Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Conservation on the Cusp: The Reformation of National Forest Policy in the Sierra Nevada

Academic journal article UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy

Conservation on the Cusp: The Reformation of National Forest Policy in the Sierra Nevada

Article excerpt


From 1960 to 1999, a variety of laws and other public policies influenced the management of the national forests in the Sierra Nevada. Existing laws and new statutes contained directives for the planning, management, conservation and preservation of national forest lands and resources. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) forced the U.S. Forest Service to disclose information about land management plans and their impacts. The stattre also led to greater public awareness of management issues and increased public involvement in agency decision-making. As a result, efforts to increase timber production in Sierra Nevada national forests met increased public scrutiny, and with political and legal opposition. The National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA) mandated extensive planning to promote effective and efficient conservation and use of forest resources and to resolve forest management controversies. However, the conflict between the demand for increased timber and demands for increased recreation and wilderness preservation limited NFMA's effectiveness. Discord over national forest policies did not begin with NFMA, but the broad scope of land management planning generated remarkable public attention and controversy. Public opposition to increased clearcutting and other activities that potentially led to impacts on wildlife habitat and other aspects of ecosystems led to administrative and legal challenges to national forest plans.

In the early 1990s, the Forest Service's reinterpretation of existing law impelled it to extensively revise both its management objectives in the Sierra Nevada and its planning for the national forests in the region. Agency planning sought to better incorporate scientific knowledge about species and habitat requirements into an ecosystem management strategy. Instead of ending the uncertainty over the conservation and management of forested lands and resources, eight years of agency planning pursuant to this new perspective engendered additional controversies. The continuing inability to resolve environmental issues strongly indicates both a need and opportunity for significant changes in the institutional structures governing the national forests of these lands.


Natural resource policy and planning initiatives in the Sierra Nevada, California's spectacular mountain region, have had profound implications for the management of the area's natural resources. This study explores a range of public policies and issues associated with national forest management, and examines their impact on the administration of the national forests of the Sierra Nevada during the period from 1960 to 1999. Environmental activism, public interest litigation, internal agency decisions, and legislative initiatives of the past four decades have changed the traditional management practices of the federal resource management agencies. Environmental politics, directly or indirectly, led to many policy modifications. Evolving scientific understanding of natural resources intersected with broader social and legal developments. Reforming natural resource management led to major statutory, administrative and legal changes. As a result, national forest management policy for the national forests of the United States has been dramatically restructured during this period. Initiatives for reform have addressed two interrelated phenomena that present significant challenges in governance for the region: 1) political activism resulting from environmental and social concerns; and 2) incapacity of public institutions and private market forces to improve environmental conservation and management. This research evaluates the progress of these initiatives and offers a "rethinking" of the prospects for natural resource management and ecosystem conservation in the Sierra Nevada.

Prior to World War II, the Forest Service had established a reputation for expert management in public administration, and for being an able player in national politics. …

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