Recreation and the Planning Rule- New West Story

Is Recreation in the Rockies Becoming a Bigger Forest Service Priority?
Ski resorts, outfitters and others in the recreation industry want the U.S. Forest Service to think about outdoor sports enthusiasts in the same way they think about species and habitat. Will the Forest Service listen? by Steve Bunk

This story is a description of the planning rule development and the interaction with people interested in recreation.
Well worth a read. Here’s a quote.

Seven leaders of the groups met with Tidwell later that month, including Lyle Laverty, CEO of the National Association of Gateway Communities, headquartered in Denver. Laverty’s job history includes Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, director of Colorado State Parks, and associate deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

He said the letter to Tidwell and the subsequent meeting with him were sparked by a Forest Service document issued during last year’s development of the planning rule. Addressing input received by the agency concerning the new rule, the document said, “Many noted that the Forest Service does not have much ability to influence economies, and should focus instead on the land management business it knows.”

“That stimulated a lot of angst,” said Laverty. During about 38 years working for the Forest Service, he never had heard anyone in the agency question its importance in influencing economies, he said.
For years, a notion has been brewing in the agency that it should leave the planning for recreational uses of national forests up to local and regional officials, Laverty said. “My personal sense is that this didn’t just happen. It’s a trend we’ve observed, starting back in the early 1990s.”

Derrick Crandall, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Recreation Coalition (ARC), which organized the letter to Tidwell, suggested that other aspects of Forest Service work are trendier than planning for recreation. Global planning issues, such as climate change and biodiversity, “have a lot of cachet within the beltway circle,” he said.
Recreation is a key use of national forests under various federal laws, but the agency’s written materials that outlined the core concepts of the upcoming plan did not include it, he noted. “We did find it very serious that the number one benefit of national forests—camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, and other recreational activities—wasn’t even represented.”
Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado, which is the leading trade group for ski resort owners and operators, also attended the meeting with Tidwell.

“We all know that recreation, particularly in the 11 western states … plays a huge part in economies,” he said. “The issue of the agency’s ability to manage recreation is a topic that we want to continue to ensure will be addressed.”
The lobby’s emphasis on that topic bore further fruit last November, when 41 House of Representatives members wrote to Tidwell in support of recreational opportunities in national forests, including Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Doug Lamborn of Colorado, Denny Rehberg of Montana, Mike Coffman of Colorado and Mike Simpson of Idaho. Simpson is chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Committee, which overseas Forest Service funding.

“We were very interested to see the dramatic interest of the congressmen in this issue, and we think that’s probably been very helpful, also,” Crandall said.

In a recently updated list of core concepts for the planning rule, recreation now holds equal place with four other concepts: people and the environment, climate change, watershed health, and resilience, the latter of which is defined as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.”
In terms of inviting public input, the process of developing the new planning rule has been impressive. More than 40 public meetings were held in 2010, and more than 26,000 written comments were received, plus many informal comments on the agency website devoted to the rule.

Even so, Laverty thinks that a deeper change might have been instigated by the recreational lobby’s involvement in developing the new planning rule. He said the traditional model of collaboration with interest groups is shaped like a wheel, with the Forest Service at the hub. That process involves one-on-one dealings between the agency and each interest group, with the Forest Service reviewing comments received.

The new model, which he and others suggested to Tidwell, is a circle with a number of nodes on it, one of which is the Forest Service. The others include representatives of county and city governments, wildlife management, ATV use, hunting, and numerous other special interest groups. Final decision-making power still resides with the Forest Service, but all the nodes interact with each other.

“It’s a table of trust,” Laverty said. “You have to take off your stripes and sleeves and leave your gun at the door when you come to the table.”

In the comments, Matthew Koehler linked to a couple of articles. I thought this one from 1997 was particularly interesting. It’s about Lyle coming to Denver to be Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region.

Outdoor enthusiasts like Laverty used to be seen as friends of the environment, but conservation groups increasingly contend that the growing demand for outdoor recreation is wreaking havoc on national forests. They argue that ski-resort construction, off-road vehicles and mountain bikers not only drive reclusive animals out of their natural habitats, but also create trails that irreversibly damage soil and plants. “There’s no shortage of favor for the Forest Service from ski resorts and the like,” says Rocky Smith of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Sometimes it seems like the Forest Service is acting as an agent for the ski areas, especially since the Forest Service has been promoting this sort of industrial-strength recreation.”

Colorado environmentalists are already firing warning shots at Laverty, sending letters of concern and other documents to his D.C. office.

“I don’t have a problem with ski resorts or recreational trails,” says Jasper Carlton, “but we’re afraid that Laverty is going to allow all-out development and the forests won’t tolerate it.”

McClellan points to the impact caused by the 100,000 mountain bikers she estimates visited Vail last summer.

“The mountain bike is dangerous,” she says, “because of its potential to get people further into undisturbed backcountry–the last refuge for reclusive species like the lynx and wolverine. Where a hiker can maybe get ten miles into the backcountry, a biker can get forty and an off-road vehicle one hundred. When you throw in skiing, the result is a year-round gridlock of recreation, which is a greater threat to our lands than logging ever was. Twenty years from now, forests harvested for timber will have grown back, but a trail will always be there.

“If this kind of proliferation continues, which it looks like it will when Laverty gets out here, I predict that we’ll have uniform saturation [of Forest Service land] within two decades.”

It’s 14 years out.. I wonder how we are doing with the “saturation” idea?

1 thought on “Recreation and the Planning Rule- New West Story”

  1. This issue was raised at the Planning Rule Science Forum last March as summarized in the final report (full disclosure– I was the principle author):

    “Are there additional important principles not addressed in the NOI that should receive more attention?

    Two important points received limited attention during the Forum. First, the point was made that the focus on recreational uses of Forest Service lands should be elevated to the level of a “substantive principle”. Should the planning rule require that forest plans fully account for impacts of and on recreation?”

    At the time I wasn’t sure just how big this issue would be but I’m not surprised to see it elevated. Here are some trends that might influence where this goes:

    1. Many private and state lands are becoming off-limits to OHV use so there is increasing pressure to keep Forest Service and BLM lands open. OHV manufacturers can’t sell machines if folks have no place to ride.

    2. Although the current economy may have cooled the demand for ski area condos and second homes, there is still tremendous potential to make money on development around ski areas (That’s why they exist.) No ski areas, no development.

    3. One reason that the percentage of the population that hunts is declining is lack of affordable access to places to hunt. The shooting sports industry needs national forests. This last one may be at odds with other recreational demands since increased human use of wildlands may adversely affect populations of game and other species.

    Also from the Science Forum Final Report:

    “How can science be effectively applied to the development of a planning rule in the absence of a clearly shared vision for the future of national forests?”

    Can a new planning rule (if it ever gets implemented) better define the role of the national forests in providing recreational opportunities while balancing the Agency mission for sustaining healthy ecosystems?


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