Elk NetworkBlue Mountains National Forests Begin Assessment for Forest Plan Revision

General | August 18, 2023

Below is a news release from the U.S. Forest Service. The Blue Mountains are home to an elk population that continues to decline with shrinking calf-to-cow ratios. Many Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation members were involved in previous forest plan discussions that did not lead to a resolution. RMEF encourages its members to become informed and weigh in on the plan revision.

The Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman (Blue Mountains) National Forests have initiated the process to revise the Land Management Plans (Forest Plans), which provide the overall strategic management direction and guidance for the Blue Mountains National Forests. Revising these Forest Plans represents a commitment to managing productive and sustainable forests for the American people.

The July 31st publication in the Federal Register initiates the assessment phase, which is the first phase of the Forest Plan Revision process under the 2012 Planning Rule. The purpose of the assessment phase is to gather existing relevant information on Forest conditions and trends and use this information to rapidly evaluate the sustainability of existing ecological, economic, and social conditions and trends within the context of the broader landscape. The evaluation will result in a document (referred to as the assessment) that will be the foundation for the Forest Service’s work on developing the revised Forest Plans. In addition, as required by the 2012 Planning Rule, Forest Service staff are developing a preliminary proposed list for Species of Conservation Concern (SCC) and inventories for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The Forest Service is eager to hear input on Tribal, individual, and community values. Public involvement will help the Forest Service gain local knowledge about existing forest conditions and understand concerns about community or resource impacts from proposed changes in the revised Forest Plans. The Forest Service will provide recurring opportunities during the assessment phase for the public to learn about the Forest Plan Revision process, ask questions and provide feedback. Currently the public is invited to participate through the following opportunities:

Open Houses (see schedule below): These will be unstructured information sessions designed to offer an opportunity for the public to learn about the revision process and assessment phase through conversations and informational materials, provide one-on-one discussion between participants and Forest Service staff, and venues for the public to submit comments.

Commenting Maps: These maps are available hardcopy at each Forest Service office and digitally on the new Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision interactive story map https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/584b8ae9d4384784bc5a2b6791a96355. Input provided will help inform management needs that will guide the Forest Plan Revision process by providing context around places of importance, landscape benefits, and inform the need for change within the planning process.

Public Engagement Survey: The Forest Service is seeking input on future public engagement opportunities for the agency to consider throughout the Forest Plan Revision process. Visit https://tinyurl.com/yc6289y7 to provide feedback to the team.

Contact the Team: The Forest Service welcomes questions, comments, and feedback at any time. Blank comment forms are available at each Forest Service office and on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision website at https://tinyurl.com/avjjes6n. In addition, the public can email the team directly at [email protected].

Additional engagement opportunities may be added and will be announced at that time and posted on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision website. The website also includes information regarding the overall Forest Plan Revision process, including opportunities for engagement throughout each phase.

A draft of the assessment, proposed SCC list, Wilderness inventories and Wild and Scenic River inventories will be shared for public input prior to moving forward to the next phase of the process, which is plan development. Once complete, the assessment is used to help identify the need to change the existing plan, and to inform the development of plan components and other content.

The Blue Mountains National Forests include approximately 5.5 million acres of National Forest System lands in northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. The Blue Mountains National Forests are operating under Forest Plans that were signed in the 1990s. Multiple uses provided by the National Forests (including livestock grazing, timber harvest, forest recreation, tourism, and subsistence activities) are all important to economic and social life in the Blue Mountains area. Revising the Forest Plans will provide an updated framework to guide forest management that considers current science and local economic, social, and environmental conditions.

The Forest Service previously attempted to revise the Blue Mountains Forest Plans with a planning effort that spanned 15 years. Ultimately, the Forest Service withdrew the Blue Mountains Revised Forest Plans and Final Environmental Impact Statement in March 2019, before the plans were finalized and implemented.

Afterward, Forest Service leadership from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office and the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests met with local elected leaders to better understand concerns and identify opportunities to approach forest planning and management in a new way. The participants recognized the need to identify common ground and work together at a larger scale, which included working with other government entities within and surrounding the Blue Mountains geographic area that were most impacted by the Forest Plans. The various government entities within and surrounding the Blue Mountains geographic area officially came together and formed the Blues Intergovernmental Council (BIC) in November 2019. The BIC developed desired conditions for Forest Service consideration on several key issues in the withdrawn Blue Mountains Forest Plans, including livestock grazing, fisheries, hydrology, forest health, access, and socioeconomics. The BIC-endorsed desired conditions were provided to the Forest Service as recommendations and will serve as a baseline to be further informed during the assessment phase by public engagement, as well as Tribal and agency consultation, throughout the plan revision process. Where feasible, the Forest Service will also use relevant analyses from the withdrawn revised plans.

By reinitiating plan revision, the Forest Service aims to develop durable Forest Plans that balance the ecological needs of the landscape with the economic and social needs of the communities that depend on them. Having a framework that incorporates local knowledge and input is an integral part of this process and the public’s input will help ensure sustainability of the Forests well into the future.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)