The Forest Service is currently seeking public comments regarding the development of alternatives for the Forest Plan Revision on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. The deadline is February 28. If you don’t understand forest planning, or if you were unaware of this important deadline, it is not your fault. Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert has failed to adequately engage the public on this complicated process, and the agency has not hosted a public meeting in Spokane. Many people from Eastern Washington visit the N. Fork Clearwater and other places on both forests, yet, citizens from this region apparently are not as important as those in Missoula, Montana and North Central Idaho, which have had recent public meetings.
The new forest plan will guide management direction over the next 10-30 years. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the revision is expected December 2018. The DEIS will contain a range of alternatives for the public to consider – recommendations for wilderness, recreation, standards for fish/wildlife habitat, logging levels and more. The current public comment period is to provide citizens an opportunity to shape those alternatives. Is there a special place that you hunt or fish that you want the agency to keep off-limits from development? Is there a river corridor you want recommended for protection under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act? Do you want standards in the new forest plan that will protect sensitive soils and water quality? Perhaps, you are concerned with off-road vehicles trampling backcountry wildlife habitat that you feel should, instead, be protected.
The Forest Service has indicated in their initial proposed action that they want to increase logging on these forests from current annual levels of 40 – 50 million board feet to 150 million board feet. In order to achieve these unsustainable levels, the new forest plan would do away with measurable and enforceable standards for water quality and sediment levels, old growth and wildlife habitat, riparian areas and fish habitat. A paltry 20% of the 1.5 million acres of roadless wildands on the forest would be recommended for wilderness, and the rest could be threatened with development, including increased off-road vehicle abuse. Places like Kelly Creek Roadless Area may receive some protection but be fragmented by snowmobiles. Weitas Creek Roadless Area, the heart of Wild Clearwater Country, would receive no protection, and be susceptible to development. Portions of Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area could be vulnerable to development, as well.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests have tremendous biodiversity, and offer crucial habitat for threatened bull trout, Chinook salmon and steelhead populations. Canada lynx, fisher, wolverines, gray wolves, mountain goats, harlequin ducks, herds of elk, mule deer and big horn sheep also live here. These forests are considered a recovery area for grizzly bears. All of these species, and their habitat, would be threatened by the new forest plan. The Forest Service can help these populations persist on both forests by including a robust list of Species of Conservation Concern, and protecting diverse habitat types, in the new forest plan. Unfortunately, the agency has indicated they are moving in a different direction.
The public comment deadline for the development of alternatives for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Revision is February 28. Please consider submitting a public comment! Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also consider contacting your local elected officials, and ask them to request the Forest Service to hold a public meeting in Spokane. The future of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is at stake.
Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director of Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group based in Moscow, Idaho.