A new round of public meetings starts next week -- the first set in Kamiah -- for information and to take comment on a revised draft land management plan for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

However, conservationists have petitioned the agency to extend the comment period, due to what they state was poorly timed during the holiday season, and state the plan does a disservice to clean water, and fish and wildlife habitat.

The draft plan provides direction in four alternatives for how public lands are managed in the long term. The plans were developed through a process that involved the communities, publics and partners affected by the plan. Since the planning process began in May 2012, there have been more than 50 community meetings and public webinars to shape the draft plan and draft environmental impact statement.

Opening Dec. 20, the plan comment period runs for 90 days, and 15 public meetings are scheduled. Within this region, five two-hour meetings (5-7 p.m.) are scheduled:

Tuesday, Jan. 7: Kamiah, Kamiah VFD Fire Hall, 515 Main Street

Wednesday, Jan. 8, Grangeville, U.S. Forest Service Office, 104 Airport Road

Tuesday, Jan. 14, Elk City, Elk City Ranger Station, 300 American River Road

Wednesday, Jan. 15, Lowell, Fenn Ranger Station, 831 Selway Road

Tuesday, Jan 28, Riggins, Salmon River Community Center, 121 Lodge Street

According to an agency release, the plan has the potential to add nearly 4,000 new jobs to the region, and as much as $160 million in additional labor income. The agency stated the forests currently support roughly 2,100 jobs and contribute $83 million in annual labor to surrounding communities – primarily from the timber industry and Forest Service expenditures.

The draft forest plan includes four alternatives that prescribe actions for timber harvest, roadless areas for wilderness designation, extending motorized access, and naming river and stream segments for suitability for Wild and Scenic River designation.

According to a Dec. 23 release from Friends of the Clearwater (FOC), with Forest Service employees on vacation and unable to answer questions, the public would be shortchanged in the time to review the plan unless a comment extension is granted. The substance of the draft plan is also at issue.

“A quick review of the plan indicates that logging levels and other development would radically increase, which means fish and wildlife habitat would be drastically damaged by the new plan,” according to the FOC release.

“The Clearwater Basin is the northern half of the wildest landscape left in the lower 48 states,” continued the release. “It contains many outstanding and irreplaceable roadless wildlands. Unfortunately, not a single alternative would recommend designation of all 1.5 million acres of roadless wildlands. The premiere wild area on both forests, Weitas and Cayuse, are only recommended in one alternative, and that alternative will most likely not be chosen.”

Information on the draft plan is available online at http://bit.ly/NezClearFPR.

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