Sherman,
Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment.
[FR Doc. 2012-7502 Filed 4-6-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE P