Flathead National Forest unveils revised plan for future management

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead Beacon posted their coverage of the near-final version of the Flathead National Forest’s new forest plan and it’s the best article yet. The Whitefish Range Partnership even gets a nod . . .

After four years thrashing out the details of a proposed management plan for the Flathead National Forest, a blueprint has emerged to guide a wide range of uses on 2.4 million acres of ecologically and economically productive land for the next decade or more.

Land managers hope the final product will strike an accord that balances wilderness, timber production, recreation, wildlife conservation, and other interests, but said divisions will undoubtedly prompt objections from user groups in the next two months.

Still, although he acknowledges that land-use disputes will continue as long as public land exists, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber said the proposed plan considered the needs of all stakeholders — tree huggers and tree cutters, hikers, horsemen, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, cabin owners, boaters, anglers, grizzlies, and nearly everyone else with a stake in the management of public lands on the Flathead National Forest.

Read more . . .

Objection period begins for Flathead Forest plan

Flathead National Forest - view of Whitefish Divide

Here’s a little bit different spin on the just-released, near-final version of the Flathead Forest’s new forest plan. There’s less discussion of the plan itself and more about the difficulties it is likely to face in the courts . . .

The U.S. Forest Service has released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for the Flathead National Forest revised land and resource management plan for a 60-day objection period.

These documents mark the final steps in completing the plan, which the Forest Service expects to guide management for 10 to 15 years. As the Daily Inter Lake reported in October, it’s inching towards completion after four years and considerable controversy.

The draft environmental impact statement set out multiple courses of action for managers to pursue. Of these, Forest Supervisor Chip Weber selected alternative B. In the draft record of decision, he claimed that it “has the best mix of management areas that reflects what I heard the public wanted.”

Read more . . .

Flathead National Forest releases draft record of decision for new forest plan

Lake in Flathead National Forest

The Hungry Horse News has an excellent overview of the near-final version of the Flathead National Forest’s new forest plan . . .

After four years of meetings, field trips and more than 33,000 public comments, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber Thursday released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for the Flathead National Forest plan.

The new plan will replace a plan that was last written and conceived in 1986, but has been amended more than two dozen times over the years.

The new plan, a modified version of alternative B that was set in the draft environmental impact statement, sets the direction for land management of the 2.4 million acre Forest for the next 10 to 15 years, Weber said during an interview with members of the press on Thursday. “This is a highly cherished land,” he said. “…One of the best functioning ecosystems in the world.”

Read more . . .

Comments sought on recovery criteria for Northwest Montana grizzlies

Grizzly Bear - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS
Grizzly Bear – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Terry Tollefsbol, NPS

A timely reminder about participating in the ongoing process for delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) . . .

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking input from scientists and the general public on draft criteria for the eventual recovery of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear.

The draft criteria are a supplement to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, which has guided federal management of these animals since 1982. As the Daily Inter Lake reported last month, this effort could soon bring Northwest Montana bears to a crucial milestone: removal from the Endangered Species Act’s threatened species list and transfer to state management.

“The proposed objective and measurable habitat-based recovery criteria, once finalized, will help inform our recovery efforts as well as any future evaluations regarding the status of these bears under the ESA,” explained spokeswoman Roya Mogadam in an email to the Daily Inter Lake.

Read more . . .

Larry Wilson: Loss of funding to Flathead Basin Commission disappointing

Flathead Lake Bio Station

Larry Wilson takes the Montana DNRC to task for eliminating the Flathead Basin Commission’s funding . . .

I am very disappointed that Montana has cut funding to the Flathead Basin Commission. That commission has generated more funds and done more good than most state agencies, so we should probably not be surprised that it is easy to dismantle.

My memory may not be completely accurate, but as I recall, the Basin Commission was the brainchild of a state legislator named Jean Turnage, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. The purpose of the FBC was to monitor and protect water quality in the Flathead Basin. Included were the Park Superintendant, Forest Service Supervisor, private companies and citizens appointed to by the governor and agencies like the Confederated Tribes and others I do not recall.

There was hardly any budget. When I was appointed as a citizen member, the commission was supervised by a member of the governor’s staff who had many other duties and was not easy to contact.

Read more . . .

Some Montana moose just fall over, dead

Moose - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Moose – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

An interesting article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News concerning the ongoing Moose population study . . .

Several years ago, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks began hearing from sportsmen that there didn’t seem to be as many moose in the woods as there used to be. So FWP decided to embark on a 10-year study of moose in Montana.

Moose have seen marked declines in other regions of the Lower 48. Populations have fallen so dramatically in states like Minnesota that a subspecies of moose there has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Five years in, biologist Jesse Newby has begun to unlock some of the secrets of Montana’s moose, but there’s still plenty learn as to why some populations are doing OK, while others are in decline.

Read more . . .

Montana asks Wyoming to stop feeding elk

 

Elk with Chronic Wasting Disease - Wyoming Game and Fish Dept
Elk with Chronic Wasting Disease – Wyoming Game and Fish Dept

As mentioned here a couple of days ago, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD – think of it as mad cow for the deer family) is starting to show up in Montana. A good argument can be made that Wyoming’s elk feedlots aid the spread of this disease . . .

Montana wildlife officials are asking their Wyoming counterparts to stop feeding elk after chronic wasting disease has appeared in the state.

Jackson Hole News and Guide reports the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission sent a letter last week to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, saying their elk feeding practices could accelerate the spread of the fatal, contagious disease.

The Montana letter says officials respect how Wyoming handles its affairs, but management of the disease in Montana is affected by what happens in the neighboring state.

Read more . . .

Final draft of Flathead Forest Plan released; 60-day countdown for objections

Lake in Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest released the final draft of their new forest plan today, as well as the final version of a substantial pile of related environmental impact documentation. This is a big deal because the forest plan determines how the forest will be managed over at least the next 10-15 years.

Also, today (December 14, 2017) starts the clock on a 60-day “objection period.” For all practical purposes, today’s release is the final version of the forest plan, unless individuals or groups who have contributed to the planning process file a valid objection regarding “specific remaining concerns.” In other words, there’s a 60-day window to suggest technical and factual edits.

The press release below has links to the forest plan document and associated materials. For just the draft forest plan document itself, it can be downloaded directly here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd566356.pdf (410 pages, PDF format, 23.9MB).

Here is the meat of the official press release . . .

Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber has released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for the Flathead National Forest revised land and resource management plan (referred to as the “forest plan”) for a 60-day objection period. The existing forest plan is more than 30 years old, dramatically exceeding the 10-15 year duration of plans directed by the National Forest Management Act. Since the 1986 forest plan was completed, there have been changes in ecological, social, and economic conditions in the area, as well as changes in resource demands, availability of new scientific information, and promulgation of new policy, including the 2012 planning rule. These changes necessitate a plan revision to ensure that management direction is responsive to current issues and conditions. In particular, the plan revision addresses the following topics:

  • increasing demand for recreation opportunities and their importance in supporting local economies;
  • fire and fuels management direction that emphasizes active vegetation management near communities;
  • the need for additional analyses for a number of resources, including timber production opportunities, an important historical driver for local economies;
  • conservation of wildlife and aquatic habitat, including updating grizzly bear habitat management direction and Inland Native Fish direction; and
  • new policy and public interest in identifying areas for recommended wilderness and wild and scenic rivers.

Continue reading Final draft of Flathead Forest Plan released; 60-day countdown for objections

America’s wilderness is no place for mountain bikes

Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone
Mountain Biker by Mick Lissone

Debo Powers, who has been sending in lots of links lately, spotted this opinion piece regarding a poorly thought out bill that would allow mountain bikes in wilderness areas. Seriously? . . .

Congress is currently considering legislation that would undermine a bedrock law that protects America’s iconic landscapes, our traditional way of life, and the wild landscapes that we’ve safeguarded for generations. This shortsighted proposal should be defeated.

H.R. 1349, introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), would re-write the Wilderness Act of 1964 to permit mountain bikes in America’s wilderness, where they have been prohibited for more than a half-century.

The National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the 1964 law, ensures that some of our remaining wild country remains as it has been for hundreds of years. By law, wilderness areas do not allow road building and other forms of development, and prohibit motorized and mechanized vehicles, including mountain bikes.

Read more . . .

Senator Daines is sabotaging our wild legacy

Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana - photo by Zack Porter
Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area in western Montana – photo by Zack Porter

From Debo Powers, NFPA President: Conservation organizations around Montana are organizing opposition to Senator Daines’ bill to release Wilderness Study Areas for multiple use. This is an attack on our wild heritage and will be met with fierce opposition. Here is a blog written by John Todd, the Conservation Director for the Montana Wilderness Association . . .

Today, Sen. Daines sabotaged Montana’s wild legacy

He introduced a bill that would strip protection from nearly a half-million acres of our wildest and most pristine public lands. And he did so without holding a single public meeting or a single town hall for Montanans to discuss his bill.

His bill would remove protection from five wilderness study areas (WSAs): West Pioneer (151,000 acres), Blue Joint (32,500 acres), Sapphire (94,000), Middle Fork Judith (81,000), and Big Snowies (91,000).

If this bill were to pass, it would represent the single biggest loss of protected public lands in our state’s history.

Read more . . .