WASHINGTON — The Obama administration says new rules to manage nearly 200 million acres of national forests will protect watersheds and wildlife while promoting uses ranging from recreation to logging.
The new rules, to replace guidelines thrown out by a federal court in 2009, are set to take effect in early March. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the rule change on Thursday.
Vilsack said in an interview that the rules reflect more than 300,000 comments received since a draft plan was released last year. The new rules strengthen a requirement that decisions be based on the best available science and recognize that forests are used for a variety of purposes, Vilsack said.
“I think it’s a solid rule and done in a collaborative, open and transparent way,” he said.
The guidelines, known as a forest planning rule, will encourage forest restoration and watershed protection while creating opportunities for the timber industry and those who use the forest for recreation, he said.
Vilsack, who has pledged to break through the logjam of political conflict over forest management, said the new regulation’s emphasis on science and multiple uses should allow it to stand up to likely court challenges from environmental groups or the timber industry.
“I am hopeful and confident that it will stand scrutiny,” he said.
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the guidelines would allow land management plans for individual forests to be completed more quickly and at a lower cost than under current rules, which date to the Reagan administration.
Several attempts to revise the 1982 planning rule have been thrown out by federal courts in the past decade. Most recently a Bush administration plan was struck down in 2009. Environmentalists had fought the rule, saying it rolled back key forest protections.