Forest Plan Revision – fall 2023 roundup

Once upon a time, in a city far away, the U. S. Forest Service posted its schedule for revising national forest plans on its national website.  There was even a map showing the revisions completed under the 2012 Planning Rule.  Today, they are not where they used to be on the website, and I couldn’t find them anywhere else.  Maybe they didn’t like what I (or others) were doing with the information?

The last schedule that I saved was from May, 2022.  I have compiled the current information on the plans listed in that schedule and a few others that I am aware of below, roughly in order of their status, from those completed to those just starting.  I counted 14 completed and 16 officially ongoing revisions (if I have missed any, let me know).


These plans were completed prior to May, 2022

  • Francis Marion (2017)
  • Flathead (2018)
  • El Yunque (2019)
  • Inyo (2019)
  • Chugach (2020)
  • Rio Grande (2020)
  • Helena-Lewis and Clark (2021)
  • Custer-Gallatin (2022)

The American Bar Association recently provided this favorable critique of the El Yunque revised plan.

No policy better reflects the agency’s increased awareness about the importance of understanding and utilizing local stakeholders than the 2019 plan’s “all-lands” management approach, which aims to bring landowners and stakeholders together to identify common goals for the forest.

These plans have been completed and adopted since May, 2022

  • Carson (July 8, 2022)
  • Cibola (July 15, 2022)
  • Santa Fe (July 29, 2022)
  • Nantahala Pisgah (February 2023)
  • Sierra and Sequoia (May 2023)

Here is a commentary from Wild New Mexico on the three New Mexico plans.  The Sequoia revised plan is discussed in this article.  We discussed the Nantahala Pisgah possible lawsuit here.

It’s worth noting that lawsuits against these revised plans have been scarce.  The Flathead has had two (one is discussed here)  and there is a case currently pending against the Rio Grande (discussed here).  Have I missed any?  (The Colville revised plan litigation, discussed here, was developed under the previous planning regulations.)

PENDING REVISIONS (header links are to the Forest Service web page)

  • Tonto – objection instructions letter

On May 19, 2023, the Regional Forester issued her final instructions to the Tonto Forest Supervisor and responded to the eligible objectors. These final instructions included changes the forest must make to the final plan or supporting documents before the Forest Supervisor may sign the Record of Decision and implement the new plan.  Some additional information is in this article.

  • Ashley – FEIS/plan objections

The objection filing period ended June 20, 2023. The Forest Service received objections from 14 individuals or organizations.  An objection resolution meeting was scheduled for August 28.

The proposed final plan and FEIS were released August 30 and the objection period runs until October 30.  A couple of articles covered the release – here and here.

The draft EIS was released in December, 2019.  The FEIS is listed as “Proposed” “Summer 2023.”  However, a recent article is now saying “by the end of the calendar year.”

  • Gila – draft EIS completed

The official 90-day comment period for the draft documents ended April 16th, 2020.

The draft plan and EIS were available for public comment until November 2021.  Local news suggests it’s not going smoothly:  “Personally I believe you are trying to do the best that you can,” Jeff Bilberry, chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, said to Forest Service representatives. But he added soon after, “I am going to agree with former commissioner (Will) Cavin that we need to go back and start over again and let’s do this right so we don’t have everybody sitting here wondering what is fixing to happen.”

The Manti-La Sal National Forest released its proposed Land and Resource Management Plan and DEIS on Aug. 18. Public comments on the DEIS are being accepted until November 16.

In September 2019, Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark announced the Salmon-Challis National Forest will evaluate the 1988 Salmon Forest Plan and the 1987 Challis Forest Plan separately. A new timeline will be developed once public feedback has been gathered to inform steps moving forward.

Public comments on the draft assessment were sought last summer.

  • Lolo – draft assessment completed

Public meetings are ongoing to discuss the final assessment, need for change and developing the plan.  A Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS is currently expected in January, 2024.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest aims to have the draft assessment report available for public review by late fall per this article.  (And they are getting some help.)

  • Blue Mountains (Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman) – restarting assessment

The most recent effort to revise the plan failed in 2019, and now the Forest Service is restarting the process, beginning the assessment process in June and public meetings are scheduled for this fall.  Some background is provided here.

No forests in the area covered by the Northwest Forest Plan have formally started the revision process.  A Bioregional Assessment was prepared in 2020.  Based on the Bioregional Assessment findings, land management plans may be amended or revised at the same time or in groups according to common features like geography and ecosystems.

The most urgent need is to restore fire’s natural role in the frequent-fire dependent ecosystems closest to communities in the eastern Cascade Mountains, Klamath Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California, and the southern Coastal Mountains.

Based on that urgency, a cohort of northern California units and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Southern Oregon are being considered as the first to begin plan modernization. Northern California cohort includes the Klamath and Butte Valley Grassland, Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity, and Mendocino National Forests.


On August 21, the Forest Service proposed to change the name of the Wayne National Forest in Ohio to the Buckeye National Forest.  The national forest is currently named after General (“Mad”) Anthony Wayne, whose complicated legacy includes leading a violent campaign against the Indigenous peoples of Ohio that resulted in their removal from their homelands. Buckeye National Forest is one of the names suggested to the Forest Service by American Indian Tribes.  But of course, Republicans have politicized it.












20 thoughts on “Forest Plan Revision – fall 2023 roundup”

  1. Thanks for the roundup, Jon! I wonder about other names.. like the Custer-Gallatin for example. I bet the FS does have a schedule somewhere..

    I count 13 completions in 11 years. with 52 forests at that rate.. oh well I guess the grouping idea will speed them up. Still…

    • The schedule keeps changing. But now that the Planning Service Centers are being staffed, we’re probably due for another schedule to be issued.

      But I really wonder, looking back now on 30+ years in the FS, if it ever really made sense to revise Forest Plans. In 1976 (when the NFMA passed), sure. But given what went into the original forest plans and then the scale of the 2 major amendments to all of the plans in Oregon and Washington (Northwest Forest Plan and Eastside Screens) and having worked on one of the few revisions briefly, there has to be a better answer than a full plan revision. And Forest Plans for the forests that I have worked on have never been implemented as intended/envisioned. So what is the point of all of that planning/investment if the plan will not be implemented as intended? And it takes a much higher standard to revise something than it did to put it in place originally – witness the recent decision on the Colville Forest Plan Revision and the inability to revise the Survey & Manage standards and guidelines of the Northwest Forest Plan.

      • I don’t know how much thought went into the Congressional decision in NFMA to order revisions every 15 years, but it makes sense to me that the public should have an opportunity to weigh in on larger scale national forest management periodically, as things change.

        I can tell you that the intent of the 2012 Planning Rule was that the revision process could be focused on the “need for change” as identified from monitoring and an assessment, resulting in a streamlined process. My impression of the implementation of this is that there is a lot that needs to change in the old plans, but the forests don’t want to confront the public with this until too late in the process, so they keep it vague, which leaves the process too open to expansion and unnecessary work.

        Another goal was for the plan amendment process to be easier so that plans would be kept up to date better so that the need for change at revision time would be smaller (36 CFR §219.13). It’s too early to judge this, but I am not convinced that amendments are any easier, except for the limited use of “administrative changes” (they rejected my suggestions to establish a categorical exclusion for amendments providing greater protection from projects that would have adverse environmental impacts).

        I agree to a degree that changing the plan can be harder that developing the initial plan because you have to make the case for why the old rationale no longer applies. But if the science is there, it should work for the Forest Service if properly presented.

  2. Thanks for the summary, Jon. As I have been saying for several decades, I remain very concerned about statements such as: “The most urgent need is to restore fire’s natural role in the frequent-fire dependent ecosystems closest to communities in the eastern Cascade Mountains, Klamath Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California, and the southern Coastal Mountains.”

    It’s the way they define “natural” as if it doesn’t include people who use fire on a daily basis as they have for thousands of years. Why do they think fires were “more frequent” in the past? Because there used to be more lightning and volcanic eruptions? Because the climate was different than now? Or because people systematically gathered firewood along travel routes and villages and regularly set fire to adjacent hillsides and prairies?

    Fires WERE more frequent and forest fuels — and particularly snags and dead wood — were a lot less prevalent in the past as one result. Firewood gathering along ridgeline and riparian areas were one factor the USFS and BLM don’t seem to comprehend. Huckleberry fields were regularly burned and beargrass and camas meadows were regularly tilled. “Natural” firebreaks that no longer exist.

    Federal mismanagement of our lands, based on anti-logging regulations and lawsuits supposedly implemented to “protect” a few chosen species have predictably — by using traditional scientific methodology — resulted in ever greater and more deadly wildfires. It’s all documented and then ignored. Local people have always managed the landscape in ways that were beneficial to themselves, their families, and communities. Then we let DC take over, and now this.

    • Indeed. And even more crazy, the descends of the same people who used to do all that now deny their own history and claim that “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” supports the policy preferences of “leave it alone” preservationists. Pure madness.

        • The main example I had in mind are the tribes that advocated for Bears Ears National Monument, and have allied with extreme preservation groups like SUWA in arguing against any kind of active land management in the name of “Traditional Ecological Knowledge.” That term in reality seems to mean simply whatever the big environmental groups want.

          • Patrick, I think TEK is a separate discussion from Indigenous NGOs and Tribes and how they are aligned or not. TEK is knowledge about what people used to do, which may or may not be related to what they want to do now. At least, that’s what I’ve been observing.

            • Hmm, not really. Indian tribes can define whatever they want as Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The whole point of that term is to set them up as the guardians of some secret sacred truth which makes their policy preferences trump those supported by modern science. Hence all these executive orders and policy changes making TEK equivalent to (and therefore a substitute for) the “best available science” for NEPA processes. When they comment on land management plans they are claiming that every policy position they take is supported by TEK. And it’s an irrefutable statement, because only they know what TEK is and only they can define it. That’s its entire purpose.

              • It’s not legally a “substitute” for “best available science.” It arguably could BE the “best available science,” but it feels like it might be trying to put a square peg in a round hole to do that.

  3. I’d like to add/clarify that the Forest Service has started to move forward with an amendment to the Northwest Forest Plan (which itself was an amendment to underlying plans):

    …and has also stood up a federal advisory committee to assist:

    This will be an amendment to the amendment, not a full revision of the amendment or of underlying plans.

    • I see.. it’s interesting that the FS biggest enchilada -probably- in terms of acres, and history of timber wars drama- is happily doing amendments to amendments (which I think is swell) and leaving others to revisions.

    • SJ – Could you provide a more specific link to something that says there will be an amendment to the Northwest Forest Plan? I understand that is being considered, but I’m not finding language that says it was decided.

  4. Some other views on the GMUG revision:

    I liked this comment that I think cuts to the chase a lot of us have been debating: “The idea that you can log the shit out of the backcountry and that’s going to somehow protect us from fires is not proven by any science.”

    Views of local government: “For the protest period, we’re going to raise some significant issues,” said (Gunnison County Commission Chair) Houck. He said the main concern is that GPLI and GORP (coalitions of diverse stakeholders with various perspectives) were misrepresented and at times dismissed.

    • I don’t believe that anyone is, or is contemplating “logging the shit” out of anywhere on the GMUG…a great deal of “the backcountry” is Roadless or Wilderness.


Leave a Comment