Update contains new information submitted after earlier appeals
By Ann McCreary
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest has been considering for years the best approach to issuing special use permits for commercial pack and saddle stock outfitter-guides who lead trips on national forests around the Methow Valley and surrounding areas.
The National Forest has just completed a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the outfitter-guide permits. The public has a 45-day period to comment that began Nov. 25.
The area being evaluated for the permits includes portions of the Methow Valley, Chelan and Tonasket ranger districts.
The draft supplemental EIS supplements the original final EIS, which was the basis for a decision in 2013 by the Forest Supervisor to issue 10-year special use permits to outfitter-guides.
That decision was subsequently withdrawn after appeals were filed by local outfitters who said it was too restrictive, and by a national environmental organization that said it was not restrictive enough.
The study analyzes four alternatives for issuing 10-year special use permits, including no action.
The new draft supplemental EIS incorporates new information based on a revised needs assessment completed this year, according to a letter to interested stakeholders from Michael Williams, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest supervisor.
The new information resulted in new calculations for the “extent necessary” for commercial service (which determines the number of service days) in the Pasayten and Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness areas, Williams said.
The supplemental document modifies Alternative 4 in the final EIS, “reducing the number of service days for commercial outfitters and guides in both Wilderness areas, and the overall number of service days for all areas of the permits,” according to Williams’ letter.
This modification changed the “projected environmental effects for some resource areas, such as wilderness, with minor changes in effects to some of the other resources,” Williams said.
The supplemental EIS also updated information including changes in gray wolf populations and grazing allotment status, and expands some of the analysis of cumulative effects, he said.
The draft supplemental EIS and the 2013 final EIS are available online at www.fs.usda.gov/project/? project=3752. Williams said the draft supplemental EIS should be read in conjunction with the 2013 final EIS.
The decision to issue permits in 2013 was appealed by the Washington Outfitters and Guides Association (WOGA) on behalf of local outfitters and guides. The appeal objected to provisions in the EIS that prohibited further expansion of areas of vegetation loss and bare, trampled soil — called “barren core” — in wilderness campsites used by outfitter guides.
The WOGA appeal also sought to eliminate a requirement that camp management plans be maintained for assigned campsites, where outfitters can leave gear for the season, and campsites larger than 5,250 square feet.
An appeal filed by Wilderness Watch argued that the provisions in the EIS pertaining to outfitters use of barren core areas did not meet the federal Wilderness Act.
Wilderness Watch also objected to increases in the number of service days authorized in wilderness areas, the size of guided groups allowed to travel and camp in wilderness areas, and provisions related to camping distances from meadows and water bodies.
Information about submitting comments on the draft supplemental EIS is available at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=3752.
A final supplemental EIS and a draft Record of Decision are expected in the spring of 2017. A 45-day formal objection period will follow.