The Manti-La Sal National Forest, which encompasses the La Sal and Abajo mountains of southeast Utah’s canyon country and a majority of the Wasatch Plateau in central Utah, is currently undergoing the long-awaited revisions and updates to its forest plan. This is your chance to shape the future of this ecologically and culturally significant landscape.
What is Forest Planning?
Because most of SUWA’s advocacy focuses on Bureau of Land Management lands, our members may not be as familiar with national forest lands or planning processes.
Forest planning, like the BLM’s own management planning, is a critical step in present and future land management because it sets the overall management direction and guiding principles for the entire forest. Every future decision made on the forest is founded on the “Desired Conditions, Objectives, Standards, and Guidelines” set out in the forest plan. These components of a forest plan are used to identify the broad vision for land use on a forest-wide scale. Although the forest plan does not direct site-specific projects or actions, such as how to manage a particular trail or whether a motorized route should be closed to protect sensitive wildlife habitat, the forest plan does identify certain areas that are suitable or unsuitable for particular uses and activities.
Additionally, while undertaking a forest plan revision, the Forest Service identifies and evaluates potential suitable wilderness areas and Wild and Scenic River segments.
The last time the Manti-La Sal plan was updated—in 1986—the Soviet Union still existed. Moab’s uranium boom had just collapsed, leaving the town in a deep recession yet to be alleviated by a tourism-driven renaissance.
You get the picture. At over 35 years old, the Forest Plan sorely needs an update, and you now have the opportunity to weigh in on how you think its ponderosa forest, aspen groves, mountain lakes, and rocky plateaus deserve to be managed for the next several decades.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, along with many of our partners, has been working for years on a “Conservation Alternative,” that we hope will be included and fully analyzed in the Forest Service’s environmental impact statement during the plan revision process. This alternative takes into account climate change, holistic ecosystem management, and protection for intact backcountry and qualifying wilderness across the Manti-La Sal. To learn more about our vision and see how it compares with the Forest Service’s own potential proposals, click here.
Please urge the Forest Service to analyze this alternative in its full and complete form in the draft environmental impact statement. Public comments are due by October 25, 2021.
Key Points to Raise in Your Comments
Below are some of our priorities for inclusion in the new forest plan. Please help us reinforce these points in your comments—the more you personalize and speak to your own love for the Manti-La Sal and your specific concerns for its future, the better and more well-received your comments will be!
The Conservation Alternative includes a wilderness proposal that would ensure a broad range of ecosystems, habitats, and opportunities for solitude are protected for future generations to enjoy. Many of these proposed protected areas are adjacent to existing identified BLM lands with wilderness character and include some of the most remote and pristine backcountry on the Colorado Plateau.
>> Ask the Forest Service to adopt the Conservation Alternative’s wilderness proposal.
Vegetation Removal and Old Growth
National forest lands have often been dramatically changed due to centuries of large-scale logging. The history of logging on the Manti-La Sal has already meant the loss of centuries-old ponderosa pines. In addition, historic and recent projects to increase livestock forage and transform woody and shrubland habitat into grazing pastures has meant the loss of tens of thousands of acres of native vegetation across the forest.
>> Tell the Forest Service you’d like to see native vegetation, including piñon pine and juniper forests, managed and protected as important habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds like the imperiled pinyon jay. Ask the forest to protect old-old growth trees–those over 150 years old—and encourage younger forests to develop into old-growth stands in the future.
The Forest Plan will classify lands within the Forest into one of six different “Recreation Opportunity Spectrum” (ROS) classes: urban, rural, roaded natural, semi-primitive motorized,semi-primitive non-motorized, and primitive.
>> Encourage the Forest Service to set appropriate and resource-protective ROS classes in the Forest Plan that protect currently un-roaded and primitive areas for non-motorized users, wildlife, and future wilderness. The Forest Service should not keep the door open to future motorized use by designating a “motorized” ROS class in areas where this kind of recreation is not currently occurring and is counter to protecting other recreational uses and resources. Support the Forest Service in their currently proposed ROS classes across the forest, or recommend that they be more tailored to non-motorized recreation, as is the case in the Conservation Alternative.
Cultural Landscape Protections and Tribal Connections
The Manti-La Sal National Forest is ancestral land for many indigenous nations. A portion of the recently-restored Bears Ears National Monument lies within the forest. Tribes have thousands of years of connection to the entire planning area and experience managing the natural resources it contains.
>> Encourage the Forest Service to place a high priority on protection and preservation of cultural sites, including defining cultural resources as Native nations do, rather than only as they are defined by Western archaeologists. Ask that the Forest Service include partnerships with Native nations in its planning process and final plan decisions.
This opportunity to engage in scoping on the Manti-La Sal Forest Plan is one step in a long process. The deadline to comment is October 25, 2021. When the scoping period has closed, the Forest Service will prepare a draft environmental impact statement that will compare alternatives—including, we hope, the Conservation Alternative. This current comment period is the best opportunity to shape the foundation of the new forest plan and encourage the Forest Service to consider all important values and perspectives in the planning process.
Thank you for taking action to protect Wild Utah!