There was an overflow crowd at last week’s public workshop at the Forest Service building in Bishop with 70 in attendance, eager to provide feedback on the latest iteration of the Inyo Forest Plan Revision.
The document under scrutiny was the preliminary “Need to Change,” which provides the basic direction and policies for the final forest plan slated for completion on Jan. 4, 2016.
The Plan Revision’s objective largely focuses on desired conditions, described in broad, general terms as “the desire to have it look as we (the public and the Forest Service) would like to see it and the goods and services we desire it to provide.”
An added caveat in the “Desired Conditions” handouts for Sustainable Resources, Tribal Interests, Fire Management Practices and Aquatic, Riparian, Meadow and Spring Resources, is that “desired conditions are timeless in that there is no specific date by which they are to be completed.”
That is not to say there are no deadlines and timelines for the plan itself, just its desired conditions. There are many workshops and deadlines leading up to the final implementation on Jan. 4, 2016. As several residents at the meeting commented, the timing of the meeting itself on the day before the closing for submitting comments for the pre-National Environmental Policy Act documentation was not a great example of planning if the Forest Service truly wants to give the public enough time to provide its comments. Region 5 Acting Planning Director Debra Whitall admitted as much and promised that they will work hard to improve on it.
Sustainable recreation held the greatest interest for most in attendance. The potential economic consequences of changes in forest policy and land use could affect the local economies of both Inyo and Mono counties. Local residents and the business communities have already expressed concern over new species listings and habitat designations under the Endangered Species Act, which many feel threaten the area’s traditional way of life and livelihoods.
During the last INF Plan, dispersed recreation appeared to be a viable forest management tool. The concept encourages spreading the impacts of recreational use throughout the national forests in order to mitigate the environmental impacts. Now, it appears that developed sites, or accepting greater impact within defined areas, are the preferred method. Many using the forest now prefer conveniences when camping as well as enjoying other outdoor activities. At the same time, it would not be acceptable to restrict those that enjoy the forest’s undeveloped areas from that experience. The Giant Sequoia National Monument Plan released in September of 2012 and available online (www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/gsnm_planning.html ), was cited as a good example of how a forest plan should look.
With forest funding decreases, the Forest Service may find it difficult to achieve its goals without embracing partnerships with the private sector; an area in which it does not currently enjoy much confidence as the 14-year owner of June Lake Junction, Lynne Greer, noted during the workshop session on Sustainable Recreation.
Greer has worked with a “revolving door of local forest planners and managers over the years,” yet efforts to develop an effective partnership with the USFS have always gone nowhere. Representatives from the service told her they regret how Greer has been treated and that they really have no choice with funding cuts but to begin to work more effectively with the private section.
The workshop broke up into several smaller groups to discuss the various aspects of the plan and to collect comments before being brought back for final comments. One of the final comments heard (and heard several times throughout the workshop) was that local forest service employees and those conducting the workshops are appreciated, but it seems that the spirit of cooperation and trust at the local level is not reflected at the national level.
The results of the Inyo National Forest Revision Plan Workshop and future meetings can be found on the Internet at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r5/landmanagement/planning .