Outfitters-postFile photo by Laurelle Walsh

 

BY ANN McCREARY

The U.S. Forest Service has withdrawn its decision to issue long-term permits to local pack and saddle outfitters in order to further analyze issues raised in appeals.

Becki Heath, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest supervisor, withdrew a decision she issued in March to begin issuing 10-year special use permits to seven outfitter-guide companies based in or near the Methow Valley and Stehekin. The outfitters take customers into national forests and wilderness areas in the Methow, Chelan and Tonasket Ranger Districts.

“This additional time is needed and will result in a more thorough analysis,” Michael Liu, Methow Valley District Ranger, said Tuesday (June 25). “Unfortunately, withdrawing the decision will continue to limit the issuance of pack and saddle stock outfitter-guides to one-year permits until a new decision is made.”

Heath’s decision was appealed by local outfitters as too restrictive, and by a national environmental organization as not restrictive enough.

Wilderness Watch, a conservation organization based in Montana, appealed the decision on the basis that it violated the Wilderness Act. Washington Outfitters and Guides Association (WOGA) also filed an appeal, primarily opposing provisions in the decision related to campsite management.

The Forest Service said this week that the agency would “continue to work closely with … regional and national staff as they determine the amount of commercial pack and saddle stock services needed in the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wildernesses.”

The result will be a new needs assessment and “minimum extent necessary” determination. The Wilderness Act prohibits commercial services in wilderness areas except for the extent necessary to provide for appropriate activities.

“Once the needs assessment is revised, the Forest [Service] will move forward by either supplementing, or rewriting the Environmental Impact Statement,” Liu said.

This week’s announcement means another delay in developing rules for long-term permits for outfitter-guides in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The Forest Service stopped issuing 10-year permits 13 years ago and has encountered numerous delays and setbacks in bringing the process to a conclusion.

For more information, contact Jennifer Zbyszewski, recreation and wilderness program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District, 996-4021.