© Joel Sartore/joelsartore.com
In a fresh start for forests, a federal court in June overturned the Bush administration’s last-ditch effort to weaken protections for wildlife on the country’s 175 national forests and grasslands. Several weeks later, it got even better, when the new head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced his goal of making forests more resilient to climate change and better able to protect watersheds.
In April 2008, the Bush administration repealed key protections, mandated under the National Forest Management Act, to sustain populations of wildlife species, to preserve clean, healthy streams and lakes, and to protect diverse habitats. The outgoing administration also sought to reduce public participation in national forest management planning.
Defenders and a coalition of other groups sued to overturn the action. In June, the court threw out the Bush regulations, finding that the U.S. Forest Service had failed to consider adequately the impacts to the environment and imperiled species, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
In mid-August, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack—whose department includes the U.S. Forest Service—announced a new effort to update national forest management regulations. In his announcement, Vilsack highlighted how he believes forests should be managed to protect water resources and to restore healthy forests better able to withstand the stresses associated with global warming, like fires and diseases spread by insects.
“Secretary Vilsack’s announcement comes as great news for America’s spectacular national forests and grasslands. He’s charted a bold vision for the future of these lands, recognizing the importance of our national forests for the clean water, abundant wildlife and recreational opportunities they provide to countless Americans, as well as the vital role they play in the fight against global warming,” says Defenders’ President Rodger Schlickheisen.