Wilderness Recommendations

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

The 2012 Planning Rule requires the Forest Service 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 are included as an appendix in the draft and final environmental impact statements we prepare for 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.

For the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra national forests, we have determined which areas to analyze as recommended wilderness in the draft EIS (appendix B), which is currently available for review online at: http://tinyurl.com/r5earlyadopters The appendix contains detailed documentation, including maps, of the processes we used, and of the results, for the inventory, the evaluation of the inventory, and the selection of the areas that are included for analysis in the draft EIS. The appendix also includes the rationale for those areas that were not selected for analysis in the DEIS. The Draft Forest Plans that are currently available for review include management direction for both existing designated wilderness and recommended wilderness. Chapter 3 of the draft EIS includes our analysis of areas recommended for wilderness.

For a quick overview of our progress, check out our June 2016 Update. For more detailed information, please visit the below sections.

If you have questions regarding the wilderness evaluation and recommendation process or how to comment on it, please contact Andrea Davidson at 707-562-8822.

Inventory

Step1: The inventory step identifies all lands in the plan area that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. This step is intended to be reasonably broad and inclusive based on inventory criteria found in FSH 1909.12 Section 71.

In June 2014 we posted preliminary inventory maps for the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests on this website and invited public feedback. 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.)

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

Step 2: This step evaluates the wilderness characteristics of the lands included in the inventory. Wilderness evaluation narratives include descriptions of the general area and wilderness characteristics, as well as factors affecting manageability.

We have been working with the public since July 2014 on this process. In May 2015, we released an update on our progress and continued our wilderness evaluation, including work to refine the wilderness evaluation narratives and to identify additional areas to consider 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. In December 2015 we released another update on what we were considering for analysis as potential recommended wilderness. See the December 2015 Materials section for maps and summary tables shared then.

Analysis

Step 3: Based on the wilderness evaluation narratives and public feedback, areas or portions of areas in the inventory were included for analysis as recommended wilderness in the draft EIS. Not all lands included in the inventory and subsequent evaluations are required to be analyzed for recommendation.

We used the public information received through January 2016 to improve the wilderness evaluation narratives. We then used the updated narratives, public feedback, and our resource specialists’ knowledge to identify areas, or portions of areas, to include for analysis as recommended wilderness in the draft EIS. This information is reflected in Appendix B of the draft EIS, which is available for a 90-day comment period beginning May 27, 2016 and ending August 25, 2016. Comments received during the 90-day comment period will be reviewed and a final EIS and appendix will be prepared before a final decision is made on whether or not to recommend any areas for wilderness.

Management Direction for Recommended Wilderness Areas

In addition to identifying which areas to include for analysis in the draft EIS, we developed 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)

Recommendation

Step 4: The Responsible Official (Forest Supervisor) decides which areas, if any, to recommend for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. The decision is based upon the environmental analysis and input from Tribal, State and local governments, and the public.

The Responsible Official, in this case, the forest supervisors on the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra National Forests shall document a decision on whether to recommend specific areas for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System based on the analysis disclosed in the final EIS and input received during public participation opportunities. The final decision document will identify any preliminary administrative recommendations. The recommendations will receive further review and possible modification by the Chief of the Forest Service, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the President of the United States. Congress has reserved the authority to make final decisions on wilderness designation. Plan implementation is not dependent upon subsequent action related recommendations for wilderness designation.