National Forest Management Act of 1976

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The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976 (P.L. 94-588) is a United States federal law that is the primary statute governing the administration of national forests and was an amendment to the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, which called for the management of renewable resources on national forest lands. The law was a response to lawsuits involving various practices in the national forest, including timber harvesting.[1]

NFMA changed forest planning by obliging the Forest Service to use a systematic and interdisciplinary approach to resource management. It also provided for public involvement in preparing and revising forest plans. Also, NFMA established and expanded several Forest Service trust funds and special accounts (?). It expanded upon the land and resource management plans (L/RMPs) outlined in the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (RPA), and started by requiring the Forest Service to do an inventory of all its lands, followed by a zoning process to see what uses land was best suited for - dubbed the "suitability determination."[2] These plans required alternative land management options to be presented, each of which have potential resource outputs (timber, range, mining, recreation) as well as socio-economic effects on local communities. The Forest Service, in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), contributed considerable resources to the creation of FORPLAN (a linear programming model used to estimate the land management resource outputs) and IMPLAN to estimate the economic effects of these outputs on local communities.[3]

At the time NFMA was written there were conflicting interests in regards to proper forest management. The major player of national forest management at the time was the timber industry. In a post World War II economy, the demand for timber skyrocketed with the housing boom and people were recreating on public lands more than ever before. Visitors to national parks rose from 50 million in 1950 to 72 million in 1960. The Sierra Club and other conservation groups were also fighting for preservation of natural landscapes. The Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 made it clear that the Forest Service had to manage for non-timber values, like recreation, range, watershed, wildlife and fishery purposes, but it wasn't until NFMA that these uses were embodied by the forest planning process. [4]

The NFMA Planning Process[edit]

The 1982 NFMA Planning Regulations describe a planning process designed to integrate the many interests concerning the forest. In Integrated Public Lands Management

1. Identify issues, concerns, and opportunities (ICOs). State and local agency officials as well as the public collaborate to identify current issues as well as possible future issues and concerns. The goal of the planning process is to improve the forest to better serve the public.

2. Develop planning criteria. Three main criteria are used for management actions: public policy criteria or the policy outlined in regulatory and statutory guidelines, process criteria or the accepted standard of data analysis, and decision criteria or the weight assigned to each management action.

3. Collect data and information necessary to address ICOs. Ensure that data collection meets the process criteria standards. Also include data for a 'no action' alternative to use as a control during alternative comparison.

4. Analyze the management situation (AMS). Group land into strata of similar physical features, such as vegetation, wildlife or soil type, to analyze the effects of management actions.

5. Formulate a broad range of alternatives including a 'no action, alternative.

6. Estimate the effects of each alternative on the environment, the economy, and society.

7. Evaluate alternatives by comparing how well each resolves the ICOs. Evaluate each alternative using the planning criteria outlined in step 2.

8. Select a preferred alternative. This is the proposed forest plan. Document the proposal and justify the selection. Explain why other alternatives were not chosen that may have a higher net present value or are more environmentally preferable. Prepare a Record of Decision (ROD) of the plan.

9. Implement the plan by updating all uses of the forest into conformity of the forest plan. Make the proper budget requests for full implementation.

10. Monitor and evaluate the plan by comparing the actual biological effects of the plan to the projections. Make adjustments where necessary.[5]

Legal Battles[edit]

NFMA has spawned lawsuits regarding the degree of involvement required by both the forest service and the public.

Ohio Forestry Association v. Sierra Club

The Sierra Club claimed that the logging practices allowed in the Wayne National Forest in Southeast Ohio were unlawful under NFMA because the Act requires ongoing input and management from the Forest Service. The Court rejected the claims of the Sierra Club and stated the Forest Service is not an agency required to perform ongoing action or involvement in the forest plans.

Sierra Club v. Marita, 1995

The Forest Service issued two land and resource management plans for national forests in Wisconsin that both involved ltimber harvest. To monitor ecosystem health, the Forest Service chose a handful of management indicator species as proxies, but the Sierra Club argued that a mosaic-like logging of the national forests would not provide the wildlife corridor necessary to ensure appropriate biodiversity of those species or any others. The Sierra Club attacked the Forest Service’s science behind their L/RMP, calling it “junk science”. Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of agency discretion despite finding that the Forest Service used questionable science, though not to the degree that their decision could be considered arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).[6]


  1. ^ "The Timber Wars". United States Department of Justice. 
  2. ^ "National Forest Management Act of 1976". Retrieved 2009-01-18. 
  3. ^ "IMPLAN Model". Retrieved 2007-06-20. 
  4. ^ History of National Forest Conflicts. The Thoreau Institute.
  5. ^ Loomis, John B. Integrated Public Lands Management 2nd Ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  6. ^

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