As long time followers know, Defenders has been working hard to shape National Forest conservation policy for decades, including non-stop campaigning for the last several years to make sure new forest planning regulations conserve and recover forest dependent wildlife. To ensure that these new rules translate into real on-the-ground protections for wildlife and forest ecosystems, Defenders kicked off our Forests for Wildlife Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to transform how the Forest Service manages forests for wildlife, and to protect and restore national forest landscapes through on-the-ground conservation projects and actions.
The Forests for Wildlife Initiative takes us from the policymaking world of Washington D.C., to the majestic landscapes of Alaska and California. Last year, I was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to a Federal Advisory Committee charged with overseeing implementation of the new planning rule. One of the committee’s first tasks was to work with the Forest Service to craft policy “directives” that will guide how the new regulation is interpreted and applied to individual national forests. Our comments on the draft directives can be found here. The complex forest policy world is like an onion trapped in a spider’s web. Numerous statutes govern the management of National Forests, including the National Forest Management Act, as well as associated federal rules and regulations. Keep peeling and one finally gets down to the highly technical internal agency policies that tell forest managers how to navigate and implement all of the various rules and regulations. The directives tell managers “how” to do the “what”— the requirements that are spelled out in the regulations. Good planning directives provide strong, clear direction to managers on how to identify, conserve and monitor species of conservation concern; account for ecosystem services; or manage in the face of climate change. Poor directives can lead to inconsistent conservation decisions that could lessen protections and raise risks for forests and wildlife.
The current draft directives need some work to provide forest managers a clear path to effectively conserving forest integrity and wildlife. The advisory committee will be working with the Forest Service all summer to make recommendations on how to improve them. Stay tuned for more updates and campaign reports from the Forests for Wildlife Initiative.