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U.S. Forest Service - Land Use Planning (1-FD-c)

Information current as of 2020
A person (developer) may need a revision from the United States Forest Service (USFS) if a project, which takes place on USFS managed land, is not consistent with the applicable Land Management Plan (LMP) in place pursuant to the National Forest Management Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C. § 1600 et seq.

The National Forest Management Act of 1976, requires the United States Forest Service (USFS) to develop, revise and amend Land Management Plans (LMPs) for units of the National Forest System (NFS). 16 U.S.C. § 1600 et seq. LMPs provide a framework for managing NFS unit resources and guide project and activity decision making for national forests. 36 C.F.R. § 219.2(b). All projects and activities approved on USFS-managed land must be consistent with the applicable LMP. If a project is not consistent with the applicable LMP, a revision to an LMP may be required to accommodate a proposed project. 36 C.F.R. § 219.15(d). A revision replaces the LMP in place for the applicable NFS unit.

Note: As a practical matter, most renewable energy or transmission projects require a modification (i.e. an amendment) to an LMP rather than a revision. Unlike a revision, which replaces an LMP, an amendment adds, modifies or removes one or more components of an LMP. If a project requires an amendment, see U.S. Forest Service - Land Use Plan Amendment Process:

U.S. Forest Service - Land Use Planning Process

1-FD-c.1 – Notify Public of Intent to Initiate Plan Development or Revision

The United States Forest Service (USFS) publishes formal public notice of its intent to initiate an LMP or LMP revision. 36 C.F.R. § 219.16(a)(1). The USFS must publish the public notice online as well as in the Federal Register prior to initiation of the LMP revision or development process. 36 C.F.R. § 219.16(a)(1).

The public notice must:

  • Clearly describe the action including the nature and scope of the decisions to be made;
  • Identify the responsible official; describe when, where, and how the responsible official will provide opportunities for the public to participate in the planning process; and
  • Explain how to obtain additional information. 36 C.F.R. § 219.16(d).

1-FD-c.2 to 1-FD-c.3 – Conduct assessment of existing information; Assessment report

The USFS completes an assessment for the development or revision of an LMP. The assessment rapidly evaluates existing information regarding relevant “ecological, economic, and social conditions, trends, and sustainability and their relationship to the land management plan within the context of the broader landscape.” 36 C.F.R. § 219.5. The information may come from governmental or non-governmental studies, assessments, plans, reports, or other sources of relevant information. In addition, the USFS coordinates with other branches of the USFS, governmental agencies, Indian tribes and the public in order to obtain relevant information. 36 C.F.R. § 219.6(a)(2).

The assessment is documented in a report that is made available to the public. The report must document how the best available scientific information (BASI) was used to inform the assessment. The report must also document how BASI was determined. 36 C.F.R. § 219.6(a)(3). The assessment report should contain an analysis of information relevant to the following areas:

  • Terrestrial ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, and watersheds;
  • Air, soil, and water resources and quality;
  • System drivers, including dominant ecological processes, disturbance regimes, and stressors, such as natural succession, wildland fire, invasive species, and climate change; and the ability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the plan area to adapt to change;
  • Baseline assessment of carbon stocks;
  • Threatened, endangered, proposed and candidate species, and potential species of conservation concern present in the plan area;
  • Social, cultural, and economic conditions;
  • Benefits people obtain from the NFS planning area (ecosystem services);
  • Multiple uses and their contributions to local, regional, and national economies;
  • Recreation settings, opportunities and access, and scenic character;
  • Renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources;
  • Infrastructure, such as recreational facilities and transportation and utility corridors;
  • Areas of tribal importance;
  • Cultural and historic resources and uses;
  • Land status and ownership, use, and access patterns; and
  • Existing designated areas located in the plan area including wilderness and wild and scenic rivers and potential need and opportunity for additional designated areas.

36 C.F.R. § 219.6(b).

The USFS has broad discretion to determine the scope, scale, and timing of the assessment. 36 C.F.R. § 219.6.

1-FD-c.4 – Preliminary Identification of the Need to Change the Plan

After the assessment is complete, the USFS identifies a preliminary need to change the plan. The preliminary identification gives focus to the planning process, and should be informed by the assessment. In addition, public and governmental participation and coordination are used by the USFS when identifying the preliminary need to change the plan in order to help define the parameters of the planning process.

1-FD-c.5 to 1-FD-c.6 – Begin Outreach to the Public and Governmental Entities

The USFS must provide opportunities for public participation (in addition to the required public notifications) during the assessment process, the plan development or revision process, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. 36 C.F.R. § 219.4. The USFS official has wide discretion to determine the nature of the participation.

The USFS should encourage Indian tribes, governmental agencies, and the public to participate in the development or revision process and provide opportunities for engagement. For example, the USFS should encourage governmental agencies and Indian tribes to seek cooperating agency status under NEPA.

In addition, the USFS must:

  • Consult with federally recognized Indian tribes regarding the plan development or revision;
  • Request information from the tribes regarding native knowledge, land ethics, cultural issues, and sacred and culturally significant sites; and
  • Coordinate with other public planning efforts.

36 C.F.R. § 219.4.

1-FD-c.7 – Develop Proposed Plan or Revision

A plan revision creates a new plan for an entire plan area, while development of a new plan is required for new NFS units. Plan components form the basis of the LMP. Required plan components include:

  • Desired Conditions;
  • Objectives;
  • Standards;
  • Guidelines; and
  • Suitability of lands.

These components must be developed for a new plan or revised during a plan revision. Another component, goals, is optional. For more information regarding plan components, see 36 C.F.R. § 219.7(e)(1).

The revision or development process should be informed by the assessment record. See 1-FD-c.2. In addition, when developing a new plan or revising an old plan, the USFS official must:

  • Review relevant information from the assessment and monitoring to identify a preliminary need to change the existing plan and to inform the development of plan components and other plan content;
  • Consider the goals and objectives of the USFS strategic plan;
  • Identify the presence and consider the importance of various physical, biological, social, cultural, and historic resources on the plan area, with respect to the requirements for plan components of 36 C.F.R. § 219.8 - 219.11;
  • Consider conditions, trends, and stressors, with respect to the requirements for plan components of 36 C.F.R. § 219.8 - 219.11;
  • Identify and evaluate lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System and determine whether to recommend any such lands for wilderness designation;
  • Identify the eligibility of rivers for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, unless a systematic inventory has been previously completed and documented and there are no changed circumstances that warrant additional review;
  • Identify existing designated areas other than the areas identified in the two preceding paragraphs, and determine whether to recommend any additional areas for designation. If the responsible official has the delegated authority to designate a new area or modify an existing area, then the responsible official may designate such area when approving the plan revision;
  • Identify the suitability of areas for the appropriate integration of resource management and uses, with respect to the requirements for plan components of 36 C.F.R. § 219.8 - 219.11, including identifying lands that are not suitable for timber production;
  • Identify the maximum quantity of timber that may be removed from the plan area (36 C.F.R. § 219.8 - 219.11(d)(6));
  • Identify questions and indicators for the plan monitoring program (36 C.F.R. § 219.8 - 219.11); and
  • Identify potential other content in the plan.

Once the development or revision is complete, public notice is issued to invite comments on the new or revised plan and the NEPA analysis.

1-FD-c.8 – Complete NEPA Process

36 C.F.R. § 219.5 requires the USFS to consider the environmental effects of the new or revised plan. This is accomplished by conducting a NEPA review in conjunction with the revision or development process. Development or revision of a plan always requires an EIS, and the final version of the new or revised plan is documented in the EIS record of decision (ROD).

Although the NEPA and revision/development processes are intertwined, and a NEPA review must be completed before a revision or new plan may be adopted, this section only addresses steps directly related to the revision or development of LMPs. NEPA steps are included only if they are performed in conjunction with a step required by the revision/development process. Consequently, this section does not include a complete list of NEPA steps required by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and USFS NEPA regulations. For a complete explanation of the USFS NEPA process, see U.S. Forest Service - NEPA Process:

1-FD-c.9 to 1-FD-c.10 – Proposed Plan or Revision / Draft EIS; Comment on Proposed Plan / Revision and draft EIS

After conducting a NEPA analysis and developing a new or revised plan, the USFS produces a d raft EIS and proposed plan or plan revision. 36 C.F.R. § 220.5(f) requires the draft EIS to be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA publishes a notice of availability (NOA) when the draft EIS is issued and available for public review in the Federal Register. The EPA NOA serves as the public notice required by 36 CFR 219.16(a)(2) and begins the public comment period. See 36 C.F.R. § 219.16(a)(2).

During the public comment period, interested parties may submit comments regarding the draft EIS and new or revised plan that must be assessed and considered by the USFS. The USFS is required by 40 C.F.R. § 1503.4 to respond to the comments in one of the following ways:

  1. Modify alternatives, including the proposed plan;
  2. Develop and evaluate alternatives not previously given serious consideration;
  3. Supplement, improve, or modify the analysis;
  4. Make factual corrections; and
  5. Explain why comments do not warrant further response, citing the sources, authorities, or reasons that support the agency’s position, and, if appropriate, indicate those circumstances that would trigger reappraisal or further response.

Substantive comments must be addressed in the final EIS.

1-FD-c.11 to 1-FD-c.12 – Respond to Comments; Final EIS

The proposed plan/revision and the final EIS should describe and address comments received during the public comment period. The USFS must either incorporate substantive comments into the final EIS or explain why further response is not warranted. All substantive comments should be attached to the final EIS. The final EIS should correct errors in the draft EIS identified through the public comment process. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.9(c)(1) requires the USFS to prepare a supplement to the final EIS if substantial changes are made to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns or if there is significant new information or change in circumstances that are relevant to environmental concerns.

1-FD-c.13 to 1-FD-c.15 – Publish Public Notice to Initiate Filing Period for Objections; File Objections; Respond to Objections, If Necessary

Section B of 36 C.F.R. § 219 establishes a pre-decisional administrative review process, also known as an objection, for LMP development or revision. Only individuals or entities who have submitted substantive formal comments during comment periods may object. See 36 C.F.R. § 219.53. The objection must be filed with the reviewing officer for the plan, and it must include the following:

  • The objector's name and address, along with a telephone number or email address if available;
  • Signature or other verification of authorship upon request (a scanned signature for electronic mail may be filed with the objection);
  • Identification of the lead objector, when multiple names are listed on an objection. Verification of the identity of the lead objector if requested;
  • The name of the new plan or revision being objected to, and the name and title of the responsible official;
  • A statement of the issues and/or the parts of the new plan or revision to which the objection applies;
  • A concise statement explaining the objection and suggesting how the proposed plan decision may be improved. If applicable, the objector should identify how the objector believes that the new plan or revision is inconsistent with law, regulation, or policy; and
  • A statement that demonstrates the link between prior substantive formal comments attributed to the objector and the content of the objection, unless the objection concerns an issue that arose after the opportunities for formal comment.

See 36 C.F.R. § 219.54(c).

The USFS publishes a public notice to begin the objection period, unless no substantive comments were received during the comment periods, in which case no objection period is necessary. Written objections must be filed within 60 days following the publication date of the public notice. See 36 C.F.R. § 219.56(a). The USFS must publish a notice of all objections within 10 days after the close of the objection period.

The USFS issues a written response to all objections within 90 days, unless that time period has been extended under 36 C.F.R. § 219.56(f). The response must set forth the reasons for the decision. The review and response to the objection is limited to the issues and concerns contained in the objection. The written response constitutes a final agency decision. The USFS official and the objector may meet before the written response is issued, at the request of either party, to discuss issues raised and possible solutions. Other interested parties must be allowed to participate and the meetings are open to observation by the public. See 36 C.F.R. § 219.57.

1-FD-c.16 to 1-FD-c.17 – Notify Public of Final Approval; Record of Decision

36 C.F.R. § 219.14(a) requires the USFS to record approval of the new plan or revision in the decision document prepared according the USFS NEPA procedures. In the case of a new plan or plan revision, the decision document is the EIS ROD. The ROD must include:

  • The rationale for approval;
  • An explanation of how the plan components meet the sustainability requirements of 36 C.F.R. § 219.8, the diversity requirements of 36 C.F.R. § 219.9, the multiple use requirements of 36 C.F.R. § 219.10, and the timber requirements of 36 C.F.R. § 219.11;
  • A statement of how the new plan or revision applies to approved projects and activities (36 C.F.R. § 219.15);
  • The documentation of how the best available scientific information was used to inform planning, the plan components, and other plan content, including the plan monitoring program (36 C.F.R. § 219.3);
  • The concurrence by the appropriate research station director with any part of the plan applicable to any experimental forests or experimental ranges (36 C.F.R. § 219.2(b)(4)); and
  • The effective date of the new plan or revision.

In addition, 40 C.F.R. § 1505.2 requires the ROD to identify and discuss all alternatives considered by the USFS during the NEPA process and state whether all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm were adopted, and if not, why not.

The new plan or revision becomes effective on the date specified in the ROD or decision notice. In addition, 36 C.F.R. § 219.16(a)(4) requires the USFS to notify the public when a new plan or revision is approved.

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