An informal public comment period just ended regarding the development of alternatives for the new forest plan on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in north central Idaho. The plan will provide management direction for these forests over the next 10-30 years.
A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the revision is expected in December, in which there will be another opportunity for public involvement. The recent comment period was an opportunity for citizens to shape those alternatives.
It’s unfortunate that Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert was unwilling to schedule a public meeting in Spokane, despite the fact that many people from Eastern Washington visit these forests, particularly the North Fork Clearwater.
The Forest Plan DEIS will contain a range of alternatives for the public to consider, including the acreage of recommended wilderness for these two forests, how much road building and logging will occur and where, and whether the new plan will contain measurable and enforceable standards for soils, sediment levels, old growth and fish and wildlife habitat. Since the forest plan is a contract with the public, it is critical for it to contain a high level of accountability.
The Forest Service indicated in its initial proposed action (2014) that it wants to increase logging on these forests from current annual levels of 40-50 million board feet to 150 million board feet! In order to triple the cut, the new forest plan would not contain any of the measurable and enforceable standards mentioned above, and instead would allow the development of some of the best fish and wildlife habitat in the Lower 48.
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, herds of elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep also live here. These forests are considered a recovery area for grizzly bears. All of these species, and their habitat, would be threatened by the agency’s proposed forest plan. The Forest Service should help these populations persist on both forests by protecting their diverse habitat types. Unfortunately, the agency has indicated it intends to do just the opposite.
A paltry 20 percent of the 1.5 million acres of roadless wildlands on the forests was recommended for wilderness in the early draft forest plan (2014), with the rest being threatened with development, including increased off-road vehicle abuse. Places like the Kelly Creek Roadless Area could receive some protection but be fragmented by snowmobiles. Portions of the beloved Mallard-Larkins Roadless Area could be vulnerable to development. The Weitas Creek Roadless Area, the heart of Wild Clearwater Country, may receive no protection at all, despite being the biggest roadless area in the entire basin.
If there is a favorite place that you go hunting or fishing, you should feel uneasy about the direction these forests are heading. If there is a special place that your family visits every year to go camping and hiking, you should be concerned at the potential for greater development and increased off-road vehicle abuse. If you feel that our national forests should be managed as reservoirs of biodiversity and clean drinking water, instead of managed as tree farms, you should be alarmed.
Contact the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Planning Team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them to schedule a public meeting in Spokane for citizens to learn more about this important process. Forest Supervisor Probert should not be able to shortchange the public, and our democracy, in an effort to hand control of our public wildlands and watersheds to the timber industry.
Brett Haverstick is the education and outreach director with Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group based in Moscow, Idaho.