The Forest Service proposes to improve national forests by reshaping the 15-year management plans that guide them. The agency's draft rule says plans must emphasize ecological balance and sustainable use of forests, boost public involvement during the planning process, and shift some decision-making from regional and national offices to forest-level managers. The current system of administrative appeals would be changed to an "objection process' that would occur before the final version of the forest plan is signed. "We're enthusiastic about a number of scientific aspects of the rule and the strong emphasis on ecological sustainability as the underpinning for multi-use management," says Robert Dewey of Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C. "We've been saying that ecology has to be the first priority of forest management and we're glad to see that the plan recognizes this." Others are skeptical. Steve Holmer of American Lands in Washington, D.C., approves of the proposal's rhetoric but says there are no specific standards to ensure results. The leeway that the draft rule would grant to forest-level land managers "threatens biodiversity, recreational opportunities, and clean water," he says, "because when you have local vested economic interest driving the forest, they tend to do what's good for their pocketbooks and not what's good for the forest." Timber industry spokesmen worry the plan will mean even less logging on public lands. The Forest Service will host town hall meetings in 23 locations around the country to discuss the proposal. Meetings will be held in Denver, Colo., on Nov. 13, in Missoula, Mont., on Nov. 18, and in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Dec. 7. The agency will accept written public comment on the draft rule until Jan. 4. For a free copy of the proposal, or a full listing of meeting dates and locations, call the USDA's Content Analysis Enterprise Team at 406/329-3388. The documents are also available on the Web at www.fs.fed.us/forum/nepa/rule, or at www.access.gpo.gov, the federal register's Web site.