Comments accepted until June 11
by Samantha White
A public meeting was held Tuesday, March 18, at the Harney County Community Center to discuss the United States Forest Service (USFS) Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision.
Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision
The Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision will impact the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests (which are collectively referred to as the Blue Mountains National Forests).
Steve Beverlin, acting forest supervisor on the Malheur National Forest, explained that the National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires forest plans to be revised at least every 10 to 15 years, but plans for the Blue Mountains National Forests haven’t been revised since 1990.
“In essence, these plans are old,” Beverlin said. “A lot of things have changed.”
Beverlin explained that economic, social and ecological conditions have changed; new laws, regulations and policies are in place; new information that is based on monitoring and scientific research is available; and amendments have been completed to incorporate the best-available science.
He added that the three primary goals of the proposed revision are to promote ecological integrity, economic well-being, and social well-being.
“The balance of those three things is what our decision should try to achieve,” Beverlin said.
Examples of desired conditions for ecological integrity include maintaining healthy forests, water and soil quality, species diversity, wildland fires, and plant species composition.
Examples of desired conditions for economic well-being include providing access to forest products, livestock grazing, recreation, and mineral and geological resources.
Examples of desired conditions for social well-being include maintaining a sense and value of place, culturally-important areas, recreational opportunities, scenic qualities and wildlife values.
Beverlin explained that forest plans do not make site-specific or project-level decisions; open or close roads or trails; or designate wilderness. Instead, they provide broad-based, strategic direction for these more specific decisions, which are made after detailed analysis and additional public engagement is completed. Forest plans also protect and honor Native American Tribal Treaty Rights.
The revision process
Numerous public meetings, as well as meetings with local, state, and federal agencies and tribes, have been held since 2004 to discuss the proposed revision.
Public scoping began in March 2010, and the USFS used comments gathered during this time to develop the Proposed Revised Land Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RLMP/DEIS).
Beverlin explained that the RLMP/DEIS offers alternatives, which range from A to F.
• Alternative A is the same forest plan that is currently in place.
• Alternative B encompasses the proposed action that was sent out for public scoping in 2010.
• Alternative C proposes the greatest amount of wilderness and least amount of public access.
• Alternative D was developed to address some of the counties’ concerns.
• Alternative E is the USFS’ preferred plan, and it doubles the outputs that are currently in place.
• Alternative F is similar to Alternative E, but F proposes a lower level of outputs than E.
Beverlin explained that the output levels refer to the Allowable Sale Quantity (ASQ) for timber harvest.
The RLMP/DEIS was released to the public on March 14, marking the beginning of the 90-day, public-comment period.
Public meetings (such as the one held in Burns March 18) are currently being conducted to introduce the RLMP/DEIS, solicit public comment, and offer an opportunity for people to ask questions.
Judge Grasty offers his comments
During the March 18 meeting, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty shared his comments concerning the RLMP/DEIS.
In a written synopsis of his comments, Grasty explained that Harney County has been a cooperating agency in the development of this revision for the last 10 years.
“We have attempted to be a proactive participant and provided much input,” Grasty wrote. “That effort does not mean we agree with this final product. Simply stated, in my opinion, the Proposed Revised Land Management Plan does not work for this community. I see little, if any, opportunity for social or economic stability in this plan for Harney County.”
Grasty added that, with an ASQ of only 55 million board feet, he saw a conflict with the commitment made for the 10-year stewardship contract to provide 75 million board feet of saw logs each year.
“There are those out there who believe 55 million is the cap. I hope it’s the floor,” Grasty said.
He added that the economic and social needs of the people and communities were not adequately reflected in the proposed plan.
Some of Grasty’s other concerns addressed:
• the proposed plan’s lack of attention to hunting and fishing;
• campsite closures on the Malheur National Forest;
• the proposed plan’s failure to mention logging and timber work as a goal for promoting social well-being;
• management of county roads that predate the USFS;
• whether decisions will be made based on budgetary restrictions;
• miscalculations concerning the county’s Wildland-Urban Interface acreage;
• the proposed plan’s failure to address the social and economic impacts of forestry decisions that were made prior to the 1990s.
Grasty suggested that Dr. Jerry F. Franklin and Dr. K. Norman Johnson’s recommendations concerning dry-side restoration of Eastern Oregon forests be included in the proposed plan.
“It’s good science, and it’s backed with years and years of experience,” Grasty said.
He concluded by stating that, because he was unable to confer with the court prior to the meeting, his comments do not reflect the court as a whole.
Beverlin thanked Grasty for his comments and complimented his ability to represent the people of Harney County.
A member of the audience asked whether the RLMP/DEIS will address noxious weed management. And there was an additional question concerning whether the proposed plan will discuss which chemicals can be used to treat weeds.
Beverlin said a separate, site-specific EIS is being developed to address the actual treatment of weeds, and this EIS will address chemicals use.
Brad Clemens, a private timber contractor, expressed concern about large timber contracts.
“Big contracts feed the rich man and kill the poor man,” he said.
Beverlin said, in an effort to help address this issue, a small sales forester was hired to identify work areas with contractors.
Clemens also expressed frustration concerning the size of materials that are being put into brush piles.
“That’s a total waste in my opinion,” he said.
Beverlin said it costs money to burn these brush piles, and said allowing contractors to extract materials may be a cost-effective solution.
Clemens added that the USFS hires contractors from an itemized list, which takes away from smaller-scale contractors.
Beverlin replied that the USFS can help smaller-scale contractors get into the system by showing them the steps they need to complete in order to qualify. He added that the USFS can notify contractors when contracts go out, and prioritize benefit to the local community over price when awarding bids.
Beverlin encouraged the public to submit comments regarding the RLMP/DEIS stating, “We need help. You guys live in and are tied to the land. You have more of an intuitive understanding of this land.”
In addition to accepting written comments, members of the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision Team were available during the meeting to type and electronically-submit verbal comments.
Comments concerning the RLMP/DEIS will be accepted until June 11.
They can be submitted electronically at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/BlueMountainForestPlanRevisionComments, or mailed to: Blue Mountains Plan Revision Team, P.O. Box 907, Baker City, OR 97814. For assistance, call 541-523-1246 or 541-523-1302.
An electronic copy of the RLMP/DEIS can be found online at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wallowa-whitman/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprdb5247447.
Printed copies will be available at the local library and USFS office, and the document is also available on CD.
Making a decision
After June 11, the comments will be reviewed, analyzed and considered toward the finalization of the RLMP/DEIS.
The final plan/EIS will be available in the summer of 2015, which is when the objection process begins.
Anyone wishing to obtain standing to object, must submit a comment with their name and contact information during the public comment period.
Resolution of objections will take place in the fall of 2015, before Records of Decision are signed.