Proposed regulations to manage 150 million acres of national forests and grasslands have many farmers and ranchers concerned that their grazing rights and local input will be diminished, an American Farm Bureau Federation leader told two congressional panels.

"The proposed rules would greatly limit the ability of states and local communities to provide meaningful input on how these lands are managed," Idaho Farm Bureau President Frank Priestley told Congressional committees holding hearings in the House and Senate.

"We have serious concerns with the drastic changes that the Forest Service has proposed," Priestley said. "The proposal ignores Congressional direction to manage the national forests for multiple uses, disavowing the very premise upon which Congress created the national forest system."

Priestley told a Senate Energy Subcommittee and a House Resources Subcommittee that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) "lack of public participation in the process is moving decisions further away from the local level."

He said Farm Bureau objects to the recommendation to develop national and regional directives for forestland management. "The farther away from the forest that management decisions are made, the less local public participation becomes a factor," Priestley said.

He cited the Administration's new roadless policy proposal, which will dictate management for over 40 million acres, or one-fifth of all forestlands, as an example. "In Idaho, out of 20.5 million acres of national forestlands, over 9.2 million acres are inventoried as 'roadless areas.' That means the roadless initiative would remove (Idaho residents') ability to provide meaningful input to management of almost half of all national forestlands in the state.

He criticized USDA for removing the "collaborative planning'' requirement from its proposed regulations, Priestley said, "States and local communities have a vested interest in how nearby national forestlands are managed. Local residents use forestlands for recreation, livestock grazing, mining, logging and travel routes, among other uses."

Priestley said "top-down management" subverts any collaborative planning process. He said the forest planning process, established by Congress in the National Forest Management Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, was based on state and local input to develop management strategies that affect residents' daily lives.

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