Commenters on the proposed Shoshone National Forest management plan favor conservation, according to a new analysis by several environmental groups.
The U.S. Forest Service received more than 23,000 comments on the proposed plan. The analysis focuses on the roughly 1,000 of those that aren't form letters. Connie Wilbert, with the Sierra Club of Wyoming, helped with the analysis. She says the results weren't unexpected.
“We have heard—often—in the cooperator meetings that there isn’t strong public support for conserving the remaining undeveloped parts of the forest. And we believe that’s simply not true, and now we have the evidence to show that,” Wilbert says.
The analysis breaks down comments into three topics - wilderness areas, motorized use, and oil and gas development. It then categorizes the comments as for or against. Wilbert says comments that didn’t clearly fit into a category or were ambiguous were excluded. The results show that 75 percent of commenters—both Wyomingites and non-residents—are opposed to expanding motorized use of the forest. Ninty-nine percent are opposed to opening new areas to oil and gas development.
Forest Service Planner Carrie Christman says those numbers do carry weight in process of updating the plan, but she adds that other factors, like scientific data and applicable law are important too.
“In the process of revising a plan, the public comments we receive—it’s not a vote. We don’t make decisions based on ‘we got more ‘yes’ comments than more ‘no’ comments,'" Christman says.
The final management plan is due out in November. Christman says that several aspects have been updated in light of public comments, including the acreage available for oil and gas development, and rules for motorized use in the National Forest.