Suzanne Potter / California News Service
LOS ANGELES — The futures of the Sequoia, Sierra and Inyo national forests are at stake, and the public has a once-in-a-generation chance to shape them.
The U.S. Forest Service is taking public comment on its draft of the new forest plans, which come out every 20 to 30 years. Then they’ll make recommendations to Congress on how much land to designate for wilderness protection.
Just because it’s a national forest doesn’t mean it’s protected from development, said Matt Dietz, lead ecologist in the research department of The Wilderness Society.
“National forests are open to a wide variety of uses,” he said, “including commercial timber harvesting, mining, oil and gas drilling, downhill ski development, road building, off-road vehicle use, jeep trails, snowmobiling.”
Wilderness protection would keep the areas safe from development and give wildlife more room to roam. However, Dietz said he is concerned that the Forest Service is leaning toward a very conservative option that seeks protection for less than one percent of the 4 million acres in these forests.
Steve Evans, a consultant for the California Wilderness Coalition, said he thinks the Forest Service wants to keep its options open while managing these lands.
“The agency has always been somewhat anti-wilderness, and they’re looking to ensure that their plans give them maximum flexibility for management,” he said, “whether it’s building roads or approving permits for energy development, or logging trees or mining, or what have you.”
Evans said his group endorses “Option C,” which would recommend almost 750,000 acres in the forests for protection without affecting existing roads or trails.
The Forest Service will hold public meetings on the draft Environmental Impact Statement and three forest plans on Wednesday in Northridge and Thursday near downtown Los Angeles, and a half-dozen more across the state over the next six weeks. People also can comment online and find the meeting schedule at fs.usda.gov.