Involving Youth in the Planning Process of the Tongass National Forest

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SourDough News | July 1, 2015


 

New Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart meets with YAC members at a social at Ward Lake-Ketchikan New Tongass Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart meets with YAC members at a social at Ward Lake, Ketchikan.

Carol Seitz Warmuth discusses monitoring with YAC Members Ella Sherrill,Sage Acteson & Gwen Ranniger Carol Seitz Warmuth discusses monitoring at the Forest Plan Amendment Open House with YAC Members Ella Sherrill, Sage Acteson, and Cheyenne Mathews.

“Let’s call it the Y.A.C.,Youth Advisory Council,” I said to the group of students around me. Then I smiled—of course we would. This highly motivated group of young adults—a mixture of juniors and seniors at Ketchikan High School—had been hand-picked by their school advisor, Robert McLory, to work with the Tongass National Forest and learn about land management planning. As advisor, he knew the students’ backgrounds and interests and understood their harried schedules.

 

The new National Forest System land management planning rule encourages officials responsible for overseeing the planning process to reach out to under-served audiences, such as youth. Gathering youth in a non-academic setting, however, can be problematic. I worked with McClory, who arranged a meeting space and time in the library, and organized six members and two alternates for the youth council. That took about one week.

 

The collaboration was beneficial for us and the students as well. As juniors and seniors, they were looking to participate in civic activities that could improve their standings with collegiate or military acceptance boards. By working with the Tongass to offer advice on our planning effort, the Y.A.C. members received letters of involvement and certificates of appreciation for their academic records.

 

Three Y.A.C. meetings were held at Ketchikan High School from fall 2014 through spring 2015. The objective was to involve the Y.A.C. members in the public participation process for the Forest Plan Amendment, including having them actively participate in a Forest Service public open house in Ketchikan. This meeting allowed Y.A.C. members to better understand the scope of the Forest Plan Amendment and the issues that were raised during the scoping process. They gathered information at each station, examined maps, and talked with Forest Service subject matter experts.

 

Susan Howle, Project Manager for the Tongass Plan Amendment, prepared and presented informational materials for the Y.A.C. on a range of topics including: the purpose of the Forest Plan Amendment, the 2012 Planning Rule, the Forest Service environmental (NEPA) process, and how public involvement is an integral part of this planning effort. Howle explained how the Y.A.C. can participate in the next opportunity for public involvement in October 2015 by commenting on the draft environmental impact statement.

 

Howle also explained that if the students provided substantive formal comments on the DEIS during the 90-day comment period, they would gain “standing” to participate in the objections process. Y.A.C. members were provided a copy of the Forest Service directives (FSH 1909.12 Chapter 50) that explains the objections process. The students were professional and inquisitive and sought to probe and ask informed questions.

 

In May 2015, several Y.A.C. members attended a social gathering sponsored by the Tongass Advisory Committee at Ward Lake Recreation Area in Ketchikan. The committee was formally established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advise the Secretary and Chief of the Forest Service on transitioning the Tongass National Forest to young-growth forest management. Y.A.C. members had the opportunity to hear how the committee has been working to provide advice and recommendations on the Forest Plan Amendment, and learn how the committee worked collaboratively to provide consensus-based recommendations. The students also had the unique opportunity to meet and talk with Under Secretary of Agriculture, Robert Bonnie, Alaska Regional Forester Beth Pendleton, and new Tongass Forest Supervisor, Earl Stewart.

 

This summer, Y.A.C. members continue to track with the Forest Plan Amendment NEPA process while away at summer jobs and preparing for college. Juniors that are now seniors will continue their involvement with the group. The next step is making comments in the DEIS process in October. Many thanks for all the energy and time committed to the formal beginnings of the group. Go Y.A.C.!

 

By Faith L. Duncan, Interpretive and Conservation Education Program Manager, Tongass National Forest





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