(Modoc National Forest photo)
The Coconino National Forest Plan was revised in 2018. They have just announced that a proposed powerline requires a forest plan amendment because, “The proposed power line and associated roads would not comply with the following forest plan guidance after all reasonable stipulations to minimize impacts are applied: ‘Management activities and permitted uses should be designed and implemented to maintain or move toward the desired SIOs.'” “SIOs” are “Scenic Integrity Objectives, which are forest plan components. It also appears to conflict with several plan guidelines for special uses (though the letter doesn’t directly acknowledge that). Nobody saw this coming during the recent plan revision? Did the forest plan include things that really weren’t that important? (Scenery doesn’t seem to often rise to the level of litigation.) Is this just more “energy dominance” from the Trump administration? The scoping letter doesn’t attempt to answer these kinds of questions.
This article includes a link to the scoping documents. From the map, it looks like the power lines are needed as a shortcut, and is often the case, conservation lands are the easiest target. All of the action alternatives would violate the forest plan. A compliant alternative seems like an obvious omission. (And there is a requirement for special use permits that locations off of the national forest be not feasible.) While the Forest discusses burying the line, it’s not clear that they are considering an alternative that would bury all of it in areas where it is not consistent with the scenery objectives, or whether doing so would meet them. Of course we can’t actually tell exactly where it would violate those objectives because the scoping letter doesn’t distinguish between the areas where the objectives are “high” or “moderate,” but maybe it’s the entire route. While the amendment would be “project specific,” meaning it wouldn’t affect future projects, does that make any sense if the landscape would no longer meet the objectives in the forest plan? ( Some of the scenery management science is not intuitive to me.) At least they included the amendment in scoping for the project (some have popped that out at the last minute).
This summary dismissal of the forest plan unfortunately suggests a lack of respect given to forest plans and the effort put into them. I don’t know anything about the scenery here, or who looks at it, but if it was important enough to put into a forest plan a couple of years ago, it seems like it should be important enough to take a little more seriously now.