Forest management plan may use new federal rules

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(Host) Late last week, the Bush administration proposed loosening the environmental rules that govern national forests. Officials in Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest say they may use the new rules as they rewrite the forest management plan.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Green Mountain National Forest covers 385,000 acres, about 6% of the state. Forest Service officials have started to update the management plan for the forest. The plan will spell out how much of the land is left untouched, and how much will be logged. The Bush administration’s proposal would exempt the government from filing an environmental impact statement on the forest management plan.

These impact statements are actually extensive studies that detail the effect of the proposed forest plan. For example, the study could show the impact on endangered species or how streams are affected by logging. District Ranger Steve Kimball says that, for now, planners at the Green Mountain National Forest will proceed under the old rules written in 1982. But that may change after the new proposal goes into effect sometime next year.

(Kimball) “The Green Mountain Forest is well into our forest plan revision process. And we’ll continue working under the 1982 rules, certainly until these are finalized. At that time, when they are finalized, it appears that we will have a discussion and be able to consider whether we want to move to the new rules or not.”

(Dillon) Jim Northup is executive director of Forest Watch, an environmental group based in Montpelier. He says the proposal gives Forest Service managers the option on whether to follow the new rules. Northup says the new regulations would limit public involvement:

(Northup) “It removes the opportunity for citizens to comment in a meaningful way about the plan revision process. There’s no opportunity to comment on alternatives, no opportunity to comment on the trade-offs involved in the decision proposed by the Forest Service, and no opportunity for citizens to appeal the decision if they object to it in the end.”

(Dillon) The forest products industry has generally supported the proposed changes. The new rules could go into effect in 90 days.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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