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Last Call For Tallgrass In North Dakota

Rethinking Management On North Dakota's National Grasslands

What will our national grasslands look like in the 21st century? How will they be used and who will use them? These questions and others are being addressed in a U.S. Forest Service initiative affecting federal lands on the Northern Great Plains, including North Dakota's three national grasslands.

North Dakota's national grasslands include: the Little Missouri, Cedar River and Sheyenne. All three are administered by the Custer National Forest, with headquarters in Billings, Montana.

The Custer National Forest has joined with the Medicine Bow-Routt and Nebraska national forests to revise management plan throughout the Northern Great Plains. All told, more than 2.9 million acres of mostly grassland habitat is being analyzed in both Dakotas, Wyoming and Nebraska. North Dakota's national grasslands contain more than 1.1 million acres.

The U.S. Forest Service is in the process of reevaluating management plans for North Dakota's three national grasslands, comprising about 1.1 million acres of public land.

Called the "Northern Great Plains Plans Revision," the management plan process will take several years to complete, but will rely to a large degree on input from the public. A number of important issues on North Dakota's national grasslands are being addressed, and everyone - from ranchers to hikers, hunters to rock hounds - are being asked to get involved and offer input.

Some important issues concerning North Dakota's units include: ecosystem health, livestock grazing, control of noxious weeds and exotic plants, restoration of native grasslands, oil and gas availability, recreational opportunities, and travel management such as off-road use and motorized restrictions.

Management plans, more appropriately called "land and resource management plans," address any number of issues. In a sense, they're operating manuals that give forest service employees guidance in how to manage resources in a sustainable fashion. Lands administered by the forest service are managed for multiple purposes, including recreational opportunities, comodity production (like livestock grazing), scenic quality and solitude.

A diverse public with many, often-conflicting interests use the national grasslands. Some recreate there, hunting, for instance, or canoeing. Some derive income from national grasslands, like ranchers with livestock permits, or oil and gas compainies with permits to drill. Others seek a backcountry experience, hiking into remote areas or searching the grasslands for birds and animals they wish to see.

The forest service must balance the desires of many on a finite land base. As a result, management plans are periodically reviewed in order to determine that resources will be sustained in a scientifically sound manner, conserving the elements and processes of the ecosystems that function on the grasslands.

When the next plans are released, sometime in 1999, they will guide management for the next 10 to 15 years. Federal law requires that management plans be revised on 10-15-year basis.

Numerous federal laws must be taken into consideration while managing public grasslands. A few of the more visible ones are: the Threatened and Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, to name just a few.

The management plan revision process is primarily guided by two laws, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Eventually, three new management plans will emerge, one each for the Custer, Medicine Bow-Routt, and Nebraska national forests. An environmental impact statement (EIS) will accompany the plans. The EIS will describe the environmental effects of management actions that result from implementing the revised plans.

To get involved in this important process, write or call the Northern Great Plains Planning Team at: USDA Forest Service, 125 North Main Street, Chadron, NE, 69337; (308) 432-0300. Request to be added to the team's mailing list. You'll receive periodic mailings describing the revision process. You'll also receive a newsletter that will tell you how to get more involved with decisions that affect your national grasslands.

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