With climate change posing new threats—more frequent forest fires, for example, and plagues of tree-killing beetles—the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to change the way it makes its management plans for national forests. The goal is to dramatically speed up the 5- to 8-year process, which is currently governed by a 1982 rule that officials describe as expensive and inefficient. The proposed draft, released yesterday, emphasizes the use of scientific evidence in creating management plans, as well as restoring forests so that they are resilient to pests and other stresses. "It's very important that we get this [natural] system into a healthy state as quickly as possible," says forest ecologist William Wallace Covington of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, who thinks the changes would be a positive step.
Not all environmental groups agree. Some do not like the latitude given to local supervisors of forests. But Covington says what's important is allowing supervisors to take actions, such as thinning forests, that will make the overall habitat more healthy. The Forest Service is taking public comments for 90 days.