U.S. Forest Service denies extension for public comment

Environmental groups continue efforts in preserving Nez-Perce Clearwater Forests



The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests host a variety of wildlife and complex wildland.

LAUREN ELLENBECKER, Evergreen reporter

Conservation groups’ request for a public comment extension on a draft revised forest plan for Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests was denied by the U.S. Forest Service. The plan has received backlash from activists, environmental and conservation groups.

The deadline for public comment regarding the Forest Service’s Draft Revised Forest Plan expired on April 20. Friends of the Clearwater (FOC) issued a letter to the agency requesting an additional 60-day extension for the comment period.

Gary Macfarlane, FOC ecosystem defense director, said this extension was necessary due to citizens facing challenges presented by the pandemic. People were focused on those close to them rather than the Forest Service’s draft plan, he said.

Macfarlane said the Forest Service’s draft is over 2,000 pages and required a large amount of time for groups to prepare their comments. He said the agency’s rejection to extend the comment period shows avoidance for public involvement.

“I think it shows their contempt for the public,” Macfarlane said. “They’re supposed to work for us.”

The Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee submitted a comment to the Forest Service saying not extending the comment period deprives the Nimiipuu of their opportunity to engage in the management of their ancestral land.

The Nez Perce Tribe requested future alternative forest plans that honor and advance the tribe’s treaty rights, according to the comment. They also expect the Forest Service to improve their future involvement with the tribe as a partner in management opportunities.

FOC and other conservation organizations will wait to see the draft decision and go to court if they are not satisfied.

According to the Forest Service’s website, the final record of decision and the Final Revised Forest Plan is proposed to be presented in fall 2021, which will be followed by an objection process. The Final Environmental Impact Statement is proposed to be presented in the winter of 2021.

Current forest plans protect the biodiversity of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, as they present science-based standards for logging in watersheds, Macfarlane said. The draft is allowing an increase in logging and motorized recreation building.

The draft proposes to guide the management of the Nez Perce-Clearwater forests so they are ecologically sustainable and diverse, according to the draft. It also seeks to build upon recreation. The expected sale of timber derived from Nez Perce-Clearwater will be increased from previous yield limits, according to the draft.

A variety of wildlife and complex wildland are found in the Clearwater National Forest. Macfarlane said the proposed revision does not protect the wilderness and endangers many species and undeveloped land.

The Clearwater River is an integral source for salmon and steelhead fish that spawn from the ocean, he said. The area is also a stronghold for forest dwelling, such as fisher weasels and rare land snails.

“We’re looking at one of the best wildlife areas in the country,” Macfarlane said.

Previous reporting on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and the U.S. Forest Service can be found on The Daily Evergreen’s website.