On Jan. 26, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the intended course of action for the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule.
On Jan. 30, the U.S. Forest Service announced the Sierra National Forest will be one of the first forests to revise its land management plans using the new National Forest System Planning Rule, as well as the Inyo and the Sequoia National Forests. Nation-wide, five other National Forests will be among the early adopters.
The USFS developed the Forest Planing Rule which provides a new framework for land management planning to replace outdated 1982 planning procedures with a modern rule.
What does this mean to recreation? The Planning Rule establishes the “rules” under which the each national forest will develop their Land and Resource Management Plans. Commonly referred to as the “Forest Plan”, it is the rule book by which decisions about routes and recreation opportunities are made.
Under the new rule, forest plans will be developed in stages covering approximately three years.
First Year: The Forest will engage in public outreach; conduct briefings with local elected officials, tribal leaders, key organizations and existing collaboratives. Additional public workshops will be held where appropriate. During this time, a “forest-wide assessment” will be conducted to determine on-the-ground conditions.
Second Year: Hold Collaborative Planning workshops and formal National Environmental Policy Act Scoping meetings and develop the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The DEIS will contain the “forest management objectives”.
Third Year: Complete the public comment process as defined under NEPA.
The Forest Planning Rule contains three important elements: collaboration, adaptive management and monitoring. These elements represent a management philosophy shift by the Forest Service in forest planning and management.
Collaboration involves increased participation by “stakeholders” in determining the best methods to accomplish forest objectives.
Adaptive management involves flexibility to change when a need for change is determined.
Monitoring is the key element. Monitoring collects the information that shows a need to change.
Within this framework, the Forest Service is beginning to lay the ground work for a new method of managing the National Forests and grasslands. They have been conducting a series of workshops. Six of those workshops, Sierra Cascade Dialog, have been held with more scheduled.
Sierra-Cascade Dialog - This series of meetings being hosted by the Forest Service is to discuss a range of critical issues that affect the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades and people who live, work and recreate there. These meetings are being used to shape the direction Forest Service will use during the coming round of Forest Plan Revisions.
Dinky Landscape Restoration Project - The DLRP is focused on landscape restoration efforts under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program authorized by the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009. This 154,000 acre portion of the Sierra NF was selected during the first round as a priority forest landscape. The goal of the DLRP is to return the forest to a pine-dominant forest and reduce the number of fir and cedar trees; approximately a 60-40 split (60% pine and 40% combination of fir and cedar).
Recently, recreation was identified as a missing stakeholder in the discussion. Planning for restoration projects will impact several OHV trails used by Central District clubs for events; especially in the Bald Mountain area.
This project is expected to become a component of the Sierra NF Forest Plan Revision.
Forest Plan Revisions - Sierra, Inyo and Sequoia NFs are set to begin their forest plan revisions. Final details and schedules have not been finalized. The Sequoia NF will not begin their plan revision until the final release of the Giant Sequoia National Monument Plan which is expect in the July-August 2012 time-frame.
Six Rivers NF - The Six Rivers NF is working on an Environmental Assessment that will modify their travel management and decommission some routes. CA4WDC and BRC, along with local partners, are involved in a lawsuit with Six Rivers concerning their failure to follow proper process prior to closing routes. Those similar concerns are still evident in this planning effort.
Inyo NF - Over the past two years, the Inyo has been implementing a variety of actions that were identified within their 2009 Travel Management Plan. Mitigation work has been completed that has added 31 roads and trails, totaling about 20 miles, to their designated route system. Other work has involved closing routes not part of the designated system and installing almost a 1,000 route marker signs.
The Inyo is requesting assistance from the recreation users to help them identify issues not addressed during the route designation process. Most important is identifying the inadvertent errors made during the route designation process. Inyo officials are willing to listen and address the issues brought forth.
OHMVR - The California Legislature Senate Budget Committee lead by Senator Simitian is preparing to raid the State's Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund to bail out the financially strapped California State Parks. The figures cited by Senator Simitian are incorrect.
Senator Simitian says there is $142 million in the OHV Trust Fund. He is only taking $21 million; so that leaves $121 million within OHV; $42 million in trust, $54 million in operational funds, $21 million in grants and $25 million in capital outlay. We know that isn’t true.
The $21 million comes from a $75 million dollar program that is well managed and accountable, a 28% program reduction. The consequence of losing that money is a loss of recreation in grant areas and, in a short time, a disintegration of the SVRA system because we will not have enough money to handle the growing need.
This effort passed the Senate Budget Committee and was heard in the Assembly Budget Committee where it was adopted.
The result of the adoption by both Budget Committees moves it along to the next step where it is assured to be rolled into the Governor’s Budget with the language in-tact.
That language strips $21 million in gas-tax funding for the State OHMVR Program. That is the funding that has supported a variety of local assistance grants to fund recreation opportunities on County, Forest Service and BLM managed lands. The loss of funding begins with the 2013 OHV Grant cycle; which will have no funding authorized.
OHV Grant funding is a major portion of the operating budget for the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (Glamis). San Bernardino, Inyo, Sequoia, Eldorado and many other national forests also depend on OHV grant funding to supplement their budget to maintain trails and other facilities used by the recreation community.
Short term impact (12 months) will be minimal. Long term impact (greater than 12 months) will be significant with projections of personnel layoffs and potential facilities or areas subject to closure.
The impact of the State Vehicle Recreation areas is not clear as the SVRAs do not receive funding from the local assistance grants.
The OHMVR funding will be a major issue to address in the coming year.