Saturday, August 20, 2011

Obama administration debating care of national forests

Erin Kelly and Elizabeth Bewley at describe another environmental where the auspices for the right choice don't look good: The Obama administration is crafting a new plan to manage the nation's 155 national forests, including four in North Carolina and Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee, for the next 15 to 20 years. At stake is the future of 193 million acres of forests and grasslands that are the nation's single largest source of drinking water and home to more than 15,000 species of plants and wildlife.

The U.S. Forest Service says the new plan, due by year's end, is urgently needed to replace the forest planning rule written in 1982 during the Reagan administration. That rule, which emphasized using the forests for logging, does not reflect the latest science on climate change and how best to protect wildlife and water, the Forest Service says. Forest plans are intended to provide a framework for the managers of individual forests and grasslands in the National Forest System to use in revising their own land-management plans, which they are supposed to do every 15 years.

The rule was never intended to last nearly three decades - about twice as long as expected. President Bill Clinton attempted to replace it in 2000, but his proposal was scrapped when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. Efforts by the Bush administration to draw up its own plan were derailed when the proposals were challenged by environmentalists and thrown out by federal courts.

As President Barack Obama's administration takes up the contentious issue, it is under intense scrutiny from competing interest groups that hope to shape the plan to their liking. Neither environmentalists nor business interests are happy with the first draft of the new rule. Conservation groups say it lacks adequate protection for wildlife and water and gives individual forest managers too much discretion in how to carry out the plan. Business groups say some of its provisions to protect species could end up kicking timber companies, ranchers and others off the land….

Tongass National Forest, shot by Mark Brennan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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