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Forest Planning on the Uintas: Simply Vital!

(Editor's note: This important discussion on forest planning usurps our regularly featured series focusing on roadless landscapes of the High Uintas. THE WILD UINTAS will return in the next issue of The Lynx.)

There will be no issue more important than forest planning (see HUPC Newsletter Oct. 1997). It is that simple.

While that simplicity sends shivers down our backs, at the same time it offers great hope. Many in the environmental community and within the Forest Service harbor incredible cynicism and even skepticism about forest planning. We've all been through this at least once; some of us are so old that we've been through this twice, going way back to the old multiple use unit plans! Forest planning has always been important, but it has primarily allowed archaic visions to be held in place-- the reason for the skepticism by some, the cynicism by others and the Cheshire grin by those traditional- multiple- use sustained- yielders both within and outside of the Forest Service. (Multiple use and sustained yield served up a crucial plate full of ideas in its day, but almost everybody realizes that, while those five words may stay the same, the context and meaning have evolved in a rather stormy fashion to encompass a deeper philosophical and ecological story.)

The importance becomes obvious-- this round of forest planning must break the cycle. It has gotten off to a rocky start. Congress has been typically vindictive with direction and funds. A Committee of Scientists has been utilized to help build new forest planning regulations and that Committee has more or less plodded along with the chairperson recently resigning then un-resigning. And many within the Forest Service feel planning is just another burden, another requirement, another way tospend money that could be used to get people into district ranger offices where the on- ground work needs to be done.

And, of course, planning itself is mired deep in conflict. Direction from Congress, the Committee of Scientists, the Chief's Office and the Regional Forester's Office at one time or another typify the very meaning of the phrase, contradiction of terms. All of this has postponed forest plan revisions which were supposed to be started five years ago. We even went through lengthy public involvement processes of building a Bridge to Revision which has now been junked. So now the Forest Service is up against the proverbial wall-- many forest plans by law must be revised to incorporate new data, new directions, new ideas. Yet the whole process, as important as it is, is mired in doubt, making it even harder to get a meaningful conversation that will lead to a plan built upon deep and complex ecological and philosophical values.

There are many in the Forest Service who do understand this dilemma. In a recent lengthy meeting with Wasatch National Forest folks we spent hours discussing in some depth the problems, the options and the procedural solutions. Numerous questions exist; every user group-- from environmentalists to timber beasts, motorbikers to cowboys-- wants certainty. Everybody's issues become crucial, every management action needs to be changed, and few people trust any management action that will be postponed and dealt with in the normal project planning process which tiers from the broader management plan. The Forest Service has adopted a need for change model along with a multi-scale assessment. In other words, the forest plan must deal directly with a number of issues by law, including, for example, the roadless inventory, wild and scenic river decisions, timber suitability and harvest levels, while identifying the most pressing management issues that need a changed direction at the planning level. Other important and often controversial issues will tier from this planning direction-- desired future condition-- but will be analyzed and decided in specific watershed/ subwatershed / project level analyses.

Forests committed to this model with a broad understanding of ecological principles, the value oof biodiversity and the clear belief in public conversation (a better concept than public input) will allow the planning process to move forward. Those forests trying to hold on to the old image of forest health, static forest systems, production of animal unit months, board feet, visitor days-- resource outputs-- will assure spiraling trouble. The meeting with the Wasatch offered hope.

Lest we walk away, our own environmental community must be able to adopt the same paradigm. Non-native fisheries, non-native wildlife, an ill-founded and dangerous belief that forests are immune to backcountry recreational impacts, a belief that we stand in the middle of a circle of life instead of on it, a belief that wilderness is good only as open space instead of wildness, a belief that forests are primarily for future human generations rather than future wildlife generations is only marginally different than production of timber.

In the near future the Wasatch, the Uinta and the Ashley National Forest will be initiating the first step in the planning process. A voice for a wild Uintas is essential. It is that simple.

Dick Carter


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