National Forest Planning News

As Matthew just posted, the Rio Grande National Forest has reached the penultimate phase of forest planning – the courtroom.  Here’s a few other updates that address some things we have discussed here.

Helena-Lewis and Clark decision

The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest has released its final revised forest plan after “a more than six year planning process.” This article provides highlights. In reference to travel planning, the forest supervisor indicated that since it had been completed in recent years, the Forest Service did not revisit those decisions in the forest plan (which doesn’t get the relationship quite right because travel plan designation decisions are not made in a forest plan, which I alluded to in a comment here).

Among the more controversial changes from the old forest plan are the replacement of elk hiding cover standards. According to the forest supervisor,

The standards became difficult and in some cases impossible to meet, Avey has said, due to changes on the ground such as high insect mortality in the forest.  The 2021 plan uses “security areas,” defined as blocks of habitat away from roads and guidelines, rather than standards, for tree cover. The changes provide the agency more flexibility as land use or ecology changes, he said. Wildlife advocates have pushed back for years on the shift from hiding cover standards to security areas, saying the standards are both scientifically proven and enforceable.

The Forest wants “flexibility” and the Montana Wildlife Federation wants the plan to be “enforceable.” “MWF is looking forward to addressing this glaring oversight with the Forest.”

Here is the forest supervisor’s take on the 2012 Planning Rule:

Drafting the plan fell under a 2012 Forest Service planning rule, which Avey believes made for a much improved finished product that takes a more holistic approach at the landscape. The rule directs the agency to define “desired conditions,” with subsequent decisions needing to move towards those goals.

“It’s much more powerful and easier to understand, I think, for the public and our staff,” he said. “It will also keep these plans fresher into the future as opposed to how dated our ’86 plans were.”

GMUG draft comments

The Outdoor Alliance has submitted comments on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests Draft Revised Forest Plan that focus on recreation issues that we have discussed.  One is high levels of dispersed recreation use, for which the Alliance has proposed designation of specific areas for high use “recreation emphasis.”  Another is the effect (or not) of dispersed recreation on wildlife, stating that “the research on the effect of non-motorized, trail-based recreation on wildlife populations remains inconclusive,” so the Forests should “reconsider the limits on non-motorized, trail-based recreation within Wildlife Management Areas.”

Black Hills initiates revision

We’ve discussed (such as here) the new information about timber inventories on the Black Hills National Forest, and they have officially initiated the revision of the forest plan, which should produce a definitive answer based on the best available scientific information that will make everyone happy.  To summarize:

Just after the last update was introduced in 2006, the Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic ravaged forest vegetation for over 10 years.  Jeff Tomac, Forest Supervisor of Black Hills National Forrest, discussed the impact this event had on the ecosystem.  “Timber sustainability on the Black Hills National Forest will be one of the assessments that we will be working through and a lot of interest top many people in and around the Black Hills,” he said.

It is interesting that, while many forest plans have never been revised (and are over 30 years old), a few are on their second revision (the Wayne is another).


4 thoughts on “National Forest Planning News”

  1. Jon – helpful summary!

    Here are some related updates. In New Mexico, the Carson, Cibola, and Santa Fe NFs all recently closed their objection periods (on the same day) on Forest Plan Revisions, and the comment period closed last week on the Lincoln NF DEIS.

    As to next steps, the Carson website says:

    “A notice of objections received and information about how to participate in objection resolution as an interested person will be published in the Nov 11th issue of the Taos News and posted to this website.”

    I assume we’ll see similar announcements soon from the Santa Fe and Cibola. So we’ll know shortly the scope of objections in the 3 NMex forests.

    In Colorado, the GMUG extended the comment period on its plan revision DEIS until 11/26 (the day after Thanksgiving).

  2. Native insects do not ravage forests; people ravage forests.

    The bug is removing one of the biggest threats to the Black Hills water supply by killing one remnant of anthropogenic interference in former bison and wapiti habitat: ponderosa pine! 150 years ago Populus tremuloides was the predominant deciduous tree species on the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountain Complex. Aspen, the most widely distributed deciduous tree species on Earth, is critical to the survival of the Black Hills’ unique ecotones.

    Beaver communities rely on aspen to slow runoff and store water supplies. Aspen shoots are favorite browse for elk and bison.

    Paha Sapa (“hills that are black” may have been a reference to burnt timber instead of the accepted, “seen from a distance”) hasn’t been a natural forest since 1863 when a nearly Hills-wide fire (possibly set by humans hoping to clear pine), opened grazing for distinct historic ungulates.

    Dennis Knight is Professor Emeritus of forest management and ecology at the University of Wyoming and lead author of Mountains and Plains: The Ecology of Wyoming Landscapes.

    First, the Black Hills logging industry developed a bad reputation in its early days. Something clearly had to be done. Wood production requires a long-term investment, at least to the end of the century. During this time frame, peer-reviewed research indicates that ponderosa pine forests will become less dense and less widespread in the Black Hills. Without planting, open meadows are likely to become more common (as seems to be happening in a large area following the 2000 Jasper Fire). I too have seen ponderosa pine growing like a “weed” in some places, but those dense patches of trees typically originated during a period of abundant seed and favorable climatic conditions for seedling survival.

  3. Thanks for doing this Jon! It would be great if the FS included all this info in their forest planning table; that is status of objection and stages of litigation. And if it were updated more frequently.

    It seems to me that if the HLC took six years, plus at least two for litigation, that’s eight years for a 15 year plan- I guess a good argument for what Chris French talked about as a new planning model.

    The litigation path for the Rule should be interesting, especially since it seemed to me that the Rule was designed to have many legal hooks.

    My own experience with the public in many meetings talking about desired conditions was that they were much more interested in specific issues recreation, timber, fuel treatments, etc… maybe Montanans are different.

    • I agree that it has always been hard to get people who are usually focused on projects (and that includes FS employees, too) to think about the bigger picture. But I think talking about “desired conditions” for the landscape has helped with that.


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