Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.
The United States Department of Agriculture is proposing to amend all land management plans for units of the National Forest System (128 plans in total) to include consistent direction to conserve and steward existing and recruit future old-growth forest conditions and to monitor their condition across planning areas of the National Forest System. The intent is to foster the long-term resilience of old-growth forest conditions and their contributions to ecological integrity across the National Forest System. This notice initiates a scoping period on a preliminary proposed action and advises the public that the Department is preparing an environmental impact statement to evaluate the effects of amending the 128 land management plans.
On April 22, 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order 14072 Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies. Section 2 of the Executive Order (E.O.) recognizes the distinctive role that Federal forest lands play in sustaining ecological, social, and economic benefits throughout the nation and calls particular attention to the importance of mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands for their role in contributing to nature-based climate solutions by storing large amounts of carbon and increasing biodiversity, mitigating wildfire risks, enhancing climate resilience, enabling subsistence and cultural uses, providing outdoor recreational opportunities, and promoting sustainable local economic development.
Initial analysis from that ongoing effort indicates several key findings that informed this proposed action. The initial analysis found that mortality from wildfires is currently the leading threat to mature and old-growth forest conditions, followed by insects and disease.
Given the key threat that rapidly changing wildfire disturbances pose to national forest ecosystems and watersheds and the old-growth forests therein, this proposed action is intended to complement the Department’s continued focus on, funding, and implementation of the Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy. Providing consistent national direction that recognizes the beneficial role that functional old-growth forest conditions play in enhancing forest resiliency to wildfire further strengthens efforts to abate the wildfire crisis. The proposed action also recognizes the importance of strategic conservation and proactive stewardship for wildfire resilience efforts, including science-based vegetation treatments and restoring prescribed fire in fire-adapted ecosystems, for the long-term retention and future recruitment of old-growth forest conditions.
The need for change is to create a consistent set of national plan components and direction for the development of geographically informed adaptive implementation strategies for the long-term persistence, distribution, and recruitment of old-growth forest conditions across the National Forest System; to provide for consistent and effective monitoring of old-growth forest characteristics to inform adaptive management; and to more clearly recognize and incorporate Indigenous Knowledge and tribal rights and interests in managing for old-growth forest conditions.
The proposed amendment focuses on interrelated topic areas, including:
Adaptive Strategy for Old-Growth Forest Conservation:
Within two years, in consultation with Tribes and Alaska Native Corporations and in collaboration with States, local governments, industry partners, and public stakeholders, create or adopt an Adaptive Strategy for Old-Growth Forest Conservation based on geographically relevant data or information to: