The US Forest Service has proposed new regulations under the National Forest Management Act that would replace a long-standing requirement that the agency manage its lands “to maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate species.” In its place, the Forest Service would be obligated merely to assess ecosystem and species diversity. A landscape assessment process would rely on ecosystem-level surrogate measures, such as maps of vegetation communities and soils, to estimate species diversity. Reliance on such “coarse-filter” assessment techniques is problematic because there tends to be poor concordance between species distributions predicted by vegetation models and observations from species surveys. The proposed changes would increase the likelihood of continued declines in biodiversity and fail to address the original intent of the act. We contend that responsible stewardship requires a comprehensive strategy that includes not only coarse-filter, ecosystem-level assessment but also fine-filter, species-level assessments and viability assessments for at-risk species.
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