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Forest planning moves ahead

Alexis Barker, News Editor

The Forest Service is a step closer to approving a new management plan for the Black Hills that will help determine how the national forest will be used for the next two decades.
The Black Hills National Forest has released 20 revised forest wide resource assessments as part of the assessment phase in the forest plan revision process. Also included in this release is the best available scientific information, and new information as it becomes available, to revise the current land management plan, according to a Dec. 1 release. 
The Black Hills National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan was first released in 1983, the release says. It was revised in 1997 and amended in 2006. The 2006 version serves as the current plan for the forest. 
The News Letter Journal first reported on this proposed forest plan revision in April 2020 after over 180 people gathered virtually to discuss the logging impacts of the revision. 
After this meeting, the draft assessment was released. 
“The revised assessments are based on input provided from interested external parties after the draft assessments were released on June 17, 2022, followed by a 45-day comment period,” the release says. “128 unique comment letters were received. Since then, the Forest Service reviewed all comments and used the feedback to revise the assessments where appropriate.”
The assessments are intended to identify any need to change the management plan.
“The 20 assessments are an evaluation of existing information about current and relevant ecological, economic and social conditions, trends and sustainability of the forest,” the release says. “The purpose of conducting assessments is to identify the need to change the Land Management plan.” 
The assessments include: 
• Aquatic, riparian and groundwater dependent ecosystems
• Insects, Disease and invasive species
• Soils and watersheds
• Socioeconomics (ecosystem services, multiple uses)
• At-risk species
• Recreation settings, opportunities and scenic character
• Land status, ownership, use and access patterns
• Existing special and potential designated areas
• Potential wilderness inventory
• Infrastructure 
• Ecological integrity of forested ecosystems: status and trend
• Ecological integrity of non-forested ecosystems: status and trend/rangeland management
• Air quality
• Fire and fuels
• Cultural resources
• Timber
• Baseline carbon stocks
• Areas of tribal importance
• Energy and minerals 
• Wild and scenic rivers (process overview)
Areas of main concerns, as reported by Dru Bower with Dru Consulting over several conversations with the Board of Weston County Commissioners, are timber allotment and recreational access. Bower represents the county as a cooperating agency with the Black Hills National Forest and other federal entities, including work with the Bureau of Land Management and Thunder Basin National Grasslands. 
As reported by the News Letter Journal in July 2022 when the comment period was announced, plan revisions are conducted in three phases: assessment, plan development/revision and monitoring. 
“Plan Development, or phase II, will begin once the notice of intent is published in the Federal Register,” the release says. “This is expected to occur in the Spring of 2024. The final phase, the Monitoring Phase or phase III, will begin once the current Forest Land Management Plan has been revised.” 
Acting Forest Supervisor Ivan Green said that the plan development phase will be a “very robust public engagement process that will include many public meetings and provide various opportunities for the public’s voice to be heard.” He noted that the “diverse public interests” must be considered to ensure that “we maintain a healthy, productive and resilient forest.” 
The release adds that the process can take several years to complete, with the results impacting the forest for the next 15 to 20 years. 
The revised assessment and other information about the process of revising a forest plan can be found on the Black Hills National Forest website. 


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