Wilderness Inventory and Evaluation

Snow-capped mountains casting shadows in a rocky, rugged wilderness area.

What's new?

The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) and draft forest plans for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests have been released. The Notice of Availability for these documents published May 27, 2016.The notice initiates the 90-day public comment period, which includes 12 public meetings and six tribal forums. The most updated information, draft EIS and draft forest plans are available at the Forest Plan Revision project website: http://tinyurl.com/r5earlyadopters.

December 2015 materials for public review

We are sharing several documents regarding our wilderness evaluation process. One document is the draft wilderness evaluation report which summarizes the wilderness characteristics of each polygon listed in our final wilderness inventory. We are also sharing maps for each forest that display designated wilderness areas and those areas that are under consideration for inclusion as potential recommended wilderness. We are also sharing a set of two tables for each forest; one table provides an overview of the designated wilderness, recommended wilderness, and potential recommended wilderness by alternative in the draft environmental impact statement we are completing. The other table provides a summary of the wilderness polygons under consideration across alternatives.

The public is invited to provide feedback on the areas currently being considered for analysis. We are also interested in input regarding suitable uses and management of recommended wilderness.

So what are suitable uses in recommended wilderness areas?

When developing plan components for recommended wilderness areas, the Forest Service can implement a range of management options based on 16 USC 1122(d) and FSM 1923.03(3) in Chapter 70 of the Forest Service Handbook. All plan components applicable to a recommended area must protect and maintain the social and ecological characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness recommendation. In addition, the plan may include one or more plan components for a recommended wilderness area that:

  • Enhance the ecological and social characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness designations
  • Continue existing uses, only if such uses do not prevent the protection and maintenance of the social and ecological characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness designation
  • Alter existing uses, subject to valid existing rights
  • Eliminate existing uses, except those uses subject to valid existing rights

To view what is currently under consideration for inclusion in the draft EIS analysis as potential recommended wilderness see the maps and summary tables below.

Overview documents

Inyo National Forest

Sequoia National Forest

Sierra National Forest

Background

The 2012 Planning Rule requires us to identify and evaluate lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and determine whether to recommend any such lands for wilderness designation.

There are four steps in the process: inventory, evaluation, analysis and decision. The identification and evaluation of areas for wilderness recommendation will be included as an appendix in the draft and final environmental impact statements for these forest plan revisions. The decision document of the plans will describe any recommendations for wilderness. If areas are recommended for wilderness, the responsible official will include plan direction to protect ecological and social characteristics so that the wilderness character of the recommended area(s) is not reduced before congressional action regarding the recommendation can take place.

Inventory

In early June 2014, we posted preliminary inventory maps for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests on this website and invited public feedback through June 30, 2014. We made adjustments and finalized the inventory maps of lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the NWPS:

(Download a zipped ESRI ArcGIS 10.1 geodatabase containing the official final wilderness inventory dataset.)

Evaluation

In May 2015, we released an update on our progress. We have continued our wilderness evaluation since then, including work to refine the wilderness evaluation narratives and to identify additional areas we should consider including in our analysis of potential recommended wilderness. In September 2015, we shared our updated process for evaluating and identifying potential areas for wilderness recommendation and accompanying FAQs. Evaluation of the polygons identified in the final inventory has been ongoing since July 2014.

As a result of our work and public input since May 2015, we have identified additional potential recommended wilderness areas for consideration in our draft EIS analysis. These additional areas were identified based on the information contained in the narratives and on public input received to date. The additions include new potential recommended wilderness areas and potential recommended additions to existing designated wilderness. Some of the areas that were shared in May 2015 have been modified.

The areas currently under consideration for inclusion in the draft EIS are not final. They may be modified before the draft EIS is released based on public input and further refinements.

To view what is currently under consideration for inclusion in the  draft EIS analysis as potential recommended wilderness see the maps and summary tables listed above in the "December 2015 materials for public review" section.

Forest Supervisors will use the wilderness evaluation narratives and public input to identify which specific areas, or portions thereof, to carry forward into the draft EIS analysis in one or more alternatives as recommended wilderness. Not all lands included in the inventory and subsequent evaluations are required to be carried forward in an alternative. A detailed boundary map and a narrative description will be prepared for each recommended area that we will analyze in the draft EIS.

Management Direction for Recommended Wilderness Areas

In addition to identifying which areas to include for analysis in the draft EIS, we are also developing plan components for the management of recommended wilderness in the draft forest plans. When developing plan components for recommended wilderness areas, the Responsible Official (Forest Supervisor) has discretion to implement a range of management options. All plan components applicable to a recommended area must protect and maintain the social and ecological characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness recommendation. In addition, the plan may include one or more plan components for a recommended wilderness area that:

  1. Enhance the ecological and social characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness designations;
  2. Continue existing uses, only if such uses do not prevent the protection and maintenance of the social and ecological characteristics that provide the basis for wilderness designation;
  3. Alter existing uses, subject to valid existing rights; or
  4. Eliminate existing uses, except those uses subject to valid existing rights.

The Responsible Official should strive to maintain consistency with the provisions of 16 USC 1133(d) and the content of FSM 1923.03(3) when developing plan components for the management of recommended wilderness areas. (Forest Service Handbook 1909.9 Ch. 70)

We are interested in your thoughts regarding suitable uses and management of recommended wilderness and will consider any input we receive as we develop plan components for recommended wilderness. Please submit input via http://tinyurl.com/earlyadoptersfpr. Feedback is most useful if received by February 1, 2016.