Idaho County Commission chairman Skip Brandt has been the board’s ambassador to the Forest Service, having attended more than 20 meetings during the past year on topics related to the ongoing Forest Plan Revision – a process that also involves evaluation of potential for new wilderness and Wild & Scenic River designations. Lately – participating in this month’s open comment period before Forest Plan Revision alternatives are announced – the board has sent Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests supervisor Cheryl Probert several letters.
Brandt said he hopes these letters make more of an impact on the ultimate outcome than the county has seen its input make in past processes.
“The Forest Service process is focused on people who know the process,” Brandt said. “It’s not very friendly for Joe Blow Public.”
But Brandt said he has been seeing people becoming better organized – including at high-turnout meetings earlier this year, in Orofino, in Missoula and during Probert’s visit to the Idaho County Commission last month.
“A two-day workshop in Orofino was very well-attended, by locals and by folks other than the environmental industry,” Brandt said. “There’s a new element showing up: mountain bikers who want to ride their bikes in the wilderness.”
The mountain bikers may be the most recent group Brandt has seen showing up, but they aren’t the only ones organizing around the Forest Plan Revision.
After the Clearwater Travel Plan was announced, Idaho County and Clearwater County went together as plaintiffs and sued the Forest Service over it. In a ruling last June, the judge ruled the counties had not shown the standing to sue, and found the Clearwater Travel Plan decision violated no law – a result that, Brandt said, has snowmobilers showing up at the meetings.
“When they had the workshop over in Missoula [Jan. 18], snowmobilers really came out, where in the past, they were looking at it – but they hadn’t been kicked out of the Great Burn yet,” Brandt said. “Two years ago, the travel plan kicked them out of the area they’d been snowmobiling. So they showed up in force.”
In his order last June regarding the counties’ Clearwater Travel Plan lawsuit, Judge Edward J. Lodge found the Forest Service’s interpretation of the current Forest Plan reasonable. In his order, Lodge noted the counties’ complaint included allegations that the Forest Service “failed to coordinate with the counties and failed to provide the counties with the requisite notice and opportunity to participate in the process.”
In that ruling, Lodge also wrote the Forest Service had “adequately satisfied any requirement that it coordinate with the counties in this case.”
But if the county’s comment letters are any indication, the board is bracing for another fight over coordination – this time, over what if any place the county’s 2016 natural resource plan has in the Forest Service’s process.
So far in February 2018, Idaho County has sent in three comment letters, parts of which highlight what the commissioners see as problems with the plan revision process.
Commenting Feb. 2 in regard to the Wild and Scenic Rivers aspect of the Forest Plan Revision, the board wrote, in part: “The [Forest Service’s] scenic write-up states, ‘The two major distinctive river canyons that are not already designated Wild and Scenic…’ [but] it is not the intention of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to make all rivers wild and scenic rivers. This write-up makes a case for one of our concerns as outlined in [the] Idaho County Resource Plan.”
Commenting Feb. 13 in regard to the wilderness aspect of the Forest Plan Revision, the board wrote, in part: “We fully expect the Forest will develop/coordinate all alternatives with the County Plan. We also expect one alternative to meet/implement as much of the County Plan as possible, and if parts cannot be met, an explanation as to why. The Planning Rule…states, ‘The responsible official shall coordinate land management planning with the equivalent and related planning efforts of….local governments.’ Currently we have not seen this coordinated effort that ‘shall’ happen with us or our County Plan.”
And commenting Feb. 20 in regard to the “assessment” aspect of the Forest Plan Revision process, the board wrote, in part: “We did not see our resource plan in the assessment and ask the forest to ensure its inclusion.”
The county paid a consultant — Marty Gardner — $9,867 to produce the natural resource plan, which the board adopted in August 2016.
“Essentially, our stance is the outstandingly remarkable rivers have already been designated as Wild and Scenic,” Brandt told the Free Press in an interview Feb. 14. “Thus, there is no reason to have any more. And the same with the wilderness. Back in 1964, when they designated the wilderness, that was what needed to be protected, and the agreement was, the rest would be multiple use.”
“But that’s the frustrating point,” he continued. “There’s never enough for the environmental terrorist. They always want to lock up more and more of our backyard. … That element has destroyed our economy to where we need to run levies for schools, and from the environmental side, the condition of our forests is why we have the smoky summers. Back when I was in high school, there were no needs for levies, and if we had a couple smoky days, it was generally because bluegrass growers were burning their fields up on the prairie. When the Forest Service had a fire, they drove in there and put it out. But now we have obliterated the access roads to where, when we have a fire, the only ability the Forest Service has is very expensive and limited air attack. And that was all brought about by the environmental extremists. Slash, terrorists.”
How much land the Forest Plan Revision may include in the most restricted categories is not yet explicit in the public record, but will be when the combined forests publish a draft environmental impact statement – a large document which states the effects of the alternatives the Forest Service will soon begin to analyze. Further information, including the plan revision calendar, is online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nezperceclearwater/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprdb5447338.