FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE DECEMBER 22, 2004
Contact: Chris Wood, TU VP for Conservation Programs,
STATEMENT BY TU VICE PRESIDENT CHRIS WOOD
ON NEW FOREST SERVICE PLANNING REGULATIONS
WASHINGTON -- The USDA Forest Service today released new planning regulations that govern management of 191 million acres of National Forests - about 8 percent of the U.S. land-base. These regulations replace more protective measures that were developed over seven years and finalized in 2000, but never implemented by the Bush administration.
The new planning regulations offer little in the way of planning and nothing in the way of regulation. The two most notable changes in the government's new approach are the diminishment of protections for imperiled fish and wildlife, and the potential for dramatically reducing requirements for environmental analysis and public comment on Forest Service timber, mining, grazing and off-road vehicle usage of National Forests.
Forest planning regulations are essentially zoning requirements. They govern activities ranging from timber harvest and road construction, off-road vehicle use, grazing, recreation and water developments on National Forests. They are the most significant expression of the government's trust responsibilities to manage public lands and waters in an ecologically sustainable manner for the American people.
More than 25 trout, salmon and steelhead that are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act depend on habitat provided by Forest Service lands and waters. Diminishing the requirement to maintain viable populations of these species within forest borders is of grave concern to Trout Unlimited and its 135,000 members. Also of grave concern is the likelihood that these changes will reduce public input on hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands.
We are also deeply concerned by the proposal to exempt forest planning from the environmental analysis and public involvement requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (through "categorical exclusions"). While few would defend the bureaucracy and red-tape inherent in existing forest plans, we are deeply concerned that this proposal continues a recent trend of the government shutting off avenues for public involvement in management of public lands and waters.
Each of Trout Unlimited's more than 450 chapters on average spends more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time and labor working to improve fish and wildlife habitat, including on National Forests. The government should be seeking ways to improve public access to public land management, not closing the few opportunities that remain.
For this new approach to have any success in protecting fish and wildlife habitat, and drinking water, the Forest Service will require dramatic increases in funding for its fish and wildlife and monitoring programs. Funding for these programs has been in decline in recent years.
Trout Unlimited is North America's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 135,000 members in 450 chapters in North America.