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USFS Planning Handbook: Has the U.S. Forest Service lost its purpose?

It works like this...Congress passes a law. Then what? Well, the appropriate regulatory agency then creates regulations necessary to implement the law. For example, the Food and Drug Administration creates its regulations under the authority of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, the Controlled Substances Act and several other acts created by


"We hope that interested officials, agency employees, organizations and individuals dedicated to active and continuing use of the Forest System can put differences aside to give rebirth to visions of Pinchot, Roosevelt, and Leopold and create a Forest System that includes meaningful use by the American public. The core vision is valid, but its current implementation is taking the agency in a different direction."  - Greg Mumm, Executive Director BRC


It works like this...
Congress passes a law. Then what?

Well, the appropriate regulatory agency then creates regulations necessary to implement the law. For example, the Food and Drug Administration creates its regulations under the authority of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act, the Controlled Substances Act and several other acts created by Congress over the years. Acts such as these are known as "enabling legislation" because they literally enable the regulatory agencies to create the regulations required to administer and enforce the law.

For our friendly neighborhood National Forest, the enabling legislation is the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). Like our example above, Congress referenced other laws in NFMA, such as the Wilderness Act, Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, National Environmental Policy Act and others.

Once the agency is done developing regulations for implementing the law, it becomes a "final rule" and is printed in the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). USFS has Title 36 in the CFR.

Most federal agencies will take those CFRs and develop further management guidance. The USFS, for example, has Manuals and Handbooks. These are very detailed instruction on how each CFR is to be implemented. Recently, the USFS took the unusual step of re-opening the comment period on a Planning Handbook that provides specific directives on how to develop management and recreation plans.

The whole process can be used to emphasize the intent of certain pillars in the enabling legislation and to de-emphasize others. That would be the 'in the nutshell' explanation of the current lawsuit that BRC is party to against the USFS new Planning Regulations.

Through revising their Planning Rule, Manual and Handbook, the Forest Service has elevated species viability, ecological sustainability, ecosystem services and "ecological integrity" (no joke) as mandatory national forest management objectives above those that Congress mandated: outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes. The Forest Service moved even further away from Congress's intent for recreation, creating a new definition of "sustainable" in order to be allowed. You can learn more about our joint lawsuit here.

With the lawsuit pending on the USFS Final Planning Rule, you might be wondering if its even possible to review a Handbook based on the very regulation you believe to be illegal.

Yes. It is possible, and even common, as moving away from the intent of Congress seems to be popular with federal land managers.

This draft Handbook takes the USFS light years away from what Congress intended. You could say they have regulated forestry out of the U.S. Forest Service. It is perhaps the most anti-recreation management guidance we have ever reviewed. It is that bad.

The new Rule didn't just fail to adequately address Congressional intent for recreation, it also failed to address the planning gridlock that necessitated the revisions to the Planning Rule in the first place. This Rule may fall of its own weight. You can review our concerns here.

BRC is sincerely concerned about the agency's ability to formulate and implement effective land management plans. We are resolved to fight these changes, but we hope that interested officials, agency employees, organizations and individuals dedicated to active and continuing use of the Forest System can put differences aside to give rebirth to visions of Pinchot, Roosevelt, and Leopold and create a Forest System that includes meaningful use by the American public. The core vision is valid, but its current implementation is taking the agency in a different direction.

You can learn more about  the legal challenge to the Rule here and more about our legal efforts here.  Please help us by renewing your membership and generously support BRC's legal efforts.

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