Carson National Forest is currently in the process of revising its existing 1986 Forest Plan under the 2012 Planning Rule for the National Forest System. The forest plan provides strategic direction to guide the management of forest resources as well as a framework for decision-making on site-specific projects and activities.
Carson National Forest (NF) is located in northern New Mexico and contains 1.5 million acres. It is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service for a diverse mix of uses (USDA Forest Service, n.d.-a). Several recreation activities are available within the forest, including camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and snow shoeing. 86,193 acres of wilderness areas, in which the land is in a natural and undisturbed state, have been set aside and are available to visitors on foot or horseback (National Forest Foundation, 2020). There has been a recent push by conservation groups to protect wildlife habitats and connectivity by designating more areas of the forest as wilderness. Carson NF provides high quality habitat for many plants and animals, including several big game species, such as elk and black bears, which are sought after by hunters. 400 miles of streams and lakes also exist, including many that are stocked with native fish species, making it a popular fishing spot (National Forest Foundation, 2020).
In addition, the forest is used for domestic grazing purposes and is managed to supply adequate forage for both domestic animals and wildlife to prevent overgrazing or damage to the watershed (USDA Forest Service, 2008). Carson NF is also managed for resources that are regionally and nationally important, including woodlands that produce natural gas, fuelwood, timber, and other forest products that local communities rely on (USDA, 2019). This forest has a long history of being used by several federally recognized tribes that have a spiritual and cultural connection to the forest and, therefore, also have a strong interest in managing its natural resources (USDA, n.d.-b).
Management of Carson NF by the Forest Service includes the difficult task of balancing taking care of the land, while making the forest resources available to all of the user groups. Many of the issues facing the Carson NF impact local adjacent communities and require broad management across the landscape. It is, therefore, important that representatives of federal agencies, local communities, tribes, and counties all participate in the planning and management of the forest.
The National Forest Management Act of 1976 requires that every national forest managed by the Forest Service develops and maintain an effective Forest Plan (USDA, n.d.-c). On May 9, 2012, the Forest Service adopted a new planning rule for National Forest System land management planning, which outlines the process the Forest Service will use for developing, amending, and revising national forest plans. Under the 2012 Planning Rule, focus is placed on the newly revised forest plans being more adaptive, science-based, and developed with a greater amount of public involvement (USDA, n.d.-d). A greater emphasis has also been placed on integrating current concerns and values, such as climate change effects and restoration, into a more efficient and responsive planning framework (USDA, n.d.-d).
Carson Forest Planning Process
In addition to new policy, changes have occurred in ecological, social, and economic conditions in the area, resource demands, and scientific information since the completion of the 1986 Forest Plan. In 2014, the Carson NF began revising the 1986 Forest Plan under the 2012 Planning Rule guidelines, working with 16 government entities, local land grants, tribes, and non-governmental organizations throughout the planning process. (USDA, 2019).
A series of forest assessments and the development of a Plan Need to Change have been completed. The Plan Need to Change document highlights the resource areas on the Carson NF that are most at risk of not being sustainable, which were identified through the forest assessment and public involvement (USDA, 2015).
A Preliminary Draft Proposed
Plan has been created to address management objectives, potential desired conditions, alternative plans to address issues, and additional plan components that are based on the needs to change (USDA Forest Service, n.d.-e).
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyzes effects on the environment from each proposed plan alternative has been drafted (USDA, 2019).
Public feedback on each step of this process, including the development of these documents, has been gathered, and the public comment period is now closed (USDA Forest Service, n.d.-e).
A draft final plan, EIS, and Record of Decision (ROD), which identifies the preferred alternative, are currently being developed, while incorporating public feedback. The proposed date for release of these documents is the late spring of 2020 (USDA Forest Service, n.d.-e).
Environmental Impact Statement
A draft of the EIS for the Draft Land Management Plan for Carson National Forest was completed in the summer of 2019 (USDA Forest Service, n.d.-e). This document contains a detailed analysis of five alternatives developed based on significant issues raised by the public and other agencies for revising the 1986 Forest Plan. Proposed changes to the plan focus on three revision topics, including terrestrial ecosystems and habitat, watersheds and water, and multiple uses and human influences. For each alternative, potential indirect environmental and social consequences are discussed as well as the anticipated progress toward the desired conditions (USDA, 2019).
Alternatives 2, 3, 4, and 5 share a number of common elements (USDA, 2019). These include:
- An emphasis on vegetation treatments in frequent-fire forests that have departed from their historic fire regimes and desired conditions
- An emphasis on restoration treatments in riparian areas or those that benefit water resources
- Recognize and allow for traditional and cultural uses of forest by historic communities and tribes
- An emphasis on implementing a sustainable recreation program
- Use the Scenery Management System (a systematic approach for determining the relative value and importance of scenery in National Forest Lands) to determine objectives related to scenery integrity across the forest
- Provide management direction for recommended wilderness
- Includes plan direction that allows for adaptive management to address potential ecological changes that may alter ecosystem services
The forest supervisor of the Carson NF will make the final decision on the selected alternative for the proposed revised plan based on which plan alternative or combination of alternatives best addresses requirements of relevant policy, the diverse needs of the people and multiple uses, desired conditions, issues raised, and identified needs of change. A final EIS and draft ROD will be prepared. After an additional revision process, a final ROD and accompanying plan will replace the 1986 Forest Plan to guide natural resource management activities on the Carson NF for the next 10 to 15 years (USDA, 2019).