Using a form provided by an Eastern Oregon group and a letter written by Commissioner Rob Raschio, the Grant County Court formalized its objections to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan revision during a special meeting Aug. 15.
The court’s official four-page objection letter originated with a form provided by Forest Access For All, a volunteer group founded in April 2012 that advocates for motorized access on public lands and provides online guidance for people who want to participate in the public process related to public lands management.
Raschio noted that the Canyon Creek Complex fire occurred one year after the court submitted its initial comments to the plan revision, and science shows that built-up forest fuels create a public safety problem, which the court is obligated to address.
Commissioner Jim Hamsher said he’d like the court to continue accepting public input. The objection deadline is Aug. 28, so the court would need to hold another emergency meeting to adopt public input, Raschio noted.
In drafting the letter, the county court added several references to the Eastern Oregon Counties Association, which will also submit an objections letter following an Aug. 23 meeting.
In the objection letter, the court cites comments it submitted to the Forest Service about the draft plan in August 2014, including concerns about using the best available science in support of grazing practices.
The court noted the Grant County Road Department paid more than $70,000 toward the Cramer Fish Science Grazing Analysis, but the Forest Service failed to address the study’s findings.
The court asked that the revised plan be withdrawn and that each of the three national forests “work independently with county government and local stakeholders” to develop separate land management plans.
Road systems on the national forest land should be “preserved for public safety, economic, cultural and recreational purposes,” the court said in the letter, and all roads should remain open unless specifically closed after a comment period.
The court noted the “entirety” of a report by the Grant County Public Forest Commission was not addressed and should be implemented in the plan. The commission was established by voter initiative in 2002 and disbanded following a circuit court ruling in 2016.
In conclusion, the court noted that many Forest Service employees live and work in the local community and “are important citizens who raise us all up and make life better here.” The court’s criticism is focused on the general policies of the Forest Service nationally, not on the local Forest Service offices, the letter said.
In their 2014 comments, the forest commission said the total land base in the forest plan was being “whittled down by almost endless exceptions, withdrawals and prohibitions.”
Calling the draft plan “a major departure from the 100-plus years of management,” which ignored legal and technical history, the commission said combining the three forests into one plan “sets a bad precedent.”
Much of the science used in the draft plan was out of date, the commission said, and many of the plan’s standards and guidelines “are extremely restrictive and will severely limit if not prohibit much active management.”
Grant County Judge Scott Myers, who commented on the draft plan in 2014 as an individual, said he will submit objections on his own. In his comments, Myers said the Forest Service should not acquire additional land because it “struggles to manage, effectively, the acreage in their inventory of responsibility now,” and he called for “a more aggressive plan” for salvage logging.
Myers noted in his 2014 comments that the Eastern Oregon Counties Association had made a unanimous finding that none of the alternatives in Alternative A-E were acceptable. “I wholeheartedly agree,” he said.
Myers also noted that the draft environmental impact statement for the plan stated that it was unlikely additional wilderness would be needed, but the revised forest plan presented by Regional Forester James Pena in July calls for new wilderness areas.
The revised plan calls for recommending 70,500 acres of mostly roadless areas for designated wilderness. This includes 23,580 acres for a new McClellan Mountain wilderness area, accessed by Fields Creek Road southeast of Dayville, and 2,990 additional acres for the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. A recommendation to establish a 6,139-acre Greenhorn Mountain wilderness area was withdrawn.
According to the draft record of decision, the revised forest plan also calls for increasing potential employment from 1,647 jobs currently to an estimated 2,820 jobs, increasing the timber sale program quantity from the recent average of 101 million board-feet per year to 205 million, thinning up to 33 percent of overstocked dry-upland forest types during the planning period, along with other treatments, and maintaining the current level of about $4.5 million in income from recreation-related jobs.