It is nearly the end of July and what a great month is has been. We had plenty of warm weather, a fair amount of rain, no wildfires, lots of blueberries and what seems to be a great bunch of visitors. That last comment may be a bit hard to explain. Part of my job is providing public services within our National Forest. And there are times when I’m not sure if it’s the air or water but that “I’m not feeling that friendly today” comes out and then my phone rings…….. a lot. But it seems the air this month has been really clean and the water has flowed pure; a really good month and I’m OK with that.
Now, I’m not asking for a change in that friendliness, I’m really not, but I do want to let you know what is going on. We should have our Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the South Fowl Lake Snowmobile Access published by the middle of August. If you remember, that project started back in 2003 where we found that snowmobile trail was inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I had to close that but said we would replace the trail outside the Wilderness. For two years we talked about it, studied it and had field trips to the site to share ideas and thoughts about it. In 2005 I published the Environmental Assessment and the Decision Notice in 2006. Since then we’ve been appealed and litigated. You could say this project was a little controversial………………just a little.
The issues with the proposed new trail are the impacts it might cause on the Boundary Waters. Though the alternate routes are outside the Wilderness, the sounds of snowmobiles probably could be heard from inside. So we completed a fairly comprehensive analysis of snowmobile sound with numbers, graphs, tables, maps, photos and conclusions. But somehow I’m not convinced that all that analysis will resolve the conflict, there seems to be a lot of passion attached to our National Forest management, and in particular our Wilderness management. And that’s a good thing.
My job may seem pretty bureaucratic at times; I have to work within law, regulation and policy to provide for the multiple benefits of our natural resources. Some decisions I have no discretion, I just have to do what the law requires, other times I can use my judgment. In every way, I want to hear from you folks on how we can do better.
So I will publish the Draft EIS and for 45 days we will take comments on it, which is the bureaucratic part. In the end, we’ll respond to all the comments and I’ll publish a Final EIS with a Decision on which route we should use. Our law requires that I do that and I’ll cite that in the Decision.
Between now and then, I’ll reflect on how we’ve come a long way since 2003 and all the partnerships we have going on, whether emergency management, scenic byways, museums, or simply ways to show off our part of the country. Those efforts were not driven by law, regulation or policy, but more a desire from all of us to find ways to work together. And we do.
This gives me a glimmer of hope that as I go about fulfilling all my natural resource management responsibilities that we will find a way to work together. Whether it’s putting in a snowmobile trail, harvesting timber or managing our Wilderness, we too can do this.
So as I think about or propose that we do something a fair question from you is “Why do we need to do this?” And if I can answer that, my question to you is “What would you do?” With that in mind, let’s work together to provide “…the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run”, a quote from the first Chief of the Forest Service.