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FOREST PLANNING: EVER OR NEVER?

When it comes to forest planning there is an obvious question--will it ever proceed? The words, never and ever, should never or ever be used, but in this case, never may be a reality.

The Ashley National Forest plan is well over a decade past its statutory revision time frame (the National Forest Management Act required forest plans to be revised at least every 15 years), as are at least 68 other National Forest land management plans. The Ashley’s plan was outdated, in every imaginable sense of the word, in the millennial year. Another 10 years for good measure have since been tacked on with no clear sight of just when it will be revised. Even Ashley personnel roll their eyes and shudder when talking about a revised forest plan. They are as frustrated as the rest of us!

Since early in the ‘90s, the Forest Service and its various gatekeeper administrations have been trying to revise the 1982 forest plan regulations. Late in 2000 a new forest planning regulation was finally prepared and promptly determined by the new Bush junior and friends to be too complicated and burdensome. It was shelved and a new rule proposed in 2005 (held invalid by federal court) and revised in 2008 (again, held invalid by federal court.)

So we now have the beginning of yet another forest planning rule. In mid-December 2009 the Forest Service published a Notice of Intent and scoping docu-ment to prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by December 2010 and a final EIS by October 2011.

Five substantive principles could be chosen as potential proverbial guiding lights:1-Restoration and conservation to enhance resilience of ecosystems; 2-Pro-actively address climate change through monitoring, mitigation and adaptation; 3-Maintenance of watershed health; 4-Species diversity and wildlife habitat; and 5-Sustainability and vibrant rural economies.

Three process principles could be chosen as beacons to guide the planning process: 1-both Forest Service and adjacent lands could be considered in how FS lands should be managed; 2-Effective and proactive collaboration with the public; 3-the best planning science could be used to produce the best decisions.

We’ve seen and heard these principles time and time again. If the Forest Service produces a planning regulation hellbent on producing more timber, developing more wild landscapes, providing more oil and gas, more off road vehicles, more big game, more sheep and cows, and minimize and constrain public involvement--the standards, in other words, which guided forest planning over the last decade--then forest planning will continue along the same Never-Land path. If the agency chooses a regulation which recognizes the utter uniqueness of public lands, the fact that they are the last homes for all wild critters, the last refuge for wildness, a place where ecological and ecosystem principles can/should guide management and allocation, places dependent upon meaningful and valued public participation, places where forests are not seen as yield tables, where the term rangeland disappears, then it is likely forest planning will move forward in the true context of multiple values/uses.

Dick Carter


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