Flathead Forest reviews motorized access rules

Flathead National Forest officials are seeking public input as they revise the 2018 forest plan, identifying recommended wilderness areas that could be opened to snowmobile use and other motorized activities , while compensating for the eased restrictions with bans in other areas.

Forestry officials say the proposed changes could result in increased access for snowmobiles and other motorized uses to 12,759 acres through the 2.4 million acre forest, while limiting access to 12,234 acres. .

The balancing act is part of a directive issued at the signing of the sprawling land management plan revisions on Dec. 24, 2018, requiring the agency to “initiate site-specific planning…within 3 years. from the date of this decision when an existing order may need to be modified (for example, changes to snowmobile use according to the current Motor Vehicle Snow Use Map) or when an order may need to be issued (for example, to prohibit mechanized transport).

Forestry officials released the proposed action for public comment, which is scheduled for February 22. The proposed action and corresponding maps can be viewed on the Flathead National Forest website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/? project=61460.

The Flathead National Forest footprint includes the Whitefish Range, Swan Range, and Mission Mountains, and agency officials are engaged in a constant juggling act to balance priorities such as recreation, timber, fire, resource conservation, safety and education.

The 2018 Forest Plan (implemented in 2019) replaced the 1986 plan, updating the U.S. Forest Service’s long-term strategic vision for managing the land system in northwest Montana. The Flathead Forest Plan is the second in the nation to use the Forest Service’s 2012 Land Management Planning Rule, which facilitates US Department of Agriculture goals by promoting sound land management in partnership with communities.

Among its many proposals, the forest plan recommended new lands for inclusion in the national conservation system, including the Jewel Basin, the Tuchuck-Whale areas and additions to the Mission Mountain, Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas.

When a forest plan identifies an area as not suitable for an activity, such as mechanized activities like mountain biking or motorized use like snowmobiling, the plan has no immediate effect on the public. This is because changes to suitability allocations in the forest plan are programmatic in nature and do not alter any site-specific public uses until second-level site-specific planning takes place, according to forest officials.

“This proposed action will not override decisions made by the Forest Plan regarding the selection of recommended wilderness areas or which areas are suitable or unsuitable for motor vehicle use on snow,” according to the National Forest Supervisor. Flathead, Kurt Steele. “Instead, this analysis will focus on assessing the site-specific effects of prohibiting or designating (permitting) certain uses and activities only in those areas.”

The project proposes to update the motorized vehicle use on snow map to designate or prohibit motorized use on snow in areas where the 2018 Forest Plan made changes to motorized vehicle use on snow. the snow; prohibit motorized use and mechanized transport in recommended wilderness areas by issuing a long-term forest closure order; and clarify the direction of the forest plan in the recommended wilderness related to mechanized and motorized uses for administrative purposes.

Currently, of the 190,403 acres of recommended wilderness areas, approximately 96 miles of trails allow mechanized transportation and 383 acres allow motorized use on snow.

“This proposal would assess the effects of prohibiting mechanized transportation and motorized use on snow in these areas to the public,” according to Steele.

Additionally, in reviewing the suitability components for recommended wilderness areas, the Forest Service identified conflicting language in a few suitability components unrelated to public uses. To resolve these conflicts, this project will propose an amendment to clarify the direction of administrative use of motorized use/mechanized transport in the wilderness recommended.

For a full description of the proposals, maps and information on how to comment, please visit the project webpage at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=61460. If you don’t have site-specific comments at this time but would like updates on the project, you can send your contact information to [email protected]

Members of the public who have questions or need further information should contact Michele Draggoo at [email protected] or (406)758-5269.

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