EO Media Group
ENTERPRISE – The roll-out of the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision hit some bumps in an Enterprise meeting last month, where what was billed as an informational open house took on aspects of a public protest.
Approximately 80 people signed in for the event, which ran nearly three hours in Enterprise’s Cloverleaf Hall. It was one of 14 public meetings scheduled across the region to discuss the proposed long-term plans for the Wallowa-Whitman, Malheur and Umatilla national forests – a series that began with a session in John Day on March 17.
Wallowa-Whitman Forest Supervisor John Laurence led a team of Forest Service staffers to answer questions one-on-one during a half-hour “meet-and-greet” at the start, and another hour at the end. In between was a program that introduced the newly released documents – the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision and its associated draft environmental impact statement – and an hour of questions from the audience.
Most of the attendees who spoke focused their statements on their general displeasure with the Forest Service and their deep distrust of the agency in the current planning endeavor, which comes on the heels of the Wallowa-Whitman’s Travel Management Plan proposal in 2012. The latter sparked such intense negative public reaction, the Forest Service subsequently withdrew it.
Laurence took pains to differentiate the three-forest plan revision from anything so narrowly focused as an individual project or a travel management plan. He said the purpose of the plan revision is to provide “a broad-based strategic direction for the forest,” adding that a forest plan “does not make site-specific or project-level decisions.”
Most of the audience members didn’t seem to buy that argument.
“You’re changing all this stuff, but the end goal hasn’t changed at all,” said one man, who argued that the only acceptable alternative among the six presented by the Forest Service was Alternative A – “no-change.”
The agency is advancing Alternative E as its “preferred” option, which does depart from the forests’ existing plan, which dates back to 1990. One critic said the result will be “locking the public out of public land,” while another said she probably wouldn’t bother to submit a comment on the new plan after her experience commenting on the travel management plan two years ago.
Others suggested the process is a vehicle for powerful environmental interests overseas to advance an agenda in the United States.
The public comment period continues through June 16. The proposed Blue Mountains plan revision and the DEIS volumes can be found at http://tinyurl.com/m52a5zu. More information about meetings, commenting procedures and related matters is available from Forest Service staffers Jodi Kramer, 541-523-1246, and Darcy Weseman, 541-523-1302.