A coalition of 72 recreation groups sent a letter to the Forest Service Chief last week about recreation interests not being heard by the proposed planning rule writing team and their comments not being reflected in summary documents on the planning rule website. The coalition of primarily hunting, fishing, and off-road vehicle interests includes such groups as the National Rifle Association, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the National Association of Forest Service Retirees.
The groups explain that “we do not assert that outdoor recreation is, or should be, a dominant use of all national forest lands. But it is important and relevant to note that the Congress specifically listed outdoor recreation first in the identified mandated management responsibilities of the Forest Service. Also noteworthy is the fact that assessments of the economic contributions of the national forests since 1992 have consistently identified outdoor recreation as the leading national economic benefit of the forests.”
The groups disagreed with a conclusion in the Fourth Planning Rule Roundtable summary that the Forest Service does not really have much ability to intentionally influence local economies, but should focus instead on the land management business it knows. “We strongly disagree with both contentions. Decisions regarding use of national forests, and especially decisions regarding kinds and levels of recreational uses, clearly and dramatically shape the economic health of nearby communities. And this impact must be reflected in Forest Service planning. There is no option under NEPA to abrogate this responsibility. If the expertise resident within the Forest Service is incapable of meeting this responsibility, it must be found and included. By reducing recreation opportunities or by constraining or prohibiting new recreational uses – like the initial opposition of the agency to geocaching – without considering ways to develop and apply new management protocols, the agency compromises the viability of hundreds of communities near national forests.”
“We are greatly concerned by the lack of emphasis placed upon recreation in the documents associated with the proposed new Planning Rule and will not support a final rule that fails to correct this flaw. We intend to deliver this assessment to the public and to those representing the public if no commitment to change is made by the agency.”
The groups are asking for a meeting with the Chief, and a formal working session with the planning rule team to include provisions in the rule that requires Forest Plans to actively search out strategies to provide for and manage diverse public recreation uses.