The US Forest Service has announced the release of a draft revised forest plan for the Manti-La Sal National Forest, which spans several mountainous regions in central and southeastern Utah. Much of the forest’s Moab and Monticello Ranger Districts abut lands proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, and the Elk Ridge region includes part of Bears Ears National Monument.
Most importantly, the forest is a critical watershed of the Colorado Plateau, sustaining life in the surrounding redrock canyon county. As climate change and drought become our new reality in the West, protecting watersheds fed by mountain snowpack is more important than ever. For these reasons, it’s crucial that redrock supporters take time to participate in the planning process.
The agency is accepting public comments through Thursday, November 16th.
Below are some important points to raise in your comments.
1. The agency’s preferred plan alternative (Alternative B) is an overall marked step forward that, among other positive things:
- Highlights that wilderness is a resource and recommends that Congress designate new wilderness areas in portions of the forest that currently have exceptionally high wilderness-quality values.
- Would establish special management sub-areas within the larger forest where additional management actions are needed beyond the standard overall forest objectives (for example, the “Moab Geographic Area” encompasses the heavily-recreated western side of the La Sal Mountains and would, among other things, provide a framework for a designated-dispersed camping system, which ecologists note is a best practice for recreation management).
- Sets summer and winter recreation opportunity spectrum (ROS) areas for motorized, mechanized, and non-motorized travel in a way that plans proactively for the future and protects the current natural and un-roaded state of many important areas within the forest. New and future recreational impacts will be limited in alpine areas and currently impacted sites would be reclaimed.
2. It is important to comment in favor of these positive plan components in the agency’s preferred alternative (B). However, neither this alternative nor, sadly, any alternative currently proposed in the draft forest plan, adequately manages the forest for current and future protection of several sensitive and imperiled resources — including native forests and woodlands, wildlife and migratory birds, watersheds, wild and scenic river segments, and wilderness — or addresses the impacts of uses like grazing and mineral extraction. To remedy this, the revised forest plan should incorporate elements of Alternative D and, where needed, supplement its NEPA analysis to add proper management standards which would:
- Add adequate standards to prevent unintended harm to natural and cultural resources that stem from large-scale mechanical vegetation removal (i.e., “chaining,” “mastication, and “seeding”). Read about the importance of avoiding heavy mechanical vegetation removal and prioritizing ecosystem-focused restoration on conservation lands HERE.
- Establish proper boundaries in recommended wilderness units (totaling 403,821 acres) that align with actual wilderness evaluation boundaries, rather than a quarter-mile from designated and open roads as is planned in Alternative B.
3. The forest plan revision should not base management approaches on outdated or incorrect scientific and ecological assumptions, such as the unsubstantiated premise that native and ecologically-expected pinyon pine and juniper forest must be “thinned” outside the wildland-urban-interface to meet natural expected conditions.
4. Within the Manti-La Sal National Forest, regardless of location, cultural resources and traditional properties and uses should be protected and restored. This includes increasing efforts to ensure Tribal Nations are proactively involved in the planning processes and resource management decisions.
This revision of this forest plan is a critical opportunity to ensure the Manti-La Sal is managed for years to come to protect its ecological, cultural, recreational, and other important values. You can learn more about the forest plan alternatives by reading the draft plan and draft environmental impact statement and viewing the interactive alternative comparison map.