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Group calls for comment period extension for Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests revision amidst COVID-19 outbreak

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 26, 2020

Moscow – Today, Friends of the Clearwater issued a letter to the Forest Service requesting a 60-day extension for the public comment period of the forest plan revision on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests, which is set to expire April 20, 2020, and also requested a pause on current project comment periods. The revision, which seeks to combine two existing forest plans into a new single plan, is over 2,000 pages long, and requires a significant amount of time to analyze and prepare comments. The nationwide pandemic currently sweeping across the United States and putting millions of Americans out of work greatly hampers the ability of citizens to participate in the forest revision public involvement process.

Despite President Trump’s executive order declaring a state of national emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, officials with the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests have not offered to put a hold on the comment period clock during this crisis. “We are asking the Forest Service to extend the public comment period for the forest plan revision due to the extraordinary circumstances currently facing millions of Americans, said Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director for Friends of the Clearwater. “Citizens are rightfully focusing on their families and loved ones right now, not government proposals and public comment deadlines.”

Since the release of the forest plan revision on the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests, there have been many new timber sales and burning projects proposed on these forests in conjunction with the current forest revision comment period. “The Forest Service has released nine additional comment periods for projects on these forests that have overlapped partially or entirely with the revision comment period of December 20, 2019 – April 20, 2020,” said Katie Bilodeau, Staff Attorney for Friends of the Clearwater. “All of these proposals require time-consuming analysis, making it difficult for the public to participate in how the Forest Service is managing their forests, and this was before COVID-19 started imposing profound hardship and significant disruptions to daily life.” Since President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, the Forest Service has released comment periods for two different projects on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

Friends of the Clearwater, in conjunction with other conservation organizations, had been giving forest revision presentations around the state of Idaho and elsewhere, until the virus breakout started causing many venues to close. “ Understandably, we had to cancel multiple forest revision presentations around the region due to the closure of facilities and public safety precautions,” said Brett Haverstick, Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater. “This is an excellent opportunity for the Forest Service to consider the public’s welfare and extend the revision comment period an additional 60-days.” 

FOC extension request_March 2020