Forest Service Proposed Regulations Adequately Address Some, but Not All, Key Elements of Forest Planning
GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON DC RESOURCES COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIV
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Federal land management is inherently contentious. Our work has found that a lack of clear direction on how to resolve conflicts among competing uses on national forest lands has contributed significantly to inefficiency and waste in the Forest Services development and implementation of forest plans. To address this deficiency, the agencys 1999 proposed planning regulations would make ecological sustainability, rather than economic or social sustainability, the agencys top priority, in order to provide a sustainable flow of products, services, and other values from national forests, consistent with laws and regulations guiding their use. Elevating the maintenance or restoration of ecological systems over other uses on the national forests is consistent with the agencys evolving mission, which now favors resource protection over production. However, the priority assigned to ecological sustainability is not driven by the statutory authorities specific to the management of the national forests. Rather, it has evolved over many years, responding, in part, to the requirements in environmental laws-enacted primarily during the 196Os and 1970s and their implementing regulations and judicial interpretations. As a result, the Congress has never explicitly accepted ecological sustainability as the Forest Services highest priority or acknowledged its effects on the availability of timber, recreation, and other goods and services on the national forests. We recommend that the Forest Service work with the Congress to reach agreement on the agencys mission priorities. Responding to a draft of this report, the Forest Service stated that ecological sustainability is absolutely necessary to achieve other uses on the national forests. However, we believe that until the Congress and the agency reach agreement on ecological sustainability as the Forest Services highest priority, holding the agency accountable for its performance will be difficult.
- Administration and Management