plan completed for
Manti-LaSal National Forest
By Suzanne Dean
PRICE—After more than four years and completion of at least a half dozen special studies, a draft management plan has been completed for the 1.4-million acre Manti-LaSal National Forest.
That’s important because the plan will guide what happens in the forest for at least the next 25 years. The last plan was published in 1986, so it has actually been in effect for 37 years.
While there are several more steps leading up to plan adoption, completion of the draft plan is a benchmark. In the case of the Manti-LaSal Forest Plan, the draft plan opens up what is being called a “pre-scoping period” during which public comments can be received.
And at a Sanpete County Commission meeting Feb. 2, Michael Larson, chairman of the board of the Sanpete Conservation District, urged the county commission to sign on to a letter calling for several changes in the plan related to grazing on the forest.
Larson said other counties in Central Utah and Southern Utah are expected to get comments in. Still other entities that are getting involved include the Utah Public Lands Coordinating Office, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Department of Agriculture.
Pre-scoping is a novel term and a novel feature. Basically, it means the Forest Service is allowing a longer period for written comments than usual because, during the pandemic, it isn’t feasible to hold large public hearings.
An explanation of the planning process on the Manti-LaSal Forest website (www.fs.usda.gov/mantilasal) says a notice of the next step—opening up the official scoping period—should be published in the Federal Register this month.
Between “pre-scoping” and official “scoping,” the comment period is expected to extend through the end of 2021.
Notably, now that the draft plan has been published and posted to the website, no changes can be made to the text until the scoping period ends.
When scoping does expire, the Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact statement and a final plan that considers the public comments. Then there will be another comment period before the final plan is published in the Federal Register.
There are three ways to comment. The first is going to the website listed above. On the right side of the home page is a link for “Forest Plan Revision.” On the Forest Plan page is a link for entering a comment on line.
Interested citizens can also send an email to email@example.com. Or they can mail comments, letters, etc. in hard-copy form to: Manti-La Sal National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 599 West Price River Drive, Price, Utah, 84501.
By state law, Utah has been divided into 38 conservation districts, some covering a whole county and some parts of a county. The district boards consist of local citizens. The districts are charged with overseeing and protecting all natural resources within their boundaries.
Larson told the Sanpete County Commission some action by the San Rafael Conservation District in Emery County woke up the Sanpete Conservation District to some statements about grazing, or the lack of such, in the draft forest plan.
In an earlier draft before the final draft was posted, the plan had a statement about the importance of grazing to the economy of local communities, Larson said. The statement noted that grazing on public lands, and the livestock industry it supports, creates a lot of jobs in rural counties and generates a lot of economic activity.
Also appearing before the county commission was Tom Tippetts, who works for the Utah Department of Agriculture grazing improvement program and is based in Sanpete County.
Tippetts said there are 66,000 sheep that graze the Manti-LaSal National Forest between Ferron and Ephraim during the summer. Of those, 54,000 are from Sanpete County operations. And close to 1,500 cows on the mountain are from Sanpete County.
The problem is that the statement about the importance of grazing was pulled out of the final draft of the forest plan. The Sanpete Conservation District, with the San Rafael District and others, wants the statement put back in.
Another concern is a statement in the draft plan saying no water pipes or other water infrastructure should be allowed in terraced areas of the Manti-LaSal. The terraces, Larson says, were installed decades ago to prevent erosion. The terraces are dry, and without irrigation systems, are useless for grazing.
“We’ve been using (these areas) for 60 years. We haven’t degraded (them) yet, Larson said. “Why should we worry about it in the future? If we’ve been able to manage and retain what we’ve had, we shouldn’t have to alter our management style.”
Finally, Larsen said, the draft plan says grazers can utilize the range to stubble height. Yet, Larson said, the Society for Range Management came out with a position paper in the 1990s saying grazing standards should not be locked into a long-term plan.
The society said such standards “should be used in annual operating instructions for each allotment, and…should be used as indicators for cattle and sheep movement, in that year, on the ground,” Larson said. “But it should not be used as a standard across the forest.”
In an earlier draft, the utilization standard was taken out, but in the final draft it was put back in, “and we want it out,” Larson said.
The draft forest plan is 160 pages. The document has chapters on watershed and aquatic resources, air quality, soil resources, geological and paleontological resources, climate adaptation, and vegetation communities.
Other chapters cover wildlife, cultural and heritage resources, areas of tribal interest, recreation and access, scenery, minerals and energy resources, fire and fuels management, livestock grazing and timber resources.
Compared to the previous plans, there is more emphasis on Native American cultural sites in the forest. More than 4,800 such sites have been identified. Most are in the part of the forest that is in Grand and San Juan counties. But 23 percent of the sites are in the Price, Ferron and Sanpete districts.
The plan also addresses whether any parts of the forest should be designated as wilderness. It gives high ratings for wilderness suitability to several locations in Grand and San Juan counties. But no locations in the Price, Ferron or Sanpete districts receive high recommendations as potential wilderness areas.
Besides the draft forest plan itself, the Manti-LaSal National Forest website has maps and pictures, along with videos of some virtual workshops the Forest Service held in 2020 on aspects of the plan.
The Manti-LaSal National Forest is located in eight counties in Utah—Carbon, Emery, Grand, Juab, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier and Utah.