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Water and wildlife at risk from sweeping changes to forest rule, say top scientists

By Ruth Hendry - 16 May 2011 22:19:0 GMT
Water and wildlife at risk from sweeping changes to forest rule, say top scientists

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set out a bold vision for the 193 million acres of national forest in the U.S., which is broadly applauded by scientists. However, scientists are worried by the lack of clear guidance. After a 90 day public review period, more than 300,000 comments from people across the U.S. have urged the administration to develop a more direct policy on how to manage national forests.

Over 400 scientists and top conservation leaders have added weight to the review and asked the Obama administration to set out clear standards for water and wildlife protection. The final forest rule, expected by the end of the year, would replace current National Forest Management Act (NFMA) regulations originally developed in 1982.

In an open letter to the USDA, scientists and conservationists commend the USDA Forest Service for taking a bold approach to forest management. However, they are concerned about the lack of clear guidance from a national level, which may result in ''significant losses to natural resource values important to the nation''.

One major complaint is the lack of definite standards for forest managers to follow, such as a mandate to maintain healthy fish and wildlife populations. In addition, there is no clear commitment to commissioning and applying the best available science, which could lead to a lack of evidence-based policy.

National forests are hugely important to America. They provide drinking water from around 124 million Americans and sustain 223,000 jobs in rural areas. In addition, they contribute an astonishing $14.5 billion per year to the U.S. economy, according to the Pew Environment Group.

Jane Danowitz, U.S. Public Lands director for the Pew Environment Group said ''The Obama administration's proposal lacks firm protections for water quality and wildlife. Forty percent of Americans rely on our national forests for drinking water and those forests host more rare species than even our national park system. It's critical that the administration backs up the good guidance in its proposal with clear standards for water and wildlife protection.''

In a letter to the Obama administration, 13 of the U.S.'s largest conservation organisations welcomed ''the conservation vision outlined in the administration's initial proposal for new regulations''. However, they added ''The course set by these sweeping new rules will determine the future of our national forests for generations to come -it is essential that we get this right...It is vital that the final rule include a strong standard for wildlife conservation that is meaningful [and] measurable.''