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Thu, July 09

Meeting held on revision of forest plan

A small group showed up last week for the second of five meetings that will guide a major revision to the 18-year-old management plan for the Kaibab National Forest.

Bruce Higgins, forest planner on the Kaibab, led the three-hour working meeting which was held at the Squire Inn on Monday, Oct. 23. Participants included Barry Baker, Kim Crumbo, Eric Gueissaz and Jill Beshears.

Developed under the 1982 National Forest Management Act, the current plan was scheduled to expire three years ago but was extended by Congress. The new plan is being developed under the 2005 rule, which provides for a more collaborative approach with the public and emphasizes desired conditions without the finer details on how to get there.

"The former plan was a lot more tactical," Higgins said. "It made decisions that applied directly to the ground or guided projects in a very specific and detailed way. If something on the ground didn't make sense you actually had to make quite a bit of effort to amend that plan and allow that project to go forward. This will be much faster on its feet than the current plan."

While some parts of the old plan will be retained, revised outcomes are being defined in these early rounds of public meetings. Higgins said that the public has two more meetings in which they can frame what the plan will address. Once the forest supervisor issues the phase one comprehensive evaluation report around May, the process will become less collaborative.

"While we'll always accept comments from people who come along, the scope and the need for change being addressed in the forest plan is really being defined by those who are coming to the table early," Higgins said. "Some people are kind of waiting until we have a proposal to give us comments but that's kind of too late under this rule."

As part of the process, officials are also assembling working groups for specific projects such as assessing species and ecosystem diversity on the forest.

Last week, participants worked off an outline with questions on their interest in and concern for how the forest is currently used, how they'd like to see it used, what conditions they would consider ideal, potential special-management areas, how resources should be allocated and the value of the forest to those who live and visit here.

The finished plan will include five components ­ what the area should look like over time, what should be done on the forest, how should things be done, what uses should be allowed and where and what areas merit special treatment or protection.

Ultimately the goal is finding a sustainable balance between social, economic and ecological needs on the forest. To adapt to changes, it will be reviewed in a public process every year, with a more comprehensive approach every fifth year. Under the old rule, the plan was reviewed every 15 years.

"We will be looking at needed changes every year and every five years we're supposed to comprehensively review the need for change," Higgins said. "This is just intended to be version 1."

At last week's meeting, remarks ranged from cautioning practicality over "perfect world" scenarios, to the philosophical question of how much natural places should be manipulated. These comments are being assembled for the record. For the next meeting, Higgins urged participants to bring photos that depict what they consider desirable conditions in the forest.

The plan for the Kaibab is being developed in conjunction with those for the Coconino, Prescott and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests.

"Similar habitats pull us together," said Higgins. "These will look similar especially along the boundaries."

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