Despite a national effort (see pp. 29-30) to encourage it, and requirements in the 2012 Planning Rule to provide wildlife habitat connectivity, the Forest Service doesn’t seem to like to assert itself much in cross-boundary planning for such connectivity. Here is a big exception, which should be an example of what can be done – and what should be done where the Forest Service is responsible for improving conditions for at-risk species.
By revamping the highway with wildlife’s needs in mind, officials were able to broker an easement with the U.S. Forest Service to add the additional lanes.
“It’s a win-win. We could improve transportation. We did lose some national forest,” said Garvey-Darda referring to construction of additional highway lanes. “But we can connect the North Cascades and the South Cascades.”
More importantly, I was told that the forest plan provided the basis for the Forest Service position in the negotiations that the North Cascades and South Cascades should be connected. I can’t find language in the current plan that would clearly address this, but I know the plan revision process was moving towards useful language for connectivity. Other revised plans are including language that at least provides some intent to participate in highway planning. This is from the recently revised Kootenai National Forest Plan:
FW-DC-WL-17. Forest management contributes to wildlife movement within and between national
forest parcels. Movement between those parcels separated by other ownerships is facilitated by
management of the NFS portions of linkage areas identified through interagency coordination.
Federal ownership is consolidated at these approach areas to highway and road crossings to facilitate wildlife movement.
This would at least tell a Forest it needs to be a player and give them some leverage. However, for at-risk species its role is to be a leader, and with nothing more than a desired condition and without identifying any linkage areas in the plan this would not meet any substantive requirements of ESA or NFMA (recovery or viability). (Similar language in the uniform plan amendment for lynx does apply to mapped linkage areas.)