Yet the process is freighted with legal conflict and shifting political winds stretching back to the Reagan administration.
The forest-plan makeover kicks off at a public meeting in Sacramento July 1, at which the U.S. Forest Service will launch a three-year process to revise the management plans for 14 national forests. All federal timberland from the Sequoia National Forest north to the Oregon border is involved.
Four forests in Southern California are not affected because their plans were updated in 2005.
The plans are supposed to be updated every 15 years, but many are overdue, Pugh said. Like a city's general plan, they serve as policy guidance for all activities in each forest, from camping and other recreation to habitat restoration, stream management and logging practices.
The process begins at the regional level, and then shifts to each forest as details are refined.
Changes to the National Forest Management Act in 2008 require the Forest Service to adopt a more collaborative approach to public involvement.
But other changes prompted legal action by environmental groups.
Greg Loarie, an attorney at the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, said the Bush administration changed the law in 2001, removing a Reagan-era requirement for each forest plan to be vetted by an environmental impact study.
This change, he said, eliminated requirements for each forest to meet clear targets to improve habitat and water quality, for example. A federal lawsuit is under way on this issue, and Loarie said it might not make sense to revise plans while this conflict exists.
The July 1 meeting is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McClellan Wildland Fire Training Center, 3237 Peacekeeper Way, at the former McClellan Air Force Base. Attendees should register in advance by contacting Martha Maciel at (916) 930-3994 or firstname.lastname@example.org.