National Forest Management Act

National Forest Management Act and Forest Management Plans

The National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) required the US Forest Service to create comprehensive land and resource management plans for each administrative unit in the system of forests and grasslands. The first planning regulations were published in 1979 and amended in 1982. NFMA regulations guide national forests in developing management plans that determine how our national forests are managed.

In the early 1990s the Forest Service began reviewing the land management process and prepared to make changes to the regulations. In 1997 the Clinton Administration established the Committee of Scientists to advise the Forest Service on improving the planning process. The Committee issued their report in 1999. In 2000, before President Clinton left office, the Forest Service released a new set of draft planning regulations. After President George W. Bush took office the Forest Service published a new set of draft regulations in 2002. The final planning rule was published in January 2005.

These 2005 NFMA regulations represented a dramatic loss in environmental safeguards from the 2000 regulations as well as the 1982 Regulations. Threatened and endangered species as well as other species whose viability is in jeopardy are provided much less protection and even analysis. Public involvement is greatly reduced, largely removing the public’s ability to challenge faulty plans. Local Forest Service staff are given unprecedented discretion in how the national forests are managed. This would occur with inadequate safeguards to prevent unwise decisions or abuse.

These 2005 Regulations were challenged, and in a 2007 Federal Court decision they were found to have violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other laws. However, the Regulations in substantially the same form were reissued in April of 2008 after a hastily prepared Environmental Impact Statement was prepared. These new regulations were challenged in court by conservation groups shortly after they were issued.

NFMA Regulations determine the rules for how Forest Plans are written. They also determine to a great extent the focus of forest management: whether our national forest are managed for environmental benefits or whether timber management is the main goal. We can not afford to let these important plans be written under shoddy regulations that provide inadequate safeguards for the environment.