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Agency invites input on proposal

Dennis Webb

A proposal to streamline the forest planning process should have little immediate impact on the White River National Forest because it recently completed its forest plan, its acting supervisor said Monday.However, Don Carroll said he welcomes the proposal, which he said would enable the Forest Service to put less money into planning and more into projects, and monitoring of those projects.”I’d much prefer that over putting millions of dollars into planning that takes several years,” he said.A local environmentalist joined the chorus of conservationists who say the Bush administration proposal will mean less protection of forests, and less citizen involvement in managing those lands.”They’re basically trying to cut the public out of the process,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, which is based in the Roaring Fork Valley.Randy Parsons, president of the White River Forest Alliance, which advocates for motorized uses, said he hasn’t had a chance to take a close look at the proposed changes. But he added, “I did think that the system in place was cumbersome. It could definitely use some streamlining.”Under the proposal, a forest no longer would have to conduct an environmental impact statement as part of its forest plan.”There’s no compunction in the Forest Service to understand the effects of the management actions,” Shoemaker said.Carroll said more follow-up monitoring of forest impacts would occur under the new rules.He said critics fear that things such as wildlife, fisheries and water quality would suffer under the proposal. But laws such as the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act remain in effect, and the Forest Service would continue to consult with agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said.”I don’t see this change causing the harm that some folks are fearing,” he said.Shoemaker said several aspects of the rule change are “glaring.” He said it would eliminate the directive that the Forest Service seek to maintain viable populations of species on the forest, which he called a “first line of defense” against letting them get on the Endangered Species List and prompting an expensive recovery process.He said the rule change relegates science “to some kind of quaint notion that they’ll pay lip service to.”The rule also would eliminate the process of various forest plan alternatives being proposed, and analysis of the pros and cons of each occurring, he said.But Carroll said he believes the current planning process overly taxes the agency’s resources. The average forest plan generally costs a half a million dollars a year to work on, and takes five to seven years to complete, he said.”There’s no special appropriation for that kind of money from Congress to do these plans,” he said.Instead, the money comes from each forest’s budget.”It cuts into having people in the field and getting work done on the ground,” he said.The White River National Forest Plan went into effect in 2002. Typically such plans cover a 15-year period. Carroll said the White River plan would remain in effect even if the new rule goes into place, and the rule’s impact would be more immediate for forests whose current plans are nearing their end.Shoemaker said he believes the new rule is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. He said the new White River plan took a long time to develop, but partly because of the rudimentary nature of the plan that preceded it.”The first plan, they just kind of did it on the back of a napkin, over lunch,” he said.When it came time to do a new plan, the agency wanted to gain a thorough understanding of the forest and move in a thoughtful direction, he said.”It took a lot of time, it took a lot of involvement,” Shoemaker said.But most people probably agree that the agency created a pretty good plan that laid out the issues at stake for the forest, Shoemaker said. It also provided public buy-in that won’t exist in future plans if the rule change takes effect, he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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