Post Game Recap: Seattle Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville Forest Planning Meeting
On Saturday, August 13, 70 people turned out in Seattle to gather information about the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests' efforts to rewrite their forest plans. WTA Advocacy Director learned some interesting things about how the agency plans to address wilderness and the backlog of trail maintenance projects.
I have to say I am impressed.
On Saturday, August 13 (a sunny day, no less), roughly 70 people turned out at the Seattle Mountaineers building to gather information about the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests' efforts to rewrite their forest plans. Mandated by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the forest plan lays the groundwork for how recreation, road access, wildlife, vegetation and wilderness will be managed for 20 years. (If you didn't attend the meeting, you can take part in a lunchtime webinar tomorrow, August 18, to learn more about the forest plan.)
The crowd was a mixed group - pleasingly dense with ordinary people from all walks of life who were interested in the forest plan. Over the course of more than two hours, participants conversed with forest staff at topic tables; listened to a formal presentation; asked questions during a Q&A session; and had an opportunity for additional follow-up.
In her introduction, Forest Supervisor Becki Heath stressed the importance of public comment, saying "I can't emphasize enough how important what you tell us will be in shaping the alternatives", referring to the management alternatives that the forests will present to the public in the form of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
During my conversations, I was able to get answers to several of my ongoing concerns about the lack of proposed wilderness designation for highly deserving areas and how the agency would prioritize the backlog of maintenance on 10 to 20 percent of the trail system. Here are some of the things I learned:
- Liberty Bell is one of the more interesting potential wilderness designations on the forest. There are a number of unpatented mining claims in the area, many of which area used by hobby miners as opposed to hard rock, large scale operations. There is also one hazardous materials cleanup site in the northeastern corner of the roadless area that will require at least a temporary road. Still, Liberty Bell is both incredibly scenic and important from a habitat connectivity standpoint.
- Feedback from the public is stressing the need for more close-in, low-elevation family hikes. These are generally at a premium on the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville, and the sense that I get is that they will be emphasizing maintenance backlog reduction on these sorts of opportunities.
- Finally, I was interested to learn that growing insect infestations caused by warmer winters are making vegetation management staff worried about recreation access. If we begin to see fires like the ones that demolished the (since repaired) Andrews and Lake Creek Trails on the Pasayten begin to flourish on the Okanogan-Wenatchee, there could be a significant impact on the front-country trail system.
All in all, a fascinating and energizing meeting, and by all accounts one of the largest held by the forests on this issue so far. I've been to a huge number of forest service meetings in the past several years, and this was one of the best organized and conducted.
Please remember to attend tomorrow's webinar, and take a few moments to comment on the Proposed Action. You'll be glad you did!