Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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Forest Service unveils updated planning rules

Staff Writer

Grand Rapids, Minn. The U.S. Forest Service last week released a
rule proponents say will speed up the planning process for the
nation’s 155 national forests.

The rule will allow forest managers to be more flexible in
crafting management plans, according to Forest Service officials.
It will also help get things accomplished on the ground, said Rick
Horton, a Grand Rapids-based biologist with the Ruffed Grouse
Society.

“(Forest managers) have been so hamstrung,” Horton said. “They
had to do paperwork for any little thing they wanted to do.”

The new rule calls for a shorter forest planning process. Rather
than taking five to seven years to write a 15-year management plan,
the rule seeks plans within two or three years.

Management plans for Minnesota’s two national forests Chippewa
and Superior, both in the northern part of the state were completed
earlier this year. The joint plan, finished in August, took seven
years to complete, said Kay Getting, public affairs officer at the
Chippewa forest.

“They think it ought to take about half that,” Getting said.
“They want to save the taxpayers money by making this process take
less time.”

The recent Chippewa/Superior plan was completed under
regulations adopted in 1982. It is a final plan, though several
groups are appealing it. Getting expects the appeal process to be
complete by next spring.

“The things that we do from this point forward have to comply
with (the rule passed last week),” Getting said. “We don’t expect a
lot of difficulty here. Largely, we knew this rule was coming and
we knew largely what was included in it, so our new forest plan
prepared for that.”

The new rules require an “environmental management system” to
guide how the forest land will be used. That management system
includes the requirement of independent audits of Forest Service
work on each each of the nation’s 155 national forests and 20
grasslands.

One of the main changes in the new rule, Horton said, is that it
gives managers the ability to do some routine activities, like
mowing trails, without having to go through a long process.

“It’s less paperwork for activities that already are deemed not
to have a negative impact to anything,” Horton said.

Having the ability to do routine tree cutting, rather than going
through a two- or three-year process, should help species like
woodcock and grouse, which rely on young forests, Horton said.

“As young forests age and they are no longer young forests, we
have to create more young forests,” Horton said. “It is only
valuable to them for a very short window of time.”

Another change the new rules implement is that forest managers
will no longer have to ensure the viability of every species in the
area.

“That’s been a real sticking point for years,” Horton said.
“Ensuring viability is an almost impossible task.”

Horton said determining whether a population is viable is too
subjective in nature.

“Rather, (managers) will have to provide habitat,” Horton said.
“If the critters make it or not, it’s kind of we’ll see.’ It isn’t
their fault if a migratory population is faltering because
something is happening on their wintering grounds.”

Since plans for Minnesota’s national forests were recently
completed, it’s still unclear exactly to what extent the rules
released last week will affect the state.

However, the Forest Service will be releasing more detailed
procedural requirements soon that will explain how to meet goals
outlined in the rule released last week. Those analytical
procedures will be open for public review and comment.

“A lot of the details of how to comply with this rule haven’t
been given to us yet,” Getting said.

Horton to chair committee

Horton will replace Joe Duggan as the chair of the Game and Fish
Fund Budget Oversight Committee, which is charged with monitoring
expenditures from Minnesota’s Game and Fish Fund.

Horton previously served as chair of the wildlife operations
subcommittee.

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