Planners chew on thousands of White River Forest comments
A summary of citizens’ comments on the proposed management plan for the White River National Forest is now posted on the Internet.
The comments will be used by the national forest planning staff to modify a draft plan, resulting in a final forest plan by August 2001.
The comments were taken during a comment period that was extended to an unprecedented nine months, ending last May. Comment letters and other documents were sent to a U.S. Forest Service team in Salt Lake City that specializes in organizing public comments into a master list.
At the end of the comment period, it was anticipated that the final forest plan would be ready by next May. The goal has been extended to August because of the sheer number of comments received, said forest planner Carolyn Upton.
“It’s simply a volume-of-work issue,” Upton said.
About 14,400 letters were received from all 50 states, the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and several foreign countries. Form letters from 49 organized campaigns made up 61 percent of the comments.
In all, 60,000 individual comments on aspects of the plan were received.
Most comments were duplicated many times over, so they were categorized into statements of about 2,000 different concerns about the plan. Each of these 2,000 concerns must be tackled by national forest planners.
“It’s not as simple as taking a statement and writing a response,” Upton said. The staff must adjust some aspect of the plan in response to each concern.
Some of the comments ask for actions that are outside the scope of the plan and some that are outside the authority of forest planners, Upton said. But each requires some sort of action on the part of the staff planners.
Upton said there is potential for disruption of the forest plan process if a new Republican administration is sworn in, because an administration change usually signals a change in appointed personnel. But because citizens have invested a lot of energy into the creation of the new plan, Upton said, White River officials see it as their first obligation to produce a final plan.
“The strategy we want to take is we want to get the forest plan finished,” Upton said. “People have an expectation that we’ll produce a plan.” Changes to a final plan could conceivably be required by a new administration, she said.
“But rather than take a `wait and see’ attitude, we want to get something finished,” Upton said.
The final plan will govern how the forest is managed for the next 10 to 15 years. It will prescribe which forest land will be used for motorized and non-motorized recreation, for agriculture and for various kinds of development, and which land will not.
The summary of the comments can be found on the Web at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/planning.html.
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