Inland Northwest national forests updating management plans
The Associated Press
Three Eastern Washington national forests have begun the process of updating their plans -- required every 15 years. Similar efforts are well under way in the Panhandle and Kootenai national forests in Idaho.
Public hearings are scheduled next winter to help determine the key issues that must be addressed in the revisions in a joint effort by the forests.
"Local citizen involvement and public support are critical to the success of the new forest plans," said Margaret Hartzell, coordinator for the joint effort.
The revised plans will reflect public attitudes that have changed since the forests last drew up plans 12 years ago.
A forest plan does not determine exactly what's going to happen on each acre of a forest. Instead, it outlines which types of uses will be emphasized in which areas.
More people are driving snowmobiles, motorcycles and mountain bikes into the woods now than in 1991, and they're going farther.
There was little talk of thinning the trees to reduce the severity of fires in 1991 or of replacing ill-suited species of trees. Commercial logging was more widely accepted, and the list of federally protected species was not quite as long.
Even with changes the Bush administration has proposed to streamline the process, three Eastern Washington forests will be crowding the 15-year deadline when work is finished, Hartzell said.
Logging may be emphasized in some areas, while recreation or wildlife habitat takes priority elsewhere.
The Forest Service may decide there are certain areas where it's safe to let a fire burn.
Mining, grazing, noxious weeds and wildlife are among the other topics that are likely to be addressed in Eastern Washington.
"Since 1987, there has been a lot of forest science that has been produced," causing foresters to look differently at the woods, Panhandle forest spokesman Dave O'Brien said.
Much of that new knowledge stems from the Interior Columbia Basin Management Plan, which led to a host of studies.
After public hearings last year, the Panhandle and Kootenai forests now have determined which issues must be addressed in the joint revision, O'Brien said. More hearings will be held before the work is completed in 2005.
Among the big issues is use of motorized vehicles on forest land.
"There are a lot of people out there who would like to have off-highway vehicle use banned from the national forests," said Tom Crimmins, who opposes such efforts.
Crimmins, a retired Forest Service employee, is lobbying for motorized users on the Panhandle and Kootenai forests. He plans to do the same as the Eastern Washington forests go through their planning process.
The image of motorized users on the Colville National Forest was harmed in 2000 and 2001, when enthusiasts with more than 200 vehicles spent both Memorial Day weekends tearing up a damp meadow.
User clubs since then have tried to curb such activities and promote gentler use of the woods.
Still, conflicts are increasing between motorized and nonmotorized forest users, Kettle Range Conservation Group Director Tim Coleman said.
The forest plan revision is the time to address those conflicts, he said.
Coleman predicts long discussions and disagreements over the future of roadless areas in the Eastern Washington forests.
His group wants the government to designate new wilderness areas. While only Congress can designate wilderness, a forest plan can suggest suitable areas.
Hartzell said the addition of more animals to the Endangered Species list will complicate the revision, because some motorized activities affect the fish and animals.
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