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Changing climate, fire danger face Inyo National Forest

May 24, 2013

You never know what you will find while exploring the Inyo National Forest. Here, a hiker examines the wreckage of an airplane crash, date unknown, above Laurel Lakes. Photo/Wendilyn Graseschi

Forest makes plans for the next 20 years

Much of what makes the Eastern Sierra the Eastern Sierra—its high granite peaks, its mountain creeks, its wildlife, and wildness—is under the management of the Inyo National Forest, and now the agency wants help from the public figuring out how to manage it for another 20 years.

To that end, forest planners are working on a new revision of the existing forest plan that they hope will keep the forest alive and thriving.

As of this week, a summary of much of what the agency has found so far is available for the public.

Divided into topics such as wildlife, water, social and economic factors, forest service biologists and botanists and others have been pulling together a kind of “state of the forest” report for the last few months.

Now they want the public’s input in order to help guide them in creating a 20-year new, revised forest plan.

“First we are doing an assessment phase, then a revised forest plan, and then we will do the environmental document to cover that plan,” said forest planner Susan Joyce on Tuesday at a Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. “We are seeking input from the public at every stage of this process.” A lot has changed since the forest last did such an ambitious plan in 1988, she said.

“For example, there has been significant increase in the amount of pinyon juniper woodlands, due mostly to the fact that it is drier than it was,” she said.

This might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but in nature, everything is connected. In this case, according to Joyce, more pinyons mean fewer sage-dominated meadows, and fewer sage meadows could possible negatively impact a little species—the sage grouse—that just so happens to be very close to being listed as federally endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Listing a species means the hand of the federal government comes down hard on the agency that harbors an endangered species on its land—and, on private landowners as well.

Another change, she said, is the increased risk of big fires, due both to a warmer and drier climate and to the increased density of forests—a function of wildfire suppression techniques adopted a century ago and only recently revised.

These changes, and many more, should be adapted to in the new forest plan, she said.

Another issue for the forest is declining budgets, which are not keeping pace with the increasing visitation the Inyo is facing, she said.

Joyce said these are big issues—and challenging ones—which is why the Inyo National Forest is seeking the public’s input on what it knows about each of the topics, how the topic papers might be amended, and what should eventually be included in the new, revised forest plan, due out sometime in 2016.

All of these trends and many more that will be included for review in the new plan can be seen in more detail at goo.gl/sb4ZV.

A meeting in Mammoth on May 29 at the Community Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. will be held, for input and questions.

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