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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Dec 31, 2002 - Jan 7, 2003

Opinion Column

Proposed planning rule offers needed flexibility for Forest Service

Guest opinion by ED WALDAPFEL

Ed Waldapfel is in charge of public affairs for the Sawtooth National Forest.


We appreciate the opportunity to respond to your Dec. 4 editorial titled "Bush’s fruitcake recipe," which not only misrepresents the Forest Service’s proposed planning rule, but also contains a number of inaccuracies.

I would first like to point out that the national forests in southwest Idaho — the Boise, Payette and Sawtooth — will not be affected by the proposed planning rule. These three Forests will complete the revision of their current Forest Land and Resource Management Plan before the proposed rule is finalized.

Our national forests and grasslands are currently operating under the 1982 planning rule. It’s an outdated rule that does not recognize the tremendous scientific and technological advances made since that time. It also does not recognize the shift in public values that has American’s visiting their public lands in record numbers to hike, camp, fish, canoe, ski and much more. We need a new forest planning rule that allows us to seek more efficient and more productive ways of working with others to make the best decisions for our forest and our communities. We believe the proposed rule will give us that guidance.

Your editorial states "the changes would exempt the U.S. Forest Service from producing environmental impact statements when change are proposed to master plans that govern logging, use of motorized vehicles, recreational activities and ski area expansions." This is not true. Under the proposed rule, the Forest Service will do an environmental analysis for every new or revised plan. This level of environmental analysis is appropriate as forest plans are essentially zoning documents that dictate what activities can be considered on what pieces of land. This level of analysis is exactly what the National Forest Management Act of 1976 directs the forest plans to do. Environmental Impact Statements, Environmental Assessments and the associated funding for them will be reserved for proposed projects, such as fuels treatment, wildlife habitat improvement, timber sales, etc. Doing detailed analysis for a forest plan and then doing it again at the project level is redundant and expensive – and it’s unnecessary.

While the proposed rule allows planning to be categorically excluded from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation, Plans done with a categorical exclusion will still involve the public, will still do analysis work, include a 90-day public comment period on the draft plan, and allow a pre-decisional objection process. The bottom line is that planning is expected to cost about 30 percent less than the 2000 rule. We’d rather use the savings to protect watersheds and keep our trails and campgrounds clean and safe for the American public.

Your editorial further states "the changes would drop the requirement that forest planners consult with a panel of scientists when drafting management plans." The proposed rule clearly requires that planning decisions be based n the best available science. But the 2000 rule relies on just one way of doing that, and Forest Service scientists have told us that in different situations you need to use different ways of getting the best available science. Our proposed rule incorporates that insight, giving us more of the flexibility we need to base our decisions on the best available science.

Some people have said that our proposed rule would weaken protections for wildlife. It is just the opposite. We will continue to protect wildlife, and we are searching for better ways to do that drawing on our experience over the past two decades with the current rule and on the best thinking of our scientists. This issue is so important to us that the proposed rule actually includes two different possible approaches for protecting wildlife. The Forest Service intends to actively engage with the public to get their views on these two approaches and other ways of protecting wildlife in the rule. The Forest Service plans a February workshop to engage in vigorous discussion on this critical topic.

Some of the reactions we are seeing to our proposed planning rule are coming from people who are stuck in the past. Today, the issue is no longer logging vs. wildlife or wildlife vs. jobs. These simplistic tradeoffs simply do not reflect what is happening on the national forests and grasslands, with our focus on sustainability and long-term ecosystem health.

Whether or not people agree with the new proposed planning rule, we sincerely encourage people to personally review the proposal and then provide their comments to the Forest Service. Copies of the proposed rule are available from the headquarters office of the Sawtooth National Forest in Twin Falls. The proposed rule is also available on the internet at www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma The deadline for comments is March 16, 2003. Written comments are to be mailed to: USDA Forest Service Planning Rule, Content Analysis Team, PO box 8359, Missoula, MT 59807. People may also submit their comments electronically to: [email protected]

Again, thank-you for the opportunity to respond to your editorial.

 

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