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Verde Laguna: Activists lambast Obama's plans for forest management

February 17, 2011|By Gustavo Grad

After a decade of revision and litigation, on Feb 10. the U.S. Forest Service unveiled its proposed Forest Planning Rule, which would establish a new framework to protect the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, including more than 20 million acres in California.

There are 220,000 miles of streams and rivers, and more than 2.3 million acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs in the National Forest System — an area of fresh water about 3 ½ times the size of Rhode Island. These waters provide habitat for native fish, while forests and grasslands themselves act as a massive filtering system, supplying an estimated economic value of $7.2 billion in water alone, according to the Forest Service.

Water is one of the most important resources found in forests. The Forest Service manages the largest single source of water in the U.S., providing drinking water to more than 66 million people, according to the agency.

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At a time when at least 36 states anticipate water shortages in the next 10 years, according to the General Accounting Office's Freshwater Supply Report from July 2003, it's important to support stewardship efforts at all levels to promote healthy, sustainable watersheds fundamental to ecosystem and public.

In addition, millions of Americans visit the forests for recreation every year. The Outdoor Foundation estimates that outdoor recreation activities provides a $730 billion contribution to the U.S. economy, supporting 6.5 million jobs across the country and generating $49 billion in annual tax revenues.

The proposal is being developed under the National Forest Management Act that governs all forests activities since 1982, when the Reagan administration adopted wildlife viability protection in response to the decline of sensitive and rare species under the Endangered Species Act.

This rule stopped approval of development projects that did not take into account the need to conserve wildlife. The litigation began in 2005 and again in 2008 when the Bush Administration tried to rewrite this regulation, lifting the requirement that the Forest Service manage its lands so that all native species can remain viable.

This was challenged by Defenders of Wildlife in the courts, which found that the proposed regulation was in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

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