Flathead forest plan revision nears finish line

I’ve been looking at the second final forest plan and EIS prepared under the 2012 Planning Rule, the Flathead. I want to commend them for some of the things they’ve done.

They have done a very good job of describing desired conditions for many vegetation characteristics based on their natural range of variation. I can tell you that this is the kind of “specific” desired conditions the drafters of the Planning Rule had in mind for providing ecological integrity. They also conducted an analysis of how vegetation conditions would change over time as a result of the plan, while factoring in expected fire regimes, and they were able to use this for some of their analysis of effects on viability of wildlife species that are closely tied to vegetation. I pretty much only looked at the wildlife parts of the EIS, but I thought the terrestrial part was well organized, and included some thoughtful discussion of what plan components actually do. One of my interests is habitat connectivity, and they have given it a more serious look than most, including actually considering and identifying specific areas to be managed for connectivity.

I was looking for problems related to at-risk species, and there are some. Regarding fire, even though they don’t call the wildland-urban interface a “management area,” it is one because a lot of plan components apply differently there.

I’ve also seen how big of a job it is to review and understand something this massive within 60 days, even with only a limited focus – and I’m someone with probably as much experience at this as anyone. It helped to have followed this process off and on from the beginning, but I have some sympathy for organizations trying to promote changes at this point in the process.   (There’s much more time to prepare for forest plan litigation.)

Next up? The Inyo is on track for “this spring.”

6 Comments

  1. I overlooked the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. They were expected to issue the Record of Decision for their revised plan in September, but the national forest has been closed since September 5 due to hurricane damage, and finishing the plan was probably not a priority. This may also be an extreme case of new information that comes up before a final decision is made requiring new analysis before a decision. Then there is the NFMA requirement to revise the plan (again) whenever “conditions in a unit have significantly changed.” Really unfortunate for the Forest (but pretty trivial in the bigger picture).

  2. I can see how a person might think that Puerto Rico’s conditions have changed based on damage from Hurricane Maria, but have they really? In ecological time, perhaps this part of the overall cycle. I guess I can assess better when I see the vegetation growing back.

  3. Not that public comments on Forest Plan Revisions really matter or anything, but….

    FOR RELEASE: February 21, 2017

    Public Comments Reveal Tremendous Support for Wilderness and Wildlife in New Flathead National Forest Plan

    Vast majority of citizens ask U.S. Forest Service to protect all roadless lands as wilderness and protect habitat for grizzly bears, other wildlife and fish

    MISSOULA, MONT. – Public comments submitted on the proposed revised Flathead National Forest Plan show a groundswell of public support for protecting all remaining roadless wildlands as Wilderness, as well as maintaining requirements in the current forest plan to protect grizzly bear security and habitat for other wildlife and fish.

    A press release issued today by the U.S. Forest Service claims the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and draft record of decision for the Flathead National Forest’s new forest plan “is expected to be released in June 2017, and will be subject to a pre-decisional administrative review process; commonly referred to as the objection process.”

    According to conservation and wilderness groups, the vast majority of 30,000+ citizens who commented on the draft forest plan urged the Forest Service to recommend all remaining roadless areas as Wilderness, and they supported maintaining promises made in the current forest plan to remove 500 miles of damaging roads to protect grizzly bear security and habitat for other wildlife and fish. [1]

    “It’s heartening to see this groundswell of public support grow from a grass roots Citizen revision proposal [2] to broad national support for more wilderness, more fish and more wildlife on the public’s Flathead National Forest,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of the Swan View Coalition. “Even the Forest Service acknowledged in its draft plan that managing roadless areas as wilderness is best for water quality, fish, and wildlife.”

    The Flathead National Forest covers 2.4 million acres of public lands west and south of Glacier National Park in Montana. The previous Flathead National Forest plan was written in 1986 and the U.S. Forest Service expects a draft record of decision for the new plan to be released in June 2017.

    On the homepage of the Flathead National Forest’s official website it says “the forest is the premiere destination for visitors looking to experience natural landscapes of the American West” and the forest is “celebrated for its water, wildlife, and wilderness.” [3]

    The Flathead National Forest’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement stated that 96% of American’s like Wilderness and 70% of the American people want more Wilderness. [4] Such strong support for Wilderness and wildlands protection isn’t surprising.

    For example, in 2001, 17,429 Montanans commented on the 2001 Roadless Rule and 78% were in favor of protection of roadless areas [5], while nationally more than 2.5 million citizens submitted comments on the Roadless Rule, with 95% in favor of protection of roadless areas. [6]

    “The citizens who commented on the Flathead Plan were unequivocal. They want their wildlands protected and they want them managed like Wilderness until Congress acts. That means no motorized or mechanized vehicles or other incompatible activities,” stated George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch.

    “Wilderness provides the best protection for clean water, fish and wildlife in the most fiscally responsible way,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “The Flathead National Forest belongs to all people in the United States and they should be heard loud and clear in their support for protecting these wildlands.”

    “It’s clear that the vast majority of Americans value Wilderness and want more of it. This was evident in the outpouring of support for wilderness recommendations for 500,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest. These areas provide quality habitat and clean water essential to wildlife and fisheries in the face of climate change”, stated Claudia Narcisco, conservation chair of MT Chapter Sierra Club. “We encourage the Flathead to produce a plan that protects all roadless areas and supports an economy that focuses on restoration in the areas that connect them.”

    “The Flathead National Forest admits it can’t afford its current massive road network, and those roads are inflicting serious harm on grizzly habitat,” said Greg Dyson, Wild Places Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time for the Forest to do what the vast majority of the public wants and say no to selfish motorheads who think they can drive everywhere. It’s time for the Forest to step up and protect grizzlies, bull trout and other wildlife that require habitat on the Flathead.”

    SOURCES:
    1. http://www.swanview.org/reports/Documented_34409_FFP_Comments.pdf
    2. http://www.swanview.org/reports/Citizen_reVision_Flathead_Forest_Plan.pdf
    3. http://www.fs.usda.gov/flathead/
    4. http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd502199.pdf , DEIS Volume 2, page 56
    5. http://www.bigskylegacy.org/supporters.html
    6. http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/408/rules.html

    # # #

      • So, smokey, I was being sarcastic. And yes, sometimes it seems as if public comments directed at the U.S. Forest Service don’t matter. Sometimes it seems like voting doesn’t matter either. As I resident of Montana I certainly don’t feel as if I have a vote for President, for example. Of course, it’s likely that a conservative citizen in California also feels as if they don’t have a vote for President either.

        P.S. Do you have anything to say about the Flathead Forest Plan? Or the information in the press release?

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