Spokesman Review Features Inadequate Wilderness and River Protections in Colville National Forest Plan
Today, The Spokesman Review, a local Spokane newspaper, featured an article “Ignoring years of collaboration, Colville National Forest reduces eligible wilderness areas in draft plan.” Recently the US Forest Service (USFS) released their decision for the Colville National Forest Plan. The USFS chose an alternative that does not balance the need for more recommended Wilderness with other management goals. The forest plan revision is the first time ever to identify additional Wilderness protections on the Colville National Forest which only has 3% of its lands permanently protected as Wilderness.
The final plan also completely fails to consider additional rivers on the Forest for an eligibility determination for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The argument that there have been no relevant changes since the last forest plan 30 years ago is neither accurate nor a compelling reason to not review additional rivers for eligibility.
The article mentions the conservation community’s surprise at the lack of many of the aspects that had been discussed in a 10 year long collaborative conversation around the Colville National Forest Plan. The original 200,000 acres of recommended Wilderness that was initially discussed has been slashed to just 60,000 acres in the draft plan, a significant shift from initial conversations. Currently only 3% of the Colville National Forest is designated as Wilderness.
“It kind of undermines that collaborative spirit when you make a decision without really much explanation,” said Mike Petersen, the executive director of The Lands Council. “It just looks like ‘Wow, you’re our public lands managers but you somehow went a different direction and didn’t really explain why.’”
Read the article here.
During 2007 and 2008, Washington Wild was an active participant of the collaborative group that was convened to give input to the Colville National Forest in the early stages of this important plan revision. We were impressed by the significant common ground that was evident during this process across a broad group of stakeholders. There was general support for the protection of the roadless character of inventoried roadless areas, the need to engage in fuels reductions on the roaded landscape to address fire risk from dry forests stands and recognition that the forest was large enough to accommodate both additional Wilderness and restoration forestry.
In 2011, the initial draft of the Colville National Forest plan, supported more than 100,000 acres (or about half of areas identified with wilderness character) to be recommended for Wilderness designation by Congress.
After public comments supporting more recommended Wilderness, in 2016 the Forest Service inexplicably reduced the amount of recommended Wilderness by 35% to just 68,000 acres. The resulting recommendations amounted to less than a third of qualifying lands with wilderness qualities on the forest.
Now in 2018 the draft decision further reduces the recommended wilderness acreage to 61,700 acres – a 7,000-acre additional reduction – despite strong collaborative backing by local conservation and timber interests supporting a much higher acreage of recommended Wilderness. The draft decision also opted to manage the limited amount of recommended Wilderness area with the weaker of two proposed options, which still allows existing mechanized use to occur until official designated by Congress.
There is a growing need for additional wilderness areas to meet the increasing need and demand for wilderness recreation in the Inland Northwest, especially for day trips, and additional recommended wilderness areas will help meet that need. Each year, millions of outdoor recreationists spend $21.6 billion on outdoor recreation in Washington. Many of the potential wilderness areas provide outstanding opportunities for wilderness recreation, including day hiking, backpacking, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing; all within an easy day’s drive from the greater Spokane area.
Washington Wild objects to the current decision made for the Colville National Forest Plan and encourages the Forest Service to add more acres recommended Wilderness including the Kettle Range and to revisit rivers that could be recommended for Wild & Scenic designation.