Flathead National Forest Releases its Draft Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement
Now is our last chance to weigh in on the forest plan revision
Years in the making, the Flathead National Forest draft forest plan will direct how the Forest Service will manage 2.4 million acres of our public lands, from the North Fork of the Flathead River to Lion Creek in the Swan Range. Once finalized, this agency decision will go into effect for 15 years and set the stage for wildland protection in many places throughout the Forest.
In the new plan, the Forest Service has selected one alternative out of four, Alternative B Modified. The agency also released the final Environmental Impact Statement.
So, what does it say? Here’s the lowdown:
Thanks to you and the many others who stood up for wild places, the Forest Service increased the number of acres of recommended Wilderness by more than 91,000. Recommended Wilderness in the Flathead National Forest now totals 190,403 acres.
We’re pleased to report that the Forest Service is recommending the Whitefish Range, the Swan Front, and Jewel Basin for Wilderness and will manage these places to maintain their wild character and not allow motorized or mechanized transport within them.
That’s good news for grizzly bears, lynx, bull trout, and other key species that rely on the Bob Marshall Wilderness, the Great Bear Wilderness, and adjoining wildlands.
We are disappointed, however, that the agency did not recommend more protection for places in the interior of the Swan Range, including Sullivan Creek, a vital stream for the endangered bull trout. We are also disappointed that the Forest Service didn’t afford greater protection for the low elevation areas of the Mission Mountains, also vital habitat for bull trout, lynx, and underrepresented plant species.
Below is a summary of the priorities we’ve established over the course of the Flathead Forest planning process and the outcomes in the new draft plan:
1. Priority: Implement the Whitefish Range Partnership Agreement, a collaborative solution for management of the Whitefish Range that includes 83,000-acres of recommended wilderness.
Outcome: A large portion of the agreement has been adopted in the draft, which recommends nearly 80,000-acres of Wilderness for Tuchuck Mountain, Thompson-Seton, Mt. Hefty, Thoma Mountain, and Nasukoin Mountain.
2. Priority: Expand the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the Swan Range to include Bunker and upper Sullivan Creeks.
Outcome: An additional 8,000-acres of recommended wilderness were added to protect the upper forks of Bunker Creek. This is a significant outcome for core grizzly habitat that advocates have worked to secure for decades.
Wilderness recommendations should include upper Sullivan Creek, a drainage that contains one of the last remaining strongholds for bull trout and has been recommended for the highest priority of protection by scientists.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service is allowing mechanized use along a corridor that cuts through recommended Wilderness. The Bunker Creek wildlands should be contiguous and free of mechanized use.
3. Priority: Manage recommended wilderness just like designated Wilderness.
Outcome: The new draft decision will manage recommended Wilderness areas consistently with designated Wilderness by prohibiting motorize and mechanized uses, which are not consistent with the Wilderness Act. We applaud the Forest Service for recognizing that this management direction is critical for maintaining wilderness character and the potential for designation in the future.
4. Priority: Protect the Greater Jewel Basin Area.
Outcome: Over 18,000-acres is recommended for Wilderness in the draft plan. It is certainly positive that protection for the Jewel has been retained. But at the same time, the Forest Service has shrunk the number of acres it’s recommending for Wilderness in Jewel Basin compared to the last forest plan. As a result of competing recreational interests, 14,500 acres of recommended Wilderness have been dropped in this latest planning process.
5. Priority: Safeguard lower-elevation, species-rich lands that are adjacent to the Mission Mountains Wilderness.
Outcome: Several crucial areas – including the wildlife corridor of Sunset Ridge, Hemlock Creek, Piper Creek, and Fatty Creeks – were not recommended for Wilderness. However, nearly 1,500-acres of the Elk Creek area, the most productive stream for bull trout in the entire Swan watershed, was recommended for Wilderness.
The release of the draft plan triggers a 60-day objection period. The deadline for submitting objections will be February 11, 2018.
If you have submitted substantive comments in the past, now is your chance to submit an objection. Find out how to comment during the objections process. The objection period is intended to address any final concerns and reduce lawsuits before the final decision is signed, sealed, and released.
Your objection must include:
- Your name, address, telephone number, and email address
- Focus: Flathead National Forest plan revision objection
- Statement of issues or portions of the plan that the objection applies
- Reason for your objection and your proposed solution
- Statement demonstrating the link between your objection and prior comments
- Your signature of authorship (scanned signature will work)
Sending in your objections:
- Mail to: USDA Forest Service, Objection Reviewing Officer, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula MT 59804.
- Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org with “Flathead Forest Plan Objection” in the subject line.
- Amy Robinson, MWA northwest Montana field director