Within the Forest Service, legal requirements and management issues are highly variable. It is difficult to define a discrete set of business requirements that are applicable to all NFS lands. Consequently, Forest Service management requirements are grouped into three sections:
- Vegetation Resource Management
- Planning and Environmental Compliance
- Resource Information Management
Vegetation Resource Management
Vegetation management relies on the ability to categorize and describe discrete vegetation communities and locate them across a landscape. The varied set of management requirements related to vegetation resource management signifies its complexity and importance. Protection, conservation, restoration, and response of vegetation communities are keys to nearly every management decision on NFS lands.
Planning and Environmental Compliance
Policy and procedures for land management planning and environmental compliance activities are outlined in FSM chapters 1920 and 1950, respectively. Depending on the “vintage” of the land and resource management plan for a NFS administrative unit, different requirements will apply.
In general, most existing land and resource management plans within the NFS are consistent with the requirements of 36 CFR 219, promulgated in 1982. In these instances, a two-staged decision process is used, to comply with various statutes and regulations in the planning process. Land and resource management plan decisions identify where activities are excluded, and provide standards and guidelines for activities and projects within certain areas. Project and activity decisions must either be consistent with the plan’s requirements or propose an amendment to the plan.
Plans issued using the 2008 version of 36 CFR 219 provide a framework of plan components and desired condition descriptions. The regulations provide a different approach to meeting the requirements of the National Forest Management Act. In general, environmental compliance for projects and activities utilize 36 CFR 219 components. These include accessing desired conditions and design standards to develop proposed actions, consider environmental consequences, and decide on a course of action.
Resource Information Management
Requirements related to resource information management are extensive and apply to a wide variety of agency procedures and management functions. The Department of Agriculture, along with Forest Service Chief Information Officers (CIOs), have established policies and continually provide oversight of agency activities in this arena.
Forest Service Natural Resource Applications (FSNRA)–such as the Natural Resource Information System, Infra–and the Automated Lands Project, provide agency-wide systems that comply with the CIO’s requirements. Conformance with agency resource information management requirements will be met by using existing data definitions, classification systems, information security provisions, and FSNRAs whenever possible.
Compliance with procedures established by the Forest Service CIO and FSM chapter 1940 satisfies the provisions of the Data Quality Act and USDA implementing regulations.
This collection of the management requirements applicable to existing vegetation can be summarized into the following general objectives:
- Support an affirmative agency obligation to protect, conserve, and restorewaters, watersheds, listed wildlife and plant species and their habitats, and to conserve biological diversity.
- Assess and disclose environmental effects associated with ongoing and proposed actions and activities.
- Use the best available information and science to support agency decision making. Collect and maintain resource data with known data standards and data quality for use in agency decision-making processes. Provide for information security.