Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River: Comprehensive River Management Planning Resumes

North Fork Flathead River from Ford Station - USFS
North Fork Flathead River from Ford Station – USFS

Here’s some good news! Work has resumed on the Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River.

From the official press release . . .

Kalispell, MT, November 4, 2021– The Flathead National Forest, in coordination with Glacier National Park, is excited to announce that after a year-long delay, planning efforts will begin once again on the Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River. The project will continue to be coordinated by HydroSolutions Inc, a Helena, Montana natural resource consulting firm.

In the fall/winter of 2020 the project team was working on an initial draft of the CRMP. This plan along with an environmental assessment was anticipated to be released for public comment in January of 2020, with a final decision in the summer of 2020. The CRMP project was delayed due to lack of funding for completing the contract as well as staffing and capacity issues. In January 2021, the Forest Service secured additional funding to extend the contract with HydroSolutions through August 2022.

The purpose of the project is to fulfill the requirements of Section 3(d)(1) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that states that “the Federal agencies charged with the administration of each component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System shall prepare a comprehensive management plan…to provide for the protection of river values and Section 3(d) (2) that requires that river management plans for Wild and Scenic Rivers designated prior to 1986 be reviewed for conformity with the Act. Prior to developing the proposed action, six public engagement sessions were held to discuss water quality, wildlife, cultural and ethnography features, fisheries, geology and botany, and recreation and scenery. The Proposed Action was then drafted and released in late summer 2019, which included a 45-day public scoping period that generated 126 written comments and included two public meetings attended by approximately 180 people.

The purpose and need for the Flathead River CRMP Project, as stated in the proposed action is:

    • To protect and enhance the outstandingly remarkable values identified in the original designation.
    • To update the existing river management plan as required to maintain compliance with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and to reflect changes that have occurred since designation (1976) in forest and park management, special status species, and other laws that affect resources within the Wild and Scenic River corridor.

This plan will be implemented through three primary mechanisms including intergovernmental coordination, individual agency action, and partnerships with non-governmental organizations and the public. This plan provides management direction and information on the desired river conditions as well as monitoring indicators, triggers, and thresholds for the Flathead Wild and Scenic River into the future. Future projects and site-specific activities must be consistent with the regulatory guidance provided in the CRMP as well as the Flathead Forest Plan.

Because some time has passed since the release of the proposed action, we encourage interested public to review the proposed action document and project background materials. The Proposed Action document highlights the elements of the CRMP that address the current status of the outstanding remarkable values along these river segments, outlines goals and desired conditions, describes the user capacity determination process, and proposes a monitoring strategy, indicators, and management direction to carry forward. The proposed action can be accessed at the Flathead Comprehensive River Management Plan project website and the CRMP Project Background link on the Flathead NF CRMP Website includes all the materials from the 2018 Pre-scoping public engagement meetings and detailed project background.

The new project timeline anticipates that a Draft CRMP and environmental assessment will be released in the spring of 2022 for public review and comment. The project team plans to hold a public engagement session to provide more information and facilitate public input on the Draft Plan. The final decision and CRMP is expected to be released late summer 2022.

The Forest appreciates the public’s continued engagement and interest in the Flathead CRMP Project and look forward to receiving more input as we move forward. The Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River is a nationally and locally important resource. The Forest/Team is committed to developing a CRMP that will meet the requirements of the Wild and Scenic River Act and continue to protect and enhance the rivers free flowing conditions, water quality, and the outstandingly remarkable values for current and future generations.