By Ann McCreary
Citizens who are interested in how national forests in our region are managed are invited to join in a public conversation about forest management planning.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will host a “listening session” next week to share information with the public and gather feedback about revising and updating forest management plans.
The meeting will be held Tuesday (May 5) in Wenatchee from 5:30-8 p.m. in the Wenatchee Convention Center, 121 N. Wenatchee.
“By law, we’re required to revise the forest plans every 10 to 15 years,” said Deborah Kelly, public affairs specialist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Forest plans are documents that guide how the U.S. Forest Service will manage its lands and resources in the future.
New guidelines for forest management planning call for increased public involvement in all phases of plan development, which has prompted the Forest Service to host listening sessions throughout the West, Kelly said. Sessions in the Northwest are being held throughout Oregon and Washington.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, which includes the Methow Valley Ranger District, is operating under a management plan adopted 25 years ago, which forest officials began updating in 2003.
Since the first plan was developed there have been many changes and scientific developments related to forest fires and fire management, forest health, and approaches to land and resource management, Kelly said.
The process of revising the plans is intended “to incorporate current science and management needs and what we have learned in managing forests since the 1990s,” Kelly said.
Development of the current forest management plans were based on rules set by the Forest Service in 1982. Those rules were updated in 2012 to take into account new understanding of science and land management, according to agency documents.
Among its goals, the 2012 planning rule seeks to improve the ability to respond to climate change, keep plans more current, and improve forest resiliency.
It also emphasizes an “all-lands approach,” which recognizes that many management issues, such as fire, water and wildlife, require and understanding of what is happening both on and off the national forest system, according to the forest service.
The rule also calls for increased public involvement, which is a principal reason for the listening sessions, Kelly said.
The discussion at next week’s listening session will focus primarily on broader issues involved in regional forest planning, Kelly said.
She said the public will be invited to provide feedback on three topics, including plan revision and what people want to see considered in revising forest plans; science, and how people want to engage with the science that will inform plan revision; and public engagement, including how the public should be involved and informed.
The session will also discuss the progress on the revised Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Plan, which was released in draft form in 2011. Based on public comment on the draft, forest service officials began preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the plan, Kelly said.
Work continued through 2014, when the project became stalled by turnover in key people involved in the planning, she said.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is still further ahead in its planning process than many other national forests, Kelly said. “We have gone down the road quite a ways,” she said.
According to the Forest Service, of 127 management plans for national forests, 68 are past due for revision.
The new planning rule is expected to reduce the amount of time it takes to revise individual management plans from five-to-seven years to three-to-four years, and reduce the amount of money from $5 million-$7 million to $3 million-$4 million, compared to the planning process established in 1982.