The Forest Service is currently seeking public comments regarding the development of alternatives for the Forest Plan Revision on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in North Central Idaho. The deadline is February 28. The new forest plan will guide management direction over the next 10 - 30 years. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the revision is expected December 2018. The DEIS will contain a range of alternatives for the public to consider – recommendations for wilderness, standards for fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, road densities, logging levels and more. The current public comment period is to provide citizens an opportunity to shape those alternatives.
If you don’t understand forest planning, or if you were unaware of this important deadline, it is not your fault. Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Supervisor Cheryl Probert has failed to adequately engage the public on this complicated process. The agency has not scheduled forest revision meetings at a time convenient for the majority of the public to attend (collaborative workshops scheduled during the workday do not suffice), and the on-line story maps have had mixed results. These public engagement tools should not take the place of public meetings scheduled after work in the evening, in various geographical locations.
The Forest Service has indicated in their initial proposed action that they want to increase logging on these forests from current annual levels of 40 - 50 million board feet to 150 million board feet. In order to achieve these unsustainable levels, the new forest plan would do away with measurable and enforceable standards for water quality and sediment levels, old growth and wildlife habitat, riparian areas and fish habitat. A paltry 20% of the 1.5 million acres of roadless wildlands on the forests could be recommended for wilderness, and the rest threatened with development, including increased off-road vehicle abuse. Special places like the Kelly Creek Roadless Area could receive some protection, but possibly end up fragmented by snowmobiles. Portions of the spectacular Meadow Creek Roadless Area could be subjected to off-road vehicle abuse. The Weitas Creek Roadless Area, the heart of Wild Clearwater Country, might not receive any protection, and be susceptible to development.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests have tremendous biodiversity, and offer crucial habitat for threatened bull trout, Chinook salmon and steelhead populations. Canada lynx, fisher, wolverines, gray wolves, mountain goats, harlequin ducks, and herds of elk, mule deer and big horn sheep also live here. These forests are also considered a recovery area for grizzly bears. All of these species, and their habitat, would be threatened by the proposed action. The Forest Service can help these populations persist on both forests by including a robust list of Species of Conservation Concern, and protecting diverse habitat types, in the new forest plan. Unfortunately, the agency seems bent on moving in the opposite direction.
Now is the time to tell the Forest Service about a roadless area or river corridor that you want recommended for protection. Now is the time to tell the agency that the Forest Plan must protect sensitive soils, riparian areas, water quality and fish habitat from excessive road building and logging. Take this opportunity to tell the Forest Planning Team about your concern over off-road vehicle abuse in backcountry areas containing important wildlife habitat.
The Forest Plan is a contract with the public, and your voice is critical in shaping its directives. The public comment deadline for the development of alternatives for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest Revision is February 28. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Spread the word - the future of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is at stake.
Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director of Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group based in Moscow, Idaho.