SEATTLE - The new year is expected to bring new federal rules for the national forests, including the nine in Washington. The current rules haven't been updated since 1982, although the Bush Administration tried - and ended up in court for its attempts to reduce protections for fish and wildlife.
Now, a coalition made up of major conservation groups is pushing for stronger protections for the forests. The groups, including many with offices in Washington state, want President Obama to push for stronger and science-based rules to protect wildlife, fish and drinking water sources, as well as public access to the forests.
Jane Danowitz, public lands program director for the Pew Environment Group, says the rules are a blueprint for how national forests should be managed.
"President Obama has a unique opportunity to give the American people a gift that will really stand the test of time, and that is to protect our national forests. These are very, very important policies for natural resources, for recreation and for conservation."
The national forests face a number of threats, from climate change to encroaching development. There also are a lot more people using the forests. Recreation is a $14 billion business annually, and Cynthia Wilkerson, Washington program manager for The Wilderness Society, says the new rules will have to take that into account.
"There are some concerns out there about the uses and the trends in use on the national forests, and in outdoor recreation in general. So, one of the challenges is how to encourage healthy, sustainable use, in a recreation sense."
The groups, including 16 in Washington, signed a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and have taken out full-page ads describing their "holiday wishes" for stronger rules and a commitment to scientific review in the new forest management policies. The first draft is expected as early as January for public comment. The Agriculture Department, though its agency the Forest Service, manages the national forests.