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Public Statements

Letter to Secretary Vilsack

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is leading a bipartisan chorus of House members in protesting the administration's national forest planning rule, saying it will lead to more litigation that will divert limited agency resources from badly needed job creation in rural communities.

On Feb. 14, 2011, the U.S. Forest Service issued their proposed "National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule." The rule will govern the planning process for establishing management plans for the nation's national forests and national grasslands.

This is the fourth attempt to implement a new planning rule since 2000. This proposed rule would have far reaching impacts on permitting processes and the current multiple-use standard for National Forest System lands. This will place additional burdens on multiple use industries, including grazing, timber, recreation, and resource development.

Walden and Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), organized a bipartisan letter signed by 60 members to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to tell him that this new rule fails to avoid the pitfalls that have put the Forest Service in seemingly endless litigation for the last three decades. Taken together, the signers of the letter represent 77.7 percent of the nation's 193 million acres of federal forest land.

"The proposed rule moves the agency further away from a simple, concise rule that can be understood by both agency personnel and the public and implemented with a minimum amount of contention among stakeholder groups," the lawmakers wrote. "By adding more process requirements and introducing new technical terms, you are increasing the likelihood that like previous attempts at reform, the proposed rule will be tied up in courts for years."

"We foresee limited federal dollars available for U.S. Forest Service operations being consumed by these processes to the detriment of the health of our federal forests and continuation of multiple uses of our federal resources," the lawmakers wrote. "This, in turn, will reduce the number of jobs in our already distressed rural communities and further limit the amount of American wood and fiber available to aid our economic recovery."

The lawmakers also note in the letter that the rule will shift significant costs onto already burdened taxpayers in the form of legal fees and settlements.

On January 18, 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that requires agencies to assure that the costs of a rule are justified by the benefits achieved and that the regulations impose the least burden on society.

"We do not believe that the proposed rule complies with the President's executive order," the bipartisan group of lawmakers concluded.

They then asked the Forest Service chief to redraft the rule to make it "simpler and less encumbered with process," and pointed out that it's possible to meet the goals of the agency without bogging it down and further separating the public lands from the many taxpayers that depend on them for sustainable clean air, clean water, recreation, harvesting of fish and wildlife, grazing, and timber production.

The full text of the letter is below:

May 31, 2011

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write to express our concern over the Proposed National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule published in the Federal Register on February 14, 2011 (proposed rule) that would affect the management plans of the nation's 155 national forests and 20 grasslands.

With a keen interest in the active management of our nation's federal forest resources and the multiple uses that benefit our global environment and our local rural economies, we were hopeful that this iteration of the planning rule would avoid the cumbersome and inefficient pitfalls that have led to seemingly endless litigation since the issuance of the first planning rule under the National Forest Management Act in 1982. Instead, the proposed rule moves the agency further away from a simple, concise rule that can be understood by both agency personnel and the public and implemented with a minimum amount of contention among stakeholder groups. By adding more process requirements and introducing new technical terms, you are increasing the likelihood that like previous attempts at reform, the proposed rule will be tied up in courts for years.

In this era of shrinking agency budgets, we are very concerned that the proposed rule saddles the agency with a number of expensive processes and procedures, such as the assessments (Sec. 219.6), requirements to extensively document its conclusions regarding what is "best available scientific information" (Sec. 219.3), expansion of monitoring activities (Sec. 219.12), and the continued reliance on and further expansion of the "species viability" requirement beyond vertebrate animals to include all species, counting fungi, slugs and mosses (Sec. 219.9). We foresee limited federal dollars available for U.S. Forest Service operations being consumed by these processes to the detriment of the health of our federal forests and continuation of multiple uses of our federal resources. This, in turn, will reduce the number of jobs in our already distressed rural communities and further limit the amount of American wood and fiber available to aid our economic recovery.

We also caution that there is much in the proposed rule that invites litigation by those who oppose a balanced multiple use management approach on our forests. Under the National Forest Management Act, the U.S. Forest Service has historically been charged with the primary responsibility to manage our nation's forests under multiple-use and sustained-yield principles, including mineral and energy development under the Mining and Minerals Policy Act and the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960. We are concerned that the proposed rule seeks to elevate vague, undefined new concepts and categories of analysis such as "species of conservation concern," "restoration," "social sustainability," and "ecosystem resiliency" above its primary multi-use statutory mandate. The proposed rule also seeks to insert controversial climate change policies, not authorized by Congress, as a primary driver of future regulations on forest unit management.

These controversial proposed changes not only will add to the gridlock currently faced by the agency, but also will force significant costs onto already burdened taxpayers as the federal government is required to pay for agencies' legal fees and, either as part of a settlement or because it does not prevail in litigation, other parties' attorneys' fees out of Judgment Act and Equal Access to Justice Act funds. In the latter case, the payments come directly out of the agency's budget, further hampering its ability to manage our nation's forests. The impairment of the process by which state, county, and local governments may meaningfully participate in the development of land and resource management plans (a process known as "coordination", found in Sec. 219.7 of the current rule) further adds to the threat of litigation against the agency.

Given the above mentioned potential costs and risks associated with the proposed rule, we call your attention to President Obama's January 18, 2011 executive order that requires agencies to assure that the costs of a rule are justified by the benefits achieved and that the regulations impose the least burden on society. We do not believe that the proposed rule complies with the President's executive order.

We urge you to direct the U.S. Forest Service to redraft the proposed rule to make it simpler and less encumbered with process, and to eliminate provisions like the "species viability" clause that surpass Congress' statutory direction. It is possible to meet the objectives of the National Forest Management Act and the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act without bogging the agency down with exercises that further separate it from the many citizens who depend on our nation's forests for sustainable clean air, clean water, recreation, harvesting of fish and wildlife, grazing, and timber production. Please do not lose this opportunity to produce a planning rule that is truly simple, understandable, flexible and defendable in court.

Thank you for your immediate attention to these important concerns.


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