Monday, July 21, 2014

What is a Forest Plan…why is it being revised…and why should you care???

By David Mildrexler and Veronica Warnock

A Forest Plan is a document that guides the overall land management direction of a National Forest for a period of about 15 to 20 years.  It is a strategic document that establishes Management Areas (MAs), and develops goals, objectives, standards, and guidelines for resource management within each of these MAs.  A Forest Plan can be likened to a zoning plan that establishes the various approaches to land use on our private lands.  Just as the zoning of private lands is critical to protecting Oregon’s incredible natural heritage and rural areas from unchecked development, the zoning of our National Forests is equally important for protecting the precious natural resources they provide, and biodiversity they support.  At the end of a Forest Plan’s life, these documents are out of date.  For example, on issues like climate change, watershed protection and restoration, and wildlife corridors, science can inform management much different today than it did 20 years ago.  Likewise, a growing human population and technological advancements are placing more and different pressures on our National Forest Lands.

While a description of a Forest Plan might come across as a little dry, let me add these key words to the description; Wild and Scenic Rivers, old growth forests, wildlife corridors and connectivity, Wilderness areas, roadless forests, native fisheries, research, scenery, restoration economy, and the application of best available science to restore our National Forests.  The Forest Plan is the time and place to advocate for the things you love and would like to see on your National Forest.

The Forest Service is combining the Forest Plan Revision for three National Forests within the Blue Mountains, the Wallowa-Whitman, the Umatilla, and the Malheur.  Together these forests span 5.5 million acres, approximately 2.5 times the land mass of Yellowstone National Park. 
The Proposed Action was released in 2010 for public comment.  The Forest Service took those comments and developed six alternatives that are now out for public review.
The time is now to advocate for the protection of our last stands of old growth forests. We need standards and guidelines that maintain healthy and productive soils, protect riparian areas and water quality, and end post fire logging.  It is time for management that protects all of the plants, fish and wildlife that call our beautiful National Forests home.  This is your chance to talk about the big picture issues.  Don’t hesitate and don’t be intimidated.  Express your voice to reflect your issues! 

Attend one of HCPC’s House Parties and learn how to write effective comments!
La Grande - Wednesday July 30th             
Portland -  Thursday August 7th (date change)
For more information about the house parties, check out our website or our HCPC FaceBook page! 

Here are some suggested points to include in your letter:

The Forest Plans Need to Include More Enforceable Standards and Guidelines: The proposed forest plans contain very few standards and guidelines; instead, they are driven by non-enforceable aspiration desired conditions, goals, and objectives.  Incorporating standards and guidelines into forest plans is essential. Standards are the only planning component that are measurable, binding and enforceable thus ensuring environmental protection and planning efficiencies. 

Alternative C Best Addresses the Issues of Access; Economic and Social Well-Being; Livestock Grazing; Old Forest; Recommended Wilderness; and Ecological resilience: The Forest Service is analyzing alternatives A through F, with A being the “no action” alternative – it continues with the forest plans currently in place. Alternative B is the proposed action that was sent out for public scoping in 2010. Alternative C was developed to address conservation concerns and is the most environmentally responsible alternative. Alternative D was developed to address comments received from the timber industry, county governments and motorized interests. Alternative E is the Forest Service’s “preferred alternative” (the one they are leaning towards adopting). Alternative F is very similar to Alternative E –the only difference being the amount of timber outputs produced annually.

While Alternative C responds to many of our concerns, it is not perfect - it still needs to incorporate standards instead of aspirational language. For Example, the road densities within Alternative C should be standards instead of desired conditions. 
Ask for a Balanced Approach to Access: Motorized access to our public lands should not come at such a cost to riparian health, elk security and other wildlife considerations. Reduction in maintenance costs, disturbance to wildlife, and sediment traveling to our streams and rivers will not occur without the adoption of enforceable and measurable standards. 

Current Grazing Management is Unsustainable and Must be Addressed by the Proposed Forest Plans: The Preferred Alternative retains the same number of cattle across the three forests. Current management levels and practices have degraded public rangelands and riparian areas; destroyed water quality; and negatively impacted many threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants. More than 80 percent of wildlife species in the West depend on riparian areas. These areas make up roughly only 1.5 percent of public lands and are disproportionately affected by livestock grazing.  The time is now to rethink how we manage livestock grazing across the Blue Mountains. 

Old Forests Deserve Enforceable and Measurable Protections: The current forest plans for the Blue Mountains were amended to include the “21” rule”. The rule prohibits the logging of trees ≥ 21” dbh. The plans also designate specific old growth forests as areas where commercial logging is prohibited.
The proposed plans do away with old growth management areas and replace the 21” rule with a non-enforceable guideline. Specifically, the guideline states that management activities within “old forest stands should generally emphasize retaining live trees with certain old tree characteristics…tree characteristics and old age many vary by species and site.”
The Blue Mountains are deficient in both old and large trees; trees that provide important habitat values and are fire resiliency. Old trees and old forest must be protected. 

The Preferred Alternative Does not Recommend Enough Wilderness: HCPC and our conservation partners have identified 1.8 million acres of potential new Wilderness on public lands in northeast Oregon, including Joseph Canyon, the birthplace of Chief Joseph. These lands form an irreplaceable web of habitats and wildlife corridors connecting three giant eco-regions—the Northern Rockies, the Northern Basin and Range, and the Pacific Northwest. Think wolves, lynx, moose, bighorn sheep, sockeye salmon, bull trout, and someday even the magnificent California Condor with its 9-foot wingspan.  Despite this incredible opportunity to safeguard these remaining roadless lands, under the preferred alternative the Forest Service is only willing to recommend roughly 5 percent of lands with Wilderness potential to Congress for Wilderness designation. Five percent is not enough! 

Comments on a draft version of forest plans for the three forests can be submitted through August 15, 2014. 
Electronically at: 
Via Mail: Blue Mountains Plan Revision Team, P.O. Box 907, Baker City, OR 97814 
Or via Fax: 541-523-6392