Forest Plan Comments Focus on Timber Production, Wildlife Habitat

Forest officials collected public input for 70 days this spring

The Flathead National Forest received over 20,000 comments for the proposed revision of its land and resource management plan, and a majority of the input focused on timber production, wildlife habitat, access, recreation and recommended wilderness, according to the agency.

Forest officials collected public input for 70 days this spring on the makeover of its broad management strategy for the Flathead National Forest, which spans 2.4 million acres across Northwest Montana. The agency also collected input on the proposal to amend the forest plans in the Helena, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark and Lolo national forest to integrate a grizzly bear conservation strategy.

The Flathead National Forest is preparing a single environmental impact statement for both the revised forest plan and the grizzly bear amendments.

“The public response has been excellent; we received a lot of constructive comments that we are giving serious consideration to in order to improve our initial proposal as well as to develop some alternatives that will be able to display the range of issues expressed throughout the comment period,” Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber stated.

The majority of the comments were form letters or petitions that were either identical in content or substantially similar, according to the agency. Approximately 370 unique comments came from individuals or commercial interests. Seven letters were from public agencies and approximately 30 letters came from non-profit organizations.

“The Flathead National Forest plan revision team has reviewed all the comments,” said Weber. “Four significant issues were identified and will be used to frame alternatives for the revised forest plan.”

The topics were vegetation management, timber production, and fire; habitat for wildlife and fish; access and recreation; and recommended wilderness.

The planning team will be using these issues and public comments to refine the proposed action and build alternatives, according to the agency.

A draft environmental impact statement will be issued by January 2016 followed by a 90-day comment period.