Ashley National Forest Proposes To Roll Back Required River Protections (UT)
The Ashley National Forest is a 1.4 million-acre National Forest in Utah that spans from the Uinta Mountains to Flaming Gorge. The Forest released their draft management plan late last year which, when finalized, will guide Forest management for the next 15-20 years. Unfortunately, the Forest’s draft plan proposes to strip protections from 26 of 28 streams they have deemed eligible for Wild and Scenic designation. American Whitewater recently filed comments on the draft plan alerting the Forest to their flawed approach.
The Ashley National Forest is joining the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest in Idaho in a race to be the first National Forest to eliminate river protections in a new way that appears illegal. The 2012 forest planning rule requires the Agency to find worthy rivers eligible and protect them in the Forest Plan. Eligibility is determined simply by being free-flowing and possessing a special value. The Ashley National Forest has rightly found 28 rivers eligible in two separate studies. However, the Forest then applied a novel secondary analysis during forest planning that they call “suitability” and that is not allowed under the 2012 planning rule. This secondary analysis considers current political support and economic considerations to strip eligibility protections from the forest plan, essentially forever. The Ashley National Forest used this nefarious process to propose to strip protections for 26 out of the 28 eligible streams in their draft forest plan.
It is disappointing that the Forest Service, who is charged to protect potential Wild and Scenic Rivers among the multiple uses of the public lands they manage, is instead inventing new ways to allow impacts to those rivers. The agency appears committed to this path in Utah and Idaho, despite correctly protecting potential Wild and Scenic Rivers in all other parts of the United States. With this said, the Agency can still change course and release good final plans that protect an appropriate system of potential Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Agency often takes a year to release the final plan following the release of the draft plan, after which plans are subject to administrative and legal challenges.