Friday, December 11, 2015

Gila Forest plan update may lead to grazing changes

The Gila National Forest updated the Silver City Audubon Society last week about the Forest Service’s ongoing work listing “species of conservation concern” as part of the Gila National Forest Plan process. By early next year, the Forest Service plans to complete the plan’s assessment phase. The ongoing process encompasses all aspects of forest operations and updates the plan for the first time since 1986. According to Gila National Forest Planner Matt Schultz, the planning is to be done according to the 2012 U.S. Planning Rule, which includes increased emphasis on collaboration and public input — leading to public meetings like the one held Friday night. Due to the Audubon Society’s focus on birds and other wildlife, forest wildlife biologist Rene Guaderrama took the lead, explaining exactly what “species of conservation concern” are — species of both flora and fauna that exist naturally on the Gila National Forest and may be facing some danger due to past forest policies. The list extends beyond, but includes, species listed as endangered or threatened. There is also room on it for any species with dwindled numbers that are found here. While the “species of conservation concern” list is only one aspect of this phase of the planning process, it could ultimately lead to significant policy change. Right now, for instance, the forest allows grazing by cattle populations even in areas where scarce plant life exists. According to Guaderrama, that could change if the forest decides it is necessary for the species’ survival. Another thing that could change drastically is an option for the creation or expansion of designated areas on the forest. Schultz provided a list of different types, which range from the much-talked-about wild and scenic river designation to several archaeological designations to wilderness areas. Schultz said there is no guarantee of these being applied, but “I would be very surprised if there are not areas that meet some of those criteria, at least.”...more

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