Federal Land Management:

Comments on Selected Provisions of S. 1320--A Bill to Revise Federal Land Management Planning

T-RCED-99-270: Published: Jul 22, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the planning-related provisions of titles I and II of S. 1320--the Public Lands Planning and Management Improvement Act of 1999, focusing on the: (1) statutory basis for the Forest Service's mission priorities; (2) clarity of the mission statement in S. 1320; and (3) extent to which the bill addresses identified planning deficiencies.

GAO noted that: (1) over the past 100 years, Congress has enacted four principal multiple-use laws that guide the management of the 155 national forests in the National Forest System; (2) however, the forests' management is guided increasingly by the requirements in environmental laws that apply not only to the Forest Service but also to other federal agencies; (3) the implementation of these environmental laws has evolved over many years in response to implementing regulations and judicial interpretations, and Congress has never explicitly acknowledged the effects of these laws, regulations, and judicial decisions on the production of goods and services in the national forests; (4) the mission statement in S. 1320 would make it clear that the overriding priority of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is ecosystem sustainability; (5) this mission statement is consistent with the evolving mission of the Forest Service, as well as with the fundamental goal of maintaining and restoring ecological sustainability expressed in the agency's June 12, 1999, preliminary draft planning rule; (6) however, other sections of the bill still require some fine tuning and refinement to harmonize them with the agencies' new mission of ecosystem sustainability; (7) GAO sees two significant challenges that must be met if the agencies are to effectively implement their new mission; (8) the first is adequately quantifying and measuring ecosystem sustainability; (9) the second challenge will be to determine whether the existing statutory framework of environmental laws enables the agencies to ensure ecosystem sustainability; (10) S. 1320 also begins to address many of the long-standing planning deficiencies that have contributed to delays, increased costs, and unmet objectives; (11) however, certain sections of the bill could be improved to increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and predictability of the agencies' planning processes; (12) for example, S. 1320 could limit assessments to lands managed by the Forest Service and BLM; and (13) however, to adequately address ecological issues and conditions that transcend the administrative boundaries of the agencies' land management units, as well as assess the cumulative impacts of proposed activities, assessments will need to include other federal and nonfederal lands.

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