Appearing in the Flathead Beacon yesterday, was a thoughtful op-ed by Chris Ryan and Kathleen McAllister in favor of the recently completed Flathead National Forest Plan, written by a couple of folks who should know quite a bit about it . . .
The U.S. Forest Service recently completed a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest (FNF) that will guide decisions on the forest for the next 20 to 30 years or more. The plan addresses a dizzying array of management issues – including municipal watersheds, wildlife habitat, protected lands, outdoor recreation, and much more – over 2.4 million acres that cover the Mission Mountains, the Swan Range, and the Whitefish Range.
Those of us in the conservation community have focused our attention on the places the FNF plan recommends for Wilderness designation. This recommendation means the Forest Service will protect these places until either Congress designates them as Wilderness or at least until the agency completes its next FNF plan.
The FNF plan represents a vast improvement over the previous plan, which recommended around 98,000 acres for Wilderness. The new plan recommends over 190,000 acres, nearly double the previous recommendation. That increase is worth celebrating.
The plan is by no means ideal for conservationists. Wilderness-worthy lands such as Bunker and Sullivan Creeks and low-elevation, critical habitat adjacent to the Mission Mountains Wilderness did not, unfortunately, receive the Forest Service’s Wilderness recommendation. The Jewel Basin recommended Wilderness was reduced in size under the new plan, a significant loss for a landscape that would have been designated Wilderness had Reagan not pocket vetoed the 1988 Montana Wilderness Bill.