Highlights of the Final Forest Plan

Ken Miller

The long awaited Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan was released in late July.

Since then, Friends of the Inyo has been reviewing the final plan and supporting documents to understand how the plan intends to care for 1.9 million acres of Forest service lands in the Eastern Sierra. The plan includes how to manage and plan for recreation, protect at risk species, and recommendations for Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers designations.

We’re finding that the final plan is a mixed bag. We remain concerned about the level of protection the plan would provide for natural resources on the Forest, and the lack of direction future Forest Service staff will have to implement projects on the ground. We hope that by engaging in a 60-day period to file formal objections with the Forest Service could help secure key changes and improvements in the plan.

First, the good news. We are pleased to see robust work on Wild and Scenic River eligibility. The planning process started with 128 miles of eligible rivers and streams and grew to 241 miles in the final, based largely on public comment. These include restored tributaries to Mono Lake, Mammoth Creek, Glass Mountain’s O’Harrell Canyon Creek and Long Valley’s Little Hot Creek. These streams and the others identified will be protected until Congress chooses to add them to the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

Unfortunately, the Forest maintains their initial 2016 decision to recommend 37,029 acres of wilderness additions along the southern border of the existing White Mountains Wilderness, the Piper Canyon Wilderness in the Inyo Mountains, and an addition to the South Sierra Wilderness. This results in wilderness recommendations representing only a fraction of the over half a million acres of roadless lands on the Forest. All these areas are in Inyo County, despite Mono County’s support of recommended wilderness in the northern part of the Forest.
The lack of recommended wilderness would be easier to accept if the plan protected our remaining roadless areas. Because the 2001 Roadless Conservation Rule is under attack in Congress the plan should have a safety net to protect roadless areas. For unknown reasons, thousands of acres of roadless areas on the Forest are allocated to “semi-primitive motorized use” and therefore could see new roads and development in the future.

Over the next month Friends of the Inyo and our partners will be gathering new information, identifying the most pressing issues in the plan, and prioritizing them for the objection process, which closes October 3. While we understand the bulk of our work lies ahead of us through plan implementation, the objection period is another important opportunity to reiterate our case for strong conservation measures in the plan. This is why we continue to pore through it, for the health of our public lands.