Inyo National Forest officials are collecting comments and concerns from residents regarding its upcoming three-year Forest Plan Revision Process.
For the past couple weeks, a third-party facilitator bridging the gap between Forest Service staff and forest users has collected information from various user groups to update a collaborative plan for the Planning Rule update.
The goal, INF Public Affairs Officer Nancy Upham said, is to ensure that local governments, forest users and community members have a voice in the upcoming process that will outline goals and procedures for lands managed by the INF.
“We are just in the initial stages of beginning the Forest Plan revision,” Upham told the Inyo County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “We are working with interested stakeholders and working in lockstep with the Sequoia and Sierra national forests” which are also working on their Forest Plans.
To kick off work on the plan, the facilitator, The Center for Collaborative Diversity, interviewed more than 50 different stakeholders over the past couple weeks who are interested in the Forest Planning update, asking what they felt the Forest’s strengths and weaknesses are, and how they feel the Forest Service should move forward with the Planning Rule.
Upham said the interviews revealed that forest users feel that one of the INF’s greatest strengths is its Forest Service staff, who are knowledgeable and available.
However, one of the biggest challenges they said the INF will face during the Plan Revision process is a lack of staff.
INF Supervisor Ed Armenta said he and his staff have identified five key positions within his agency that he hopes to fill in the near future.
Forest users who were interviewed also advised that, as the INF moves forward in the Planning Rule process, it should be transparent, clear and consistent and provide “timely notifications” to interested parties that will allow them to plan to participate.
The Center for Collaborative Diversity also said the Forest Service should be prepared to explain any decision it makes in the revision process.
When it comes to outreach for the Forest Plan, those who were interviewed by the Center for Collaborative Diversity said the INF should reach out to recreators where they recreate, be proactive with information so that interested parties are adequately informed and use interested forest users to network and distribute information about the plan as it moves along.
Stakeholders also suggested that the INF organize a design team of interested parties to help guide the Plan update, similar to the collaborative action group that was formed to help facilitate the Forest Service’s Travel Management project several years ago.
Second District Supervisor Susan Cash said the design team should be small (about a dozen people), to ensure that members are committed and dialogue is open during meetings.
The Center for Collaborative Diversity also said stakeholders wanted to ensure that local governments, including Inyo County, the City of Bishop, the Town of Mammoth Lakes and Mono County, are involved in the process.
Users also said outreach to younger forest users and the Hispanic community should be a priority.
One challenge the INF may be facing, Upham said, is generating interest in the Forest Plan, because it is a forest-wide plan with generalized components. “Forest Planning is broad and programmatic, but community interest is site specific,” she said.
She said she keeps an e-mail list of interested parties so she can update them as the revision progresses, and currently about 60 percent of the names on that list are from out-of-the-area.
Upham said the users who were interviewed also said the third party facilitator is a good idea and the INF should continue with “traditional” workshops and meetings to keep the public informed and involved with the process.
The next step in the Forest Plan Revision is to finalize the collaborative plan with interested stakeholders at a set of meetings this weekend.
Two identical workshops, 9 a.m.-noon Friday and Saturday, are being planned to accommodate those who can best attend during the work week and those who can best attend outside of normal working hours. Both workshops will be held in Bishop at the Inyo National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 351 Pacu Ln.