No new White River plan until 2001 |

No new White River plan until 2001

Jeremy Heiman

Though the last of 14,400 comment letters has been received, the new management plan for the White River National Forest won’t be finalized for another year.

Carolyn Upton, planner for the WRNF, said copies of all the comments have been sent to a U.S. Forest Service team in Salt Lake City that specializes in organizing public comments into a master list. The list will be sent back to WRNF headquarters in Glenwood Springs, where the team that wrote the draft plan will re-evaluate their work in the light of the comments. The team will then write the final forest plan.

The final plan isn’t expected until May 2001.

The Salt Lake City team is now organizing the comments, which came in the form of letters, faxes and e-mail messages. The team will read each comment, group it with similar comments and create a master list.

In the meantime, Upton said, another set of copies of the comments are available for public viewing at the Glenwood Springs Forest Supervisor’s office. She said the documents amount to about 20 three-inch thick notebooks.

Upton said she expects to receive the list, in the form of a computer database, from Salt Lake City in about two weeks. The database will organize the comments into the same categories of issues found in the draft plan – travel management, grazing, wilderness, and so on.

The interdisciplinary team which wrote the draft forest plan will then read the comments and create a written response to each one. Those responses will be published in a book, which will be available to the public.

The team – made up of biologists, recreation specialists, logging experts and numerous other specialists in aspects of forest management – will re-evaluate the draft plan based on the comments.

“Did we look at all the possible options?” Upton asked. “Did we address all the concerns?”

She said the Forest Service will look for compromise solutions that might be more appropriate than what went into the draft forest plan. For example, she said, a seasonal road closure might be more appropriate than a year-round closure in a certain instance.

Upton noted that a lot of the comments received were form letters and preprinted postcards all saying the same thing, but she said the numbers will not necessarily carry any weight.

“This is not a voting process,” she said. “Form letters don’t help us a lot.”

She said the team has to make certain the concerns in each letter are addressed in the forest plan, but the number of letters doesn’t influence the outcome. And the comments won’t necessarily change the forest plan if they are in opposition to federal regulations.

“We have to address these concerns within the context of the laws and policies that the Forest Service is guided by,” she said. As a result, creating a final management plan won’t be easy, she said.

The public will still get opportunities to speak its mind, Upton said. When the comments are digested by the interdisciplinary team, staff members will seek more information about the comments.

White River officials have already heard from numerous people wanting to know what kind of comments they received, Upton said. “It’s a little early,” she said, “with 14,000 comments.”

The interdisciplinary team will also write the final plan. Upton said she can’t speculate on how much it will differ from Alternative D, the preferred alternative of the draft plan.

The final plan must be approved by Regional Forester Lyle Laverty. But senior officials have been in the loop from the start, and no surprises are expected, she said.

“We’ve been working closely with him so he knows what’s going on,” she said.

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