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Forest plan gets public hearing; concerns raised about motorized access
Mar 17, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Environmentalists and non-motorized recreationists are raising concerns about the Shoshone National Forest's draft land management plan.
The U.S. Forest Service released a final draft of the document on Jan. 17. The public has until March 26 to object to it.
"It's got a back-country emphasis," forest supervisor Joseph Alexander said.
The plan is to guide the management of the 2.4 million acre forest for at least 10 years. It sets out where activities such as oil and gas drilling, mountain biking and snowmobiling are allowed and designates which areas have special protections, including wilderness and special management units.
About 20 people attended a meeting Tuesday led by six Forest Service personnel at the Pronghorn Lodge in Lander. Many thought the plan was not strong on conservation.
"The lack of wilderness, bicycles in the Dunoir (special management unit)...(and) acres available for summer motorized (recreation)," was how Lander man Tim Hudson summarized his concerns.
No new wilderness areas are designated in the new plan. Such areas must be in their natural condition, and only primitive activities are allowed in them. The Shoshone National Forest has five wilderness areas.
Mountain biking and motorized vehicles currently are permitted in the Dunoir. The new plan would prohibit motorized recreation but allow mountain bikes on one trail.
Alexander told attendees of the meeting the plan contains something for everyone, including people interested in conservation.
"What I believe the plan does is strengthen protections for grizzly bears and has a dramatic decrease in winter motorized (use) in crucial (animal) winter range."
He also noted the final plan only opens 125,000 acres to surface occupancy by oil and gas developments compared to 800,000 acres in an earlier draft.
Those interested in motorized recreation and development also have something in the plan, he said.
"We held open areas where there's high interest and potential (for oil and gas development)," Alexander said.
The plan also increases the area open to summer motorized recreation, such as all terrain vehicles, and grazing resources are kept at the same level, he said.
The Shoshone's current land management plan dates to 1986, and a new one has been in the works since 2005. Litigation and rule changes have delayed it, Alexander said.
Completing the process would allow the forest to develop a travel management plan, he said. That document would regulate activities such as using snow machines, mountain bikes and all terrain vehicles.
The land management plan would dictate what areas could be open to those uses, Alexander said, but the travel plan would specify where they're allowed.
Only individuals who submitted comments during the previous public comment period can send objections now, and they must address issues they raised before.
Some aspects, such as mountain biking in the Dunoir were not included in earlier plan drafts, and anyone can submit comment on those, Forest Service planner Carrie Christman said.
After the objection period, Alexander said, the national Forest Service office would review the objections, draft plan and background information and revise the land management plan as it saw fit.
Objections can be faxed to 703-235-0138, e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to USDA Forest Service, Attn: EMC--Administrative Reviews, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Mailstop :1104, Washington, DC 20250.