Representatives with the U.S. Forest Service met with county leaders last Tuesday to give them some insight into the process the federal agency is using to develop a new Forest Planning Rule.
For their part, the county supervisors wanted to ensure they will be consulted throughout the process and have an opportunity to weigh in on how the new plan impacts local residents and the economy.
When complete, the Planning Rule will provide a framework for future actions on the forest, such as resource management, habitat enhancement and wildlife management.
Forest Service Director of Ecosystem Management Tony Tooke said the Forest Service, on a national level, has been developing the Planning Rule for more than two years, and has selected the Inyo National Forest as one of the first to implement the new plan.
Tooke said Inyo’s Forest Planning Rule was created in 1988, and is out of date.
“We’re looking for adequate, reliable information on local issues,” Tooke said. “Do we want the same resource protection as in the 1982 regulations, or something better? We have an obligation to provide a plan for economic stability and a heavy emphasis on sustainability.”
Tooke said the Forest Service will be working with the county and other stakeholders to evaluate the 1982 plan and see where it can be improved and how best to meet the needs of the forest and surrounding communities.
One portion of the plan dealing with animals on the forest may put a focus on certain species that are at-risk of being listed as endangered.
“We want to prevent animals from being listed, because that doesn’t help anybody,” Tooke said, adding there will be emphasis on habitat, land conditions and restoring watersheds, which will all work to maintain species on the Forest.
Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes said he would like to see the plan address mining in Inyo County.
“I’m faced with the wreckage of the past. Inyo was mining, and the mining industry was taken away by the U.S. government,” Cervantes said. “I don’t believe this is in the best interest of our county. I believe it is strategically stupid.”
Tooke said that multiple uses for the Forest are mandated by federal policy, and the plan will include components related to mineral extraction and renewable energy development.
“It’s not about what the Forest Service wants, it’s about what the public wants,” he said.
Forest Supervisor Ed Armenta said the Forest Service recognizes mining as a valid use on forest lands, but the plan will “balance that with all the other uses.” He assured the board that mining will be assessed as the plan moves forward.
Joe Stringer of the Forest Service said that staff is currently laying the foundation for the assessments that will lead to recommendations for the Forest Plan.
“We’re developing collaboration plans specific to each forest and should be done by August or September, then kick off assessments in October,” Stringer said. “The assessments will determine the issues to be addressed.”
As stakeholders, Inyo County leaders will be involved in the development of the plan and Forest Service staff said they have been communicating with County Planning Director Josh Hart.
Fourth District Supervisor Marty Fortney, recognizing that input from out-of-the-area interests will be taken into consideration as the plan is developed, asked if local input will be given more weight than that which comes from non-residents. “We have to live with this plan when it’s done,” Fortney said.
“We have to have that discussion when developing the community collaboration plan, which we will be doing together,” Forest Service Public Information Officer Nancy Upham.
The Forest Service is currently working on a schedule for the community collaboration plan, and will bring stakeholders into the fold when a time-line for the assessments and other planning efforts is released.