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Back to the Drawing Board for Forest Management Rules

July 20, 2009

TUCSON, Ariz. - Conservationists say it's now up to the Obama administration to devise a new management strategy for America's national forests and grasslands, after a federal court overturned a Bush-era plan that opponents claim would have weakened wildlife protection.

David Hodges, policy director for the Southwest-based conservation group Sky Island Alliance, says new rules need to focus on long-term sustainability for our over-used forests.

"Many times the Forest Service has interpreted multiple use over the years as meaning that we have to allow every use in every place. And our position has always been that multiple use means deciding what uses are appropriate for different areas."

Forest-resource-based communities had supported the Bush rules as a way to create jobs by reducing red tape for logging and mining. The court decision returns U.S. Forest Service management to 1982 Reagan-era rules, which Hodges says are obsolete and need to be updated to account for the huge increase in forest usage and the impact of climate change.

Hodges says Arizona's population growth has added recreation-use pressures on the forests. He'd like to see some such uses restricted, such as that of all-terrain vehicles.

"Our national forests are the places that people go to get away from the crazy lives and the noise of the city. It's a place for solace and reflection, and we're losing that to a large extent on the national forests. That's a resource. That's a value."

Hodges says remedial actions are needed because of over-logging, which he says has compromised the Forest Service's legal obligation to guarantee viable populations of wildlife.

"Multiple timber sales were being done in close proximity to one another in a short time frame. And that's when you start having real significant impact on species. The case of the Mexican spotted owl is one that we know well from Arizona and New Mexico."

Hodges says the federal court's decision should also result in greater public participation in forest management decisions.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ