Public input on the Hoosier National Forest

Organizationally speaking, Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas’s decisions must satisfy broad goals set by the President and Congress, which, respectively, oversee and fund the U.S. Forest Service. In terms of details like how, when and where those directives are satisfied, his “marching orders” come from the agency’s national and regional offices.

But the American people – and not just those in Southern Indiana – own the 202,000 acres of wooded landscape that Chaveas and his staff oversee. And, when it comes to day-to-day and year-to-year management decisions on recreation, preservation, wildlife, habitat restoration, logging and other concerns, theirs are the opinions he needs the most.

“It’s public land,” he said during a July 17 interview in his Bedford office. “… We want them to let us know how they feel. We want them to let us know what they want from their forest.”

This is the third in a series of articles from an interview between Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas and Natural Bloomington’s Steven Higgs. Read the others on the Natural Blog Page. Video from the 38-minute conversation can be seen in full or in segments at the Natural Bloomington YouTube channel or through Community Access Television Services in Bloomington.

Individual forest management plans dictate how land stewards like Chaveas must manage the 155 national forests that cover 193 million acres in 44 states.

The plan Chaveas inherited traces its roots to the mid-1980s, when then-Supervisor Harold Godlevske proposed clearcutting more than four fifths of the forest. Faced with broad and emotional public response, the agency appointed a new supervisor named Frank Voytas, who withdrew the clearcutting plan.

In 1992, Voytas adopted the Conservationist Alternative, which was written by the Hoosier Environmental Council and regarded as one of the most envimentally sensitive in the nation. It designated more than half the forest off limits to extractive and destructive uses like logging, oil and gas drilling and off-road vehicles.

By federal law, a forest plan’s lifespan is 10 to 15 years. But even though the Hoosier’s latest revision turns 10 next year, a new one is not in the offing, Chaveas said. Comparatively speaking, the Hoosier’s is rather fresh. The plan he followed at the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon as a district ranger until June 2014 dates to the 1990s.

“There are other forests that are just older than we are,” he said. “So we’re still several years out from doing a full-scale revision of the plan. But eventually it’ll come around.”

The forest plan sets long-term management directives that are broken down into 10-year cycles, within which broad targets for, say, timber harvesting or habitat restoration, cannot be exceeded, Chaveas said.

“The forest plan, that’s our contract with the public,” he said. “We went through an extensive process with the public in 2006 when we set the plan in place. … That is us saying to the public, ‘This is what we’re going to do with your national forest over the next 10 years.’ So, we have to be true to what we said and not do projects that fall outside of whatever the forest plan says on a specific area or topic.”

Chaveas and his leadership team  set the Hoosier’s priorities within those areas.

“That’s all the program managers from each of the program area that we have on the forest, the lands folks, the ecosystems folks, the recreation folks, etc.,” he said. “And we work together on a given year, with our expected budget, on what are our primary priorities going to be going forward.”

The team works with the public both formally and informally, Chaveas said.

“We spend a lot of time meeting with outside groups, either formally organized kind of interest-based organizations, whether it’s from the timber industry perspective or a recreational perspective or an environmental perspective … and then a lot of just individual citizens that have concerns.”

The Hoosier is the third that Chaveas’s has worked on. He knows the drill.

“It’s a constant, ongoing dialogue,” he said.

Photographs: Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area.


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