PENDLETON, Ore. —The Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests (Blue Mountains) are preparing to reinitiate the revision process for the Blue Mountains Land Management Plans (Forest Plans). The Forest Service’s intent builds upon the recommendations from the Blues Intergovernmental Council (BIC) on several polarizing forest management issues from the withdrawn Forest Plans. The content will serve as a baseline to be further informed by public engagement, as well as Tribal and agency consultation, throughout the plan revision process.
The BIC was formed in 2019 and consists of government leaders from impacted counties, states, federal and Tribal entities. The diverse membership of the BIC ensures numerous perspectives and interests are represented in these discussions. The Forest Service has worked closely with the BIC over the past two years on key issues from the withdrawn Forest Plans.
Through these discussions, the BIC provided recommendations on several forest management issues, including riparian livestock grazing, fisheries, hydrology, forest health, and access. The BIC also commissioned and oversaw the completion of a socioeconomic analysis that identifies potential community impacts from forest management decisions. These discussions and products offer important context from diverse perspectives that will improve the Forest Plan revision process moving forward.
With these products, the Forest Service is now ready to reinitiate Forest Plan revision under the 2012 planning rule, which will include robust external engagement opportunities throughout the entire process. Using the 2012 planning rule, each Forest Supervisor will sign a separate decision for their respective National Forest’s revised Forest Plan.
This approach enhances opportunities for local engagement and contributions because the decisions will be made at the local level. The Forest Service is eager to begin the official planning process and 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 Blue Mountains National Forests are currently forming a team to develop the revised Forest Plans. The planning team will include a mixture of local Forest Service staff, individuals from other areas and support from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office. Additional updates and a timeline will be shared once the team is in place, including future engagement opportunities.
The Forest Service will also continue to work closely with the BIC, whose members have committed to bring regular feedback to the Forest Service regarding content in the draft documents or ways to improve the process.
The Forest Plan is a comprehensive document that guides forest resource management, use and protection. It aims to balance multiple uses and sustained yield of forest resources. It sets forth a vision for land management, describes the desired conditions within the forest, and lays out specific objectives, standards and guidelines for how to achieve those desired conditions. The document is strategic in nature and does not approve projects or actions on National Forest lands.
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. Currently, the Blue Mountains National Forests are operating under Forest Plans that were signed in the 1990s. 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. However, when the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and draft Records of Decision were released in 2018, the Forest Service received widespread feedback that the Revised Plans were difficult to understand and potentially confusing to implement, which ultimately resulted in the documents being withdrawn on March 14, 2019.
Following the withdrawal of the Forest Plans, leadership from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office and the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests met with local elected leaders in April 2019 to better understand concerns and identify opportunities to approach forest planning in a new way. The participants recognized the need to explore unique approaches, identify common ground, and work together at a larger scale. The various government entities within and surrounding the Blue Mountains geographic area officially came together and formed the BIC in November 2019.
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.
Updates on the process, timelines, key contacts, and website links will be shared as information is available.