Ecological succession is the change in the structure of an ecosystem over time, sometimes leading to a self-sustaining climax community for a significant period absent disruptive external forces such as fire, disease, or climate change. Applying this analogy to the legal structure of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) planning regulations, that structure has changed significantly over time due to political, societal, and ecological changes. Under these influences, the national forest planning regulations have shifted since 1982 toward an increased emphasis on restoring and maintaining the ecological integrity of national forest system lands for ecosystem services (such as endangered and threatened species refugia and watershed protection) and other amenity emphases. At the same time, the original congressional goal of moving forest management out of the courts has been attenuated—court battles over forest planning and management decisions continue, with the latest iteration of the NFMA planning regulations just beginning to be tested in litigation.
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