The U.S. Forest Service will be holding a public meeting at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville at 100 Frederick Law Olmstead Way from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on April 4 to explain its brand new proposed draft Planning Rule. This is not a meeting for public comment. According to the U.S. FS, “The forum will not be a platform to accept public comment, rather an opportunity for interested stakeholders to ask questions to better inform the formal comments they submit during the public comment period, which closes May 16, 2011.”

What started going around in 2000 is now coming around again in 2011. I don’t know how many of you, like I, participated in the public meeting back then at UNCA where the FS was asking for comments and/or suggestions regarding their proposed changes to the 1982 Forest Management Plan. It was an all-day affair. There were comments from many people and/or groups regarding how they thought our national forests should be managed. There were “breakouts” where the crowd would be broken up into groups and asked to brainstorm. I think at the end of the day a lot of people were feeling good about their efforts – were feeling like they had been heard.

Turned out the Forest Service didn’t like the 2000 rule and decided they would, more or less in-house develop a new Forest Service Planning Rule.

In 2005 the FS published the shiny new 2005 Planning Rule in the Federal Register, then in 2008 issued the 2008 Planning Rule and environmental impact statement. Conservation and environmental organizations took exception at not being consulted and sued. In 2009 a district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs stating that the 2008 rule was in violation of both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.  So here we are in 2011 managing our national forests under the 1982 rule – everything old is new again.

Now there may be some out there who think the 1982 rule is cool and we should move on to other things. But I think most – no matter where you fall on issues like timbering, mining, wildlife conservation etc. – would agree that we face a whole new slate of environmental issues and concerns like hemlock woolly adelgid, increased pressure on public water supplies, dwindling wildlife (game and non-game) populations, the possibility of climate change, increased competing interests, etc. that all cry out for more responsive and more effective management of our publicly-owned national forests.

So regardless if you’re a bird-watcher, bear hunter, fisherman, photographer, hiker, biker, horse rider, etc., you should familiarize yourself with the new proposed rule and comment. Of course, if your comment is “all the forests should be bulldozed for more golf courses,” or “all national forest should be padlocked and no humans allowed,” I’m sure they will be filed accordingly. However, if you are truly concerned about the state of our national forests and what they will look like 100 years from now and you are honest and sincere in your comments and (could be a critical “and”) the Forest Service listens with an open mind maybe, just maybe, we could end up with a Planning Rule that bear hunters, bird-watchers, old growth advocates and loggers could all live with.

I have to admit, I haven’t read the proposed rule but I’ve seen talking points and seen some movements, like stewardship contracting, that I find promising. But I’ve also seen reports from groups like Defenders of Wildlife and the Pew Environment Group that find the rule lacking in concrete environmental protection language. Like I said the devil is in the details – or maybe the lack of.

If you can’t make the Asheville meeting on April 4 you can find the full text of the proposed rule at or you can call 404.347.4984 for more information. Public comment is open till May 16.