Forest Planning Rule Comments

April 29, 2013

Fax: (503) 224-1851


Re: Forest Service Planning Rule; Resource Development Council for Alaska Comments on Proposed Directives to Implement Rule Published February 27, 2013

Dear Secretary of Agriculture and Forest Service representatives:

This letter provides comments on behalf of the Resource Development Council for Alaska (RDC) regarding the above referenced proposed Forest Service Manual and Handbook directives, for which notice of issuance was published in the Federal Register at 78 Fed. Reg. 13316-13319 (Feb. 27, 2013) ("Proposed Directives"). We understand that the proposed directives are intended to provide guidance for implementing the new revised regulations for national forest system land and resource management planning issued in final form in April 2012 and now codified at 36 C.F.R. Part 219 (the “Planning Rule”).

RDC is an Alaskan, non-profit, membership-funded organization founded in 1975. The RDC membership is comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s oil and gas, mining, timber, tourism, and fisheries industries, as well as Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to link these diverse interests together to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC commented on the (then proposed) planning rule in May 2011, raising serious concerns with the rule. At that time we stated…

…in our view, the proposed rule fails to build on the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act (MUSYA) and follow the requirements of the NFMA. Moreover, the rule fails to comply with current direction for regulations to be shorter, more flexible, and less costly and burdensome. The rule is excessively long, detailed, and encumbered with inflexible mandatory requirements that will prevent it from being a practical, workable, and affordable rule. We believe it will provide fertile ground for litigation that will create additional disputes and obstruct planning and management activities.

By commenting on the proposed directives RDC does not waive or discount problems we see with the text of the rule itself. Our comments are in no way exhaustive. Our concerns that the rule is excessively long and detailed extend to the proposed directives, which are lengthy and not well indexed. Our comments are not exhaustive as we lack the resources to conduct an exhaustive review of the directives that exceed 400 pages.

The directives need to address unique Alaska-Specific authorities and requirements

The proposed FRM and FSH inadequately reference the unique provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and the Alaska National Interest Lands Act (ANILCA) for Forest Service Region 10 (Alaska). This shortcoming needs to be remedied soon as the Chugach Forest is an “early adopter” in the process of a plan revision under the new Planning Rule. Specific guidance applicable to Alaska national forest planning should be established in Alaska Region (R10) FSM and FSH supplements with appropriate references to such supplements in the overview of the FSH and FSM directives. FSH Chapter 90 should reference Alaska specific authorities or point to the same in the Alaska supplements.

Simplify and provide timeframe guidance if for no other reason to be more cost effective

The TSH and TSM should support simplified processes so Alaskans can more affordably participate in the plan revision process and limited federal resources can be more judiciously utilized. The directives need to be shortened, indexed and condensed to be more user-friendly. A goal of the new planning rule was to shorten plan revision timelines, yet the FSH and FSM provide little guidance as to how plans are to be revised in a more reasonable timeframe.

Ecological sustainability and diversity of plant and animal communities

These provisions appear to dominate the proposed directives. There is a major contrast between the volume of material regarding these components of the Planning Rule, compared to the sparse text regarding economic and social sustainability and related topics. The proposed directives exacerbate this imbalance beyond what is present in the Planning Rule. Chapters 23 and other sections in the proposed directives which address ecosystem concepts and rule requirements need to be reviewed and reformed to eliminate mandatory and expansive, detailed prescriptive direction. These sections need to be revised to focus upon useful, practical guidance for planning tasks to implement the rule’s ecological sustainability and diversity provisions in a way that conforms to multiple use production of tangible good and services and the needs of human communities that depend upon national forest resources.

More emphasis needed on active forest restoration and health management

There is a lack of reference in the proposed directives to restoring and maintaining forest “health,” or to insects, disease, or fire as direct and active agents of change to address in the planning process. There is no apparent reference to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act or other current law that supports and facilitates more active vegetation management to address insect, disease, and fire threats. Proposed Chapter 90 does not include these authorities, but does selectively include the Wilderness Act and Wild & Scenic Rivers Act.

No retroactive or mandatory application of directives.

The final version should clearly provide that the directives guidance is prospective only; that no forest will be required to redo, modify, or revisit plan revision, amendment or other steps that it has commenced prior to the effective date of the final updated directives in order to conform with or address updated directives items. This is particularly important to avoid delaying or confusing “early adopter” forests like the Chugach in the plan revision processes that they have already begun. The nonbinding guidance rather than mandatory nature and effect of the directives should also be made clear in the final version.

FSH 1909.12, Chapter 23 - Resource Requirements for Integrated Plan Components

Section 23.11a - Riparian Areas

This section should be covered for Alaska in an Alaska Region FSM and FSH supplement. Extensive riparian area management provisions have already been developed for the Tongass and Chugach in coordination with those applicable to adjacent nonfederal lands under the Alaska Forest Resources Act, AS 41.17.010 et seq. and implementing regulations at 11 AAC 95. These requirements are adapted to the unique ecological, social, and economic conditions in Alaska, and any review or update of these provisions should likewise be Alaska-specific.

Section 23.12c: Best Management Practices (“BMPs”) for water quality

The national approach to BMPs apparently contemplated by 36 C.F.R. 219.8(a)(4) still must provide for variation in BMPs among regions and states based on the wide range of topographic, climate and other field conditions present, and to be consistent with various state forest practice acts and other BMP regulation. Forest Service BMPs should incorporate and adopt existing state BMPs. This is particularly compelling in Alaska, where there are proven effective BMPs included in the Alaska Forest Resources Act and implementing regulations that have been developed and refined collaboratively among stakeholders over many years. The national directives and BMPs should expressly provide for this state level flexibility, and the Alaska Region FSM or FSH Supplement can incorporate the Alaska BMPs.

FSH 1909.12, Chapter 60 - Forest Vegetation Resource Planning

The Forest Service should assure that the final version fully reflects the multiple-use and adaptive flexibility balanced with basic protection of land and water resources that is codified in the National Forest Management Act provisions regarding timber resource planning and management.

FSM 1923 and FSH 1909.12, Chapter 70 - Wilderness Evaluation

This chapter needs to be rewritten to provide guidance for a focused and cost-efficient inventory and evaluation of eligibility and suitability that is based upon and informed by existing forest plan and travel plan reviews and designations, RARE reviews, nationwide and state-specific roadless area rule reviews and designations, and state-specific and other wilderness legislation, such as ANILCA and the Tongass Timber Reform Act. Consideration of areas for wilderness designation need only be addressed on a limited update basis as part of plan revisions, given the exhaustive amount of consideration and designations that have already been completed. This is particularly true for the Chugach and Tongass National Forests, in light of the explicit restrictions ANILCA places on the consideration of additional conservation system units in Alaska.

As currently drafted, the FSM 1923 and FSH Chapter 70 provisions suggest a “start over” all-inclusive new inventory without reference to the extensive reviews and designations that have already been completed, many of them quite recently. Section 71.22 appears to require areas with existing forest system roads to be included in the inventory of areas eligible for wilderness evaluation, as well as other historic or established roads, and should be corrected to exclude all such areas with existing roads. Likewise, areas with roads providing access to existing patented or unpatented mining claims or other nonfederal lands or operating areas should be excluded. The criteria for area eligibility in Section 71.2 should be narrowed to be no broader than those in current FSH 1909.12, Chapter 70 -- the new Planning Rule did not change those criteria. Proposed Chapter 70 should at least reference FSH 1909.12 Sec. 22.22 regarding already designated Wilderness and roadless rule areas as a focus for determining whether updated recommendations are needed.

Chapter 70 and its overly broad and inclusive, “start over” approach to wilderness area eligibility and suitability is another example where the extensiveness of the evaluation suggested by the proposed directives is contrary to stated Planning Rule objectives for more cost-effective and focused plan revisions, and which is likely to unnecessarily bog down and sidetrack plan revisions with overly cumbersome process and turmoil over battles that have already been largely fought. Further evaluation of roadless areas for potential wilderness recommendations should be instead limited to “need to change” based on significant new information or circumstances and public comment regarding specific areas of interest.

Inclusion of level 1 and 2 roads in any “new” inventory of Wilderness potential is completely inappropriate.

FSM 1923 and other FSM and FSH provisions regarding management of areas recommended for wilderness, wild & scenic river, or other designations.

Likewise, these provisions need to be corrected and clarified to be consistent with existing law and realistic. For example, proposed FSM 1923.03 numbered item 3 on page 15 is erroneously broad and general.

FSM 1925 - Management of Inventoried Roadless Areas

Directives for Alaska national forests, where ANILCA and other existing direction and reviews specific to the Chugach and Tongass National Forests apply, should be in an Alaska Region Supplement to the FSM and FSH.


In closing, RDC endorses the comments of the Alaska Forest Association, Sealaska Corporation, the American Forest Resource Council, and the Northwest Mining Association on the proposed Forest Service Manual and directives. Our broad interests agree the proposed directives magnify the flaws of the Planning Rule and that the rule and the directives, as drafted, will not resolve the planning gridlock within the agency.

The new rule and proposed directives launch an excessively broad and unnecessarily complex planning framework. The proposed framework is even more unwieldy than that of the 1998/2000 regulations. Unfortunately, the rule and handbook will require staff to create an inflated planning process far removed from on-the-ground management needs.

RDC strongly agrees with the closing statement of the Northwest Mining Association’s comments on the proposed directive (April 29, 2013): “The efficient and sustainable development of the natural resources located on Forest Service lands is vital to our national security and economic growth. The Forest Service therefore has a responsibility to promulgate clear, concise planning directives…in a way that fosters such development and is guided by the congressionally mandated principles of multiple- use and sustained yield.”

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the proposed directives

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.