What's in a Forest Plan?

In 2012, the U.S. Forest Service adopted new rules guiding management planning for the nation’s national forests and grasslands. Three national forests in California-the Sierra, Sequoia, and Inyo-were among a handful of national forest units nationwide to put the new planning rules into effect.

The three “Early Adopter” forests in California have now prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement for proposed revision of their general management plans (Forest Plans). The Forest Service is taking public comment on this DEIS until August 25, 2016.

You can view the DEIS and draft Forest Plan documents here.

Trout Unlimited has been engaged in the Forest Plan revision process from the beginning. TU’s California Field Coordinator, Jessica Strickland, has been working to (1) help the Forest Service identify and better conserve important aquatic habitat, native trout restoration, and angling opportunities; and (2) engage the angling community in the planning process.

TU’s conservation priorities in this process are:

  • Protect high quality and at-risk aquatic habitat by strengthening existing and establishing new Critical Aquatic Refuges (CARs). The preferred alternative of the DEIS does not add enough new CARs, and the new CARs it does recommend are small, disconnected or in designated wilderness, thus providing little additional conservation value.

    TU recommends the Forest Service consider new CARs in low elevation areas and in areas outside of existing protective designations, and, that habitat areas which qualify for CAR status be evaluated for their importance for species diversity in the face of stressors such as wildfire and climate change.
  • Provide more specific direction for management of grazing to better protect and restore montane and alpine meadow systems. Meadow ecosystems in the three Early Adopter forests are refugia for native trout species such as California golden trout, Kern River rainbow trout and Little Kern golden trout, and are vital to the landscape’s ability to store and release water.
    TU recommends that the Early Adopter forests develop standards and guidelines for grazing that protect meadow resources, habitats and species; enable recovery of resources habitats and species from legacy impacts; and suspend grazing in severely degraded areas.

  • Better conserve Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs). Roadless areas typically have some roads but low road densities. Thus, habitat values and backcountry sporting opportunities tend to be higher in roadless areas. There are some 1.5 million acres of IRAs in the Early Adopter forests, but IRAs are not specifically mapped in the draft Forest Plans or DEIS, nor are there standards and guidelines in the draft plans to ensure that these areas are properly managed and protected.

    TU recommends (1) Adopt a revised Alternative C that adjust IRA boundaries to resolve potential conflicts with motorized use; (2) Identify IRAs in the Forest Plan maps and provide specific direction for their management; and (3) Provide clear standards and guidelines for lands zoned primitive and semi-primitive non-motorized to ensure that roadless area qualities are sustained.
  • Manage trout waters eligible for federal Wild and Scenic River designation to protect their wild-and-scenic values. The draft plans identified some 870 miles of streams in the three Early Adopter forests as eligible for Wild and Scenic River designations. However, some important waters were excluded.

    TU recommends that these streams be managed for their wild-and-scenic qualities: Rush Creek, O’Harrell Canyon Creek, Dexter and Wet Canyon Creeks, Lee Vining Creek, Salmon Creek, Trout Creek, Dry Meadow Creek, and Lower Dinky Creek.

  • Provide specific direction on how the forests will provide a sustainable transportation system (roads and trails). Poorly maintained roads and trails cause some of the most significant habitat and water quality degradation in national forests. Despite this being a specific planning requirement, the DEIS fails to evaluate existing roads and other travel system infrastructure or provide guidance for better managing this system.

    TU recommends: (1) Provide management direction to properly decommission (or convert to trail) and restore roads identified through the Travel Management process. (2) Prioritize roads for restoration based on erosion/sedimentation risk, stream crossings, fish passage, and habitat fragmentation. (3) Seasonally close or restrict road use in areas with wildlife migration corridors and during sensitive seasons (calving, winter habitat, etc.).

For more information, contact Jessica Strickland, jstrickland@tu.org or 830-515-9917.

By Brennan Sang. I’m a father, a husband, a jack-of-all-web-trades, and an avid outdoorsman.