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Manti-LaSal Forest considers changing planning strategies

Sun Advocate reporter

Under a planning rule published in January by the United States Forest Service, officials with the Manti-LaSal are exploring the possibility of changing the way management planning occurs.

Representatives from the Manti-LaSal National Forest Service met with the county commissioners on May 4 to present and discuss the way planning would change under the rule.

Under the rule, forest management plans outline desired conditions, including goals, objectives, guidelines, suitable uses, special areas and monitoring.

Under previous rules, the forest planning process generally took five to seven years to revise a 15-year management plan.

Under the new rule, forest plan revisions will take approximately two to three years, with an evaluation of the plan to be completed every five years to ensure it is meeting goals and objectives.

Alice Carlton, Manti-LaSal forest supervisor, explained that the new rule allows forest plans to focus on strategy rather than specifics.

The recently published guideline also emphasizes monitoring and adjustment more than previous planing rules.

"The concept is one of adaptive management," said Carlton.

The Manti-LaSal supervisor explained that the new rule is strategic, meaning that it emphasizes what the forest service wants to achieve rather than tactical, meaning it emphasizes how to accomplish it.

The rule emphasizes reviewing data to determine if the plan is effective.

Carlton indicated that under the old rule, plans often required monitoring of data that was not available.

In some cases, plans called for monitoring that was impossible because there was no known method of gathering the required data.

The new guideline calls for more frequent checks and more input from the various users of forest land.

"The new rule focuses on sitting down together and hearing what everyone has to say," said Carlton.

The recently published rule would require more collaboration.

Another change is that the ule allows for planning decisions to be made by the forest supervisor in most cases, keeping the process at the lowest possible level of management. With the change, local land managers are held accountable for their efforts to achieve goals outlined in the management plan.

National forest personnel will be able to respond to threats and changes in the forest more easily under the new rule.

"There is not a lot we would have to do to go with the new rule," said Carlton, referencing efforts over the last year to revise plans using the old planning rule.

In moving to the new method of planning, each forest in the country will have its own environmental management system. The EMS will be based on internationally accepted standards that have been used in private and public sectors in the U.S. and abroad.

Because the EMS includes separate documents, the plan developed by the Manti-La Sal National Forest does not have to outline specific environmental impacts. The new system would eliminate the need for environmental impact statements at the planning stage.

Under the new rule, plans should also more be able to comply more easily with environmental laws, like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The decision of whether Manti-La Sal National Forest Service will continue planning under the previous rule or move to the new rule now will ultimately be made by Carlton. She explained that even if planning continues for now under the previous rule, the plan will eventually have to be adapted to the new rule.

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