NRC Report - July 2010
There is breaking news and concern with travel management. On Aug 4, USFS Region 5 held a selected invite Focus Group on the Travel Management Rule, Subpart A - Administration of the Forest Transportation System at the Center for Collaborative Policy in Sacramento.
Two key paragraphs from the invitation announcement (and organizations confirmed for the Focus Group) are quoted below:
Nothing in print will be provided prior to the meeting as the Forest Service does not want preliminary draft materials being widely distributed as this could generate unnecessary concern/feedback prior to the “official” roll-out, which will not commence until sometime after this initial focus group. However, a brief presentation will be given by Forest Service staff to provide an overview of the proposed process and key messages relative to Subpart A. Focus Group discussion will focus on a few key issues/topics generated by the material shared in the presentation. We will allow time for each and every participant to state their reaction to the materials and provide their suggestions for how to undertake the overall planning process.
A limited number of organizations are being invited at this time and I respectfully request that you don't broaden the distribution of this invitation. You have been selected based on your knowledge and past constructive involvement on travel management related activities (note: a list of those confirmed is presented below). Conference call/webinars will be offered to the broader public and other interested organizations as part of the official "roll-out" of Subpart A which is scheduled to occur in early fall.
Organizations Confirmed for Focus Group on Subpart A
• American Hiking Society, Randy Rasmussen
• Backcountry Horsemen Association, Bruce De Mott
• Blue Ribbon Coalition, Don Amador
• California State Parks OHV Division, Daphne Greene
• California State Water Resources Control Board, Gaylon Lee
• California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs, John Stewart
• California Equestrian Trails and Lands Coalition, John Keyes
• California Off-Road Vehicle Association, Amy Granat
• California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, Rick Bulloch
• Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, Karen Schambach
• Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Karen Cox
• International Mountain Bike Association, Tom Ward
• National Forest Recreation Association, Marilyn Reese
• Pacific Crest Trail Association, Peter Kirby
• Recreation Outdoors Coalition, Sylvia Milligan
• Regional Council of Rural Counties, Staci Heaton
• The Wilderness Society, Stan van Velsor
• Trout Unlimited, Sam Davidson
• Wildlands CPR/ Natural Trails & Water Coalition, Bethanie Walder
It is important to note the attendees; specifically two organizations that have joined the “stakeholders” group -- Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Wildlands CPR/Natural Trails & Water Coalition. I find their participation highly interesting as they have normally not been involved with California issues. The Wildlands CPR/Natural Trails & Water Coalition has been litigant/activist with respect to roads in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Montana with a heavy involvement in the Northern Rockies Eco-System Protection Act. And, absent from the list is Center for Biological Diversity. Also, note that CA4WDC and CORVA are the only state OHV groups included.
My impressions from this meeting are not changed much from the meeting I attended in June where the Inyo NF unveiled their proposal for conducting Sub-Part A. As a result of critical comments at the meeting from myself and local recreation groups, the “message” was refined and shortened for this Focus Group. At both meetings, the FS was adamant that Sub-Part A is an “analysis” process and not a “decisional” process. This is key as “analysis” efforts are not normally open to public comment/participation as a NEPA decisional process.
The Forest Service is proposing a six-step “scientific” process. At this meeting (as at the June meeting), FS continues to dodge my request for definition of the criteria to be used in the scientific process. For clarification, “criteria” refers to the assumptions that define the scope of the “scientific” study/analysis. That criteria has two key components: 1) legislation, rules, and regulations that require the analysis to be done and 2) a definition of what will be included within the analysis that define the scope of the analysis.
Additionally, at this meeting (as at the June meeting), the FS continues to dodge my request for a definition that defines the scope of the analysis. Overall, they state the analysis will apply to the Forest. However, they will not state what criteria (or factors) will be used to conduct the analysis. A new component stated at this meeting was reliance on the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum of the each Forest. This is highly problematic in that each Forest does not have a defined Recreation Opportunity Spectrum. The four southern California Forests (Angles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino) do have an ROS that is included in their current Land and Resource Management Plan.
And, those forests also have the newest LRMPs. The remaining Region 5 Forests have LRMPs more than 15 years old. All are scheduled to enter into LRMP revision/updates once the Forest Planning Rule is modified and after completing the Travel Analysis Process.
And, to add concern to the issue: the Travel Analysis Process is touted as a replacement for the Forest Roads Analysis Process. The previous RAPs have been public process under NEPA constructs. The replacement TAP is stated as not being a NEPA process.
I am encouraged the Forest is making an effort to include the public in the Travel Analysis Process. I am concerned that the Forest is not considering TAP a process subject to NEPA.
With respect to NEPA, note that historically the environmental community has challenged routine activities normally Categorically Excluded fro NEPA as requiring NEPA analysis. On TAP, the environmental community is silent of the application of NEPA to the process.
In conclusion, I am placing Travel Analysis Process as a high priority issue with the potential to significantly impact recreation opportunity within public lands managed by US Forest Service; not only in California; but nation-wide. I have discussed the TAP with BlueRibbon Coalition and ORBA to get their “national” perspective and concerns. Both have stated that national recreation groups view Travel Management Sub-Part A with concern. That concern is that this process has the potential to begin a Forest Planning process that is not open to public review and comment. More direct, travel management within the National Forests will be conducted through an administrative process that is not open to public disclosure and this closed administrative process has the potential to by-pass the legislative intent of Forest Service mission for a mission that is controlled by the political administration in power.
The TAP timeline has Inyo and Eldorado NFs entering into their TAP. The other Region 5 Forests will enter into TAP based on lessons-learned from Inyo and Eldorado.
With the given timeline and participants, I am beginning to make a correlation between the various TAP efforts and the Water Quality Management Plan. As noted, the Wildlands CPR is noted for litigation to close routes with a focus on other than endangered species. Some past efforts I am aware of involve erosion, sedimentation and watershed related issues.