The Salmon-Challis National Forest is continuing to collect public input on rivers and streams it deems eligible for inclusion in the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The forest is accepting public comments through May 4.
To become a Wild and Scenic River, a waterway must first be found “eligible” under a forest planning process, then be determined “suitable,” at which time it is managed to protect the values for which it was selected. Inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System can only take place by an act of Congress.
The first step, eligibility,” is determined if a river is free-flowing and possesses one or more outstandingly remarkable values, such as scenery, geology, history, fish, wildlife, recreation and other qualities that set it apart.
A draft eligibility report completed by the Salmon-Challis forest last fall lists 68 river and streams totaling 708 miles. The forest began its evaluation more than a year ago with a list totaling 567 rivers.
According to a press release issued by the forest this week, the agency plans to continue its Wild and Scenic analysis to determine suitability by evaluating the potential physical, biological, economic and social impacts of adding each river.
Standard protocol in developing forest management plans is to complete only the eligibility portion of the Wild and Scenic Rivers process. Suitability, on the other hand, is typically done through a separate environmental process under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Conservationists expressed concern about the forest’s intention to examine suitability as part of a forest planning process, which prompted a response from Regional Forester Nora Rasure.
“Forest Service land management planning regulations require that rivers be examined for eligibility during forest planning”, she wrote. “However, these same regulations do not preclude completing suitability studies as part of the forest planning process.”
IRU’s concerns with wrapping suitability determination into the forest planning process include added time and expense for an already delayed forest planning process. Further, IRU is concerned that by trying to “rush” this process, a flawed suitability analysis may lead to expensive and protracted legal action.
To read the draft eligibility study, go to the forest website and on the right side of the screen, click on “Salmon-Challis forest plan revision information.” Then on “concurrent processes.” Then on “draft Wild and Scenic rivers eligibility study.”
To comment, follow this link.