Protesters stood outside Moscow’s Best Western Hotel on Jan. 25 holding a sign reading “Save our Forest.” After the protest, a meeting was held by the U.S. Forest Service to talk about the two drafts that were released before the holidays in December.

Forest Service faces scrutiny, criticism

Releasing drafts right before holidays led to the loss of time for public comment on drafts

January 28, 2020

The U.S. Forest Service received backlash and disapproval from environmental and conservation groups as well as activists.

Friends of the Clearwater and other activist groups expressed disapproval of the Forest Service’s release and content of two documents. The agency released the Draft Revised Forest Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests on Dec. 20 which was the Friday before Christmas. 

The Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR § 219.16(2)) states there needs to be at least 90 days for the public to comment. 

Brett Haverstick, FOC education and outreach director, said releasing the documents during the holidays took away about two weeks from the comment period. 

He said this is because the public and Forest Service employees are enjoying their holidays. Agency employees may not respond to questions during that time, he said.

“We think it’s actually pretty disgraceful for the government to treat the public like this,” Haverstick said. “This is really a slap in the face.”

A coalition of environmental and conservation groups, submitted a letter asking for the comment period to be extended. The FOC helped lead the coalition. 

The letter was dated Dec. 23 and was submitted to Cheryl Probert, forest supervisor of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

Probert said the documents were released as soon as they received approval from their “hierarchy process.” She did not define what the hierarchy process was. 

Zach Peterson, forest planner of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, said the Forest Service wanted to release the documents as early as possible. He said groups working with the Forest Service have been waiting years for the documents. 

Probert recently extended the comment period’s deadline from March 19 to April 20. She granted an extension of 32 days, although the letter requested an extension of 90 days.

Haverstick said the Forest Service should have done their job well the first time so that the agency would not have to extend the public comment period.

“It’s about establishing credibility and trust with the public,” he said. “When you release a plan the Friday before Christmas, that’s just the opposite. It’s not showing the integrity [of] the government.”

Haverstick said it is important for the public to be given adequate time to review the documents. The DEIS has more than 2,000 pages, while the draft plan has about 500 pages.

Peterson said the draft plan acts as a “rule book” which dictates how the forests should be managed. He said this plan would be in effect for the next 15 to 30 years.

The draft plan contains standards and guidelines which state the desired conditions for resource areas, he said. The standards and guidelines put mandatory constraints on forest project activities such as logging.

The draft plan “has the potential to add nearly 4,000 new jobs to the region and as much as $160 million in additional labor income,” according to the Forest Service’s website.

The DEIS analyzes the plan and evaluates the ecological, social and economic effects it has to resource areas, Peterson said. The document also examines different alternatives.

In the DEIS, it states there are four cooperating agencies involved which includes the counties of Idaho and Clearwater as well as the state of Idaho. 

The Nez Perce tribe is listed as one of the agencies, but its status is still pending, according to the DEIS. Probert said this is because a Cooperating Agency Agreement has not been signed yet.

This article is part two of a three-part series on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and the U.S. Forest Service. 

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