As required by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1982, every national forest must have a Land and Resource Management Plan and Forest Plan, and must update the Forest Plan every 10 to 15 years.
The San Juan National Forest finalized its last Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIP) and full Forest Plan in 1983. In 1992, the Forest Plan was amended and a supplement to the EIP was approved and published; however, an updated Forest Plan has yet to be approved, finalized, published and implemented.
The process of creating a new Forest Plan for the San Juan National Forest began in 2004. This year, according to USFS San Juan National Forest Planning and Public Services Staff Officer Mark Lambert, the Forest Service hopes to finalize, sign and begin implementing the updated Forest Plan.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced significant changes to the management of 193 million acres of forests. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the change to the National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule last Thursday during a press conference. Though not yet finalized, the rule change has passed through a comment period, during which the Forest Service received over 300,000 comments, and according to Lambert it will probably be finalized within a few weeks.
However, Lambert said this rule change will not hinder the San Juan National Forest’s Land and Management plan from continuing on its current course, being finalized by the year’s end. The new planning rule has a provision for Forest Plans that are already under way: they can continue under the 1982 planning rule or start anew under the new rule.
“We are so far down the road,” Lambert said, adding that this was why they decided to continue the process under the 1982 planning rule. “And our decision is completely supported by the Forest Service and our constituents,” he said.
Lambert added that they will look at the Forest Plan under the new rule, and while no major changes will be necessary, minor changes may be necessary to be consistent with the new rule.
“This is a very solid process, and the new plan will stay in place for a while,” Lambert said.
The new planning rule emphasizes scientific studies in forest management practices and collaborative approaches to forest management, meaning the inclusion of the community, and consideration of forest restoration and recreation.