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ALERT: Bitterroot/Flathead/Lolo National Forest Management Plan

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SAWS Action Alert

Comment Deadline: September 7, 2006 

Send comments to:

    Proposed Land Management Plan
    Bitterroot National Forest
    1801 North 1st St.
    Hamilton, Mt. 59840

Phone: 406-329-3802

E-mail: wmpz@fs.fed.us

Detailed information including a scoping map is available here:
http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/wmpz/documents/index.shtml

This Proposed Land Management Plan is very unique.  This is the first time in Montana that three (3) separate National Forests have been incorporated into one process. When you add the recommended wilderness acreages up you’ll see that it really should be called a Proposed Wilderness Plan.  There are several groups, such as Montanans for Multiple Use and the Flathead Snowmobile Association, that have been very active during the initial phases of this process.  Sadly the alternatives do not look much different from the documents distributed during the original scoping period.

This Plan is using a long list of confusing and basically restrictive designations.  The Management Area Themes (MA) are: 

  • 1.1 Designated Wilderness
  • 1.2 Recommended Wilderness
  • 2.1 Designated & Eligible Wild, Scenic & Recreational Rivers
  • 2.2 Backcountry Areas
  • 3.1 Special Interest Areas, Special Areas, and Experimental Forests
  • 3.2 Research Natural Areas
  • 3.3 General Forest: Mixed Use Emphasis, Low Intensity Management
  • 4.1 General Forest: Mixed Use Emphasis, Moderate Intensity Management
  • 5.1 General Forest: Mixed Use Emphasis, High Intensity Management
  • 5.2 Residential Forest Intermix
  • 6.1 High Use Recreation Complexes or Use Areas 
MA TYPE OF USE EXISTING ACRES *RECOMMENDED
1.1 Non-Motorized 1,972,787 1,855,322
1.2 Non-Motorized   536,956
1 2.2 Non-Motorized   695,267
3.1 Typically Non-Motorized   49,106
3.2 Non-Motorized   18,865
Total Non-Motorized   3,155,516
2 3.3 Some Motorized   555,419
4.1 Motorized   1,338,568
5.1 Motorized   427,472
6.1 Campgrounds/Cabins   52,700
Total Motorized   2,374,159

 *These numbers are figured from the three (3) forest preferred alternatives.

1 The Backcountry Designation is considered multiple uses because bicycles will be allowed and motorized use will be allowed for administration uses such as clearing hiking trails.

2 This designation is heavily regulated and restrictive to motorized use.

We would like for our members to focus the majority of your comments on two major issues when writing your letters to the forest service.

  1. The forest plan recommends closing all land classified as “recommended wilderness area” (RWA) to snowmobiling.  Under this proposed forest plan, the total comes to 536,956 acres.  This detail is found to be a desired condition.  As a snowmobiler, I ask “Desired by whom?”  This recommendation does not fix or improve anything.   There is no study and no scientific data in existence that suggests snowmobiles have a negative effect on the environment regarding erosion and water quality.  Big game winter range is already identified and closed to snowmobiles.  So what is left?  Nothing.  Please tell the forest service that without substantive evidence of snowmobiles negatively impacting an area, RWAs should not be closed to snowmobiling.  At the very worst, snowmobiling does not affect wilderness characteristics because our tracks disappear with the melting snow every spring.
  2. The Bitterroot / Flathead / Lolo National Forests all fall under the jurisdiction of Region 1.  SAWS members will recall our alert for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest last fall.  As an addition to that alert, SAWS included a position statement concerning the management practices of Region 1 and recommended wilderness areas.  Part of that statement includes “SAWS also does not support any RWAs in any national forest region to be closed to snowmobile use and treated as de-facto wilderness. There is no forest service requirement to close RWAs to snowmobile use. It appears that the decision on how to manage RWAs is being left up to each regional forester...Region 1 covers all national forests in Montana and northern Idaho. The Region 1 forester, Abigail Kimbell, has been allowing the closure of RWAs to snowmobile use throughout Montana - for no apparent reason - and this practice needs to stop now.”  When asked point blank, Ms. Kimbell denies having issued a directive to all forest managers in Region 1 to close all RWAs to snowmobiling.  But it appears that this has indeed been the case.  You will soon see alerts for the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle National Forests, both with identical recommendations for their respective RWAs.  This is not a coincidence, especially when those forests under the jurisdiction of Region 4 have not implemented this “unwritten” policy.  Please tell the Forest Service to use real science and data when implementing their management practices, instead of acting on the whims of those vocal few that share the exclusive use ideology that preaches locking everyone out of the forest that do not share their narrow-minded values.  

Clearly state which Proposed Land Management Plan the comment is addressing; Bitterroot, Flathead, Lolo, or all three forests?

Please note that all comments, names, and addresses become part of the public record and, with the exception of proprietary documents and information, are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

As you can see the Forest Service is proposing to remove ninety eight percent (98%) of the Forest Users from over HALF of their Forests!!!  Over three (3) million acres of public land will only be available to 1.5% of the users.

Even though there are over two (2) million acres recommended for motorized use, there will be several restrictions to these areas.  Close and open dates, stay on trail, Supervisors Special Orders or closed to snowmobiling.  Our riding areas could dwindle to even fewer acres due to these special closure designations.

The agency recognizes throughout their documents that the increased uses of these public lands will continue to increase.  But instead of managing these lands to promote the uses, they are recommending to restrict the use by the majority of the users and create a wild land mecca for our non-motorized counterparts. 

In all of the agency documents they refer to "User Conflicts."  This is an agency created term used to accommodate the non-motorized community - the minority - and restrict the motorized community - the majority - and relinquish management requirements for multiple use areas.

Since I do not have personal knowledge of the snowmobile trails or areas in these specific forests I am not able to write to specifics.  But I can write to the great injustice this Proposed Land Management Plan is to the American snowmobiler, people who choose to recreate in our forests, and the citizens of Montana. 

This is a very lucrative plan for our Wilderness promoting counterparts in the Western United States.  If implemented as proposed, our children and grandchildren will be loosing out on recreating opportunities in Western Montana.  If adopted, this plan will open the door for the next round of planning to occur in approximately 15 years, removing yet larger blocks of public land from being accessible to the majority of the public.

Craig
Snowmobile Alliance of Western States

Protecting the right to ride for the owners of 303,604 registered snowmobiles (2005) in the western United States.

Copyright © 2006 Snowmobile Alliance of Western States. All Rights Reserved.

Permission is granted to distribute this information in whole or in part, as long as Snowmobile Alliance of Western States (SAWS) is acknowledged as the source. If you are not yet a member of SAWS and you would like receive these alerts, please sign up on our web site at http://www.snowmobile-alliance.org/

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