Where have we been?

It has been a while since we updated you on the Rio Grande Forest Plan revision. Here is what we have been up to and what to expect in the coming months. 

The public comment period for the draft forest plan and draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) ended in December 2017. As a result we received over 450 letters. About 220 of these were form letters, and around 40 were received after the close of the comment period. Each and every letter has been read and reviewed for substantive comments on the draft forest plan and environmental impact statement.

Letters that arrived after the close of the comment period were read and incorporated into the comment responses. However, letters submitted outside of the specified timeframes may affect the sender’s ability to participate in the objection process.

Any letters that were specific to concerns outside of the forest plan revision effort were forwarded to the appropriate staff.

What did we do?

When reading the letters, comments were identified and categorized by resource topics. Similar comments were then combined. Next resource specialists prepared responses to the comments identified. Some comments required additional explanation in the plan or analysis, while others required clarification. All of the comments and their responses will be included in an appendix to the final environmental impact statement.

What did we hear?

Letters and comments covered a wide variety of topics. A recurring comment addressed how desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and management approaches were formatted based on 2012 planning rule direction. We considered all the plan components and worked to clarify the intent of the direction by rephrasing, rewording, or moving plan components. The results should present direction that is clearer to both the Agency and the public.

A collaborative study regarding response of Canada lynx to beetle kill in the spruce-fir ecosystems was referenced on pages 210 through 211 of the DEIS. The study had been initiated but not yet completed when the draft plan and DEIS were made publically available. The study investigated how Canada lynx are responding to mortality in the spruce fir ecosystem. Preliminary results of this study are now available. Summaries of this study can be found at  https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/riogrande/landmanagement/projects/?cid=fseprd479410. We considered these site specific results in addition to comments received to adjust forest plan lynx direction. Consultation with US Fish and Wildlife Service on threatened and endangered species is ongoing. Plan components relative to Canada Lynx will be based on public comments, the study, and the outcome of the ongoing consultation.

What to expect in the future?

Loose ends are still being wrapped up and when completed we will post a final environmental impact statement, a final forest plan, and a draft record of decision to the website. The notice of availability of these documents is expected to be published in the Federal Register and in the Valley Courier in early 2019.

The objection filing period begins when the documents are released. The objection process, allows individuals and entities to file an objection to the decision before the decision is finalized. The process allows participants 60 days to file objections.  After the close of the objection period, the Agency has 90 days to meet with objectors and work to resolve objections. There are two potential objection opportunities when revising a forest plan. Objections related to the final environmental impact statement will be reviewed by the Rocky Mountain Regional Forester. Objections specific to the species of conservation concern list will be reviewed by the Chief of the Forest Service. To be eligible to object, you must have submitted formal comment between September and December 2017.

Those interested in how the objections are resolved may participate during objection meetings as Interested Persons. Interested persons must file to participate within 10-days of the notice of objection.

The previous Forest Planner, Erin Minks, has left the Agency and Judi Pérez is now leading the revision effort. Judi had previously been assisting the project, but she recently took over as team leader. If you need further clarification please contact Judi at (719) 852-6240.

More information on the forest plan revision effort can be found on the Forest webpage at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/riogrande/landmanagement/projects/?cid=stelprd3819044