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As the U.S. Forest Service prepares to move forward with implementation of a new planning rule on the Inyo, Inyo County leaders are demanding that the federal agency gives local leaders a seat at the table as decisions on the plan are made.
The National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires every national forest or grassland managed by the Forest Service to develop and maintain a Land Management Plan (also known as a Forest Plan). The process for the development and revision of the plans, along with the required content of plans, is outlined in the planning regulations, or planning rule. Individual forests and grasslands then follow the direction of the planning rule to develop a land management plan specific to their unit.
According to Inyo County Planning Director Josh Hart, the Forest Service is currently operating under the outdated 1984 Planning Rule and an update is needed.
The fear, county leaders said Tuesday, is that the federal agency will steamroll over local needs and desires as it adjusts its planning rule.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors met with representatives from the Forest Service Tuesday to discuss the Planning Rule, how it will impact local citizens and what the countyâs role will be in the implementation.
âWith the new rule, weâre taking a different approach than we did with the 1982 rule,â Forest Service Ecosystems Planning Director Joe Stringer. âThis new Planning Rule is new and collaboration is key to how we move forward. We are going to engage the public and different stakeholders early on.â
To ensure everyone involved in the Forest Plan is aware of the process being followed and what their role is, the Forest Service distributed a draft Forest Plan Collaboration Handbook.
The handbook lays out the three-year Forest Plan process and when different agencies, such as local government and tribes, will be called on to participate.
In the time line, the Forest Service said it would brief the county in Year 1 and Year 2.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius immediately took issue with the time lineâs use of the word âbriefing,â saying the county should be involved in the decision-making process and not just briefed on what is happening.
Arcularius asked that the word âbriefingâ be changed to âcoordinateâ in the document to ensure the county is on board with the process.
âWeâre essentially initiating coordination with the county right now,â Stringer said, adding that the document can be updated to accommodate the countyâs wishes. âThis is meant to be a living document. Right now, weâre operating on it, using it as a guide. We are probably several months away from finalizing the document. It is very flexible and adaptable.â
Because the handbook is an evolving document that can be changed by different agencies participating in the Forest Plan revision process, Second District Supervisor Susan Cash asked how the county can be sure that it is operating off the right version of the handbook.
Inyo National Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta said the Forest Service will keep the county abreast of any changes to the document.
Armenta also said that he has arranged for members of the Forest Service Planning team and county planners get together on a regular basis to discuss any changes to the document and progress on the Planning Rule to ensure the county is fully aware of any changes or progress on the project.
He also said he would be back before the board to further discuss the Planning Rule and other goings-on on the Inyo National Forest.