Land Management Planning – Planning 101


Each federal land management unit (national forest, park, refuge, BLM land, etc.) is required to periodically update or revise its overarching management plan—the document that guides all its action and decisions—every fifteen years or so.

It is in these plan revisions that wild and scenic river assessments are typically undertaken, both for potential wild & scenic rivers and for already designated rivers. That is your cue for action on behalf of strong river protection.

Details of the management plan revision process vary somewhat, agency by agency (in terminology, study stages, and timing), but they all follow a basic sequence (typically extending three to five years):

    • Initial outreach for public input, and announcement that the plan revision has begun (often called “scoping”  or “pre-assessment” and including public comment opportunities)
    • Existing situation analysis of details on the ground, assessment of resources for potential development and/or protection (another opportunity to submit information and comments)
    • Draft plan, with accompanying draft environmental analysis (EIS) of comparative plan alternatives (followed by a public comment period)
    • Proposed final plan, with opportunity for public response (variously protests, comments, requests for adjustments, local and state officials’ review)
    • Final plan and “record of decision”

Rivers-specific opportunities within the plan-revision process are also fairly standard:

    • Agency’s inventory or list of potential wild and scenic rivers (usually during initial outreach/scoping)
    • Wild and scenic eligibility report (usually during analysis of existing situation, often first in draft form with comment period, followed by final)
    • Wild and scenic draft suitability determination (usually published as part of the draft plan (appendix to the draft EIS), for public comment)
    • Wild and scenic final suitability determination (published as part of the proposed plan and final plan), often—but not always—accompanied by recommendations for or against congressional designation of select suitable rivers, as well as specific instructions for management of suitable rivers and their corridors

The BLM nearly always completes the suitability analysis as part of its management plan revisions; the Forest Service is more variable, forest to forest, and often completes only the eligibility report during its plan revision process. Since either report may provide the only long-term foundation for management and protection of key rivers, it is important to press for the strongest and most complete version of each.

Cheoah River in Nanthahala National Forest, NC


Originally the caretaker of orphan lands not specifically included in special designations (national forest, national park, wildlife refuge, etc.), the BLM now is a professional land management organization, with responsibility for the ecological health of the public lands in its jurisdiction.
See American Rivers’ guide to BLM planning >> 

NOTE that the BLM approved, in late 2016, a new rule guiding its land management plans revision process. On March 7, 2017 the U.S. Congress rejected that rule.

All BLM planning is now again guided by the 1983 BLM planning rule (which was applicable to most plan revision processes that had already begun).


The Forest Service manages all federal lands included in national forests and grasslands. It is required to ensure that these lands provide a sustainable supply of timber, forage, and water, while ensuring their enduring ecological health.
See American Rivers’ guide to Forest Service planning >> 

NOTE that the U.S. Forest Service published in 2012 its new and long anticipated rule on forest planning and plan revisions. The agency has portrayed this rule as a means to simplify and speed up forest planning.

Rivers-specific:  In response to the new rule, the agency has also updated its Forest Service Handbook section regarding wild and scenic rivers – Section 1909.12, Chapter 80.

A few forest plan revisions already started under the old (1982) planning rule might continue under that rule, and attention to which rule is used for your local plan revision is important. The majority of current revisions, and all upcoming revisions, use the new rule, which is depicted in the following outline.

White River in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, WA