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Update & Comment Opportunity on the Blue Mountain Forest Plan Revisions

Forest Planning is officially in full swing. Last year, the Forest Service re-launched the process to update the management plans for the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, and Malheur National Forests – a process that will determine how over 5 million acres of our public lands will be managed for the next several decades. And part of that process is getting your input!

The Forest Service recently wrapped up the first phase of forest planning, called “Assessment”, which is supposed to be a holistic look at conditions and trends across all resources on the forests. Now they're in the midst of a temperature-taking exercise and are accepting a first round of public comments. While this is technically outside of the NEPA process, these comments are still very important to influence the Forest Service's future actions. The agency recently held a series of public meetings around the region to gather initial feedback on the Assessment. As we saw in the last iteration, there is significant pressure towards a forest plan that is even more extractive (i.e., logging, road construction, and no restrictions on access or use) than the original plans. We’ve gotten feedback from many of you that this process and these meetings have felt confusing and insufficient at best, and hostile at worst. We hear you and are communicating this to the Forest Service.

Here are some things that we'll be advocating for in our comments:

Strong protections for mature and old forests:

Right now, the rule protecting trees over 21” exists as a piece of the current Forest Plans. This means that the agency will get to rework this as they see fit, and we expect they'll want something with as much wiggle room as possible. They must incorporate clear, enforceable standards (which are mandatory, unlike guidelines) that protect mature and old trees of all species. This includes keeping protections for Old Growth Management Areas in place.

Elevate habitat connectivity within and across National Forests in the plan area:

We already know that these three National Forests operate as a critical wildlife corridor connecting the Rockies to the Cascades. Updating all three of these plans simultaneously is a great opportunity to consider connectivity between National Forests, in addition to the connectivity of lands within them. The existing plan thinks about connectivity in a pretty narrow way (we mostly hear about it in logging projects - they say they use “lighter touch” logging in corridors between old growth areas), but it's time to expand that. These new forest plans must create logical connections between roadless areas, riparian areas, and other special landscapes, and create species specific corridors (big game is an easy example, but it's time to do this for other species too).

Identify and protect Wilderness quality lands:

The Assessment phase required the agency to take an inventory of lands and waters across the forests to determine if they are suitable to be considered for Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River protections. While they can't officially designate them as such, the forest plans should include management direction for those areas that would prevent their quality from being degraded (in case Congress ever decides to protect them). The agency must ensure that the few unroaded areas that remain receive protection from future human disturbances such as logging and road building.

We are committed to speaking up for strong protections for mature and old forests, habitat connectivity, and wilderness quality lands, and we hope you’ll join us. We have until May 26 to submit comments. You can send your comments through our mostly blank letter form here (please put your own words in - the Forest Service values that more). We are also planning to host comment writing workshops in La Grande, Baker City, and Enterprise - please contact if you're interested in joining!

Want to learn more about the process?

  • The main forest planning homepage is at - click “Assessment Phase” to see all the documents

  • They created a document summarizing the Assessment results

  • They also collected all of the individual ("specialist") reports on specific resources in one place: This is where you can find specifics on wildlife, aquatic ecosystems, socioeconomic reporting, and more.

  • The agency created this draft Wilderness Inventory map and this draft Wild and Scenic Rivers map. Take a look and see what’s there - anything special to you? Any place missing? For better or worse, the next steps – evaluation and analysis – will consider public input as part of the rationale for including or not including recommended Wilderness in forest plan alternative(s). We already know that county commissioners, the Blue Mountains Intergovernmental Council, and access groups will be calling for no new “set asides” (like Wilderness).

Why should I care about this (again)?

These plans are the rulebook for how the Forest Service will treat these public lands and waters over the next 30+ years, so getting strong and enforceable language protecting habitat connectivity, unroaded lands, mature and old forests, and other important values will have a real impact on the ground. I hope you’ll join us by getting involved however you can!


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