Fire and water are the two concerns most on the minds of residents offering input to the U.S. Forest Service as it updates its official plan for the Manti-La Sal National Forest.
Protecting the watershed in terms of quality and quantity and addressing the potential for devastating wildfires are also two concerns that were not necessarily present in 1986, the last time the USFS published its plan for the Manti-La Sal.
“We’re starting to address fire,” said forester and planning team leader Andrew Orlemann during an open house held Nov. 1 at the Grand Center. “The old plan doesn’t really discuss fire.”
Climate change and the prolonged drought has prompted concerns about protecting the life-giving water the La Sals provide the Moab-area community and, of course, dry conditions allow for wholesale conflagrations during fire season.
Orlemann cautioned the plan is still a couple of years away from completion as phase one nears its end. Phase two will begin in early 2019 with the scoping process, which calls for formal public hearings and other outreach efforts. According to requirements in the National Environmental Police Act, the USFS must draft plans for each national forest.
The last plan for the Manti-La Sal was published in 1986. There are six draft components available for review on the USFS website – fs.usda.gov. While the components are still “very preliminary and very much in the draft stage,” said Orlemann, they are comprehensive and include sections on “Roles & Contributions,” a “Strategic Framework,” “Geographic & Management Areas,” “Desired Conditions & Objectives,” “Wilderness Evaluation Summary Report,” and a “Watershed Report.”
Forester and Partnership Coordinator Megan Eno said the process comes down to one question: “What do we know about our forests?” Part of the assessment has foresters identifying species that are not yet threatened or endangered before they land on protected lists.
She said the current plan would include new geographic and management areas regarding watershed protection, as well as managing the timber and cattle industries.
While cattle do graze on rangeland in the Manti-La Sal, forester Scott Schwartz said there is “very little” timber production, due in part to a lack of nearby sawmills and also the currently low market price of ponderosa pine. Schwartz said there are optimal areas for the timber industry to operate, such as in the area of Maverick Point near Monticello, but, again, there isn’t much of a market for ponderosa pine.
Recreation is also a major component of the plan; including preserving fishing, camping, motorized recreation and hiking.
Orlemann said the process this time around has changed not only to address climate change and its impact on the nation’s forests, but also due to wholesale changes made to the Code of Federal Regulations that guided the 1986 plan. “The rules have changed substantially,” said Orlemann.
Scoping sessions will take place next year.