Forest plan comment period may be extended yet again
The cutoff date for public comment on the proposed draft White River National Forest management plan may be extended again.
An amendment to this year’s Interior Appropriations Bill, submitted by Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, calls for an additional 90-day extension to the comment period. The Interior Appropriations Bill is one of 13 appropriations bills which have to be passed annually to keep the government running, said James Doyle, Campbell’s communications director.
While The Associated Press reported over the weekend that President Clinton had signed the legislation last week, Doyle said at noon yesterday that Clinton had not yet signed the so-called omnibus package that contained Campbell’s amendment.
Clinton has 10 working days to sign the bill, which was sent to his desk Nov. 22. The president was in Seattle Monday for a World Trade Organization conference.
In compliance with federal law, the U.S. Forest Service prepared several alternative plans and then selected one, Alternative D, that best fits its management guidelines and reflects public input. By law, the public is allowed a three-month comment period on a proposed forest plan alternative.
White River officials extended the comment period by 90 days in September, at the request of local officials, citizens and Congressman Scott McInnis. But because certain forest users have complained about the selection of Alternative D, Campbell, after reportedly attempting to halt the planning process altogether in October, attached an additional 90-day extension amendment to appropriations legislation.
“Alternative D is not one that Senator Campbell thinks is the appropriate plan for that forest,” Doyle said. “One of our major concerns is [Forest Supervisor] Martha Ketelle’s stated purpose to manage the White River National Forest as lynx habitat,” he continued.
In fact, the proposed plan calls for only small portions of the White River National Forest to be managed for lynx habitat. The recommended method of management for lynx is future cutting of trees to create habitat for the snowshoe hare, a mainstay of the reintroduced cat’s diet.
Doyle also complained that the forest plan usurps water rights, and said water management is intended to be controlled by the legislative branch of government. The plan does require “bypass flows,” a procedure that allows National Forest officials to prevent water users from drying up streams crossing National Forest land. But Forest officials have said that this is practiced under the existing plan, and it is in compliance with federal laws passed by Congress.
Lynn Kolund, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest, said to his knowledge, the president has not yet signed the appropriations package containing the extension. But he said Campbell’s action is not a response to popular demand.
“We don’t have anyone calling and saying that six months isn’t enough,” Kolund said. He said if Campbell’s extension becomes law, the Forest Service will comply by sending a letter to the Federal Register – the necessary action to extend the comment period.
Kolund said the important thing is that citizens who want to comment on the plan have time to submit written comments to White River headquarters. National Forest planners have received comments on the plan from about 1,200 people since the beginning of the period in August, he said.
National Forest planners are analyzing the comments as they come in, Kolund added. After the comment period ends and all the input is analyzed, National Forest planners will create a final environmental impact statement and a final forest plan, a process that Kolund estimates will take up to six months or more.
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Fire managers and officials with state and local agencies have agreed to officially rescind all fire restrictions in Eagle County beginning Friday at 12:01 a.m.