An Idaho national forest that many Montanans consider home ground has restarted its planning process, including the fate of more than 1 million acres of roadless landscape.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest has included a workshop in Missoula on Jan. 18 for public outreach on its forest plan revision. That follows a live webinar on Jan. 9, and a two-day workshop Jan. 10-11 in Orofino.
Nez-Clear Forest Planner Zach Peterson said the fires of 2015 stalled the plan effort for two years.
“In Kamiah we had 50 houses destroyed that year,” Peterson said. “We needed to take a pause and focus on post-fire recovery.”
The planning team had just received more than 14,000 comments after releasing a preliminary version of the plan in July 2014. About four-fifths of those concerned how the forest would handle 34 roadless areas, including the Great Burn/Hoodoo Pass and Mallard/Larkin recommended wilderness areas along the Montana-Idaho border.
About one-third of the Nez-Clear is already federally designated wilderness, Gospel Hump and parts of the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return wildernesses. The 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule analysis identified another 1 million acres that appeared to meet wilderness standards for primitive condition, opportunities for solitude and sufficient parcel size.
“A lot of entry points to those areas are from Montana,” Peterson said. “Many of them are much closer to Missoula than Kamiah or Lewiston. A lot of our river activity is kayakers coming from the Missoula area. For people in the Bitterroot Valley, Missoula Valley and Mineral County, this is kind of their backyard.”
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Other hot topics include the balance of motorized and non-motorized recreation, desired forest vegetation conditions and levels of potential timber sales.
While the official process was halted, forest planners had numerous discussions with local government officials, user groups and other stakeholders about how the plan could be shaped. Forest plans serve like instruction manuals for national forest management. They describe areas of importance or special needs, prioritize uses of specific landscapes, and list the standards and goals Forest Service workers aim for in maintaining the resources there.
The re-started process is titled “Framework for Alternative Development.” Nez-Clear spokeswoman Jennifer Becar said the new version gathers a bunch of possible options for consideration, rather than a single proposal.
“As individuals read the document, they are encouraged to take note of potential variations, modifications, or alternative methods of addressing major concerns, which could then be incorporated into alternatives,” Becar said in an email. “Individuals can bring these ideas and suggestions to collaborative engagements.”
That’s different from how other national forests have completed their forest plans. The Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle national forests both finished theirs before the 2012 planning rule kicked off a Forest Service-wide revision of local plans. The Flathead National Forest just released a draft record of decision on its plan, which started a 60-day objection period on Dec. 14. Its final plan could be approved around May or June 2018.
The Helena-Lewis and Clark and Custer-Gallatin national forests should be sending their revised plans out for public comment in early 2018. Meanwhile, the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests haven’t started their planning process, and may not before 2019.