NRC Report - March 2012
With March, a couple of important and long stalled projects have moved into active status. The long awaited Forest Service Planning Rule has been formally released and (to date) survived legal challenges.
This effort may seems minor but it does have significant implications for those that recreate in national forests. Each national forest is required to have a management plan. The plan is known as “forest plan”, “land and resource management plan”, or “resource management plan”. By which ever name, the forest plan is supposed to be updated at specified intervals. With the exception of four national forests (Los Padres, Angles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland) in California, all other national forests have plans that are more than 15 years out of date.
With the new planning rule come the emphasis for the forests to update their plans. That update is expected to begin in May starting with the Sierra National Forest, followed by the Sequoia NF and the Inyo NF. The planning rule provides the guidelines each forest will use to revise their management plans.
Each forest will begin with an assessment of their current forest plan and all subsequent amendments. The assessment will determine the desired conditions the revised forest plans is expected to address. ALL previous decisions (plan amendments) are subject to review and change.
This is an important point for two reasons. 1) Stakeholders (members of the public with an interest in the forest) will be participants in the assessment. 2) All previous plan amendments are subject to review and change -- travel management is a plan amendment subject to review and change.
The planning rule provides guidelines where members of the public (including state, county and local government entities) work in a cooperative and collaborative manner to develop the desired conditions for the new forest plan.
The new forest plan will be “programmatic” in nature. Said another way, the forest plan does not make decisions. It will define guidelines to be used to make site-specific or project specific decisions.
Again, the new planning rule outlines the steps each forest will use to develop their plan revisions. The steps are built around collaboration and adaptive management. This is a different way of approaching the planning process. While the Forest Service has used collaboration and adaptive management, they have not used it on this scale.
From my initial meetings with Region 5, the new planning process is going to require a lot of participation on the part of the recreation community. While the Forest Service does have experience with collaboration and adaptive management, they are willing to experiment to find what does work and what does not work. In other words, they are not inflexible. They are open to recommendations for changes to make the process work.
As such, eight forest nationally have been selected to engage in forest plan revisions under the new planning rule. Three of those forests (Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo) are in California.
The second big event moving forward is the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan. As previously reported, I have been selected as a team member on the Tortoise Recovery Implementation Teams.
For background, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the Mojave desert tortoise as Threatened in 1990 and is responsible for coordinating its conservation and recovery. A revised recovery plan for the desert tortoise was approved on May 6, 2011, which provides guidance for future recovery efforts, prioritization of research to ensure that new information will contribute toward the greatest needs, and guidance for development of effective monitoring to allow FWS to track recovery implementation and species status. The revised plan calls for the establishment of regional, long-term Recovery Implementation Teams (RITs).
The primary responsibility of each RIT is to partner across local and regional jurisdictional boundaries to plan, implement, and evaluate actions related to desert tortoise recovery. The teams are essential because of the many jurisdictions and stakeholders involved in implementing actions related to desert tortoises.
RITs will coordinate directly with regional groups such as California Desert Manager’s Group, and landscape and regional-level alternative-energy coordination efforts, as appropriate. All members are encouraged to coordinate among their colleagues and among fellow interest groups regarding any information that the RIT is considering.
The RIT will be using a website established for this purpose -- the Desert Tortoise Recovery Data Explorer. This tool can be found at: http://www.mojavedata.gov/deserttortoise_gov/tools/data.html.
The Desert Tortoise Recovery Data Explorer is a tool in the form of a website. On this site you can look at, review, and comment on each data layer (map) being used in the Recovery Implementation Teams’ (RITs) Spatial Decision Support System (SDSS). The goal with this site is to familiar with the data sets within the system and to provide a forum to let the Fish and Wildlife Service know if more current or more appropriate data set exists that they should be using.
Both of these issues are major steps forward for the federal agencies as they are both big commitments in using the current state of technology to document the planning process.
With respect to the Forest Service effort, they are planning on creating an on-line document management system where they can keep available all documents related to the forest plan development. That will be their official “administrative record” and will be available to the public.
The Fish and Wildlife Service effort is centered around using Geographic Information Systems, web data bases and computer “decision support systems”.
Finally, the Johnson Valley/29 Palms expansion is becoming a hot topic. The Marine Corps are on schedule to release their Final Environmental Impact Statement around April 27. After brief stops with the Department of Navy and Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management), the FEIS is expected to be submitted to Congress for congressional approval.
The step will be either in the form of a stand alone bill or as a rider on another “must pass” legislation.
The California Motorized Recreation Council, consisting of the major OHV groups in the state, has established a committee, Save The Hammers. That committee has been active in raising funds to support Washington, DC based lobbying efforts to halt the Marine Corps expansion project.
With assistance from SEMA, American Motorcyclist Association and Motorcycle Industry Council, several Washington, DC lobbying groups have been reviewed and one has been selected to represent CMRC Save The Hammers effort to halt the Marine Corps expansion.
This effort will be the largest effort yet in support of motorized recreation, involving local, state and national organizations as well as many businesses that provide products for the motorized recreation market. Also included are the local business that will be impacted by the effort.
This coalition is growing and will be very active over the next six months trying to halt the expansion.
More information about how you can help will be announced in the coming weeks.