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The Salmon-Challis National Forest spans more than 4.3 million acres, making it one of the largest in the lower 48.

As part of its process to revise or amend its forest management plans, the Salmon-Challis National Forest will host an online public meeting and conference call on its reviews of current plans on Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

The meeting will be hosted by revision team leader Josh Milligan.

The forest is currently managed under separate plans developed in 1987 and 1988, before the Salmon National Forest and Challis National Forest were combined. Those plans are outdated and, in some cases, incompatible, forest officials say. The Forest Service began its revision process in 2017, and in September 2019 announced that it would evaluate the Salmon and Challis plans separately. In April, the Forest Service posted a review of both the Challis and the Salmon forest plans at bit.ly/scnfforestplanhome. It stated at the time that it would hold workshops in local communities to explain the review and invite public feedback. However, because of the state of Idaho’s shelter-in-place policies, those workshops were canceled. 

On Aug. 20, the Forest Service released a current plan evaluation summary of an extensive review of the existing forest plans. That document can be found at bit.ly/2QsrLSk. The public is invited to provide feedback on the existing plan review until Oct. 4.

“Since the Salmon-Challis National Forest started revising our forest plans in 2017, we have been in continual communication with local citizens, elected officials, state agencies, tribes and many other interested parties,” forest Supervisor Chuck Mark said in a press release. “Public engagement has been robust and passionate and I sincerely appreciate the interest, time and effort. We have completed this thorough evaluation of the existing Challis and Salmon forest plans at the request of our stakeholders and I’m looking forward to getting feedback on these initial findings.” 

After hearing from stakeholders, Mark expects to use the findings from the review and public input and determine whether each plan should be revised, amended or left unchanged, the release states.

The current plan review summary notes that the plans were written 30 years ago, and land managers at that time could not predict all the events and conditions that have transpired since then. Some of those regulatory or policy changes included interagency adoption of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s adoption of the 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule, which governs management of roadless areas on national forests in the state, and Endangered Species Act fish listings.

The summary states that the plans need to be modernized to address technological changes and changes in management policy nationwide. Those include:

  • Forest thinning strategies to reduce fuels for wildfires
  • Emerging recreational uses such as side-by-sides, mountain bikes and larger RVs
  • Cooperative management with grazing permit holders
  • Cell towers and utility or broadband corridors
  • Recognizing and managing for cobalt or other strategic minerals
  • Identifying priority watersheds for restoration
  • Providing additional visitor services, such as current trail and road conditions.

Timber harvest

The summary notes that current forest plans identify about 507,000 acres, or 32 percent of forested area outside wilderness on the Salmon-Challis National Forest, as land suitable for timber production. Beginning in the early- to mid-1990s, however, several local and regional mill closures increased haul costs, which are now prohibitive to timber sale offerings within much of the suitable timber base across both forests. According to the current plans, timber values are to cover costs of road construction for timber sales. Consequently, there has been no new permanent road construction on the forest since 1999.


Mining

The summary states that because mining activities are largely directed through federal laws, the current forest plans do not greatly influence mineral or energy resource development.


Wildfires

According to the summary, resource specialists have found current fire management direction unhelpful in both forest plans. It states that current direction in both plans is written around the concept of suppressing all fires. National fire policy, on the other hand, calls for land managers to use fire management activities to help achieve various ecosystem and social goals when making decisions about wildfire. Current direction limits landscape approaches that are necessary to address vegetation condition imbalances and uncharacteristic fire.

“The lack of consistency with national fire policy means that fire incident management teams and forest leadership are left to independently identify and prioritize social, economic and resource values under significant time constraints without much, if any, stakeholder input,” the summary states. “Clear objectives for managing risk, protecting values, prioritizing where wildfire and prescribed burning can safely occur would be beneficial for both forests.”


Riparian ecosystems

The summary notes that science around riparian management objectives has changed considerably over the years, but since 1995, the Salmon-Challis National Forest has not conducted watershed analyses to refine the objectives.


Wildlife

The summary states that between the two forest plans, there are differences in the scale at which wildlife-related direction applies. While roughly half of the Salmon wildlife direction is prescribed at the forest-wide scale, that is the case for only 20 percent of the Challis wildlife-related direction.

The sage grouse land management plan amendments for national forests in Idaho are a potential impediment to 12 and 33 pieces of wildlife-relevant direction in the Salmon and Challis forest plans, respectively, the summary states. It notes that the amendment has the greatest potential to constrain direction for big game habitat where it overlaps with sage grouse habitat.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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