BLM proposes modernizing forest management rules
WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Land Management is proposing updates to antiquated regulations governing administration of timber sales and protest of forest management decisions, which haven’t been revised in more than 35 years. This proposal more effectively executes the bureau’s modern watershed and landscape-level land management planning and evaluation process, which will enable BLM to make better decisions more quickly for the benefit of taxpayers and local communities.
“Over 30 years ago, the BLM proposed a protest process to ‘expedite’ timber management decisions. Unfortunately, this process has had the opposite effect,” said Deputy Secretary Kate MacGregor. “This proposal seeks to ensure timely action, including for thinning activities related to fire preparedness.”
“The BLM’s forest management program contributes to sustained yield of timber to support local communities, while reducing fuel loads and the potential for catastrophic wildfires that can devastate forests and surrounding communities threatening lives,” said William Perry Pendley, BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs. “Under the direction of President Trump’s Executive Order 13855 and Secretary Bernhardt’s Secretary’s Order 3372, the BLM is updating these rules to increase efficiency and to improve our ability to conduct active forest management on public lands.”
The way BLM plans forest management projects and completes the environmental review of these projects has changed significantly since the 1980’s, and these proposed changes will improve the public’s ability to comment earlier in the process, when views and information have the greatest impact, rather than relying on protests after decisions have been made. Abuse of and litigation over protests has delayed the BLM’s efforts to implement active forest management, with both economic and and public safety consequences.
For example, the Pickett Hog timber sale in Oregon received 29 protests before auction in September 2017 – delaying the sale by more than a year. Before the BLM could complete protest reviews and responses, a wildfire destroyed a number of sale units in July 2018. Under the proposed regulations, the public comments could have been addressed before the auction was held, allowing the BLM to award the sale and the purchaser to begin thinning operations before the fire took place.
When the current forest management rules were last updated in 1984, the BLM designed individual timber sales that were based on the location and extent of the forest management activity. Today, the BLM often conducts its environmental review on multiple projects in a single watershed or on a biologically-relevant scale, such as wildlife habitat for a particular species. At the same time, the BLM promotes greater collaboration and information-sharing during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which includes multiple opportunities for public involvement at times when the views and information provided are most effective. For these reasons, the 15-day protest period, which opens after a forest management decision is issued, often occurs long after environmental review has taken place.
When the protest period was first adopted, it was intended to “expedite implementation of decisions relating to timber management.” Instead, in too many cases today, individuals and organizations that are unsatisfied with the final forest management decision are using the protest process to delay implementation by filing lengthy protests with the same comments that were previously raised and addressed during the NEPA process. Responding to these protests can be costly to the public in terms of time and other resources, and in many cases offer no value to improve the agency decision or reduce appeals and litigation. It also leads to uncertainty during the auction and award of timber sales, since protest and appeal processes are not available until a decision has been issued.
The proposed amendments streamline the procedures governing forest management decisions by eliminating as unnecessary the post-decision protest period and allowing a single forest management decision to cover all forest management activities covered in an environmental review document. This would help identify any issues earlier in the NEPA review process, enhancing the BLM’s ability to resolve them before advertising a timber sale or implementing other forest management activities.
“Rather than streamlining the review process, as was originally envisioned, protest periods have proven to expend agency time and resources with little benefit. Focusing opportunities for public review and comment during the NEPA process, as the law’s authors intended, will enable us to make better decisions and implement them more effectively and efficiently,” Pendley said.
The proposed amendments also would better use communications technology by making decisions available online, in addition to other communication platforms such as newspapers and social media.
The BLM is opening a public comment period on the proposed revisions, which closes 60 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register. The BLM will provide additional information about when and how to comment when the proposed rule is published.
For more information on the BLM’s forest management activities, visit https://www.blm.gov/programs/natural-resources/forests-and-woodlands
In 2018, the BLM offered 246.2 million board feet of timber for sale, generating approximately $600 million in economic output and supporting 2,000 jobs. In addition to selling timber harvested from BLM-managed lands under the principle of sustained yield, the BLM’s forest management efforts often include fire safety and fire resilience objectives. One quarter of the 245 million acres of lands managed by the BLM are forest ecosystems, spread across 13 western states including Alaska. Through responsible forest management, the BLM ensures the health of these forest lands as well as the availability of traditional forest products.
The proposed revisions are part of a larger national wildfire reduction strategy guided by President Trump’s Executive Order 13855 – Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk, as well as Secretary’s Order 3372 – Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management. The two orders direct Department of the Interior (DOI) to implement policies to improve forest and rangeland management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities through active management on forests and rangelands.
What They are Saying
“Southern Oregon has borne the brunt of wildfires and smoke in recent years,” said Congressman Greg Walden (OR-02). “The BLM’s proposals take meaningful steps to streamline forest management projects that help prevent wildfires. This is welcome news for all of us who have choked on smoke all summer long, knowing we can do better to manage our forests and prevent these fires. That smoke is particularly frustrating when outdated and cumbersome processes have had a real impact on the vital prevention work that must get done in the woods.”
“Anyone familiar with the Rogue Valley knows BLM public lands are important to our local economy and attract tourists from around the world. Yet, antiquated regulations and anti-forestry obstruction have made it difficult for federal land managers to complete the forest management work necessary to reduce fire risks and assure a healthy environment for residents and visitors alike,” stated Brad Hicks, CCE, President & CEO, the Chamber of Medford & Jackson County. “As a result, our Southern Oregon communities have unnecessarily endured the harmful effects of severe fire and toxic smoke in recent years. I applaud the proposed rules which will improve forest management on BLM lands, save lives as well as benefit local jobs and businesses in our community. This is quite an achievement and the effort will go a long way toward protecting our quality of life, providing relief from wildfires and smoke, and ensuring that our region remains a destination for tourism far into the future.”
“The members of the American Loggers Council, spanning 34 States across the United States, fully support the proposed changes to the BLM's forest management rules that will promote forest health, improve rural economies in forest dependent communities, and help to prevent the catastrophic wildfires that are a real threat to communities in fire prone forested areas,” stated Daniel J. Dructor, Executive Vice President, American Loggers Council. “For too long, professional, credible forest management decisions have been held up in courtrooms by serial litigants whose goals seem to be based on an emotionally charged preservationist agenda instead of forest management that is based on sound science and those forest managers that have both the background and skill set to properly manage the nation’s public forestland.”
“These necessary changes will allow for more nimble management which better fit today’s forest landscape situation. The current unwieldy dinosaur regulations have created costly delays with tragic results for wildlife, watersheds, and people,” stated Idaho state Representative Judy Boyle, Chairman of the Western Legislative Forestry Task Force, and Co-Chair of the federal lands committee on federalism.
“BLM's current forest management protest process isn’t working and modernization is way overdue,” said Douglas County Commissioner and President of the Association of OC Counties Tim Freeman. “Concerns over proposed BLM projects should be identified early in the process so the BLM has an opportunity to promptly address concerns. The proposed updating of the protest process will help eliminate needless delays.”
“The BLM’s administrative protest process has been abused by anti-forestry, activist groups to delay and stop needed forest management projects developed by forestry experts. More science-based management would improve the health of our overstocked federal forests, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire that threatens lives, property, and air quality, and is absolutely essential to the sustaining the long-term viability of rural communities across Oregon. Murphy Company strongly supports common sense changes to end the blatant abuse of this system to restore greater fairness and certainty for the rural communities where we operate, forestry experts, and companies like ours that rely on BLM timber to continue putting Oregonians to work producing the renewable, carbon-friendly wood products we use every day,” stated John Murphy, President & CEO, Murphy Company.
“We very much appreciate the Department’s work to modernize forest management rules. Years of mismanagement under antiquated practices have left millions of acres of forests across the West at risk for disease and catastrophic fire,” said Shaun Crook, 2nd Vice President, California Farm Bureau Federation. “Every day that reforms to management practices aren’t implemented represents another day of possible forest improvement lost. Our rural communities and environments depend on healthy forests, and we have to significantly increase the pace and scale of management practices so we can once again have a resilient landscape.”
“Southern Oregon has been deeply impacted by catastrophic wildfire andsmoke for far too long, resulting in negative health impacts, cancellations of signature cultural and sporting events, and reduced economic activity for local businesses across many sectors. The Chamber’s Natural Resource Action Team and Chamber Board of Directors has long advocated for this, so we are excited about the BLM's proposed rule to modernize forest management decisions. This will help increase the pace and scale of thinning and other activities on local BLM lands, which is essential to protecting our communities, supporting our economy, and reducing the risks of fire and smoke in the future,” said Sue Kupillas, Chair, Natural Resources Action Team, the Chamber of Medford & Jackson County.
“It is not only a good time to be looking at changing the protest mechanism within forest management regulations,” said Eric Carleson, Executive Director, Associated California Loggers. “It is an urgently needed change. These provisions, and others, have not been changed in 35+ years, and over the decades, the nature of forest management has changed against a background of enhanced environmental review on the one hand, and the impact of massive wildfires in the West on the other. The ‘protest’ mechanism was intended to streamline management planning and decision-making; it has devolved down to a mechanism that slows down projects which are urgently needed for fuels reduction and forest health, without a commensurate improvement in the review process.”
“These updates improve the opportunity of timely implementation of management plans. Federal land managers have a wide diversity of resource experts designing and implementing management activity. The unnecessary delaying of needed action is a serious problem for resource managers. If the medical community was subject to justifying their every action, most patients would die before they reached the operating table. The forests are Interior’s patient, and the experts are in emergency mode. These updates will help them get the job done more expeditiously,” stated Bill Mulligan, Idaho Forester, Trinity Consulting.
"Extremists have hijacked the protest process in order to destroy jobs, drain forest revenues and jeopardize the safety of our mountain communities. Modernizing this broken system after nearly four decades is badly needed and will provide significant benefits for public safety, the economy and the environment. I thank Secretary Bernhardt, Deputy Secretary MacGregor and BLM Acting Director Pendley for this leadership," said U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock (CA-04).
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.