The first public meeting on development of a Comprehensive River Management Plan for the three forks of the Flathead River is on March 6, 6:00pm, at Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls. This is a pretty big deal given the steep increase in recreational traffic over the past few years. The current plan is dated, at best.
Here’s the text of Flathead Forest’s press release, which does a good job of summarizing the issues at hand . . .
The Flathead National Forest, in coordination with Glacier National Park, has begun the process to prepare a Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the 3-Forks of the Flathead River.
The river and surrounding lands offer recreational opportunities and access to outstanding resources for a variety of public lands users. The CRMP will address the current status of these resources, outline goals and desired conditions, determine user capacities, and create a monitoring strategy and plan to carry forward. The public is encouraged to contribute to this planning effort that will secure the outstanding remarkable values of the 3-Forks of the Flathead River for future generations. The planning team will be reaching out to the public to provide information on background of the statutory requirements of a CRMP under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, describe the need for change from the current river management plan and to gather public input on management issues for the CRMP. The first public meeting introducing the project will be held on March 6th from 6 to 8 pm at the Cedar Creek Lodge Conference Room in Columbia Falls, Montana. Additional meetings will follow allowing for further participation and opportunities to comment, that will help develop the CRMP.
Lily Cullen, writing for the Hungry Horse News, posted a good summary of last week’s ‘river meeting’ at Flathead Forest headquarters. Several North Forkers were in attendance, as increasingly heavy river usage is becoming a significant issue locally (see, for example, older posts here and here) . . .
The Flathead National Forest has plans for a new Flathead River Wild and Scenic River plan, but it will probably take years to finalize new management policies for the three forks of the river, Hungry Horse/Glacier View district ranger Rob Davies said last week.
The plan will include updated standards for maximum river capacities and will designate launch points for half-day floats along the recreational stretches of the North, South, and Middle Forks of the Flathead River, Davies noted during a meeting of river stakeholders in Kalispell.
Crowds are a big issue for the Forest Service and Glacier National Park staff who manage the river. The standards for the ideal number of encounters on a river float — usually two to 10 per half-day float — haven’t changed since 1986. Rangers and volunteers monitor the North, Middle, and South forks during peak times in prime float season, and count the number of encounters on the water and on the shore. They also keep track of launch wait time. However, there’s no consequence or management plan for when the number of user encounters exceeds the standards, which are designed to measure the overall recreational experience.
Here is the Daily Inter Lake’s write-up on the North Fork Watershed Protection Act’s progress through the U.S. House . . .
A bill aimed at protecting national forest lands west of Glacier National Park cleared a key House Committee Tuesday, drawing praise from local supporters.
Known as the North Fork Watershed Protection Act and sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the bill would withdraw 362,000 acres of public lands from future oil and gas leasing and development, hard-rock mining and geothermal development.
Similar legislation sponsored by Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester has been advancing in the Senate.
“The North Fork bill is a great example of people of all walks of alife coming together and developing local solutions for public lands issues,” said Chris Schustrom of the Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “This bill will help ensure that traditional land uses and fish and wildlife habitat in the valley are protected in perpetuity.”
The House version of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act easily passed its first hurdle this morning . . .
Legislation to protect the North Fork of the Flathead River from energy development passed a crucial congressional milestone early Tuesday morning.
The House Natural Resources Committee approved its version of the North Fork Watershed Protection Act without opposition, according to Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., authored the measure and got it passed through the Senate Natural Resources Committee last June. That puts the bill in position for votes by both chambers.
“The North Fork is widely treasured as a precious corner of our state, a place where we harvest timber, we hunt and fish, and lead trips into the adjacent Glacier National Park,” Daines said in an email statement on Tuesday. “The local community wants to continue using this watershed of the river to benefit their local economy – which is largely outdoor recreation based.”
The Flathead Beacon just posted another of their “Focusing on…” articles, this time discussing the challenges to the Flathead River Corridor from increasing recreational pressure, which is forcing consideration of a new river corridor plan. Recommended reading . . .
The rhythm of the North Fork flows to a mellow tempo, even as the steady thrum of traffic and the ever-present flotilla of rafts and kayaks sketch a clear portrait of the wild and scenic river corridor’s growth and popularity.
Dust clouds roll off this unpaved portion of Highway 486, also known as the North Fork Flathead Road, and the meter of traffic ticking along the western border of Glacier National Park has given rise to the need for a new river management plan.
Designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 1976, the three forks of the Flathead River amount to 219 miles of what everyone agrees is “a very special place,” says Rob Davies, the Flathead National Forest’s district ranger for the Hungry Horse/Glacier View district. The North Fork Flathead River is protected by that designation, while its eastern tributaries and uplands are tucked away in Glacier Park. Its Canadian headwaters are protected by a provincial ban on mining and drilling, and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus has introduced legislation that would prohibit new energy and mineral development on the nearly 400,000 acres of the North Fork watershed within the Flathead National Forest.
Still, public land managers say the river corridor is being impacted by increased use, and have been collecting data to inform the future of the river corridor, while calling on the public to help adopt a new management strategy for recreational use.