Flathead National Forest to Release Forest Plan Draft Decision in June

Agency received more than 33,000 public comments on updated forest plan proposals

By Dillon Tabish

After reviewing more than 33,000 public comments, the U.S. Forest Service is expected to release a tentative decision in June on a new management plan for the Flathead National Forest.

Janette Turk, public affairs officer with the Flathead National Forest, announced Tuesday that the final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision for the updated forest plan is scheduled to be released in June. The final EIS and draft decision will be subject to a pre-decisional administrative review process, commonly referred to as the objection process.

The Forest Service has proposed four alternative management plans for the Flathead National Forest, pitching different strategies for recreational opportunities, timber production, wildlife and habitat. For the first time since 1986, the Forest Service is crafting an update of its so-called forest plan, which lays out the long-term guidelines for managing the Flathead National Forest, the 10th largest national forest in the U.S.

The agency released the draft environmental impact statement in May 2016. The draft EIS also addressed potential environmental consequences of the draft forest plan amendments that incorporate management direction for grizzly bears for the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo national forests.

The public comment period ended Oct. 3, 2016 for the draft EIS, the draft revised forest plan and draft forest plan amendments. The 120-day comment period resulted in over 33,000 comments and the agency has reviewed the input, according to the Forest Service.

After reviewing public input, the team from Flathead National Forest will recommend a preferred alternative for the forest plan update.

The Forest Service’s objection process provides an opportunity to have any unresolved concerns reviewed by the agency prior to a final decision by the responsible official. Objections will only be accepted from those who previously submitted substantive formal comments during last year’s public scoping period.

Unique to this forest plan, the agency has included a management strategy for grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, a 9,600-square-mile area spanning Northwest Montana and including the Helena, Lewis and Clark, Lolo and Kootenai national forests. The strategy would guide habitat management for grizzlies in the event they are removed from the list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, a proposal that is likely to emerge in the coming years.

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