“Public comments during this informal review will give us an idea if our proposed draft plan is on the right track,” Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander said in a news release. “This early review is an opportunity for the public to help us identify issues that we’ll use to develop alternatives for the next step in the process.”
Those alternatives and an official draft of the plan will be released early this summer, followed by a 90-day public comment period.
This informal period of review runs through Feb. 2.
In addition to the preliminary draft of the plan, the Forest Service has released a two-page sheet explaining the most significant changes it is proposing. The draft calls for leaving many things much as they are now under the existing plan finished in 1986.
“Our plan is really simple, and if you look at the plan, we’re not changing grazing, we’re not changing allotments, we’re not closing roads,” Wapiti District Ranger Terry Root said in a November meeting with the Park County Commission, adding, “There’s much of that (current) plan that, it’s not broken, so we’re not going to try to fix it.”
The amount of timber and other forest products sold each year on the forest will likely remain the same as it has since 1994, the Forest Service says.
The revision also won’t touch oil and gas leasing. Lands designated as open for leasing under a 1995 decision will generally remain open, while off-limit spots will stay that way. Unlike U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands in the Big Horn Basin, where much oil and gas is produced, there’s little such activity on the Shoshone. There hasn’t been a rig on the Shoshone in more than a decade, and only one gas well, near Pinedale, is currently planned.
New wilderness-like designations were a flash-point on the BLM’s proposed draft land use plan for the Big Horn Basin’s public lands, but the Forest Service is proposing no new roadless or wilderness areas in its proposed draft for the Shoshone.
You can view the draft, summary and other planning documents at http://bit.ly/SNFPlan.
Shoshone officials will host an open house on the proposed draft on Monday, Jan. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cody’s Big Horn Federal building. Other open houses will take place in Dubois, Lander and Thermopolis next week.
The release of the preliminary document was bumped up by about a month because of orders from higher-ups in the U.S. Forest Service.
“The reason? Basically, funding,” said Shoshone spokeswoman Susie Douglas in an email. “The federal deficit and declining budgets mean we need to be as efficient as possible with the taxpayers’ money, so we’re shortening the time we spend on this project. We don’t like changing a commitment, but we’ve been told (by regional and Washington offices) to do it.”
Park County commissioners have expressed concern that the public may get confused about the Shoshone releasing a preliminary draft for comment, to be followed by an official draft plan.
“What ends up as their preferred alternative (in the official draft), maybe it’s not going to be radically different, but it may be substantially different from what they’ve got out there now,” said Commissioner Tim French.
“It’s a confusing thing,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden.
He noted the Shoshone’s plan and process is “totally different” from the Bureau of Land Management’s ongoing efforts to revise its land use plan for the Big Horn Horn.
Commissioner Dave Burke offered that the Shoshone’s preliminary draft is “far, far simpler than the BLM draft was.”
For starters, the Shoshone’s draft weighs in at about 210 pages — about 1,600 pages shorter than the BLM plan.
While the BLM prohibited cooperators from releasing “pre-decisional” information about its plan as it was drafted, the Shoshone has been posting the documents given to cooperators on its website.
Cooperators, which include commissioners and conservation districts bordering the Shoshone, have until Jan. 13 to submit their comments.
“Because of the short turn-around time, we ask that you focus on the big picture — themes and management direction,” Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander wrote to cooperators in a Dec. 9 letter posted online. Alexander has been critical of the commission and conservation districts’ consultant, Ecosystem Research Group, for dwelling on the details of the process and slowing it down. Commissioners say they’re just trying to make sure the best, legally defensible plan is written.
Park County commissioners may finalize their comments on the preliminary draft at their regular meeting today (Tuesday).