Since my last column, the Forest Service has conducted dozens of interviews with local stakeholders to discuss new methods for involving the public in the upcoming Rico-West Dolores travel planning process.
We found that many stakeholders who were involved in earlier planning efforts had some concerns. For example, some want the Forest Service to be more specific on how the public can engage meaningfully in the process and how their ideas, questions, and information will be used. Other stakeholders told us they felt it was unclear whether, or how, the Forest Service had considered their earlier submitted comments. Others said data and science should play a larger role in the new analysis. Another suggestion was that the Forest Service should be more forthcoming about the criteria used to make travel management planning decisions.
To more fully discuss these issues, a panel of stakeholders has agreed to participate in three public workshops this summer. The purpose is to pull together more information for the upcoming National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis and to allow the Forest Service to more clearly explain how that information will be used. No specific road or trail proposals will be discussed at the panel workshops, but the workshops will help inform the process by which those proposals will be developed later this summer when the formal NEPA process begins.
The first workshop will include brief presentations by stakeholder panel members and a general summary of the NEPA process by the Forest Service. In preparation for the second workshop, panel members will reach out to their communities of interest to gather science, data, personal observations and other information - such as research articles, maps, photos, or surveys. During the third workshop, the Forest Service will report back to the panel about how we plan to use the information they have gathered and explain the criteria we will use in the NEPA decision-making process.
The first of these workshops is scheduled for June 12, from 6 to 9 pm at the Dolores Community Center. Workshops two and three are tentatively planned for July and August. The public is invited and encouraged to attend, so watch for future notices. Again, the panel workshops are a prelude to the upcoming NEPA process. The NEPA process will allow for formal public comment and questions on the Forest Service's yet-to-be-determined Proposed Action and other alternatives. As always, everyone is welcome to call the Dolores Public Lands Office at 970-882-7296 for clarification on any of the above information. Just tell our front desk staff you are interested in the Rico West Dolores project.
Derek Padilla is San Juan National Forest Dolores District Ranger.