The U.S. Forest Service has drafted a new plan for Los Padres National Forest for the first time since 1988 and is asking residents of the Santa Barbara area to get involved in the process.
The draft land management plan, also called the forest plan, will divide the forest into areas that will be recognizable to the public and adapt new standards for maintaining the environment and scenery in those areas. The 90-day public comment period begins Friday and ends Aug. 11. During this time, people who want to give input on the plan may submit their suggestions.
“We want people to look at the draft plan and give us feedback on what they think needs to be changed, and we will be addressing all of that feedback in the final document,” Los Padres spokeswoman Kathy Good said. “Their input is very important.”
Good said the new plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) have been in the works for about four years and are the result of a joint effort between Los Padres, Angeles, Cleveland and San Bernardino national forests. The DEIR will apply to all four forests, but each forest will update its plan separately. The final plans are expected in summer 2005.
Under the new plan, Good said the Forest Service will use a system called “place-based” planning to divide the forest into zones that are geographically distinguishable to park visitors. The plan presents a list of goals and standards for each “place,” as well as potential challenges.
“Place-based planning is new for the Forest Service on this large a scale,” Good said.
Forest planner Jim Turner said the place-based planning standards will be based on a desired condition for each place that will take into account factors such as the area’s wildlife, scenery, accessibility and potential for recreation.
Good said the desired conditions, which are detailed in the plan, are a section for which the Forest Service will rely heavily on public comment.
“That’s really important information for people to review,” Good said.
Turner said the new plan will be more adaptable than the current one and will be revised more frequently to reflect changing conditions in the forest.
“It should be much more of a living document in the sense that we want to continuously monitor our management effectiveness,” Turner said.
Turner said the new plan will help protect the forest and its wildlife by encouraging the Forest Service to alter its approach as new threats appear.
“If we find that we are not protecting the species according to the standards we set, then we will make changes accordingly,” Turner said.
The Forest Service will be offering copies of the plan in printed and CD form at public libraries throughout California, but Good said she was most excited about the Forest Service’s new online comment system. The online version will allow people to browse the forest plan by section, attach comments to portions of text and print the commented document for submission.
The Forest Service will host open houses in several locations to familiarize people with the forest plan and the revision process. Good said the open houses will feature explanations of the different sections of the plan as part of the effort to make the lengthy document less intimidating.
“Our hope for this plan is that it will be very understandable for the public,” Good said.
The open house nearest to UCSB will be in the Chamber Room of the Goleta School District Administration Center on Thursday, May 20. Those interested in submitting input on the plan can find more information on the forest plan revision website at www.fs.fed.us/r5/scfr.