SCB scientists say stronger science standards can help protect National Forests
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and regulations based on it provide the framework for the management of 155 National Forests and 20 Grasslands, and are the key guidelines for ensuring that these lands help safeguard biodiversity. NFMA regulations are currently under revision, after a set of regulations enacted under the Bush administration was invalidated by the courts. A panel of scientists convened by SCB reviewed the new draft regulations. The scientists reviewed each of five focus areas in the agencies’ draft Environmental Impact Statement on the service’s proposed rule. While reviewers noted that the planning rule was in certain respects a marked improvement over the 1982 forest rule that is currently in effect, they called on the Forest Service to make improvements in order to reach the agencies’ stated goal of protecting water and wildlife in a changing climate and to meet the requirements of the law in today’s world.
Key findings of the SCB review include:
1. Wildlife viability – the Forest Service has a legal mandate to maintain plant and animal diversity across the National Forest System and to fulfill its mandate. The agency needs to ensure that all fish and wildlife species have the best chance of persisting in the face of climate change and ongoing land uses. The agency needs to adopt stricter measures to ensure wildlife are well-distributed and populations are viable across the National Forest System.
2. Watershed integrity – the Forest Service should adopt watershed assessments as a national standard to guide restoration priorities and include riparian conservation areas with protective streamside buffers of at least 100 feet. Road removal and remediation in riparian conservation areas and key watersheds managed for aquatic species and clean water should be the top restoration priority.
3. Climate change adaptation – the Forest Service fell short in failing to acknowledge the importance of climate change and the vast body of scientific knowledge about potential consequences. If a forest plan is intended to last 15 years it is absolutely necessary to include climate change in the management decisions being made on that timeline. Failure to do so will mean scientifically flawed plans are created and inadequate management decisions are made.
4. Climate change mitigation–despite the mention of forest carbon in the management of National Forests and Grasslands, considering only the live carbon stored in forest and grassland vegetation is completely unacceptable and scientifically indefensible. This deficiency will result in numerous challenges of forest plans that will be impossible to defend. Offsets such as biofuels and substitution of wood for other, more energy-intensive materials should be included with the caveat that they be treated in a realistic manner. For example, it is not credible to assume that all biofuel harvests are automatically carbon neutral.
5. Ecosystem restoration and resilience to climate change – the Forest Service should allocate substantial portions of the National Forest System to reserve-style management and other portions to creative experimental management to restore degraded areas and prepare for climate change.
The full review can be found here.
A press release on the SCB review can be found here.
An introduction placing the peer review comments in additional legal and policy context can be found here.
Comments prepared by SCB and the Ecological Society of America earlier in the NFMA regulation revision process can be found here.