More time for public to chime in

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board March 12, 2014 09:14 am

The local group Forest Access for All, which opposes further restrictions on motor vehicle travel on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, contends the Forest Service isn’t giving residents enough time to review a lengthy new document the agency is releasing later this week.

We agree.

The records that constitute the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision exceed 1,000 pages.

This is an important document, albeit one that doesn’t propose to close any roads.

It lays out how the Forest Service plans to manage not only the Wallowa-Whitman, but also the neighboring Umatilla and Malheur national forests, during the next 15 years or so.

That’s more than 5 million acres of public ground.

We agree with Forest Access For All (FAFA) that 90 days, the standard public comment period for federal proposals, isn’t long enough.

FAFA is calling for 180 days, which seems reasonable.

The issue here isn’t merely how long it takes the average person to get through more than 1,000 pages. If we were talking about a novel, three months might be sufficient even for a busy person who can only devote half an hour or so each day to leisure reading.

But the Blue Mountain Forest Plan Revision is no novel.

And the public isn’t reading for pleasure, it’s reading for context — to understand how the Forest Service is proposing to manage our land for a goodly period.

Like FAFA, we’re convinced that it would take longer than three months for many people to be sufficiently familiar with this massive amount of data to offer substantive, well-considered comments.

Which, after all, is supposed to be the idea behind the comment period.

Moreover, there’s no hurry.

The Forest Service has been working on this project for the better part of a decade. Giving the public three more months to understand what the agency is proposing for the next decade and a half is a small concession that could pay big dividends not only for local residents, but also for Forest Service officials who will base their final version of the plan in part on comments they receive from the public.