Representatives from the U.S Forest Service addressed the Grand County Council in July. The Manti-La Sal National Forest is preparing to revise its forest plan that will guide management of the 1.5-million-acre forest for the next 15 to 20 years. Seated left to right: Forest Supervisor Mark Pentecost, Forest Plan Revision Team Leader Tami Conner, and Forest Plan Revision Partnership Coordinator Blake Bassett. [Moab Sun News file photo]

For the first time in nearly three decades, the U.S. Forest Service is working to revise its Manti-La Sal National Forest management plan, and it’s inviting the public to help shape the future of those lands.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, from 5 to 7 p.m., the agency will hold a public open house at the Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West – one of eight such events it’s hosting around Utah. The agency’s plan revision team will be available to answer questions, and anyone who has information that may be relevant to the understanding of existing conditions on the forest is encouraged to submit it.

The agency is beginning the assessment phase of what will be a four-year process to update the plan for the forest, which spans nearly 1.5 million acres, four mountain ranges and nine counties in two states.

“We’ve had some really positive input from people as this process is getting started,” Forest Plan Revision Process Partnership Coordinator Blake Bassett said.

Bassett’s role with the Forest Service is relatively new. The agency drastically overhauled its Forest Management Planning Rule in 2012 in order to better incorporate the concepts of adaptive management, scientific basis and public participation in forest planning.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved with forest planning,” Forest Plan Revision Team Leader Tami Conner said. “Especially compared to past planning rules, the emphasis now is on a holistic approach to management.”

According to “A Citizens’ Guide to Forest Planning,” the 2012 planning rule recognizes that land management cannot occur in isolation.

“The resources, species, and issues for which those lands are managed are often cross-boundary issues,” the guide says.

It also takes into account the special role of local and tribal governments in protecting the interests of local populations that rely on national forest resources, from water and timber to recreational opportunities and access to nature.

At its last meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 16, the Grand County Council voted to join the plan revision process as a collaborating agency, designating council member Chris Baird to serve as the county’s liaison.

Grand Canyon Trust Utah Forests Program Director Mary O’Brien said that collaborative resource management is nothing new to many of the participants.

“The idea of the counties participating as collaborative agencies is that what the Forest Service or the (U.S. Bureau of Land Management) does has an impact on the counties and vice versa,” O’Brien said.

The role of the Forest Service is to protect the entire network of national lands, though, she added. This landscape approach to management is the reason why the management revision will ultimately be governed by the National Environmental Policy Act. The federal law requires an Environmental Impact Statement to detail the way that final land-use regulations will effectively impact natural resources over the long term.

With nearly 30 percent of his family’s estimated 260,000 acres of active grazing land on Forest Service land, fifth-generation La Sal rancher Lowry Redd has learned over the last several years that collaboration with various federal agencies and conservation groups has been positive for his ranch.

“If we’re not using resources available wisely, we’ll turn it into a place that’s unhealthy,” he said. “This country was abused by cattlemen for sure; they dang sure didn’t manage for sustainability.”

Responding to the effects of grazing practices on the land is in keeping with his family’s tradition of innovative ranching, which has at its heart always been about wise stewardship of resources, he said.

Over the last two years, Redd has participated in the La Sal Sustainability Collaboration initiative. Alongside representatives of conservation group Grand Canyon Trust, recreation advocacy groups, and federal and state agencies, Redd worked toward consensus on grazing practices that prioritize the health of the land above everything else.

“I can see the possibility here that we can be on the same page,” Redd said. “They can save the world, and I can run cows. It comes down to, ultimately, we want to stay in the business, and if we want to stay in the business, we’re raising grass, not beef.”

He said he looks forward not only to continuing to manage for pasture health, but actually helping to restore natural systems. With his 19-year-old daughter excited about continuing the family business and raising her own family on a ranch someday, Redd envisions her ranching skills to include best practices for land as well as livestock management, he said.

“I want my 19-year-old to be curious about things I’m just learning about now,” he said. “We have it in us to work together, and it’s in our best interest to. I’m willing to embarrass myself and admit there are things I don’t know about this biology and soils science, and there are things I could do better, because I know I have an effect. I decide what happens in my life, and this is my life.”

Conner said that many changes have occurred on the forest since the original plan was implemented. She said that more and 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, such as 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 earlier this year.

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.”

Agency to hold Sept. 13 open house at Grand Center

It’s an exciting time to be involved with forest planning … Especially compared to past planning rules, the emphasis now is on a holistic approach to management.