U.S. Rep. Greg Walden sent the following letter to Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Supervisor Monica Schwalbach to urge her to fully engage the public and take advantage of their knowledge in crafting a new Travel Management Plan.
Read the full letter below.
May 2, 2012
Ms. Monica Schwalbach
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
PO Box 907
Baker City, OR 97814
Dear Forest Supervisor Schwalbach:
Thank you for withdrawing the travel management plan on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. As you begin to write a new plan, I strongly encourage you and your staff to take advantage of this second opportunity to meaningfully involve the public.
The citizens who recreate in and live near these forests remain eager to help the U.S. Forest Service craft a plan that preserves traditional uses of their public lands. I ask you to fully engage the public and take advantage of their knowledge and ability to help the agency with valuable information. The public should be a partner in this process, not a foe.
In a letter published in the La Grande Observer on April 18, you cited a “good bit of confusion” among the public and the need to “(clarify) misinformation” going forward. While you also rightfully noted some areas of citizen concern that the Forest Service should address, I want to be clear: the public isn’t confused. They are tired of volunteering hours upon hours of their valuable time assisting with the mapping of roads and providing suggestions only to see their sincere input and suggestions largely ignored in the agency’s final plan. As you participate in this summer’s public meetings, I urge you not to take a defensive posture on behalf of the scrapped plan, or assume it is the agency’s responsibility to re-educate the populace.
In light of that, I would like to know how comments at these and other meetings will be officially gathered and recorded for inclusion in the decision making process. I am also interested in the end result of these meetings. Does the NEPA process start anew, or does the process simply move into a modified FEIS and Record of Decision? If the latter, what steps are you taking to ensure sufficient flexibility to allow the new decision to reflect public input gathered at these meetings? Also, what steps are being taken to ensure that the choice to exclude the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area from the planning area does not skew the ratio of motorized to non-motorized areas on the forest?
The local public deserves a thorough, deliberate, and transparent process that does not artificially limit the scope of issues discussed going forward. Instead, the wide range of the local citizen concerns —access and trails for motorized recreation, berry and mushroom picking, hunting and game retrieval, fire-fighting access, access to grazing allotments, mining claims, irrigation diversions, firewood, and private in-holdings and forest management — should inform the plan so it reflects their input and use of the forest.
The public also deserves a plan that utilizes the flexibilities provided to forest supervisors in this planning process, including the authority to temporarily close roads when it makes sense instead of permanently placing them off limits. It’s my understanding that some national forests have taken the road closure effort too far only to have to re-open roads after the fact, for firefighting, and to address the needs of the local communities, such as protecting them from catastrophic wildfire or to provide more recreational access. I think we can both agree it’s best to avoid this problem.
Once again, thank you for withdrawing this plan. I look forward to your continued help in turning around this troubled process and I stand ready to help as needed.
Member of Congress