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.
The revised forest plan provides direction for managing the forest’s ecological, social, and economic resources for the next 10 to 15 years. Based upon the review of all alternatives and the consideration of the effects to the ecological, social, and economic environment, alternative B modified was selected for the Flathead National Forest revised forest plan. The selected alternative is based on alternative B from the draft EIS, with modifications in response to comments, including over 33,000 comments on the draft EIS, and includes features of all alternatives considered. Alternative B modified is the result of engagement with State and local governments, other Federal agencies, and Indian tribes, as well as robust and unique public engagement efforts since 2013.
Additionally, Forest Supervisors Chris Savage, Tim Garcia, and Bill Avey have released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for forest plan amendments to the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests, which incorporate habitat management direction from the draft Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy. Alternative 2 modified from the draft EIS was selected for the forest plan amendments in response to internal and external reviews and public comments on the draft EIS.
Amendment plan components will guide future land management actions related to motorized access and secure core, developed recreation sites, vegetation management, livestock grazing, and energy and mineral development. In general, habitat conditions in the primary conservation area will be maintained at levels that occurred during the time period when the grizzly bear population was known to be growing and increasing in distribution, thus contributing to recovery of the NCDE grizzly bear population. In zone 1 and the demographic connectivity areas, plan components will be added to limit grizzly bear mortality risk and provide for population connectivity to neighboring grizzly bear recovery zones. In a portion of zone 2, a desired condition aimed at providing for genetic connectivity between the NCDE and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will be added. A desired condition and a standard regarding food/wildlife attractant storage special order(s) will apply across the primary conservation area, zone 1 including the demographic connectivity areas, and zone 2. New forest plan monitoring items will be added to the forest plans.
The forest plan, amendments, final EIS, draft records of decision, and other documentation are available at the following links for your review:
- Flathead National Forest’s plan revision webpage: fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/fpr;
- Forest plan amendments webpage: fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/gba; and
- USDA Forest Service Northern Region’s species of conservation concern webpage: http://bit.ly/NorthernRegion-SCC.
The next step in the process is a 60-day objection period, which officially starts on December 14, 2017. Individuals or groups who participated in the planning process may file an objection regarding specific remaining concerns. At the end of the 60-day period, the agency will review those concerns and seek opportunities for resolution. Once the objections are resolved, the Forest Supervisor will sign the final record of decision. See the Forest website (www.usda.fs/goto/flathead/fpr) or the legal notice for the specific requirements for filing an objection.