Land Management Plan Direction for Old-Growth Forest Conditions Across the National Forest System

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.

Background

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.

Need For Change

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:

  • Improving conservation of old-growth forest conditions
  • Improving durability, resilience, and resistance to fire, insects and disease within old-growth forest conditions across the National Forest System
  • Strengthening the capacity of existing and future old-growth forest conditions to adapt to the ongoing effects of climate change
  • Addressing concerns about future durability, distribution, and redundancy of old-growth forest conditions
  • Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge into planning, project design, and implementation to achieve forest management goals and help meet general trust responsibilities
  • Establishing a National Old-Growth Monitoring Network
  • Providing direction for geographically informed adaptive management strategies

Management Approach

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:

  • Effectively braid place-based Indigenous Knowledge and Western science to inform and prioritize the conservation and recruitment of old-growth forest conditions through proactive stewardship.
  • Identify criteria used to indicate conditions where plan components will apply.
  • Prioritize areas for the retention and promotion of old-growth forest conditions, based on threats, stressors, and opportunities relevant to the plan area.
  • Establish target milestones for management specific to the plan area, to support progress toward the desired conditions of this amendment.
  • Develop additional proactive climate-informed stewardship, conservation, and management approaches as needed to effectively achieve the desired conditions, standards, and guidelines in the amendment.
  • Identify a program of work and partnerships that can support effective delivery of the plan monitoring requirements to inform adaptive management.
  • Provide geographically relevant information about threats, stressors, and management opportunities relevant to the ecosystem of the plan area to facilitate effective implementation.

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(c) 2023 Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project