Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

What is Forest Planning?

Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

The National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) requires that every national forest develop and follow a Land Management Plan, or a Forest Plan. Forest Planning is the process that dictates where particular uses may occur and how the different zones of the forest will be managed. For example, a forest plan will reserve certain areas for extractive activities like logging, while other areas will be zoned for “sustainable recreation” described by the Outdoor Alliance as being “a range of recreational settings, opportunities, and access that can be sustained over time.” The implications of this process are very important to the outdoor recreation and conservation communities. It has a huge impact on the future of access for recreation and is the first step in the development of new Wilderness areas, Wild and Scenic rivers, or even National Recreation Areas.

Stages of Forest Planning

The process of forest planning is broken up into three stages: assessment, plan development, and implementation and monitoring. The Forest Service starts the process in the assessment phase by examining how the forest is currently being used and how that use impacts wildlife, air quality, economic benefits, and other important factors. Based on the data collected in the assessment phase, they decide what needs to change. They revise the old plan or develop a completely new plan that is then entered into a NEPA process to consider the environmental impacts of the proposed changes. Once the plan is approved, the Forest Service enters into the final stage and will make changes dictated by their new forest plan and begin to monitor whether or not these changes are positive for the forest as a whole.

How can you take action and impact forest planning?

There are so many ways citizens can be involved in the planning process. Outdoor Alliance does a good job summarizing the planning process while also noting how you as a forest user can be involved in the process during each stage in this graphic below:

click to download this graphic

Currently, forest planning is happening in five different National Forests and the Outdoor Alliance has set up a website to keep the public in the know of where each process stands and when they need the outdoor community to engage. Check out this Forest Planning site to see if your National Forest is in the midst of its planning process and how you can be involved.


NOTE: THIS IS A LIVING RESOURCE! As with all resources on Outdoor Advocacy Project, there is always room to continue the conversation, add a new perspective, bolster the resources, and share new findings. Got something you want to add, change, challenge or amplify? Let us know in the comments, or e-mail to write your own.

Amelia Howe
Amelia Howe

Amelia Howe is an environmental advocacy and policy professional based in Salt Lake City. She analyzes complex legislation, creating digestible summaries that inspire thoughtful engagement. Coffee and climbing fill her time when she isn’t nerding out over the latest policy news.

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