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After a couple of days in Shoshone County talking about forest projects, we were pleased upon returning to the office to notice that, as promised, the US Forest Service has finally posted long-overdue monitoring reports for the years 2007, 2008, and 2009. (Scroll down to download a big pdf file under “Forest Plan Monitoring and Evaluation”)

Recall that KEA sent a letter earlier in the summer calling for the reports to be published. The Forest Service responded with a promise that the reports would be finalized and published by August 31st. We’re very happy to announce they’ve kept their promise. So now, we look forward to our own detailed review of the charts, graphs, facts and figures that constitute a snapshot look at the region’s forest resources. We’ll let you know our thoughts on the report once we have some time to digest it.

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Just back from vacation in the pine-beetle-ravaged Colorado mountains, I was pleased to see the letter (reproduced below) from Idaho Panhandle National Forest Supervisor Ranotta McNair regarding KEA’s request for long-overdue monitoring reports. The annual reports, required under several provisions of federal law, have not been produced since 2007.

 McNair explains that Recovery Act projects have taken USFS staff away from the reporting requirements, but that the reports are on track to be complete by the end of August.

 We certainly hope so. These reports are critical in understanding the state of our local forests, and understanding whether efforts to manage the forests are actually achieving their purposes or not. Moreover, as “collaboration” becomes the new paradigm for localized forest decision-making, availability of good science and good monitoring data becomes increasingly important to those doing the collaboration.

 We’re pleased with the IPNF’s prompt response to our letter, but we remain anxious to see the actual reports.

 The letter in its entirety:

 Dear Mr. Harris,

 With regard to your recent letter expressing concern about the current state of monitoring efforts on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, I want to assure you that we are working hard to issue the monitoring reports as expeditiously as possible.

 Forest monitoring has been completed for each year since 2007, but due to staffing shortages we have been unable to complete all of the written reports. In addition, national priorities have diverted personnel from completing the reports. Our highest priority this past year has been creation of jobs for citizens in the Northern Rockies through Recovery Act projects. Our staffing shortages have been solved, and the majority of the $18 million in Idaho Panhandle National Forests ARRA projects have been contracted. Therefore, we expect to release the overdue monitoring reports no later than August 31, 2010. In addition to the 2007 and 2008 reports we will also be releasing the 2009 monitoring report at the same time, which will bring our forest up to date on monitoring and reporting requirements.

 In closing, I want to assure you that our forest takes these reports seriously and our staffs are working diligently to complete our monitoring reports as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Ranotta K. McNair

Forest Supervisor

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance has sent a letter to the Forest Supervisor for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) regarding monitoring reports it has failed to issue. Under the forest plan adopted for this region’s forest, and under federal law, the forest service is required to submit annual monitoring and evaluation reports to the public.  However, reports as far back as 2007 and 2008 have yet to be issued. The letter states, “It appears that the Forest Service has failed to meet the obligations required under the forest plan and federal law, and have unreasonably delayed performing a legally mandated responsibility.  As representatives of the public’s interest in the proper management of our local forest resources, we are once again requesting these [monitoring] results.”

In response to an October inquiry from KEA, the Forest Service noted that the 2007 and 2008 Reports are not available “due to other priorities” but provided assurance that both reports would be issued in the spring of this year, 2010. Of course, spring has come and gone and we are still waiting for the reports.

In KEA’s letter, we point out that the monitoring report is expressly required under the several relevant sections of federal regulations, the most relevant is 36 CFR §219.11(f) which states:

(f) Annual monitoring and evaluation report. The responsible official must prepare a monitoring and evaluation report for the plan area within 6 months following the end of each fiscal year. The report must be maintained with the plan documents (§219.30(d)(5)), and include the following:

(1) A list or reference to monitoring required by the plan; and

(2) A summary of the results of monitoring and evaluation performed during the preceding fiscal year and appropriate results from previous years. The summary must include:

(i) A description of the progress toward achievement of desired conditions within the plan area; and

(ii) A description of the plan area’s contribution to the achievement of applicable outcomes of the Forest Service national strategic plan.

This is no paper exercise.  Numerous collaborative efforts to address forest management issues around the region are underway, and every last one of them will depend on timely monitoring data to guide their efforts.

Having been perhaps too patient for too long, KEA has called on the Forest Service to either release the long-overdue reports or explain “the press of other priorities” that have caused the delay.  We’d certainly like to know what those priorities are, and how those priorities are higher than the monitoring and reporting requirements outlined in federal law.

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