Money Should Come Before Trees|in National Forests, Industries Say

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The timber, beef and off-road vehicle industries claim in court that the U.S. Forest Service is illegally regulating the National Forests and giving scientists “improper influence,” by seeking ecological sustainability above industry profits.
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     Lead plaintiff Federal Forest Resource Coalition, and 13 other industry groups, claim
     Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and the Forest Service are violating the National Forest Management Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, the Organic Administration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     The trade groups – which include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs – claim Vilsack “is causing current and threatened injury to the plaintiffs” by promoting ecological sustainability before economic interests.
     The objectionable “Planning Rule is codified at 36 C.F.R. Part 219 (2012),” according to the complaint.
     The complaint states: “The Organic Administration Act (OAA) of 1897, 16 U.S.C § 475, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, directs that national forests are to be ‘as far as practicable controlled and administered’ for only two purposes – to conserve water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber for the American people – and not for aesthetic, environmental, recreational, or wildlife-preservation purposes. As the Supreme Court also found, Congress’ intent in OAA was that national forests were not to be set aside for non-use. MUSYA [the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act] recognized certain additional purposes of the national forests, but provided that the additional purposes are supplemental to, but not in derogation of, the two purposes for which the national forests were to be established and administered under the OAA. 16 U.S.C. § 528.”
     The industry groups claim Vilsack announced his vision for the National Forests in 2009, with revised planning rules focusing on conservation, management and restoration. The culmination of the rulemaking process “is causing current and threatened injury to the plaintiffs” by focusing too much on ecological sustainability, the groups say.
     The new planning rule, in a departure from the 1897 federal law, “requires unconditionally that for the purpose of achieving ‘ecological sustainability’ all plans must ‘maintain or restore the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and watersheds in the plan area, including plan components to maintain or restore structure, function, composition, and connectivity …’ All plans must also ‘maintain or restore: (i) Air quality. (ii) Soils and soil productivity, including guidance to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation. (iii) Water quality. (iv) Water resources in the plan area, including lakes, streams, and wetlands; ground water; public water supplies; sole source aquifers; source water protection areas; and other sources of drinking water (including guidance to prevent or mitigate detrimental changes in quantity, quality, and availability),’ must ‘maintain or restore the ecological integrity of riparian areas in the plan area,’ and must ‘establish width(s) for riparian management zones around all lakes, perennial and intermittent streams, and open water wetlands,'” the plaintiffs complain.
     They say that maintaining ecological integrity and ecosystem diversity is not what Congress had in mind when it passed the National Forest Management Act National Forest Management Act.
     Neither was giving scientists “improper influence” over natural resource management decisions, the trade groups say.
     “The Planning Rule unlawfully limits the information on which forest planning decisions can be based by requiring all decisionmakers to ‘use’ the best available scientific information for every forest management decision,” the complaint states.
     The groups add: “The rule effectively trivializes public participation by forbidding decisions based on non-scientific information, which is what the great majority of public comments will contain. Field professionals such as foresters, range conservationists, and biologists often make management decisions using professional judgment based on experience gained from the results of on-the-ground implementation of resource management practices. The rule gives ‘scientists’ improper influence on natural resource management decisions, and skews multiple-use management by improperly elevating scientific information as the centerpiece of forest management …”
     The groups also claim that the rule’s mandate to prohibit timber harvesting of lands not suited for timber production, its definition of “sustainable recreation,” and its assurances to keep harvesting levels at a sustainable rate violate federal laws.
     The plaintiffs are the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, the American Forest Resource Council, the Blueribbon Coalition, the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, the Public Lands Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Sheep Industry Association, the Alaska Forest Association, the Resource Development Council for Alaska, the Minnesota Forest Industries Inc., the Minnesota Timber Producers Association, the California Forestry Association and the Montana Wood Products Association.
     They want the court to declare that Secretary Vilsack violated federal law with the planning rule, and an order vacating it.
     The groups are represented by Mark Rutzick.

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