The US Forest Service (USFS) is in the process of updating its forest and grassland Planning Rule –  the official guide for managing the use of its 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands for multiple use such as timber harvesting, grazing and recreation.                         

Currently operating under an outdated 1982 Planning Rule, previous update attempts have been rejected by the courts. The Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) is one of the organizations collaborating with the USFS on the composition of the new Rule.  For the past two years, RAF representatives have attended all the FS sponsored National Forums in Washington DC, and many Regional Forums throughout the country. The result is the Proposed Planning Rule. Many recreational groups oppose this Proposed Planning Rule, claiming it fails to protect access for motorized and non-motorized recreation and will be a source of ongoing litigation.

On November 15, 2011, a House Natural Resources Subcommittee chaired by Representative Rob Bishop (R) UT, held an Oversight Hearing on the draft rule.  Recreational groups, ranchers, water rights advocates, and other multiple-use proponents testified, after which a number of Subcommittee members expressed concern that the proposed Planning Rule is too vague to prevent future lawsuits as it incorporates new and undefined terms.

The RAF applauds the USFS for including diverse participants and stakeholders in the proposed Planning Rule. Although some RAF comments were incorporated into the final proposed Planning Rule, we feel it falls short in giving Planners firm direction with respect to recreational access.  Although airstrips are an existing and integral part of the travel access architecture of USFS lands, there are no references to airstrips, water landing sites or aviation in the proposed Planning Rule.  Many in the recreational community fear the rule may be applied in a protectionist fashion rather than accommodating prescribed multiple-use activities.

The RAF continues to educate land managers that access via public airstrips provides legitimate low-impact access to outdoor recreation.

RAF testimony to the House Sub-Committee Hearing members is included in the public record and outlines RAF opinions about the Proposed Planning Rule; that the proposed Rule needs to be clarified and made more directive with respect to recreational access.  It is the RAF position that planners need to incorporate the concept that recreational access to backcountry airstrips is an integral part of a balanced and efficient transportation system within USFS managed lands.

Submitted on November 28, 2011.

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