BLM Issues New Pryors Plan, But Much Work Remains
The agency revisited its initial environmental assessment after public pressure, but the new plan still comes up short
Recently, the Billings Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new environmental assessment (EA) for the Pryor Mountains travel plan.
The new environmental assessment is the outcome of a process that began a year ago, when the BLM released a draft EA and proposed travel plan for the Pryors (Baahpuuo Isawaxaawúua, Crow). The plan proposed illegally allowing motorized e-bikes on 50 miles of non-motorized trail, failed to perform site-specific analysis on how motorized would impact these trails, and failed to meaningfully solicit public input.
We held the agency accountable for that proposal and mobilized over 120 people like you to comment on this illegal and poorly conceived plan, ultimately forcing the agency back to the drawing board.
Now, the agency has come back with a new environmental assessment.
It’s a marginal improvement over the original, but we still have significant concerns about how the agency is proposing to manage popular non-motorized trails and sensitive ecosystems, and its failure to conduct the detailed analyses of each site that are legally required.
Over the past year, the BLM has, despite public outcry, officially defined e-bikes as non-motorized, despite the fact that they can travel up to 30 miles per hour and weigh up to 50 pounds.
While we strongly disagree with the agency’s decision, it at least restored legality to its travel planning processes. Now, the BLM is allowing each field office to determine whether it will allow e-bikes on non-motorized trails.
In its new EA, the Billings Field Office does specifically outline where it will allow e-bike use and where it will restrict motorized and mechanized travel. It recognizes 11 miles of exclusively hiking and horseback trails and 17 miles of shared hiking, biking, and horseback trails, and it closes 32 miles of unnecessary or redundant roads.
We appreciate the increased clarity the BLM has provided on these important issues.
At the same time, we continue to have considerable concerns about the lack of analysis the agency has performed on the routes that remain open to motorized use.
Federal land management agencies like the BLM are legally required by a Nixon-era executive order to minimize the impacts of motorized recreation on public lands. As part of this requirement, it must demonstrate that individual motorized routes are located and designed to minimize several issues: damage to soils, watersheds, cultural and other resources; harm to wildlife; and conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users.
Unfortunately, the Billings Field Office has again failed to perform the legally required site-specific analysis for the routes that remain open to motorized use and has failed to demonstrate that allowing motorized use on these routes will minimize damage to sensitive ecosystems, wildlife, and cultural resources and reduce user conflict.
The BLM administers nearly 250 miles of routes across the range, and it has proposed to allow public motorized use on nearly 50% of them - a percentage far out of line with what a careful analysis would recommend. The Pryors are unique, highly sensitive, and slow to recover from damage, making the careful consideration and minimization of motorized impact especially important. It’s essential that the BLM carefully consider the required so-called “minimization criteria'' and use those criteria to guide its management of motorized use in the Pryors. Taking meaningful steps to reduce the potential harm of motorized use, close redundant routes, and strike a sustainable balance between motorized and non-motorized recreation in the Pryors is the only way to create a logical and sustainable travel network that protects the stunning wilderness values, wildlife habitat and populations, cultural resources, and remarkable beauty of this unique range.
We’re holding the BLM accountable to the law and to its mandate to responsibly manage unique wild places like the Pryors. Your voice is a huge part of this effort.
Can you speak up today to protect the Pryors?
Please take a moment to write a comment to the BLM today asking it to take careful steps to minimize the impacts of motorized recreation and close redundant, unnecessary, and damaging roads. By doing so, it can make sure the Pryors retain the wildness we all love.
If you'd like more information, you can find a detailed analysis of the environmental assessment here.
Comments are due December 14th, so don’t wait.
Eastern Montana Field Director
Aubrey works with communities to protect eastern Montana’s prairies, badlands, and island mountain ranges. She spends her time skiing, hiking, and running, volunteering with civic organizations in Billings, exploring public lands with her two dogs, and napping on the couch with her two cats.