This notice from the Forest Service was recently issued regarding applications for commercial recreational use of protected areas, with sensitive environmental status, and endangered wildlife species:
“Based on resource information to date, I believe these projects fall within the Forest Service category of actions under 36 CFR 220.8 that may be excluded in either an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS) and that no extraordinary circumstances exist which would preclude use of this category.”
This is both the introduction and the conclusion that accompanies the first whispered shout-out to the citizens of northwest Montana who live in or near Whitefish, and Polebridge, and all along the North Fork of the Flathead Scenic River. It states with quiet certainty that nothing that anyone living in those areas may think about the commercial guided bicycle, ATV, and hiking tours, also a mass marathon through the protected forest areas where these events are scheduled merit discussion.
Apparently, it seems that it never occurred to the permitting agencies that packs of marathon racers, mountain bikes, roaring ATVs or large hiking and camping groups might not be ideal in such places. Well, I beg to differ. I am a resident of Polebridge and I have been party to many of the long and complicated conversations between the various entities who in one way or another create the rules that govern such places and those who live there.
The scores of people living in these areas have been given what I call “short shrift,” and silenced before they ever got a chance to speak on the issues. It is absolutely clear for a great many of us that these “events” would adversely affect the environment and the wildlife living here, not to mention the irresponsible danger posed both to wildlife and to human life by reckless bikers and ATV enthusiasts.
Some Montanans can be heard protesting “frivolous lawsuits” brought by radical environmental groups against governmental proposals. This is complete nonsense. The need to initiate a lawsuit is the direct result of governmental agencies making proposals that clearly break the existing laws and regulations pertaining to wildlife, endangered species, environmental protections of water, land, or forests.
The sponsors of these applications for commercial recreation events and the agencies passing approval on them have given the people living in the affected areas almost no notice or opportunity to comment on these applications. They have been presented with a foregone conclusion denying their citizens right to participate in decisions of this type. This is exactly the type of high-handed, money-driven trampling of public interest that invites a lawsuit, and I’m sure one will be filed in the immediate future unless the citizens and relevant, knowledgeable organizations are given the opportunity for comments and careful consideration.
Carol Edwards lives in Polebridge.