PRICE—The clock is ticking on the preparation of a new forest plan for the Manti-LaSal National Forest, which will replace the plan that has been on the books for more than 35 years.
It’s been more than five years since the Forest Service published a notice in the Sanpete Messenger of its intent to prepare a new forest plan. The plan was on hold during much of 2020 because of COVID-19.
But on Aug. 26, the Forest Service launched what is called “scoping,” the first step on the final road to approving a new plan. Scoping means the draft plan is complete and opens a 60-day comment period, which will end Oct. 24. Under federal regulations, from the end of scoping, the Forest Service has two years to finish the plan.
After scoping, the process includes preparing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), another 90-day comment period, publishing a final EIS and final plan, allowing 60 days for “objections,” and finally the Manti-LaSal Forest supervisor signing a “record of decision” approving the plan.
But scoping, forest officials say, is the primary time for the public to get familiar with the draft and weigh in on issues ranging from when the Forest Service should permit naturally occurring forest fires to burn to whether the Forest Service should set up nonmotorized areas to protect wildlife.
The “big takeaway” for the public, says Johnny Collin, Sanpete District ranger, is that scoping is “their opportunity to have an impact on the management of the forest for the next generation. We know the forest is super important to everybody in these communities, and we just encourage them to look at it, and if they have comments, to make those comments.”
When the last plan was issued in 1986, residents had to pick up a hard copy at their local Forest Service office, type their comments on a typewriter, and mail them in.
This time, the 160- page document and approximately 500 pages of appendices are posted to the Manti-LaSal Forest website at fs.usda.gov/mantilasal. A link to the “Forest Plan” is in the upper right-hand corner of the home page.
The link takes the user not just to the draft, but to a host of explanatory information. Perhaps the best overview is a “story map” providing text and maps, along with short (1-2 minute) videos in which Forest Service experts talk about forest-management issues. You can get through the story map in about an hour.
The Manti-LaSal National Forest covers 1.4 million acres. Most of the forest is located in Sanpete, Juab, Carbon, Emery and Utah counties. That section is referred to as the “north zone.” Another piece of the forest, located in Grand and San Juan counties and reaching into a little of Colorado, is the “south zone.”
In one of the videos in the story map, Russ Bigelow, fire and fuels specialist, explains that because natural fire was eliminated in the forest for approximately 100 years, the forest got overgrown, which made trees vulnerable to insects. In the 1990s, the spruce-beetle invaded 90 percent of the Engelmann spruce in the north zone of the forest, killing most of the trees.
The aim of the new forest plan, he says, “is to balance the natural role of fire in the forest ecosystem while minimizing the adverse effects on firefighter and public safety, wildlife habitat, watershed health, and high-value resources.”
In another video, Mike Scottom, forester in the Sanpete District, notes that new technology has increased the efficiency of logging in remote areas. The plan, Scottom says, identifies lands “that make the most sense where we can harvest timber over time.” The document also addresses forest health and fuels reduction.
More than 55,000 sheep and cattle from Sanpete County graze in the north zone of the Manti-LaSal forest over the summer. According to the story map, since 1986, the condition of the range in the Manti-LaSal “has remained stable, even with the current drought.”
In a video, Tina Marian, range management specialist, says the new plan discusses goals, objectives, and desired conditions for improving range land management and preventing degradation of soil, water, and vegetation. She asks for comments that will promote cooperation among everyone involved in grazing management.
Another Forest Service commentator is Autumn Ela, a landscape architect and the forest plan assistant team lead. She describes a tool called the Scenic Management System, which the Forest Service uses to balance “scenic character,” including ecological and cultural values, against management actions and activities.
“Where do people think undisturbed scenery should be dominant,” she asks, “and where is it okay to have management (such as grazing, timber and mining) dominant?”
Finally, Bill Broadbear, recreation forester for the north zone, discusses the Recreation Opportunities Spectrum, a tool for deciding what activities should occur in the forest and where. Some of the options are “natural,” “semi-primitive motorized,” and “semi-primitive nonmotorized.” Accompanying Broadbear’s video are maps showing proposed locations of the different types of recreation uses.
One notable feature in the draft plan is the designation of “special geographic areas,” which, because of their special characteristics, require “specific direction above and beyond what the forest-wide direction is for a specific location.”
One of the special areas is Maple Canyon, south of Moroni. It qualifies based on recreation use (it is an internationally known rock-climbing destination) and because it is a golden-eagle breeding area.
Besides the story map, the forest plan area of the Manti-LaSal website includes videos, running 30 -50 minutes each, of four forest plan workshops. The workshops cover an overview of the plan; recreation management; vegetation and habitat; and cultural, tribal and geologic resources.
There are three ways to comment on the plan. The website has a subhead that says, “Submit a comment.” Under the subhead are the words “comment page,” in bold type.
Those words are a hypertext link to an area where you can enter your name, address, and email, followed by a field where you can enter your comment. You can even upload an attachment.