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Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests take the next step

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Jul 18, 2011 04:30 PM |
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The Okanogan-Wenatchee-Colville National Forests have recently released a Proposed Action - the first step in establishing a new Forest Plan that will govern activities for the next 15 years. This is the best time for hikers to be involved in the process.

More than 5 million acres of land. Eight wilderness areas. Thousands of trail miles. If you had to manage all of that and more, you'd want a plan. And that's just what is happening right now. The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) requires forests to come up with revised Forest Plans every 15 years or so, and it is currently the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests turn. They have recently released a Proposed Action that is the first step in the process.

It just so happens that this is also the best opportunity for hikers to help shape the next 15 years of how these forests are managed.

We've been waiting a long time for these documents, so we are pleased that the public process has begun. Given that hikers are enamored of a great many of those acres that these documents cover, it's incumbent upon us to get our voices heard. You can read the Okangan-Wenatchee proposal here and the Colville here.

Here's the trajectory. The Forests will accumulate public comment on their proposed actions until August 29. Then they'll cogitate, groundtruth, check their premises, consult with their consultees and release a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) in 2012. Then comes more comment gathering, followed by mulling, woolgathering and contemplating, culminating in the final environmental impact statement, or FEIS - the Forest Plan.

The proposed actions are truly interesting documents. Really, I mean it. Taken together, they have the potential to change the way hikers interact with the landscape of these forests for the next couple of decades. The Forests propose, for instance:

  • To decommission and restore any roads, bridges or docks that do not serve social or economic uses. We take that to mean that trailhead-accessing roads will not be decommissioned, but it's worth getting some clarity around that.
  • To add five new winter non-motorized recreation areas. With the proliferation of Nordic skiing and the growth of snowshoeing, we think that's a great idea that will benefit hikers seeking to extend their outdoor seasons into winter.
  • To clear ten to twenty percent of backlog maintenance on the trail system. This is another area where clarity would serve hikers well. For instance, we'd like to know where they're considering concentrating their efforts.
  • Finally, they're recommending that certain land be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System. In some cases, they've been very proactive. In the Heather Lake Roadless Area, which wraps around the eastern edge of the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, they recommended the addition of 9,400 acres out of 10,000 potential acres. But in other places they haven't gone nearly far enough. In the Liberty Bell Roadless Area, which encompasses Tatie Peak and Cady Ridge, they recommended 5,200 acres for wilderness out of 114,700 potential acres.

We encourage you to get involved with this process. There are several ways that you can get involved in the process:

  • Comment on the Proposed Action by the August 29 deadline.
  • Attend a forest-sponsored August 9 or August 18 webinar.
  • Attend one of the Forest's public meetings, especially the August 13 Seattle meeting. There are also meetings in Colville, Republic, Okanogan, Spokane, Newport, Wenatchee, Yakima and Cle Elum.

You can find ways to do all of those things by going to WTA's Okanogan-Wenatchee-Colville Planning page or by checking out the forests' planning page.