I recently had the privilege of meeting many of you during the first round of objection-resolution meetings for the Blue Mountains Revised Forest Plans. I want to sincerely thank everyone who participated. More than 300 objectors, interested persons and public observers attended meetings in Wallowa, John Day, Pendleton Baker City and La Grande. I am grateful for the time and effort invested by each of you. I hope you will agree that this first round of resolution meetings was a positive step.

The meetings were led by objection reviewing officers based in Washington, D.C., with support and coordination from the Pacific Northwest Regional Office as well as the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests. The goal for these initial meetings was to bring clarity and mutual understanding to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan objection issues. The dialogue helped Forest Service leadership and staff to better understand your values, concerns and views.

Spending time in Eastern Oregon improved much more than our understanding of the issues identified in the objections, though. Through our initial discussions we also gained a deeper appreciation of local residents’ special relationships with the land. We had it affirmed that, for many of those who live in and around the Blue Mountains, these national forests are not just places to visit and recreate — the forests are a vital part of your community life, identity, heritage and livelihoods. The Forest Service is striving to honor these special relationships in the Blue Mountains Forest Plan’s resolution process. In doing so, we will better respect the views of many different community members — including our tribal neighbors, the states of Oregon and Washington, county and other local government representatives, user groups, environmental groups, industry and business — all of whom seek assurances that the Forest Service will protect their priority resources.

During the initial meetings the Forest Service heard a lot about a wide range of topics, including access; aquatic and riparian conservation; elk security and bighorn sheep; fire and fuels; fish, wildlife and plants; livestock grazing; local government cooperation and coordination; public participation; social and economic issues; timber and vegetation; and wilderness, backcountry and other special areas. Digging into these topics in person gave the Forest Service the opportunity to explore issues that were not as prominent in the written objection letters. From the dialogue, some issues appear to be close to resolution while others will require further discussion, so there will be more steps to take in this process.

The Forest Service knows that many topics are interrelated, and we will work to pull together the related topics for discussion in future meetings, so all of us can better see the connections and consider the trade-offs of potential resolutions. The Forest Service also understands that not all objectors and interested persons were able to attend the first round of meetings or have their voices represented by others. So, as we navigate these next steps, the Forest Service will work to ensure we are as inclusive as possible in future objection-resolution meetings.

Over the coming weeks the reviewing officers will be studying the notes and reflecting on what we heard in the first round of resolution meetings, and we will be helping the Washington Office in scheduling the next round of objection-resolution meetings. We will be in touch again to announce the next steps. Thank you for your contributions, and I look forward to making more progress together in the near future.

— Glenn Casamassa is the Pacific Northwest regional forester overseeing the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests.

Glenn Casamassa is the regional forester for the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service.

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