Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies

Committee Chair

Len Broberg

Commitee Members

Martin Nie, Sandra Zellmer


forest planning, biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species, policy, regulations


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Biodiversity | Environmental Studies | Forest Biology | Forest Management | Nature and Society Relations | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) promulgated new forest planning regulations that significantly altered national forest management. One of the most controversial and important advancements was the inclusion of what were meant to be stronger biodiversity protections. An analysis of USFS’s rationale in revising the biodiversity regulations provides insights into how to interpret the substantively and procedurally new ecosystem and species protections. Examining this regulatory history reveals three key changes to the manner in which national forests are required to manage and monitor biodiversity: 1) a greater reliance on science to inform planning, 2) a new emphasis on ecological integrity, and 3) more comprehensive protections for at-risk species. The specific substantive and procedural provisions that establish this revised conservation framework are summarized in Section III, Part G. Overall, the new “ecosystem-species” approach seeks to ensure the persistence of most native species through “coarse-filter” measures that maintain or restore ecological integrity and diversity, accompanied by “fine-filter” measures that provide the additional specific ecological conditions needed by imperiled populations of at-risk species.

However, the 2012 rule allows the responsible official to determine whether such species-specific plan components are necessary. This discretion results in a set of protections for at-risk species that are likely to be applied inconsistently across the National Forest System. While the language in the rule itself can be vague, the administrative record contains additional context that provides useful guidance in interpreting these biodiversity provisions. More specifically, evidence from the administrative record suggests that the fine-filter provision should apply to species facing discrete threats or with unique needs.

The recently revised Rio Grande National Forest Land Management Plan provides a case study of how one national forest is implementing the new conservation framework poorly. By applying the aforementioned regulatory analysis to a case study, this paper highlights the potential avenues for strengthening or challenging forest plans that fail to adequately protect biodiversity. Ultimately, by exploring the evolution and implementation of the biodiversity provisions in forest planning regulations, this analysis serves to inform efforts to more effectively apply and uphold USFS’s new approach to conserving biodiversity on our national forests.



© Copyright 2020 Anna Wearn