Forest Planning – A Pivotal Moment

Posted on Friday, February 17th, 2012 by »

The Wilderness Act passed in 1964 and established the original units of National Wilderness Preservation System.  More importantly it outlined a process whereby other areas could be added. Congress reserved the right to make the final decisions on which areas to designate as part of the Wilderness System, but it delegated to the Forest Service the responsibility to evaluate lands for their suitability as Wilderness and to make recommendations.  In this arrangement there is some balance between the executive and legislative branches of power and of control over our public lands.

There are many steps along the pathway from the initial Forest Service evaluation to the final act of Congressional designation.  The current forest planning process is one of the pivotal moments in this path.  The public has a huge role in shaping policies and decisions made at every step of the way and input is as critical now as it is when congress is considering legislation. A brief look at a “map” of that path will show us why:

RARE I and II

In the 1970s the forest service conducted the RARE I and RARE II (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) studies, leading to the eventual classification of Roadless areas and initial suggestions for Wilderness recommendation. Over 3,000 letters were submitted during the RARE studies in support of the Scotchmans, showing that active interest and engagement in Wilderness protection for this special area has deep roots. The result was the establishment of a 94,000 acre “Scotchman Peaks Roadless Area” (Now shrunk to approximately 88,000 acres).

Initial Forest Planning

In the late 1980s, both the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai National Forests developed their first Land Management Plans, “master plans” for how the forest would be managed.  Some of our board members and other supporters were engaged in that process. These plans are strategic in nature and envisioned to be effective for about 15 years. The “core” of the Scotchmans was recommended for Wilderness, approximately 60,000 acres.

Current Forest Planning

In 2002 the Forest Service began a process to revise their land management plans to take into account changing conditions and needs. The Forest Service hosted numerous public meetings and public work-groups to determine desired goals, outcomes and conditions and to develop strategies, guideline and standards towards their achievement.  The forest is managed, as it should be, for many uses and the plan addresses timber management, mining, grazing, conservation of species and habitat such as old growth trees, recreational use, fire management and the social, cultural and economic impacts on communities;and the preservation of Wilderness opportunities.

Back to the Wilderness Question

Quite possibly one of the most significant things that the forest plan does is to determine which areas the forest service will recommend as Wilderness.

Congress has shown a pattern of stronger interest in designating areas with strong agency support. While Congress may delay any action of their own for quite a long time, the plans being developed now will be in effect for at least the next 15 years and quite possibly a decade more beyond that.  This means that any action by Congress in the next two or more decades will be guided in part by decisions being made right now. And you have the opportunity, right now, to help shape the final plan.

Impact on the Scotchmans

In the forest service’s preferred alternative, B, their recommendation for Wilderness in the Scotchmans is generally better than the 1987 plan, currently in effect. At approximately 62,000 acres there is a marginal increase in area and some boundaries will make more sense.  There is room for some improvement, and we will be submitting technical comments seeking some minor adjustments to boundaries.

Naturally we would like to ensure that the Wilderness Recommendation for the Scotchman remain strong and improved where possible.  What the Forest Service hears from the public — what they hear from YOU — will help guide them to do that!  And, it will help to guide potential congressional action in the years to come.

How You Can Help

The forest plans are currently drafts and the public has until April 5th to provide comments. We have made this easy to do with resources including specifics about the Scotchmans, tips on how to make effective comments and directions on sending them.  Go to:

www.scotchmanpeaks.org/take-action-forest-plan/

What’s Next?

After that, the Forest Service will review these comments, select an option or, more likely, modify their preferred option, and make other changes they feel necessary before producing a Final Plan by the end of 2012 or in early 2013.  We hope that once that plan is finalized, that it will be a strong platform to seek the political support necessary for Congressional action.

In looking back over the past 40 years and looking ahead for 20-plus years, we find very few times more important than now to make your voice heard!!

About The Author:

Phil Hough is the Executive Director of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

An avid long distance hiker, Phil's experience on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trails brought a passion for wild places and motivated him to work towards protecting the one of the last and largest wild places in northern Idaho and Western Montana, the Scotchman Peaks.

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