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.
As expected, the new Flathead Forest Plan is drawing fire from some groups. An article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News does a good job of explaining the background and events leading up to a pending lawsuit . . .
Two environmental groups announced Monday that they have filed a 60-day notice of an intent to file a lawsuit against the Flathead National Forest over its new Forest plan, claiming it violates the Endangered Species Act.
The notice of intent does not come as a surprise — the two groups have previously maintained that new plan doesn’t do enough to secure grizzly bear and bull trout habitat.
They claim the new plan, just days old, is worse than the old 1986 plan because it no longer adheres to a provision in the old plan called Amendment 19. Under Amendment 19 of the previous plan, open road densities across the forest were trimmed substantially. Roads, quite literally, were purposely destroyed by the Forest Service, making them impassable to motorized use.
The new Flathead Forest Plan, as well as the associated grizzly bear management amendments, went into effect late last year. Here, delayed by the recent government shutdown, is the official press release announcing them . . .
Flathead National Forest Releases Signed Record of Decisions for the Forest Land Management Plan and NCDE Forest Plan Amendments
Kalispell, MT., February 1, 2019 – After four years of collaborative effort and public input, the Flathead National Forest has released a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Forest’s Land Management Plan (Forest Plan) and associated final environmental impact statement (FEIS). A separate ROD was signed and released for the amendments to the Helena, Lewis and Clark, Kootenai and Lolo National Forests’ land management plans that incorporate the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly bear habitat management direction as forest plan direction (NCDE amendments).
“We greatly appreciate the commitment of interested participants who’ve provided important contributions toward the development of the land management plan through their participation in the planning process,” Forest Supervisor Chip Weber said. “We look forward to working with our partners and public in the years ahead in utilizing the vision in this land management plan to reach strategic objectives.”
The 2018 Forest Plan replaces the 1986 Plan, updating the long-term strategic vision for managing the Forest’s 2.4 million acres of lands in northwest Montana. The Forest Plan is the second in the nation to implement the Forest Service’s 2012 Land Management Planning Rule (36 CFR 219), which facilitates goals of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in promoting sound land stewardship in partnership with communities.
“We were glad to be part of a robust collaborative process that included a wide range of stakeholders willing to work hard to find space for everyone in our National Forests,” stated Paul McKenzie, the Lands & Resource Manager for F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company. “We feel the collaborative proposal to the USFS was given good consideration in the Forest Planning process. Many elements of the proposal are reflected in the management plan for the North Fork Area. It just goes to show that working together produces better results than working against each other.”
Amy Robinson, Conservation Director for the Montana Wilderness Association added, “The Montana Wilderness Association thanks the Forest Service for including many of the collaborative recommendations the Whitefish Range Partnership offered regarding timber harvest, recreation, and weed management. We are particularly pleased the Forest Service is recommending 80,000 acres of new Wilderness in the northern Whitefish Range. This recommendation will help secure and enhance critical habitat for grizzly bears, lynx, and other wildlife that make this corner of Montana so unique.”
The Notice of Plan Approval was published in the Federal Register on December 27, 2018. The Forest Plan went into effect 30 days after publication and the NCDE amendments went into effect upon publication of the Notice of Plan Approval on December 27, 2018. The Notice of Plan Approval, signed ROD, Forest Plan, and FEIS are available at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/fpr. The signed ROD for the NCDE amendments, are available at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/gbamend.
Despite the government shutdown, U.S. Forest Service supervisors last week signed a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest, along with amendments that standardize grizzly bear management for the Lolo, Kootenai and Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forests.
The plan, more than five years in the making, covers aspects of forest management from timber harvest to wilderness areas to mountain biking. Forest Supervisor Chip Weber says the groundwork for the announcement was put into place before the government shut down, and represents the culmination of years of groundwork with a variety of groups, individuals and companies.
“It provides the sideboards for how the forest will be managed for the next 15 to 20 years.”
Yay! After a long and sometimes contentious slog, the Flathead National Forest just announced that the final piece of the revised forest management plan is in place. Barring unforeseen complications, the plan — the first successful update in more than 30 years — should go into effect by mid-January.
The Flathead National Forest is busy dealing with objections to their new forest plan. Some are a few paragraphs, some run hundreds of pages . . .
With one deadline past and another looming, Flathead National Forest officials will be working weekends to identify the issues raised in objections filed on a proposed land-use plan.
They tallied 74 objections when the objection period ended Monday [February 19] on the plan that will guide future management decisions on the 2.4 million-acre forest for the next decade or longer.
Over the next 90 days, the agency will work with different groups in an effort to resolve a variety of issues raised during a process that will be closely watched by those who care about the future of that landscape.
Here’s the Missoulian’s take on the final draft of the new Flathead Forest Plan . . .
With the clock ticking on a 60-day objection window, people who play in the Flathead National Forest have a lot of homework to study.
U.S. Forest Service analysts made many changes to backcountry areas in their draft forest plan released this month. The proposal recommends a new wilderness area between Whitefish and Polebridge. It might increase mechanized access around the Jewel Basin by Bigfork, and could affect hunter access in popular elk country.
“The draft plan adopts a large part of the Whitefish Range Partnership agreement, including 80,000 acres of recommended wilderness that was never recommended before,” said Amy Robinson of Montana Wilderness Association. “And it looks like there’s more recommendation for high-intensity recreation area in the southern range than was in the last draft.”
Lots of interesting reading; lots of useful links. Recommended . . .
Montana’s grizzly bears better hope they packed their reading glasses as they settle into their winter naptime: There’s a lot of homework to finish over the Christmas holidays.
The Flathead National Forest Plan final draft, released Thursday, includes the proposed rules for managing grizzlies in four national forests that share management responsibility for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Public comments are due in mid-February.
On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out a request for reviews of its draft criteria for habitat-based recovery of the NCDE grizzlies. That same day, it published four peer-review responses to the plan. It also announced a Jan. 3 workshop in Missoula to collect “the input of scientists, the public and interested organizations.” Written responses to the regulations are due Jan. 26.