Forest prepares to release draft plan
Manti-LaSal National Forest Service officials announced recently that a new forest service plan is in its final stages as a draft and will be released for public review in June.
Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service provided Carbon County commissioners with a copy of a portion of the draft plan and an update of the process at a commission meeting on May 24.
"I think we have good joint ownership," said Alice King, forest supervisor.
King told commissioners that county and forest service personnel had worked well together to develop a plan that will meet the needs of forest service lands in Carbon County.
Manti-LaSal lands span the western border of Carbon County and extend into Emery, Utah, Sanpete and Sevier counties. the latter two contain the largest portions.
In the update given to commissioners, King provided a draft of the suitable uses and a map showing the areas which would fall into each category.
The draft presented by the forest service takes into account transportation and recreation uses and couples them with water, timber and land resources needs.
The result is that different areas are designated for different uses.
Pondtown Road, a gravel road which runs northwest of Scofield Reservoir, sits in a corridor that is designated as motorized, with a management emphasis.
The type of area is suitable for all types of uses, including use by motorized vehicles, snowmobiles, camping, grazing, placement of utility lines and other uses.
Other areas, such as the corridor for Utah Highway 264 have paved roads.
These types of areas are generally consistent for all uses, but would have conditions on activities such as camping, utility lines, mining and gas operations, and watershed improvements.
A third type of area where motorized travel is allowed is demonstrated at Little Bear Canyon, which has been designated under the draft a+s motorized with a management emphasis.
While motorized travel is permitted in the areas, certain conditional uses would be controlled.
The conditional uses include how roads are designated or modified, harvesting products from the forest and the placement of communications infrastructure. One type of activity that would be inconsistent with this designation is recreation sites with permanent infrastructure.
Areas where motorized travel is generally restricted fall into three other categories: non-motorized with management emphasis, non-motorized with less-intensive management and Dark Canyon wilderness.
King said that the wilderness designation is likely not to be used as a designation in the areas in or around Carbon County. This designation is the most restrictive of the six proposed in the draft. The only activities that are fully allowed in wilderness areas are non-motorized trails, non-motorized winter recreation, maintenance, and wildfires. Conditions are placed on camping, grazing, weed control, prescribed fire and certain special uses. Any type or motorized traffic is considered unacceptable, as are recreation sites with permanent infrastructure, utilities, communications sites, watershed improvements and operations relating to oil, gas and mining.
A similar designation to the wilderness designation is the back country designation. King said that the agency is not expecting to use that designation anywhere in the Manti-LaSal Forest.
Given that neither the wilderness or back country designation is not expected to be used, much of the forest has been placed into one of the two remaining designation categories.
The more restrictive designation, non-motorized with less-intensive management, has been used in the draft plan in areas that are more sensitive watershed areas. This includes areas west of Scofield Reservoir, the primary watershed for much of Carbon County.
Under the draft plan, these areas would be unacceptable sites for permanent or single purpose roads. Temporary roads would be generally inconsistent, but permitted in special circumstances. Mechanized trails would require permits, as would maintenance activities, grazing, forest harvests, special uses, and mineral and coal mining operations. More stringent restrictions would be placed on oil and gas operations, watershed improvements and communications sites.
The final designation, non-motorized with management emphasis, lifts some of those restrictions. Areas presently designated under this category include many ares southeast of Clear Creek and immediately west of the town of Scofield.
These areas would be unacceptable sites for many roads. However, temporary roads and single-purpose roads would be allowed under certain conditions. Motorized trails would be unacceptable, as would recreation sites with permanent infrastructure. Other activities, such as maintenance, vegetative treatments, forest harvests, weed treatments, and operations relating to oil, gas and coal would be permitted with certain restrictions.
King reiterated to commissioners that she is confident that the change to the new plan will allow the forest to be managed more effectively.
Under the old planning structure, the agency made significant changes to its plan approximately every 15 years. The new planning model changes that. Under the new structure, officials will make what are expected to be mostly minor changes every five years. Opportunities to make more drastic changes would be scheduled every 15 years.
King said that the more dramatic revisions should be simpler, since the forest service will have made other adjustments to help correct problems or address specific needs every five years. The 15-year revision process will likely be as minor as the five-year revision, she explained.
The use plan is only one part of the total planning process. Other areas that the plan addresses include desired conditions, objectives, guidelines and plans relating to special areas.
In February, the forest service hosted public meetings in Price, Ephraim and Monticello to hear public comments before preparing the draft.
Once the draft is released, U.S. Forest Service officials will accept comments for 90 days. At that point, the plan will move into its next phase, where the comments will be considered and a final plan will begin to formalize.
King said the agency will again host public meetings, similar to those in February, at various times and places in the state. Once the final plan is released, a 30-day objection period will be released. King said that she expects this to take place sometime this coming winter.
She added that the draft may be delayed due to the need for federal policies to be established. She said that one of the categorical exclusions that the forest service is using is still in draft form and needs to be formalized and released before the draft plan can be released by the forest service.