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I. In a very important and much anticipated decision, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) proposal to downlist the gray wolf in the West from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (see LYNX, 6/00, 10/00, 12/00, 2/03, 4/03, 8/03, 10/03, 12/03), has been overturned and wolves restored to their previous endangered species category. The ruling noted the proposal was inadequate because it analyzed only a small isolated range of wolf restoration and concluded, inaccurately, that wolf populations were again healthy within a significant potion of their range.

While this a hopeful ruling, it is only another salvo in this specific issue and the broader issue of endangered species and wildlife management. The hue and cry from some politicos and even some wildlife managers is winding up. More to come.

II. At the other extreme, the Forest Service has published its final forest plan regulations. They are long, complex, convoluted and the pinnacle of a backward looking Forest Service. Even though the regs have been finalized they are incomplete, with some specific directives still being written! The essence, though, is simple. The requirement of preparing a Environmental Impact Statement with each forest plan no longer exists. Plans will be categorically excluded from NEPA. Public comment on the forest plan is amorphous, largely up to each forest as to how to implement the collaborative public comment process, wildlife viability has been dropped, timber suitability has largely been dropped and is one of the directives being re-written. The agency has adopted a system of planning never applied on public forest lands, but used extensively by private industry as management system (ISO14001- Environmental Management System). It is as far from a forest planning process as one can imagine!

Instead of a forest plan for each forest, an EMS will be created. The irony is, at a recent breakfast meeting with the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, the Regional Planning Coordinator admitted that exactly how an EMS and forest plan connect is yet to be defined. And, of even more irony, the ISO 14001 is copyrighted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), must be purchased by each person who wants to use it, and then can only be used by that person on one computer—this should already tell you how complicated, confusing and convoluted forest planning will become. The Regional Planning Coordinator explained that even the Forest Service is only working out a licensing deal so its employees can have access to the process!

If you are confused, you stand not alone! The Ashley National Forest planning process will be one of the forests to initiate this process. Much more to come.

III. In the most extreme of all, the Wasatch-Cache National Forest released the Final Supplement to the Table Top Exploratory Oil Well Final Environmental Impact Statement (see LYNX 12/04) and the decision is, of course, no surprise. Noting the proposal could have impacts on wildlife, including lynx, and admitting the proposal will violate the much touted and revered forest plan (remember the forest plan was approved in 3/03) guideline for scenic integrity and will impede the semi-primitive non-motorized status of some of the area, the determination made by Forest Supervisor Tom Tidwell was that none of this is “substantially relevant” and the proposal, originally authorized in 1994, is again approved. The forest plan restrictions were simply ignored with a determination that the construction of the exploratory well site will be “temporary” (six months or so), beginning this summer, and that this short term variation is acceptable.

Furthermore, the Forest Service determined that this decision can’t be administratively appealed because: there is no new information, even though the original Environmental Impact Statement is over 10 years old; many of the leases within the leasing unit are approaching two decades old; and self-defined approvals of projects that do not meet the forest plan direction are, for lack of a better word, okay!

Of course, the ultimate deceit by the Forest Service is that, if this well does produce oil, the six month variation
will be replaced by approval of the agency to turn the entire area into an industrial oil field.

IV. It doesn’t end here. The Wasatch-Cache has approved for leasing hundreds of acres within the roadless area directly adjacent to the High Uintas Wilderness on the West Fork Smiths Fork and Gilbert Creek.

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