WHAT IS AMENDMENT 12?
Amendment 12 was a modification to the 1987 Coconino National Forest Management Plan which was finalized in a decision notice on June 6, 1998. The key aspects of the Amendment were designed to protect the area’s unique scenic and environmental qualities. The key provisions were:
A land exchange policy that allowed disposal of National Forest lands in the planning area only if high-priority private lands can be acquired in the planning area. The creation of 12 distinct management areas each with its own standards, guidelines, goals and objectives.
National Forest lands impacted by the Amendment covered approximately 160,000 acres in the vicinity of Sedona, Arizona. The amendment included lands in two counties, Yavapai and Coconino.
HISTORY OF AMENDMENT 12
The Amendment was the result of three years of intensive community outreach and research. In January, 1997, the Forest Service published the Proposed Action for National Forest Lands in the Sedona Area, and in July, 1997, published an Environmental Assessment.
Local residents, city and county governments, the National Forest Service, and most community and business organizations agreed that there was a need to preserve the area’s scenic values, treasured heritage resources, natural resources, recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat and economy. They realized preservation required an integrated planning process.
NEITHER AMENDMENT 12 NOR THE NEW FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN IS ADEQUATE TO PRESERVE THE NATIONAL FOREST FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
There are two reasons why not:
- Since the adoption of Amendment 12, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions have resulted in the National Forest Service revising its planning regulations:
Ohio Forestry Association v. Sierra Club, 523 U.S. 726,727(1998) the Supreme Court ruled that forest plans are generally not ripe for judicial review. In reference to forest plans the Court said “do not command anyone to do anything or to refrain from doing anything; they do not grant, withhold, or modify any formal legal license, power, or authority; they do not subject anyone to any civil criminal liability; they create no legal rights or obligations”.
Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Association, 542 U.S. 55 (2004), the Court ruled that “a land use plan is generally a statement of priorities; it guides and constrains actions, but does not prescribe them.”
Going forward, new regulations will be based on the idea that “plans are aspirational in nature and do not generally bind the agency to a future course of action.” The new Draft Land and Resource Management Plan for the Coconino National Forest, released in October, 2013, is based on these revised planning regulations and states that “Desired conditions (or goals) ….. are aspirations and not commitments or final decisions approving projects.”.
- Forest Plans can be amended administratively within the agency:
Land adjustments of the planning area in both Amendment 12 and the new Forest Plan are governed by rules called Standards which in Amendment 12, “…. have the force of law and/or regulation behind them and will require a Forest Plan amendment if future change is needed”, and in the new Forest Plan “are absolute requirements to be met …. variance from a standard is not allowed except by plan amendment”. Clearly, although a Standard is the strongest management ruling, it only takes an amendment to surmount it. And amendments are adopted administratively within the USFS agency.
“It’s possible that the protections afforded by Amendment 12 for the last sixteen years may never be realized in the new management plan.” DESIRED CONDITIONS, STANDARDS, OBJECTIVES AND GUIDELINES CAN BE ADMINISTRATIVELY CHANGED BY THE FOREST SERVICE AT ANY TIME.
There is no permanent protection for National Forest lands because changes to a Standard can be made at any time through an administrative process. The process must include public outreach and adherence to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Note: the Forest Service has wide discretion on plan changes and how any public process or NEPA requirements are fulfilled. The final decision of any changes to a Standard rests within the Forest Service administrative process.
The draft plan indicates: “This plan provides strategic guidance and information for project and activity decision making on the Coconino NF for approximately the next 15 years.” Forest Service planning processes are reviewed and changed on a scheduled basis. The standard for disposal of lands can be changed during any of these planning processes or by the Forest Service as part of an amendment to the current plan.
A NATIONAL MONUMENT DESIGNATION CAN ACHIEVE A HIGHER AND MORE PERMANENT LEVEL OF PROTECTION THAN AMENDMENT 12 OR THE NEW FOREST SERVICE PLAN
If permanent protection and preservation of the monument lands underlie monument designation, changes to monument size will require an act of Congress or proclamation by the President.