Senator: Extend forest review
U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell has called for another extension to the comment period for the proposed draft management plan for the White River National Forest.
The standard 90-day comment period, scheduled to end Nov. 9, was extended to Feb. 9, 2000 by White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle, in response to requests from local elected officials, citizens and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis. Campbell’s extension, attached as an amendment to the Senate Interior Appropriations bill, would allow public comment until May 9, 2000, nine months after the draft was released.
According to one report, before agreeing to an additional extension, the Colorado senator attempted to scuttle the revised forest plan altogether. An e-mail message forwarded to The Aspen Times, originally from the Washington office of The Wilderness Society, indicates that Campbell, in the Interior Appropriations Committee, first offered an amendment that would have prevented the White River National Forest from issuing its final forest management plan at all. When that proposal was rejected, Campbell agreed to the additional 90-day extension of the comment period.
A press release from Campbell’s Washington office quotes Campbell as saying, “This plan is entirely too controversial for the Forest Service to ram through the process. As a legislator for 17 years, I know all too well that no initiative satisfies everyone. But I have never seen a proposal that drew such contentious opposition from so many groups.”
The press release incorrectly indicates the plan would have taken effect in February. Instead, the process of analyzing public comment and drafting a final plan would start then. A final plan is expected late next year.
James Doyle, a Campbell staffer in Grand Junction, did not return calls Thursday.
Dan Hormaechea, planning director for the White River National Forest, said it would be hard for him to comment on the added extension, because Campbell’s office had not been in touch with White River headquarters. He said he learned of the extension from a copy of the press release that he received from a local newspaper.
He said as far as he knows, the extension is part of raw legislation that has not been passed by Congress or signed by anyone. He said the National Forest staff believes the six-month comment period now in place is adequate, and any more time would not be helpful.
“We hope not to break the continuity we’ve got going,” Hormaechea said. “After nine months, you start to have a turnover of players.”
The White River Forest, like other national forests, must have a master plan to guide decisions regarding forest assets. The final plan derived from this draft will replace the current forest plan, in effect since 1984. Numerous reasons exist to update the plan.
Rising levels of recreation and new types of recreational uses of the forest also make a new plan necessary, to address issues of public access, conflicts between users and protection of biological resources.
In addition, forest management must be coordinated with a number of new federal laws and changes to existing laws. The 1987 Clean Water Act, the Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987, the Clean Air Amendments of 1990, and the 1990 Colorado Wilderness Bill are examples.
Work on the new draft plan started in 1991. Public input in 1996 and 1997 was the source of some of the important ideas in the plan.
The draft planning documents are available for review at local public libraries and all White River National Forest offices. Electronic copies of the documents may also be reviewed on the Forest’s Web site, http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/planning.html.
Questions about the planning documents should be directed to any White River National Forest district office or the supervisor’s office, (970) 945-2521.
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