Forest Service to reveal final draft of revised Blue Mountains plan

The Strawberry Mountains in the Malheur National Forest in Grant County, Ore. They are part of 5.5 million acres that will be included in a new management plan.

Maybe the third try will be successful in cobbling together a roadmap for the management of three sprawling national forests in Eastern Oregon.

The U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the 5.5 million acres of forestland in the Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla national forests, has stumbled terribly in its previous attempts to revise its 29-year-old plan. It’s supposed to be updated every 15 years, so the agency hasn’t even been following its own timeline.

Updating the Blue Mountains plan has turned into an old-fashioned goat rope. In rejecting the latest 5,000-page version, Chris French, the reviewing officer and Forest Service deputy chief, said it was difficult to understand and implement.

That’s not good, but the biggest problems appeared to be that Forest Service managers had their own priorities that didn’t mesh with those of the people who live, work and recreate in the forests.

One such issue is transportation within the forests. Logging roads and other access are critical to getting around in the forests. Many of the roads, built with public money, have been targeted for closure not only in the Blue Mountains but other national forests.

Closing the forests to logging, firefighters, hunters, hikers and other users made little sense, the Forest Service was repeatedly told in forum after forum.

Now, the managers have apparently come to understand that the people who live and work in the Blue Mountains deserve a place at the table as a third iteration of the forest plan is developed. Representatives of the region’s counties, tribes and others will join the discussion.

It is our hope that the words “multiple use” will be top of mind as those discussions proceed. The national forests were established under the U.S. Department of Agriculture in part to provide a source of building materials and the jobs associated with them. In addition, other uses were to be allowed.

But most importantly, the forests were to be managed as a resource, not locked up.

Locking up the forests, specifically, is what the new round of negotiations needs to avoid. As a public resource, the national forests of the Blue Mountains need to be open for many types of uses, and accessible to all.

Otherwise, they will fail to fulfill their purpose and stifle the economy of Eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington state.

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