Nez Perce Clearwater Forest Shrinks Great Burn (Recommended) Wilderness

The details of this plan are outside my range of knowledge, but I thought this story was interesting.  First of all the headline, “shrinks Great Burn Wilderness”. Of course, forest plans can’t actually do that, so I looked further and the plan reduces the Recommended Wilderness.  Which of course is not the same thing. Headlines.. sigh.

The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest supervisor trumpeted her new forest plan as the best compromise for all, but when it comes to proposed wilderness, both advocates and opponents disagree.I’m not a fan of using the word “trumpeted”.   It seems like there’s been “emotional wording” inflation since folks discovered that emotions drive engagement which drives bucks in internet world.

The story has many quotes from Probert, the Forest Supe,  the Great Burn Conservation Alliance executive director Hayley Newman,  and other ENGO folks.

“The Forest Service has sat back while illegal motorized use has encroached on the Great Burn for years, and now it’s decided to reward illegal use by rewriting the forest plan to make it okay,” said Maddy Munson, Wild Montana Public Lands director.

Newman said one forest – the Nez Perce-Clearwater – shouldn’t be allowed to diminish a wilderness that’s partially managed, and managed differently, by another forest: the Lolo. For example, the Lolo Forest recently designated the mountain goat as a species of concern while the Nez Perce-Clearwater has not. Plus, one forest plan might sway another, said Katie Bilodeau, Friends of the Clearwater staff attorney.

Yes, plans done on a forest by forest basis may not harmonize across boundaries. The idea of “swaying” is interesting. Conceivably earlier plans may make it easier for the next plan to make the same kinds of choices.  I don’t see that that is good or bad necessarily unless you don’t like ideas in the earlier ones.. but that could work both ways “hey that forest gave us an extra 100K of RW, so you should too!”

I thought that this was interesting.

In her decision rationale, Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert said the question of what to recommend as wilderness garnered the most public interest of all aspects of the draft forest plan released in December 2019, accounting for 18% of almost 20,000 comments.

Different forests have people interested in different things during planning and apparently wilderness is big there.

Probert said she’d heard about the need to protect wolverine and mountain goats but also heard complaints from snowmobile users who said that “there are no replacements for the opportunities provided here.” She asked opposing groups to come up with a compromise, but none came. So she carved the area up to create one.

I don’t know if it’s just the way it’s reported, but it sounds like she herself did it. I’m thinking it’s likely that her staff and she had many discussions and they probably didn’t all agree.  It sounds kind of dismissive “she carved up” versus, say, “after a series or far-ranging discussions with members of the public, interest groups,  elected officials, she and her staff came up with this proposal as a possible solution.”

In fact, wilderness groups want the Forest Service to enlarge the Great Burn Wilderness to encompass adjacent roadless areas to the west, an addition of 40,000 acres. But, Probert bypassed three plan alternatives with more recommended wilderness – between 309,000 and 857,000 acres – preferring an alternative with just 197,700 acres of proposed wilderness.

However Probert did propose one new wilderness, Meadow Creek, with almost 73,000 acres adjacent to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness south of the Selway River.

Hopefully some TSW readers, including motorized folks (apparently not interviewed for this article) will weigh in and add their perspective.  Just a thought.. there seem to be forest vegetation collaborative groups where people who disagree reach compromises.. this doesn’t seem common in recreation disputes (or is it?).  Maybe our social science friends have studied why that might or might not be the case.

Finally, did opening up the decision about Recommended Wilderness via plan revision lead to a better on-the-ground outcome in some way?  Did it encourage groups to work together, or just open a new arena for the same old battles?


22 thoughts on “Nez Perce Clearwater Forest Shrinks Great Burn (Recommended) Wilderness”

  1. I think it’s crazy we are still having all these controversies over administrative designation of de facto wilderness decades after the Wilderness Act was supposed to resolve these questions. A while ago I found this quote from a 2003 district court ruling invalidating the Roadless Rule (State of Wyoming v. United States Department of Agriculture, No. 01-CV-86-B, at *1 (D. Wyo. July 14, 2003)), which was ultimately overturned in that instance because the appeals court found the Roadless Rule was not identical to Wilderness, but without disputing this particular statement:

    “The Wilderness Act declared it the policy of Congress to “secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” 16 U.S.C. § 1131 (a). To effectuate this policy, Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System (“NWPS”), which would be composed of congressionally designated “wilderness areas.” Id. The Wilderness Act also immediately designated certain areas as wilderness, Id. § 1132(a), and provided the procedure for future designation of wilderness areas, id. § 1132(b). In establishing the NWPS, Congress unambiguously provided that “no Federal lands shall be designated as `wilderness areas’ except as provided for in [the Wilderness Act] or by a subsequent Act.” Id. § 1131(a).
    Therefore, Congress has the sole power to create and set aside federally designated wilderness areas pursuant to the Wilderness Act. Parker v. United States, 309 F. Supp. 593, 597 (D. Colo. 1970), aff’d, 448 F.2d 793 (10th Cir. 1971). In fact, the primary purpose of the Wilderness Act was to provide:
    [a] statutory framework for the preservation of wilderness [that] would permit long-range planning and assure that no further administrator could arbitrarily or capriciously either abolish wilderness areas that should be retained or make wholesale designations of additional areas in which use would be limited.
    Id. (quoting H.R. Rep. No. 88-1538). To this end, the Wilderness Act removed the Secretary of Agriculture’s and the Forest Service’s discretion to establish de facto administrative wilderness areas, a practice the executive branch had engaged in for over forty years. Parker,309 F. Supp. at 597, aff’d,448 F.2d at 797. Instead, the Wilderness Act places the ultimate responsibility for wilderness designation on Congress. Id.16 U.S.C. § 1131 (a). In this regard, the Wilderness Act functions as a “proceed slowly order” until Congress — through the democratic process rather than by administrative fiat — can strike the proper balance between multiple uses and preservation. Parker,448 F.2d at 795. This statutory framework necessarily acts as a limitation on agency action. Id. at 797.”

    The judge in that case described very clearly how the Wilderness Act was supposed to take away the land management agencies’ ability to administratively create new de facto wilderness areas managed identically to designated Wilderness, quoting the Congressional Record stating Congress’ explicit intent that “no further administrator could arbitrarily or capriciously … make wholesale designations of additional areas in which use would be limited.” Yet the agencies continue to do exactly that all the time with Forest Service “recommended wilderness” and BLM “lands managed for wilderness characteristics”. All the controversies we continue to have in every resource management planning process about what new areas should be managed as de facto wilderness kicking out existing incompatible uses are ultimately the result of the courts refusing to do their job and enforce the clear of intent of the Wilderness Act to end the administrative designation of wilderness.

    • The 10th Circuit vacated this judgment as moot because the Forest Service produced a new roadless rule. That rule was litigated on the same issue, which the district court decided the same way. In this case the 10th Circuit reversed the district court’s holding. It determined, “A closer examination of the precise differences between IRAs and wilderness areas further demonstrates that the Roadless Rule does not establish de facto wilderness.” It describes these uses of roadless areas that would not be allowed under the Wilderness Act:
      – permanenent structures or installations
      – motorized/mechanized activities
      – road maintenance
      – commercial livestock grazing
      – mineral development

      If you are arguing that designation of a recommended wilderness in a forest plan creates de facto wilderness, that would apparently depend on what that particular plan designation allows to occur there and whether that is different from designated wilderness.

      • Right. So ultimately the roadless rule was upheld because IRAs are not managed identically to designated wilderness. In the forest plan revisions I’ve been following lately (mainly GMUG and Manti-La Sal), recommended wilderness is expressly managed identically to designated wilderness. I assume that’s the case in most newer forest plans that incorporate recommended wilderness. Hence all the controversy about roads being closed and snowmobiles and mountain bikes being kicked out.

        I just don’t see how the Forest Service keeps getting away with that. If the courts considering the roadless rule challenges said the only reason it was upheld was because it wasn’t identical to wilderness, and administrative designations that are identical to wilderness are prohibited by the Wilderness Act, then it sure seems administrative recommended wilderness designations should be precluded by the Wilderness Act.

          • Possibly. I haven’t been able to find any cases directly on point. I included that argument in my objections on the GMUG forest plan revision so it will be interesting to see how the FS responds.

        • In one possibly significant way they are not identical. A forest plan designation permits elimination of that designation by the agency (through a plan amendment) rather than through Congress. This may not “assure that no further administrator could arbitrarily or capriciously … abolish wilderness areas that should be retained …” (meaning, in this context, the recommended wilderness areas that were administratively created).

          I also wonder if there are existing grazing permits in recommended wilderness that would be terminated.

  2. This kind of inconsistency was maybe the number one complaint that the public had about the first round of forest plans. Even though the deciding official was the regional forester for those plans. But, since the regional forester is the reviewing officer for objections to these plans, maybe that person will take an interest in inconsistency among forests and across boundaries at that point. (The fact that they would designate different species of conservation concern found on adjacent forests is not encouraging, maybe even arbitrary.)

    I’m actually surprised that only 18% of the comments were about wilderness. It seemed to be the issue that was easiest to get folks (on both sides) riled up about. I was always happy to let others deal with that issue and spend my time on the wildlife requirements, which are more scientific and legal than political.

    • Somewhat ancient history, but in the early 1980s as the IPNF began working on the first FP, I as Forest Planner got together with the NP and Clearwater Forests to begin regular coordination and meetings to assure (as best as we could in those early days) that management we planned along these three forest borders was as consistent as possible, to avoid conflicts just like this!!
      But the RI regional planner opposed our efforts, (maybe because in jest we started to refer our three forest as R-13! ) And he resented our efforts without getting his approval. Small people in positions that required more sense,

  3. My experience with Region One is that all RWAs allow chainsaw use for administrative and volunteer trail clearing and backcountry facility maintenance. There have also been trails that have received scheduled repair and rerouting, motorized equipment being used, most notably using mini excavators to create miles of new Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. In most cases the contractor also employed motorcycles to travel to each days work location.
    What has always irked me is that the fine to mountain bike in these areas is the same as if mountain biking in Designated Wilderness. While each Forest found ways to work around the purity of strict wilderness management, existing public recreation was something to be removed. As an official admitted, certain uses must be removed in order to not allow a constituency that might give our representatives pause when considering a wilderness bill.
    The defacto issue is still a critical one, as the public continues to be removed, bit by bit, from places they love.
    I think people are getting tired of the endless battle against biased federal agencies. They may instead be placing hope in far right political candidates to remedy the situation.

      • There’s already at least half a dozen such organizations. For example, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, which I’m a member of and work closely with, is known for mainly representing motorized users but really advocates for access for all types of recreation. I know recently they’ve been trying to help rock climbers in Idaho fight a closure that the rock climbing advocacy group Access Fund refused to oppose because they’ve gone all politically correct and wouldn’t oppose anything tribal groups want, even when it goes against the direct interests of their members. There’s a bunch of other organizations like Citizens for Balanced Use, Trails Are Common Ground, etc. that are trying to fight all types of closure and stop different recreation user groups from constantly trying to kick each other out of places and share trails instead.

      • Hi Larry: The Kalmiopsis is an excellent example. Should be made a National Park in my opinion, and then focused on the pre-Wilderness mining history for the area which was nationally significant for more than a century preceding the series of wildfires that have greatly damaged it from 1987 to the present.

        • I was working on the Biscuit Salvage, and the land was not “destroyed” by anything the Forest Service actually did. There were many other issues, with safety and a “column collapse” being foremost. I have firsthand knowledge of how incredibly steep those lands are, as well as being very rugged. When you can’t see the bottom of the canyon, due to its steepness, you don’t want to put firefighters in there.

          I highly doubt that one could do much thinning, inside the Biscuit Fire footprint, with cable or helicopter harvesting. Just taking the big trees isn’t ‘managing’ the forest for fire resilience. The Forest Service cannot, and will not, go back to 80s-style logging, anywhere.

          • Hi Lartry: So far as firefighting, you are probably right, though some old-timers might disagree. The problems are road and trail closures, lack of site preparation, poor revegetation planning, and poor site maintenance. These fires weren’t happening when people lived, worked, and traveled in the Kalmiopsis. Now it’s been burned at least two or three times since the Biscuit, which was the second time since the 1987 Silver. No idea why you think I’m promoting 1980s-style logging — something I’ve never done and always thought should be modified.

  4. Having tried to navigate the FEIS, what I notice is the areas set aside for snowmobiling adjacent to RWAs have been traditionally used for snowmobiling. Those areas were always RWA but snowmobiling was permitted. The new RWA management from the planning rule mandates that non conforming activities be removed or the RWA boundary is modified. Once in a while an activity is deemed important and allowed some space. That’s what happened here.
    Also an important trail for mountain biking was recognized with a 150 ft wide corridor. Of all the Forest plans in R1, this corridor is by far the most notable and progressive adjustment to an RWA I’ve seen in 15 years. The National Wilderness Preservation System is loaded with corridors, yet it’s been very rare that those important routes through RWAs are recognized at the forest planning level. I’ve always thought that Forest planning was the correct place to note corridors and have been disappointed it hasn’t happened until now. Hence this is why R1 has closed almost 2k miles of trails to bicycle access. Planners, until now, haven’t dealt fairly regarding recreation access. It’s refreshing for me to read this Forest Plan.

  5. Here’s an op-ed about the Nez Perce Clearwater’s decision on the Great Burn. It’s notable because one of the authors was actually in charge of the Nez Perce-Clearwater, at least nominally, as the deputy regional forester in R1.

    The authors express concern “because the decisions made on the NPCNF affect what occurs on the adjacent Lolo National Forest.” They point out that the NPCNF is changing a status quo that has existed for 40 years. One would think that something earthshaking must have happened to upend that balance.

    They point out the practical result is impairing the ability to manage the Lolo side for wilderness because the ease of trespassing across the forest boundaries from Idaho. “In fact, one of the basic tenets of recreation management is to make it as easy as possible for the public to be legal in their activities. This decision welcomes trespass onto the LNF and makes it impossible for the remaining recommended wilderness to ever be successfully managed as designated wilderness.”

    They allege the real reason for rejecting wilderness management for “one of the highest wilderness ratings, of any area” was, “To appease a handful of elite high-mark snowmobilers and snowbikers who have been illegally snowmobiling in areas of the Great Burn that have been closed to snowmobiling and snowbiking since 1986.” Not exactly an earthshaking change in circumstances; more like giving up on enforcement. (I guess making something legal that was illegal would make it possible for this segment of the public to be legal in it’s activities, but I don’t think that getting rid of regulations was the purpose behind that policy.)

    • One glance at the authors names tells me that much of the article is opinion and biased.
      Chris Ryan was the primary architect of R1 policy to create as much RWA as possible, and to manage it as wilderness. Regional foresters kept this policy secret from about 2002 to 2010. Although orgs such as Wilderness Society knew of the policy, it was kept from broader public knowledge. I have an email exchange to that affect. I’m skeptical of all the stated facts in the article.
      The authors, taken as a whole, are entitled, not willing to share, staunch wilderness advocates who, before retiring, manipulated public process to favor more RWAs over compromise solutions from concerned public. When working, they were the definition of administrative overreach by unelected bureaucrats intent on personal missions. They don’t want to see their prior work unraveled.

      • You can attack the authors’ credibility, but I’d like to know the “need for change” that was identified in the Assessment and that was supposed to be the basis for any changes in the forest plan.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading