Whether the management plans for the Salmon-Challis National Forest are revised, amended or left unchanged will be decided in the next few months, according to Intermountain Regional Forester Mary Farnsworth.
Farnsworth, who took over as regional forester two months ago, met with Custer County Commissioners Wayne Butts and Steve Smith last week to introduce herself and hear what local stakeholders have to say about revisions to the forest plans.
Originally designated as the Salmon and Challis national forests in 1987 and 1988, respectively, the two entities were administratively joined several years later. However, Forest Service personnel continued to operate the forest using two management plans. In 2017 Salmon-Challis Forest Supervisor Chuck Mark began the process of revising the plans to bring them in line with current laws and policies. Originally intending to combine the two plans into one, Mark backtracked in 2019 and decided to revise two separate plans after hearing from the public.
Josh Milligan, who leads the team on the forest revision plans and spent the last four years receiving input, said he will continue to do so until Farnsworth makes a decision. People can submit online comments at www.fs.usda.gov/main/scnf/home. People can also email Milligan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 208-756-5560 to let him know how they feel about revising the forest plans.
Although he hasn’t been able to meet with the public face-to-face as much as he would’ve like to for the last year because of the coronavirus, Milligan said he kept apprised on how stakeholders feel about revising the plans through regular calls he had with county commissioners.
County commissioners told Milligan and Farnsworth they like the two-plan approach, but only if it is done correctly. Given the choice between full revision, amended revision or no revision of the two plans, commissioners Butts and Smith said full revision is the least desirable option.
Butts and Smith said they’re concerned a full revision won’t prioritize local stakeholders’ perspectives or address their specific needs. Fearing pressure from environmental groups who don’t live near the forest using lawsuits against the Forest Service to control what happens to it, the commissioners said they worry the most about losing multi-use land stewardship in the forest to wilderness and scenic river designations.
Reaffirming the revision process is about getting the national forest in line with current policies, not the Forest Service caving to legal pressures, Farnsworth told the commissioners she will look at the letters they have sent before rendering a decision.
“I’ll make this call, one way or another, because we have to stop the bantering,” Farnsworth said.