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Keywords:

  • at-risk species;
  • coarse-filter;
  • fine-filter;
  • focal species;
  • forest planning;
  • monitoring;
  • viability

Abstract

In 2012, the United States Forest Service (USFS) promulgated new planning regulations in accordance with the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). These regulations represent the most significant change in federal forest policy in decades and have sweeping implications for wildlife populations. We provide a brief overview of the history of the NFMA planning regulations and their wildlife provisions and review the current science on planning for effective wildlife conservation at the landscape scale. We then discuss the approach to wildlife conservation planning in the 2012 rule and compare it to alternatives that were not selected and previous iterations of the planning rule. The new planning rule is of concern because of its highly discretionary nature and the inconsistency between its intent on the one hand and operational requirements on the other. Therefore, we recommend that the USFS include in the Directives for implementing the rule commitments to directly monitor populations of selected species of conservation concern and focal species and to maintain the viability of both categories of species. Additional guidance must be included to ensure the effective selection of species of conservation concern and focal species, and these categories should overlap when possible. If the USFS determines that the planning unit is not inherently capable of maintaining viable populations of a species, this finding should be made available for scientific review and public comment, and in such cases the USFS should commit to doing nothing that would further impair the viability of such species. In cases where extrinsic factors decrease the viability of species, the USFS has an increased, not lessened, responsibility to protect those species. Monitoring plans must include trigger points that will initiate a review of management actions, and plans must include provisions to ensure monitoring takes place as planned. If wildlife provisions in forest plans are implemented so that they are enforceable and ensure consistency between intent and operational requirements, this will help to prevent the need for additional listings under the Endangered Species Act and facilitate delisting. Although the discretionary nature of the wildlife provisions in the planning rule gives cause for concern, forward-thinking USFS officials have the opportunity under the 2012 rule to create a robust and effective framework for wildlife conservation planning. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.