MANTI—There’s still ample opportunity for input into a management plan that will shape use of the Manti-La Sal National Forest for at least 25 years, a U.S. Forest Service planner told the Sanpete County Commission last week.
Kyle Beagley, who was a Sanpete District ranger based in Ephraim before moving to Manti-LaSal National Forest headquarters in Price to head forest plan revision, briefed commissioners at a meeting March 17.
“Right now, everything is in draft form, so we have the ability to meet…and make adjustments,” Beagley told commissioners.
But he let commissioners know the Forest Service is moving into some structured phases of plan development. He said the agency hoped to begin “scoping” in April. Scoping begins when a notice is published in the Federal Register opening a formal comment period.
Once scoping begins, no changes can be made to the draft until the scoping period ends. The Forest Service has two years from the start date of scoping to incorporate public input received during scoping, complete a final draft and complete an environmental impact statement.
Once the final draft and EIS are out, final public comments are accepted for a limited period, but typically, few major changes are made before the Forest Service approves and publishes the plan.
Beagley told commissioners the topics he hears most about from the public are range, wilderness and access.
Earlier this year, Mike Larsen, chairman of the Sanpete Conservation District, a panel operating under the umbrella of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), visited with the commission about changes his group, and other conservation districts in Utah, wanted in the plan to facilitate continued livestock grazing on the forest.
Beagley said input from conservation districts was being incorporated in the draft plan.
When the draft comes out, Beagley said, it will show some possible wilderness areas along the mountains between U.S. 6 and I-70, including some touching in Sanpete County.
“All of them, through our wilderness evaluation process, ranked ‘low,’ which means moving forward they likely will not make it to the final decision,” he said.
Based on the commission meeting, one of the biggest local concerns is recreation access. Commissioner Reed Hatch said he had seen a map classifying the area from a parking lot at the top of Fairview Canyon down the canyon to Huntington Reservoir, a distance of about 10 miles, as “nonmotorized.”
“That’s an area where thousands of people snowmobile,” Hatch said.
Beagley said the forest planning process includes creating what the called the “recreation opportunity spectrum” (ROS). He described ROS as a kind of zoning scheme defining where different recreation activities are permitted.
He said the Forest Service was considering setting aside some areas in Fairview Canyon for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Doing so might require relocating the present parking lot, he said, to give people setting out on those activities a place to park.
But he emphasized that the map Hatch referred to was a computer generated document. “Now we’re in the phase where people can look at the map and correct it,” he said.
Hatch asked if there were any moves to widen ATV trails to make them comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and to accommodate the larger ATVs now on the market.
Beagley said about three years ago, the Forest Service widened about 70 miles of trails from 50 to 66 feet.
“If there are known specific locations—canyons, ridges—where we want trails to meet” that have not met in the past, “we want to circle those areas to make sure we’re capturing those,” he added.
Commissioner Scott Bartholomew noted that about a year ago, Beagley sat down with the commission and made recommendations about land uses in sections of the forest located in Sanpete County.
Bartholomew said the commission had adopted most of the recommendations and marked the uses on the county’s own land use map. The commissioner asked if the present draft forest plan reflects any changes since then.
Beagley said there had been changes. A year ago, he said, the Forest Service was working on a “very, very rough draft.” He said the agency had refined the draft substantially since then.
In the next phase of plan development, the Forest Service will be able to provide “firm maps showing where changes have been made” and have follow-up discussions, Beagley said.
And he added, “When we get to the decision phase, if there are things that are still in there that are not liked by the public, commissioners or the county, that’s when we need to say, ‘This is just not going to work.’”
Beagley said environmental groups are developing a counter forest service plan “that they’re wanting us to consider in its entirety.” But he said with the two-year time limit after scoping begins, along with a page limit on the final plan, “we just can’t accept everything under the sun that everyone throws at us.”
Manti-La Sal Forest Plan Facts
TO READ THE PRESENT DRAFT:
Go to www.fs.usda.gov/mantilasal. On the Manti-La Sal National Forest home page, in the right hand column under Quick Links is a link for Forest Plan Revision.
To read a summary of the plan, including maps and pictures, scroll down the page and click “story map.”
Below the story map are links for the “Draft Forest Plan” and various appendices.
Go to the subhead on the Forest Plan Revision page for “Submit a comment.” Click “comment page” to enter a comment online.
You can also email your comment to: email@example.com
Or you can submit input by writing to: Manti-La Sal National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 599 West Price River Drive, Price, UT, 84501.