What Do We Think About: Senator Bennet’s GORP/Federal Land Allocation/Planning Legislative Proposal?


This is a proposal that seems to do land management planning for BLM and FS jointly in the Gunnison area.  According to the website Bennet started effort this in 2012 (he was elected in 2010).  It seems to have all the usual (local) suspects involved.  And right now, this legislative proposal is even open for public comment! But no NEPA of course, and perhaps not much discussion of how entities outside of the area should influence federal lands.   This reminds me of a Mark Rey quote about how deciding on designations is politically above the pay grade of a Forest Supe.  It definitely changes the political landscape of decisions, and perhaps relieves the FS and BLM of the rigors of (and overanalysis, NRV-ing,  and bullet-proofing) planning and EIS’s.   Because isn’t the ultimate question, beyond all the high falutin’ verbiage, “who can do what. where?”  Leaving the “how” perhaps to another day.  And in legislation, if passed, it would stick.. or at least be an interesting convo and/or object of horse-trading in Congress. On the website you can find the readers’ guide, FAQ’s, the proposal and maps.

The only thing I would add is a public posting of all comments, so that folks like me might be able to write about what concerns people have. But maybe that’s there somewhere.

What do you think?



Forest plans and legislation – Blackfoot-Clearwater wilderness proposal

Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project map, Feb. 2018.

Wilderness designation has always been controversial in Montana.  No new wilderness areas have been established by Congress since I believe 1977, and unlike most states there has never been statewide wilderness legislation.  The Blackfoot-Clearwater proposal to designate 90,000 acres on the Lolo National Forest was locally developed and has been pending in Congress for several years.  Its development included addressing issues related to motorized and mechanized recreation that we have been discussing here, and designates areas for both.  This article provides some background, and includes a link to the written statement from the Forest Service regarding the proposed legislation.

The statement relates to forest planning in a couple of ways.  First, the Forest Service uses the Lolo National Forest forest plan as the foundation for its position on the legislation.

We also have concerns about implementing section 202, which establishes the Spread Mountain Recreation Area for the apparent purpose of enhancing mountain biking opportunities. The Lolo’s current land and resource management plan identifies this area as recommended wilderness. This area is characterized generally by steep topography, sensitive soils, and contains sensitive fish and wildlife habitat. Trail 166 is the main access into this area. This trail is not maintained, not passable by riders on horseback, and becomes difficult to locate after the first mile. While we acknowledge the interest in expanding opportunities for mountain biking on the Lolo, we are concerned that the site designated for the Spread Mountain Recreation Area is not well-suited for this use, and that this designation could create conflicts with wildlife and other recreation uses.

Two of the three wilderness designations in Title III are consistent with the recommendations made in the existing Lolo National Forest land and resource management plan. The third designation (West Fork Clearwater) was not recommended in the management plan to be Wilderness, it was allocated to be managed to optimize recovery of the Grizzly Bear.

One might argue that the 1986 forest plan is outdated, and recent local efforts should be given greater consideration.  However, those efforts have not been through any formal public process, so I commend the Forest Service for using its forest plan.  I’m not sure whether NFMA’s consistency requirement applies to taking positions on legislation, but it is probably the right place to start.  The proposal is also interesting in its legislative designation of two “recreation areas,” taking these decisions out of the forest planning process.

The Lolo is scheduled to begin its forest plan revision process in 2023, and the Forest Service is also concerned about the interaction between the revision process and this legislation.  It sounds like mostly a budgetary concern:

Our primary concerns pertain to Title II. Section 203 which would require the Forest Service to prepare a National Environmental Policy Act analysis for any collaboratively developed proposal to improve motorized and non-motorized recreational trail opportunities within the Ranger District within three years of receipt of the proposal… If passed in its current form, this bill could require recreation use allocation planning for site-specific portions of the Seeley Lake Ranger District ahead of the broader plan revision process, which would forestall the Lolo’s ability to broadly inform land use allocations across the forest through the plan revision process… If enacted, the explicit timeframes currently contained in the bill could result in prioritizing the analysis of a collaboratively developed proposal to expand the trail system over other emergent work.

But they might also be suggesting that the site-specific recreation planning would benefit from waiting until the forest plan is revised.  (Or maybe they just don’t like deadlines.)

Utah vs. Nevada

In a discussion of “privatization,” Brian Hawthorne suggested here that, “It might be worthwhile discussing our perceived distinctions between what Utah’s HB 148 contemplates vs the “small tract sales” made pursuant to the SNPLMA.” That would require some knowledge of what both of these things are.

This summary of Utah’s H.B. 148 is from a review by an attorney from the conservative Federalist Society.

Recent legislation passed in the State of Utah has demanded that the federal government extinguish title to certain public lands that the federal government currently holds. The State of Utah claims that the federal government made promises to it (at statehood when the federal government obtained the lands) that the federal ownership would be of limited duration and that the bulk of those lands would be timely disposed of by the federal government into private ownership or otherwise returned to the State.

On March 23, 2012, Governor Gary Herbert of the State of Utah signed into Utah law the “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” (“TPLA”) also commonly referred to House Bill 148 (“H.B. 148”). This legislation demands that the federal government “extinguish” its title to an estimated more than 20 million (or by some reports even more than 30 million ) acres of federal public lands in the State of Utah by December 31, 2014. It also calls for the transfer of such acreage to the State and establishes procedures for the development of a management regime for this increased state portfolio of land holdings resulting from the transfer.

This is from the Southern Utah Wilderness Association, described by another poster here as “unwilling … to compromise with any other interest group.”

HB 148 requires, among other things, the federal government to transfer title of federal public lands in Utah to the state before January 1, 2015.  These public lands include lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.

  • They include, among others, sensitive sites such as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and all national wildlife refuges in the state.
  • This would also include the overwhelming majority of remarkable red rock lands surrounding Moab, the San Rafael Swell, and Grand Gulch.
  • The Legislature has indicated that some of these lands would be sold outright to the highest bidder while others would be kept in state ownership but opened to oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle use and extractive industries.
  • The bill does not require the transfer of national parks, wilderness areas, or certain national monuments and national historic sites.

Here is a summary of the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (from this OIG Report).

Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, is landlocked by federal lands. Over the past decade, the population has increased by more than 60,000 people per year. To accommodate this rapid growth and expedite the disposal of federal land, Congress enacted SNPLMA in 1998 (Public Law 105-263, 31 USC 6901). SNPLMA allows BLM to sell federal land (about 27,000 acres) primarily through public auctions, establish a special U.S. Treasury interest-bearing account, and use the resulting receipts for educational and environmental purposes and capital improvements. In addition, SNPLMA directed BLM to transfer ownership of about 5,200 acres of land in the McCarran Airport Cooperative Management Area (CMA) to Clark County to help the County enforce regulations concerning airport noise within the CMA. BLM is entitled to 85 percent of any receipts from the sale, lease, or other conveyance of CMA lands.

I’m afraid I don’t see much similarity. The justifications are at opposite ends of the scale from a localized problem to a disagreement about overall management policies. The difference in the affected area is huge.  There are benefits returning to the American public from the Las Vegas land sale proceeds.  Perhaps it’s a slippery slope (next Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Missoula …?), but H.B. 148 represents the bottom of that slope.

Idaho county votes down wilderness


Voters rejected the proposal for the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, 5,672 to 4,831.  As a result, Senator Risch will not reintroduce his legislation to designate the area, and wilderness legislation has no chance of passing without local Congressional support.  So to a limited degree we have local control of a national forest, but as the article points out, management under the forest plan, which recommends the area as wilderness, won’t change.  (The article suggests that Congress couldn’t change the forest plan; of course it could, but I don’t think there is a precedent for it.)

The unfortunate thing is that the voters seem to have been misinformed (which is something I would hope a congressman would take into account).

“The philosophy with wilderness areas is let it burn,” said Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald.

And, perhaps most importantly, (Forest Service spokesperson) Cooper said Forest Service personnel can and do manage forest fires in both recommended and designated wilderness areas. “We still do manage wildfire,” she said.  In 2017, the Forest Service sent smokejumpers into the Salmo-Priest Wilderness area to fight a forest fire.

My own interpretation is that suppression response depends on the values at risk, and wilderness area values, aren’t lost when they burn (in fact probably the opposite) – like other areas managed primarily for conservation or recreation, which is how this area is being managed now. 

Voting for/against Wilderness

Seriously.  Bonner County, Idaho is holding an advisory vote on whether its residents want the Scotchman Peaks area to be designated as Wilderness.  Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has indicated he will follow the advisory vote result.

One one hand, this is a good way to get information about policy preferences that opinion polls and candidate elections may not.  But really, how much weight should one county’s vote carry in making decisions about national forests?

Here’s a detailed fact-check developed to help voters.  Importantly, this area has been recommended for Wilderness in the Idaho Panhandle and Kootenai revised forest plans.  Watch for the results of the referendum on the May 15 primary ballot.

Wyoming Public Lands Initiative and the Bridger-Teton National Forest

“In early 2016 the Wyoming County Commissioners Association (WCCA) organized the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative (WPLI).  The WPLI is a collaborative, county-led process intended to designate WSAs as wilderness, multiple use, or other management.  The result will be one state-wide legislative lands package that is broadly supported by public lands stakeholders in Wyoming.”

It always makes me a little nervous when a local “collaborative” (or local government) feels empowered to dictate federal land policies (especially where, as in this case, there is a county plan that purports to “guide … the management of public lands” – implicitly federal lands).  On the other hand, it’s always helpful to land managers if those with opposing views can work out and recommend something they all agree on.   With wilderness designation decisions there is the added layer of Congress having to take a national look before approving a decision.  In this case there are also national conservation groups represented in the collaborative, as well as local ones.  But there is also a lawsuit by other conservation groups, and apparently someone on the other side ran to the local Congresswoman who is meddling, so the county commissioners are asking for a “time-out.”  Here’s the latest.

Giant Sequoia National Monument

With the general public becoming enraged about Giant Sequoia logging scenarios, here is a picture of some Bigtrees in what used to be the Sequoia National Forest. Chances are, the review will recommend keeping all groves within the Monument, adding some buffer zones and connectivity, then returning a large portion, including logging roads, skid trails, plantations and stumps, back to the National Forest.

The ‘Trumpspiracies’ abound on the Sierra Club’s Facebook fundraising content comments. They make up these elaborate and unlikely situations where the “logging companies” would come in and make wild profits off of cutting Giant Sequoias. Some think that they would be cut to burn for power. More were sure that oil wells and mining would happen once the trees were gone. One insisted that the wood could be exported, milled and made into tables, “destined for the Arabian Peninsula”. Many are comparing this National Monument review to the destruction of historical sites by radical Islam. If you’re going to oppose actual Trump era actions, maybe, just maybe, one should actually use facts?

With Sequoias being a rather sensitive issue, what shall we do, when very soon we will need to thin some of these Giant Sequoia plantations, scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada? Here’s a sample of one on the Eldorado.

Advice for the Tongass young-growth plan amendment

Though some doubted it could be done, the group of industry leaders, scientists, conservationists and government representatives has reached a consensus: the Tongass Advisory Committee has submitted its draft recommendations for managing timber harvests in the national forest that covers much of Southeast Alaska.

There are lots of interesting ideas here; maybe some becoming relevant beyond Alaska as the Forest Service gets out of the old-growth business everywhere.  Here’s one that surprised me:

It asks for changes in leadership, with more power given to regional foresters.  “This runs counter to the current culture in which District Rangers, in order to be safe and not take any risk, simply layer on Interdisciplinary Team suggestions for protection, without paying attention to redundancies,” the draft reads, “lead(ing) to a collision of restrictions that result in low volume and non-economic projects … or extinguishes projects altogether.”

It’s also counter the culture of decentralization.  It seems to be a proposal to take more risks, which I would expect to lead to more litigation.  On the other hand, I got the impression over the years that those at higher levels understood the risks better and were less likely to take them.  But then they are closer to the politicians, too.  (Maybe there’s some other perceptions out there.)

Rocky Barker on Crapo’s Collaborative

From the Idaho Statesman, here is a link, and below is a quote.


Despite that, the Wilderness Society, an organization established to protect wilderness and wild values, has spent eight years at the table working on an agenda to restore the forests, wildlife, rivers and rural economy of the region. Working under the guidance of Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, this collaborative has helped the U.S. Forest Service rebuild its ability to actively manage its resources, including selling timber.

One project sponsored by the collaborative in the Selway and Middle Fork of the Clearwater River watersheds has attracted $16 million of federal and matching funding, created and maintained more than 650 direct and indirect jobs and generated $19 million in payroll. It has led to the treatment of 61,000 acres of forest and the harvest of 40 million board feet.

It wasn’t long ago when zero timber was sold on the Clearwater and Nez Perce Forests. This year, 60 million board feet of timber, enough to build 6,000 homes, will be sold from the forest. Even conservationists believe that 100 million board feet can be cut from the roaded areas as a part of a restoration program.

That seems pretty good – except when compared to the past. The Clearwater Forest alone cut more than twice that annually in the 1980s. For residents of towns such as Orofino and Kooskia, it’s hard to accept that won’t happen again, especially as they watch fires burn large swaths of the backcountry.

The collaborative is possible because the parties aren’t fighting over timber harvest in roadless lands. Fire is the agent of change on the backcountry, but would be intolerable in much of the front country.

For conservationists, the five-year project has meant removal of 66 miles of sediment-bleeding roads and rehabilitation of 63 miles of streams. The project has improved 16,000 acres of wildlife habitat.


The success of the collaboration has given the Forest Service a new strategy for success. Today collaboratives are working in Montana and Oregon, among other places. The Forest Service has shortened the time it takes to complete environmental reviews. In Region 1, which includes Idaho, the agency has won 18 of the 22 lawsuits that other environmental groups have filed in recent years to stop the logging.

All of this success means the collaborative will continue, regardless of whether its diverse members can put together a wilderness bill. But all sides – conservationists, local officials and timber companies – want more.

Crapo’s defining achievement is the Owyhee Public Land Management Act, a locally written compromise between ranchers, county officials and environmentalists that created six new Idaho wilderness areas in the South Idaho desert.

Without a comprehensive bill like Crapo’s, the commitment and funding necessary for the full-scale restoration that both sides want for the Clearwater is unlikely.

Local officials such as Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt are pushing reforms to the Forest Service’s environmental-review process that will reduce the costs and barriers to the projects so they can generate more money for the region.

His goal is a “robust timber sale program that is consistent and sustainable.”


The devils are in the details, but these efforts come as similar reforms are being studied nationwide. Whatever happens, it will take buy-in from groups such as the Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy to get them through Congress and signed by the president. Brandt’s panel of local officials and timber companies presented their ideas last week to the entire collaborative group, and they are all still talking.

For the Wilderness Society and others, there won’t be a bill without wilderness. They point to the jobs they have helped create as proof they have earned the trust of the collaborative. They want it to get behind designating wildernesss in the Great Burn near the Montana border north of Lolo Pass and other areas.

In the past, Brandt, who has expressed support for state takeover of federal lands, has been unwilling to say he could support wilderness as a part of the package. But last week he told me he’d changed his thinking.

“We have agreed to say yes to their wilderness and wild and scenic rivers if they agree to substantial changes to the Forest Service process,” Brandt said.

That shows the progress this collaborative has made.

Collaboration on plans vs projects

Some observations about the recently revised Kootenai forest plan.

Robyn King, president of the stakeholders’ group, said her organization hasn’t taken a stand on the broader forest plan, although they did publicly support the East Reservoir Project that could result in several small-to-medium timber sales in Lincoln County this year.

“As you can imagine, due to the diversity of our group, there are quite a few opinions about the new forest plan!  The coalition did not work together on a joint response to the forest plan,” King said.

Peck points to the stakeholders’ group as an example of how forest management should take place. “The best solutions come from the closest spot to the impact. Who better to make the decisions than a diverse group of people living here, in and around the forest?”

That involvement will continue, promised King. “What we are looking forward to is our continued involvement at the project level collaborating with each other and with the United States Forest Service to find common ground agreements on vegetative management for the forest,” she said.

Despite the hype associated with the 2012 planning rule’s foray into collaboration, I think this is a more realistic approach.  The broader, regional and national interests that are hard to collaborate with are more relevant to overall strategic planning for national forests than to specific projects.  In addition, the track record so far for collaboration for forest plan revisions is not encouraging.  I would be more inclined to agree with Peck’s statement if he is talking about a project that is being developed consistent with a forest plan that reflects broader interests.