It’s a daunting task, but one that’s long overdue.
This summer the Manti-La Sal National Forest (MLSNF) will begin revising its Forest Plan, a comprehensive document that will guide forest resource management for the next 15 to 20 years.
Officials from the MLSNF gave the Grand County Council an overview of the revision process at their regular meeting on Tuesday, July 5.
“It’s important to us that you stay informed, and that we get input from (councils) and local citizens,” Forest Service Supervisor Mark Pentecost said.
The revision process is expected to take four years, and one of the first steps will be a series of open house meetings in which members of the public will be able to ask questions and get an overview of the process from forest service representatives.
An open house in Moab will be held at the Grand Center on Tuesday, July 12, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Forest Plan Revision Team Leader Tami Conner said that the current plan that the MLSNF is operating under was created in 1986.
“That’s the one and only plan that was put into place for the Manti-La Sal,” Conner said. “It’s very dated…and it doesn’t quite meet the needs for our management of the forest today.”
Conner said that a lot of changes have occurred regarding the forest since the original plan was implemented. She said that a lot more people are recreating on the forest, and that there are different extractive uses such as oil and gas development. There are also more access issues to be addressed related to the increased usage of Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) since the 1980s, she said.
“That’s part of the reason why we need to revise our plan at this point in time,” Conner said.
Conner said that the forest plan covers all the resources managed on national forest lands. These include the protection of wildlife habitat and cultural resources, as well as multiple use management for timber, grazing, recreation, wilderness and mineral exploration and development.
She said that forest plans look at desired conditions related to multiple uses, and that site specific projects are implemented to achieve those conditions.
“It’s pretty important that we spend time focusing on how to get the right desired conditions in place,” she said. “That sets the stage for future work.”
Conner outlined three phases for the revision process, with implementation to occur upon completion in 2020.
The assessment phase will begin in August, 2016 and will assess the ecological, physical, social, and economic trends and conditions of the forest. An assessment report, expected to be completed in winter 2017, will be used to identify components of the current Forest Plan that need to change.
The revision phase will include the development of a new Draft Forest Plan. The draft plan will undergo National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, and will include the production of an environmental impact statement (EIS) with a range of alternatives.
Once the new Forest Plan is completed, the final phase of implementation and monitoring will begin.
Forest Plan Revision Partnership Coordinator Blake Bassett said that public involvement would play a major role in the process.
“My whole purpose in life is to ensure that we have robust public participation in the process,” Bassett said. “That includes everyone from an individual level all the way up to the state level and federal agencies as well.”
Bassett said that his role is to provide an overview as to what the public could expect out of the process, and to establish lines of communication with the council to help facilitate outreach to residents in the area.
Bassett said that the forest service had created a website with maps and information that would allow the public to provide feedback, and that more information from the public would be solicited at a second round of open house meetings in September.
Outreach would also be conducted through newspaper and radio, as well as fliers hanging up at information centers Bassett said.
Council member Lynn Jackson asked if the Forest Service would be creating a new travel management plan as part of the revision.
“We’re not doing a separate travel management plan, that will be analyzed separately at the forest level,” Conner said. “That’s one of those site specific projects that implement the Forest Plan.”
Jackson said that the forest had developed a fairly recent travel management plan for the La Sal Mountains.
“I guess what I’m driving at is, are we going to throw that open and redo it?” Jackson asked.
Conner responded that “we are not opening or closing any roads as a part of the Forest Plan process. This is the bigger picture strategy, and that site specific level decision happens later.”
Jackson told the Moab Sun News that due to the age of the current Forest Plan, it wasn’t unreasonable that the Forest Service would want to take a fresh look.
“My concern would be that they continue to allow multiple uses,” Jackson said.
Jackson also reiterated his concern about the travel plan.
“Our forest and the county spent significant time preparing a recent travel plan for our forest, and I hope that wasn’t a wasted effort in light of this new overall plan,” he said.
Grand County Council Chair Elizabeth Tubbs said that she was aware that various factions – grazing, outdoor recreation, motorized vs. non-motorized, logging and other interests – that all have issues with USFS management.
“I am glad to see the public outreach being done by the FS and hope the community will take full advantage and use the opportunity to bring all issues to the table,” she said. “I sincerely hope that the process will not be as contentious as the MLP was at times.”
Tubbs said that, as with any of the agencies – federal or state – it is critical to include local government in the process of decision making.
“While I’m sure there will be no shortage of citizens who will offer input, an official position put forth by local government should carry the weight of representing a whole multitude of diverse local interests,” she said.
“It’s absolutely critical (for the Forest Service) to work with local government,” he said. “The La Sal (mountains) are a big part of our town and community, and we need to have significant involvement in the process to be sure the plan works for us,” he said.
Forest Service asks for public input to help guide future management of Manti-La Sal lands
“It’s absolutely critical (for the Forest Service) to work with local government. The La Sals are a big part of our town and community, and we need to have significant involvement in the process to be sure the plan works for us.”
When: Tuesday, July 12, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Grand Center, 182 N 500 W