Forest Planning: Voices Unheard

By McLarney, William O. | American Forests, May-June 1989 | Go to article overview

Forest Planning: Voices Unheard


McLarney, William O., American Forests


Almost half of my home county covered by National Forest. This is not n unusual situation; 670 of the 3,094 U.S. counties contain portions of National Forest. In 208 of these counties, home to more than 16 million people, the forests dominate the landscape, comprising more than 25 percent of the land area. Like most of the millions who see the National Forests from their windows every day, I have regarded Smokey the Bear as a good neighbor who is fun to visit. About 60 of the estimated 226.5 million user-days of recreation provided by the National Forest System last year were enjoyed by my family.

Yet I and most of my neighbors are feeling uneasy about old Smokey. Of course there have always been problems. The classic confrontation between conservationists and loggers is reenacted each year in all the forests. There are questions about burning, herbicides, roads, clearcuts.... And no matter how things turn out, it is the forest ranger, the professional who is supposed to manage the forest, who has to take the heat from any disgruntled parties.

All that was supposed to change with the passage of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) in 1976. The NFMA mandated a nationwide, forest-by-forest planning process, which may be without parallel in the history of resource management. Built into the process were procedures to "consider and evaluate" testimony from all concerned groups and individuals. The Forest Service rhetoric of multiple use" was to be validated once and for all. Acceptable and comphrehensive compromises between preservation and utilization, conservation and development were to flow almost automatically from the planning process.

With respect to the sheer quantity of public participation, the process has exceeded all expectations, The combined plan for my forest, the Nantahala, and the neighboring Pisgah has prompted no less than 5,000 letters to the Forest Service. Practically all of them have rejected the plan, in both its original and revised forms. The so-called final" plan for the NantahalaPisgah Forests-considered "one of the best"-has faced six administrative appeals, four of which are still active.

Across the nation it is the same. Undaunted by the size of the plans, some of which weigh in excess of 10 pounds, the citizenry have found them lacking. So far all of 93 existing "final" plans have been appealed, and the 30 plans still in "draft' form have also come under fire.

This is not the work of any particular interest group. One of the NantahalaPisgah appeals, sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, charges that too much acreage is marked for harvest and that the Forest Service is short-changing Wilderness, wildlife, non-motorized recreation, and natural ecosystems. Another, by a local loggers' group, demands more acreage for timber harvest. A local grass-roots conservation group, the Western North Carolina Alliance, says the main problem is not how many acres art, cut or left, but the way timber is cut, and vigorously opposes clearcutting (felling every last tree over an area of 10 to 100 acres or more).

Unlikely as it may seem, there is el common thread uniting all the appeals: The root problem, I think, is not a matter of Wilderness vs. timber, or recreation vs. development, It is not a question of how the forest should be managed. It is not even the prevalence of below-cost timber sales that rings sc) false to the ordinary taxpayer lacking an advanced degree in economics.

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