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RBC I Last week, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) stressed the need for legislation to require the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to collaborate with affected local communities on travel management plans before implementing new rules.
During the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation legislative hearing, Tipton questioned witnesses on instances when the USFS ignored locally driven, basic, yet important requests made by surrounding communities when implementing travel management plans.
Commissioner Steve McClure from Union County, Ore., testified that the USFS rejected four reasonable requests made by Union County and other impacted counties for changes while developing the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Travel Management Plan.
“You could be a county commissioner in Colorado – we’re hearing the same complaints throughout our district,” Tipton told McClure. “Was the forest travel management plan already predetermined before the counties were able to weigh in?”
“I think that’s one of the criticisms; Maybe it wasn’t, but the outcome appeared that it was,” McClure said. “When you go through the process that we went through, and none of what we had put on the table was considered, you have to believe that it was a top-down decision that came from D.C. that Wallowa-Whitman would have the management and this is what it would be. That’s the feeling that the community has out there, that this was totally a top-down decision.”
Leslie A.C. Weldon, deputy chief of the USFS, told Tipton at the hearing that it is the agency’s policy to engage in collaboration with local communities when developing travel management plans and that that collaboration is “extremely important.”
“When we’re talking about effective collaboration – four simple requests, and they were disregarded; is that listening?” Tipton asked Weldon.
“In this instance, it was not listening,” Weldon said.
“I’m a big believer in having a collaborative process, and, in Colorado, where we have a lot of public lands, it’s worked well when it happens,” Tipton said. “But, based on what we heard from the witnesses today, and on what I’ve heard from commissioners and others in Colorado’s 3rd District, it’s apparent that when developing travel management plans, the Forest Service bureaucrats make decisions at whim as to when they will allow local collaboration and when they won’t.
“While the Forest Service policy may be to collaborate with local communities when developing these plans, even the deputy chief of the Forest Service testified today that it doesn’t always happen,” Tipton said. “The Forest Service is supposed to be listening and incorporating local input into travel management plans that impact access to public lands, but it’s not happening in all cases, and that is a real problem.
“The common-sense Forest Access in Rural Communities Act would address that problem by requiring the Forest Service to incorporate the needs of affected local communities into travel management plans before implementing them,” he said. “This would give local communities an assured voice in a process.”
H.R. 4272, the Forest Access in Rural Communities Act, sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden, would require the Forest Service to incorporate the needs, uses and input of affected communities before taking any travel management action affecting access to National Forest System lands.