In a few different ways, I've recently been inspired to take a more active role in the democratic side of public land management. I play and work on Forest Service land. I am involved with various efforts to advocate for and facilitate climbing and other recreation on our Eastern Sierra public lands. In the process of engaging with the public comment and planning process, I've learned a few things that may help you in your own participation. If you are so inclined, here is a step-by-step tutorial on the most recent step in Inyo National Forest planning, with an admitted bias to what lights my fire. Formal information from the Forest Service is housed here. I find the bureaucratic presentation a bit confusing. Hopefully I can demystify things a little bit.
First of all, what is going on right now is a revision to the Inyo National Forest overall plan. Basically all of the mountainous terrain we recreate on in the Eastern and High Sierra is on, or requires passing through, the Inyo National Forest. The "Forest Plan" is an overarching, general document. The "constitution" of the Forest, if you will. This document will not include specific directives. It is, however, a document that will guide and structure the course of upcoming specific decisions the Forest Service will make.
The process of revising this 26 year old plan is a multi-year project, undertaken in conjunction with neighboring Forests as well. Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra National Forests are all using a new method of plan writing that is supposed to better encourage public participation. The procedure includes online, interactive phases and occasional public meetings.
Inyo National Forest Draft Assessment
As of right now, mid-January 2014, the plan revision process is about halfway through. The Forest "assessment" has been completed. This pdf holds the entire INF assessment. Essentially, the assessment is exactly that; it's a summary of how things are right now. Information of interest to mountain athletes and professionals is found in Chapters 6 and 9. (Pages 102 and 134, respectively)
A few excerpts from the Assessment stand out as relevant to us:
"Studies have clearly shown that local economies in this area are very dependent on tourism and recreational activities, and any changes in the level of these activities would have an effect on the economy."
"In 2010, travel and tourism related industries comprised almost 50 percent of jobs in the counties bordering the Inyo NF."
"Unmanaged recreation can negatively impact ecosystem health, for example, through the spread of invasive species, overfishing, and degradation of water quality. Examples of unmanaged recreation include development of rock climbing routes at newly discovered crags..."
"There may also be increased future desire for outfitter/guide services in wilderness as part of the overall increasing demand for recreation on public lands, and an aging population who want more amenities during their visit."
"The decline in agency budget and increasing public demand creates greater need for collaboration between the Inyo NF and partners, including private businesses, outfitters and guides, local governments, non-governmental groups and volunteers."
"Stakeholders also highlighted a demand for additional outfitter and guide services authorized under special use permits."The most extensive mention of technical pursuits in the Forest comes under the topic of "Emerging Recreation":
"Rock climbing and mountaineering are popular recreation activities on the Inyo NF"Preliminary "Need to Change"
With the assessment basically complete, the Forest Service is now taking comment on aspects of Forest planning in need of change. From the assessment, the agency has distilled and consolidated the issues into six "Areas of Emphasis". One of these six is titled Sustainable Recreation. The issue, as the FS sees it, is that "declining federal budgets constrain the ability of the agency to meet current demands for recreation opportunities and access." What that means for backcountry users is that the FS cannot fund trail maintenance, visitor information services, and wilderness rangers. It also means that law enforcement is limited. Finally, it means that permitting commercial and special recreational uses is delayed or completely suspended.
Right now, through January 30, the Forest Service is taking comments in response to this "Need to Change" document. Peruse it and compose some thoughts as to how the "need" can be better clarified and how you envision the changes being prioritized and implemented. Send an email with your comments in this vein to R5planrevision@fs.fed.us. If you comment by this Friday, January 24th, your comments will be considered for inclusion on the agenda of a series of meetings held the following week. Regional Forest Service staff will be touring next week to three locations to further gather public comment on the Need to Change. Here on the Eastside, the meeting series stops at the FS Administrative office in Bishop on Thursday, January 30 at 5pm. I'll be there in the big building on Line Street between the hospital and the DMV. There's free food, they say.