Forest revision plan brings strong comments
|Heber Williams of the Forest Service spent a lot of time explaining the basics of the management plan.|
On Tuesday evening the Manti-La Sal National Forest administration conducted a meeting for the public to discuss its process in revising an original forest management plan that was put into place in 1986.
Very few people from the county showed up, but the questions about the plan and the comments on it were plentiful.
"We are not starting from scratch on this plan," said Ann King, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service. "We are looking for items in the old plan that have not been working correctly or need to be revised. Things have changed a great deal in the 17 years since the original plan was put in place."
Six members of the Manti-La Sal staff were on hand to describe various aspects of the plan, and to ask for input from the public. This plan is special, not only because it is revising such an old document, but because wrapped within it is also the plans for Wild and Scenic Rivers as well as Wilderness Plans for the forest.
The Forest Service presented a number of charts and documents spelling out their charge and their direction. Ultimately, the Forest Service must make six basic decisions about their forests including the goals and directions the forest service should pursue as they manage the resource, the standards that will be used, the identification of suitable uses of the resource, a monitoring and evaluation strategy, the identification of lands suited and not suited for timber production and finally the recommendation to Congress as to which areas are eligible for Wilderness Designation and which rivers are eligible to be designated in the Wild and Scenic River System.
One of the first questions about the plan came from Lenard Stull, the Carbon County forester.
"What is the land base area of the plan?" he asked. "Does it include the areas set aside by (President Bill) Clinton or does it not?"
After some discussion the Forest Service agreed that all lands within the boundary of the Manti-LaSal National Forest fall under the plan. However, they also noted later in the meeting that designations under the revised plan could change. For instance, some areas that have been designated other than wilderness could move into the wilderness category, and vice versa.
The group also presented the topics that they are proposing be visited in any revision. Those topics included watershed health, recreation, transportation systems, fire and fuels management and ecosytem management.
"These are all very important topics," said Heber Williams of the Forest Service. "Some of these areas of concern have changed dramatically over the years. Take recreation for example. It used to be recreation in the forests was fairly concentrated, campgrounds, recreation areas, and so forth. Now it is more dispersed; the impact is much more wide spread."
He also pointed out that because so much of the recreation has to do with motorized vehicles the recreation topics overlapped with the transportation items.
Probably the hottest topic of the night had to do with the fires and fuels. Bark beetles that are affecting many kinds of pine trees are destroying a lot of stands, and Stull had some questions about how areas that are under consideration for the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation will be treated until Congress decides on their status.
"Well, we will have to protect the forest as to the recommendation," commented Alice Carlton, director of the Manti- La Sal National Forest.
For some in the small audience this meant not cutting out dead trees for fuel management along areas where many have died in the past few years.
"Let's say the value of an area is designated at the scenic value, but while you're protecting the trees they are all killed by the beetle infestation," supposed Stull. "That value would then be lost while they are being protected if the infestation continues and nothing is done about it."
The infestation in eastern and southeastern Utah that is connected with the drought because of the weakness of the trees due to lack of moisture also creates concerns about fire from all quarters.
"From a Carbon County perspective, our greatest fear is a catastrophic fire in places like Fish Creek, Gooseberry Creek, Clear Creek and even Pondtown," pointed out county building and zoning director, Dave Levanger, who was there on behalf of the local government entity. "That could be a devastating blow to the area."
Carlton explained that the focus of the forest service today is no longer on the suppression of fires that have started but by preventing them with fuels management.
Wilderness designation was also another very discussed topic.
"There may be ways other than a wilderness designation to manage some of the more primitive areas of the forest," said David Grey of the Forest Service. "We may need to manage them for use or need. There may be one of a kind area that needs protection or a place that has something special in it. That information is a lot of what we need from the people in this audience and those that use the land. We need your comments to come up with a good plan."
The forest service provided comment forms on the general plan, as well as both the Wild and Scenic Rivers Plan and Wilderness Plan. They also listed comments on a board so the audience could review them during the discussion period that followed the presentations. Some of the comments included specifics, while others were general in nature. They included some of the following topics.
Management of infestation problems.
Fire regimen and what should be the changes in how it is handled.
What does a "healthy forest" really mean?
Concerns with the watershed view versus the wilderness study designation.
Concerns over the status of management decisions in wilderness areas if there is a catastrophic fire.
Concerns about increase and unregulated OHV/ATV use in the forest.
Need to settle valid existing rights of way.
Prefer to use the terms range management, timber management and watershed management as opposed to ecomanagement.
Opposed to interim wilderness management if found suitable because this is de facto wilderness.
Ask that any wilderness proposals be drawn at least three miles from any road as per the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum for primitive use.
Would like to improve the Upper Fish Creek Road to reduce soil erosion.
Local officials said they were disappointed in how few people showed up to voice their opinions, particularly on the topic of recreation and watersheds.
However there is still a chance for residents to attend meetings on the plan as well as provide comments to the forest service. Two particular meetings, similar to the one held Tuesday, are being held somewhat close to Carbon County. The first is at 7 p.m. on Thursday (tonight) in Emery County at the Museum of the San Rafael in Castle Dale. The other close to home meeting will be in Utah County on May 25 at the Provo Marriott Hotel.
The comments for the general plan should be turned into the forest service by June 1, while any remarks about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Plan and the Wilderness Plan are due by July 15.