Request to get deadline extended due to COVID-19 falls on deaf ears
Moscow- Despite the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation, conservation groups from around the region were forced to meet the Forest Service deadline for public comments on the revised draft forest plan on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests in North-Central Idaho.
Efforts to extend the deadline so that families and individuals could deal with the hardships and challenges associated with the pandemic were denied by the Forest Service, forcing concerned citizens and conservationists to spend precious time and energy on the highly controversial plan that establishes forest management direction over the next few decades.
Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and a coalition of fifteen groups and individuals submitted extensive commentsdetailing their concerns over the draft plan. Together, the groups helped generate thousands of letters to the agency.
A forest plan is a legally binding contract with the public that the Forest Service must adhere to in in managing federal lands and affects a range of crucial issues including climate change mitigation, water quality, old growth, and fish and wildlife habitat. Current forest plans for the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests contain clear standards and benchmarks that the Forest Service must meet. The proposed plan lacks such accountability.
“The current forest plans, while not perfect, do a fairly good job of protecting sensitive soils, water quality, wildlife habitat and old growth due to the science-driven standards that the agency must meet before logging in a watershed any further,” said Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater. “The draft plan is a swift departure from that, and instead, is potentially being replaced by subjective decision making. It is very long on logging and way short on accountability.”
Currently, the Forest Service sells 50 to 60-million board feet annually from these forests combined. Taking a giant step backwards to the days of massive logging and clearcuts that ravaged these forests, particularly in old growth, the revision, calls for an exponential increase in logging and associated road building, with annual levels exceeding 200-million board feet in some draft plan alternatives.
“The agency wants to return to the glory days of building roads and logging wherever it wants to, including the clearcutting of thousands of acres of old growth, despite the severe impacts to rare species,” said Brett Haverstick, Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater. “We have wild steelhead on the brink of extinction, and grizzlies starting to appear in the Basin for the first time in decades, and this plan would severely hinder the ability of these species to ever recover.”
The new plan will also dictate how the 1.5-million acres of roadless wildlands on the forests will be managed and where and when motorized and mechanized recreation is permitted. Current guidance from the Forest Service’s regional office recommends that forest plans specifically exclude motorized and mechanized recreation in areas recommended for wilderness. The new plan may reverse that.
“Over 11,800 of WildEarth Guardians’ members and supporters signed a petition urging the Forest Service to improve protections for fish and wildlife habitat, recommend all Inventoried Roadless Areas for wilderness, and expand protections from snowmobiles and other machines,” said Adam Rissien, ReWilding Advocate with Guardians. “Roads and motorized use harms fish and wildlife, so the best way to ensure grizzly bears, mountain goats, wolverines, salmon and others have secure habitat is to increase protections, not decrease them as the Forest Service is proposing.