This first phase generally reviews current conditions of, and factors affecting, the national forest, including the need for a plan revision. This and subsequent phases of the planning sequence are announced in a combination of notices in the Federal Register, information on the forest’s internet site, and general publicity.
This assessment (and pre-assessment) phase includes extensive public review and comment opportunities, typically in a combination of public meetings, formation of advisory or working groups, and opportunity to submit written comments to influence the assessment and the subsequent proposed plan. This is the first opportunity to submit detailed, well-documented information about priority rivers (and to establish yourself as a credible source of rivers data and knowledge). Among other things, this assessment must be heavily founded in the best available scientific information. Some of this information may be gathered by the agency, but other details and interpretation can and should come from interested groups and advocates. Insist that the agency provide details of its analyses during this phase—what data and other information was used in reaching conclusions, eligibility e.g. Press for detailed description and documentation of river values identified (in eligibility report e.g.)—specific features, species, and activities rather than the generalized eligibility categories often used in eligibility reports: recreation, geology, vegetation e.g.—and submit your own details.
Preparation of the forest plan must include several specific components: desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, goals. It is important that each of these components be addressed for specific high-value rivers. The plan must also address several specified features of the forest, among them several related to rivers and their health: priority watersheds, riparian areas, water quality, water resources, diversity of plant and animal communities, ecosystem services, opportunities to connect people to nature, sustainable recreation. Advocating for river protection within the plan may be addressed through provisions proposed for these features, in addition to direct wild and scenic emphasis.
The proposed plan must identify the eligibility of rivers for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System (unless such an inventory was previously completed and conditions have not changed since). Comment on the adequacy (or inadequacy) of any previous inventory cited, propose rivers for inclusion in the new eligibility assessment, and critique the adequacy of any list of eligible rivers published by the forest.
The proposed plan must also extensively address ecological sustainability, including attention to aquatic ecosystems and watersheds, water resources, riparian areas, water quality, the interdependence between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Submit comments that emphasize protection for rivers, including use of wild-and-scenic eligibility and suitability to address various water-related management needs.
The proposed plan must include standards and guidelines for management and protection of already designated wild and scenic rivers and for management and protection of rivers found eligible or determined suitable for designation. Comment on the details of these provisions management and protection provisions, pressing for the highest level of protection.
The proposed plan must include specific provisions for monitoring the ongoing effectiveness of the new plan, including specified questions and associated indicators for specific resources conditions and management prescriptions. Comment specifically on the forming of those questions and indicators related to rivers in general and to eligible and suitable rivers in particular; be sure that these measurements are clear and that failure to meet them will result in positive adjustments.
The plan revision process must address rivers’ potential and eligibility for wild and scenic protection. Comment on draft list or initial list of rivers to be studied, on the draft eligibility report, and on draft suitability report (if included in the planning process*); highlight rivers that are left out, are inappropriately found not eligible or not suitable. (* suitability might also be determined in the plan, but that is not required under the planning rule. Suitability may also be addressed at a separate time and it is generally advisable to do so.)
The forest must prepare a range of alternatives to the proposed plan (for assessment in the accompanying environmental impact statement (EIS)). Generally, this range includes an alternative emphasizing development and resource extraction, an alternative emphasizing preservation of natural features and processes, and one to three additional alternatives. Often this range of alternatives is published separately for public information (sometimes with, sometimes without a public comment opportunity). If the agency invites comment on the range of alternatives, submit comments supporting inclusion of specific high-value rivers in at least one alternative; ask for adjustments if key rivers are not included.
Environmental Impact Statement
Integrated among the various phases of the plan revision process are comment periods on the environmental impact statement (EIS) addressing the proposed plan and alternatives, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—in draft, then final form. Many of the details of the proposed plan will be found in the EIS and its appendices.
Support the alternative, or portions of alternatives, that include the best list of rivers as eligible and suitable, that provide the most effective and reliable protections for eligible and suitable rivers, and that provide the most effective and reliable protections for rivers and river corridors in general.
People who are dissatisfied with the proposed final plan, EIS, or record of decision and who have been involved in the revision process will have 60 days to object; negotiations with the Forest Service follow.
Monitoring, Evaluation, Adjustment
The plan must include a monitoring process for ongoing assessment of plan’s effect on watersheds, ecological conditions, focal species, visitor use, progress toward desired conditions and objectives, effects of management systems.