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Mon, Nov. 11

Forest rule closer to becoming final

The U.S. Forest Service is one step closer to finalizing a new planning rule to replace a 2005 rule challenged by environmental groups and struck down in U.S. District Court.

The agency's Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the 2008 Planning Rule identifies the Forest Service's preferred alternative, a modification of the 2005 rule.

It will go to the Department of Agriculture for a decision on a final rule for forest planning. The Record of Decision and final rule will be published in the Federal Register in approximately 30 days.

The rule defines how the Forest Service develops land mangement plans, in concert with citizens as outlined by law. It provides the framework for all resource and recreation management on national forests and grasslands nationwide.

It modifies the 2005 rule, which the court said could not be implemented until it was brought into compliance with National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Administrative Procedure Act requirements.

After receiving and considering over 79,000 comments on a draft environmental impact statement released last spring, the Forest Service developed "Alternative M" as their preferred alternative.

Alternative M requires improved monitoring and sustainability standard for wildlife protection as well as the requirement for an Environmental Management System to be in place prior to the implementation of approved projects.

In addition, Forest Service Timber Policy will not be affected by the preferred alternative because resource protections for timber management activities have not changed.

Groups like Earth Justice and the Center for Biological Diversity are critical of this version, saying it doesn't go far enough in strengthening what they believe was overrelaxation of the 2000 rule in the areas of species diversity, timber management and environmental review and evaluation.

A copy of the FEIS is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/includes/planning_rule/eis.pdf or http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma/2008_planning_rule.html.

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