To the Editor,
Recent stories in Colorado newspapers have focused on the high level of interest and controversy over the draft White River National Forest Plan Revision. I hope the following information about forest planning and the status of our plan revision process on the White River will assist your readers in this continuing dialogue and in their ability to contribute meaningful comments on the draft forest plan.
In 1976, all national forests were directed by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) to begin a public process to prepare plans that would divulge strategies for management the first White River National Forest Plan was approved in 1984.
Congress recognized that changes over time would require that national forests revise and update their forest management plans. It is that direction to update plans every 10 to 15 years that has led to the current White River Plan Revision process.
We began in 1997 by updating our information about the current situation and developing a range of management alternatives. In early August we began the phase of discussing the draft plan and gathering input from other agencies, organizations and individuals.
In the draft, we recommended one of the alternatives (D) as our preferred starting point for public input. Alternative D was developed to ensure that the wealth of natural resource values on the White River are sustained as well as providing for the established recreation and tourism benefits for which the White River is so well known. This alternative recognizes that as our population increases and mountain communities continue to expand, pressure on national forest lands will continue to intensify. Some coinstraints on recreation uses may be necessary to maintain the health of the land and ensure future enjoyment of our forest.
This recommendation is a long way from a decision. We will spend the next four months continuing to solicit comments and meet with interested agencies and organizations to discuss issues we will need to address prior to our development of the final plan.
The planning process is working. I am receiving lots of comments from groups and individuals that will be helpful in drafting our final plan. Comments will be accepted until Feb. 9, 2000.
This winter, we will begin to analyze this input and prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement and decision. Because of the complexity of a forest plan, that process will take nearly a year. A final decision will not be made until early 2001.
The White River National Forest is at the heart of the lifestyles of western Colorado. It enhances our economy, provides us with leisure-time opportunities from driving for pleasure to scaling the fourteeners. The ability of the forest to continue to sustain these values over time depends on how we manage and protect its sensitive ecosystems today.
The forest plan we ultimately adopt must reflect a mix of opportunities for human use, while providing for critical habitat and sustainable exosystem health.
I encourage your readers to review the materials available to them and offer their comments.
Martha J. Ketelle