The Appeal Deal

  The West’s national forests remain in legal limbo. For four years, the U.S. Forest Service has been trying to overhaul the rules that govern the creation of forest plans, the “blueprints” that describe how each forest will be managed and protected. And for the past two years, the process has been locked in federal court.

The Justice Department recently dropped its appeal of a March 2007 ruling that overturned the Forest Service’s controversial 2005 forest planning rules. Federal agencies and environmental groups are now trying to figure out what the administration’s decision means for over 193 million acres of national forest and grasslands.

A month after the Forest Service rolled out the 2005 rules in September 2004, environmental groups filed suit, claiming that the agency had removed environmental protections without considering the effects on endangered species or providing for public comment.

In March 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled that the agency must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and analyze the environmental impacts of the 2005 rules. The Justice Department quickly appealed, but has now decided that it’s less costly and time-consuming to drop its appeal.

The Forest Service is not yet sure how this will affect its efforts to revise the planning rules, says Janelle Smith, spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Region. The agency has already released a draft of its 2007 rules, which, according to Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation law with Defenders of Wildlife, are virtually identical to their predecessors and will most likely face more lawsuits. Dreher calls the dropped appeal a small but important concession with regard to implementing forest policy, but, he says, “The battle is by no means over.”

Those 2007 rules do attempt to comply with Judge Hamilton’s ruling, says Martin Nie, associate professor of natural resource policy at the University of Montana, although some sections still may violate the National Environmental Policy Act. For now, forest planning continues in disarray. “No one is happy,” Nie says. “And meanwhile, we still don’t have a plan.”
Jan 21, 2008 11:16 AM

This is a bit confusing. There is no 2007 rule. if it comes out in the next month or so it is the 2008 rule. and how can Dr. Nie know that it "may violate" NEPA since it is not now out, so theoretically the content is not known by anyone outside the federal government.  Yet it would not be leaving the clearance process unless at least some lawyers ( at the Department of Justice) do not think it violates NEPA. It is all confusing and a bit mysterious until the rule actually comes out. This seems to me, in my humble opinion, a better time to discuss the pros and cons.


Ann FS Planner 

Jan 21, 2008 11:26 AM

Greetings! Thank you for your comment. You can see the forest planning rules here:

Best regards,

Evelyn Schlatter 

Jan 21, 2008 11:52 AM

But that is the proposal, not the final. There is a proposed rule
that was released in 2007, and a final rule to be released in 2008. One
might imagine that there will be changes from the proposed rule in the
final, based on public comment.

Maybe t's a detail of terminology,but there are no 2007 rules, just a 2007 proposal and a 2008 final. The equivalent would be a draft forest plan
and a final forest plan. There will be rich and fruitful discussion, no
doubt, on the final when it is released.