Forest Forges Ahead with Flathead River Management Plan

Officials revise management plan that could include permits on wild and scenic tributaries to limit user capacity

By Micah Drew
Jimmy Reed of Whitefish paddle boards on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River upriver toward Belton Bridge in West Glacier on Sept. 5, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After a year-long delay, the Flathead National Forest along with Glacier National Park have revamped planning efforts for the Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River.

Work on the lengthy process began in late 2017 and the draft, along with an environmental assessment, was expected to be released for public comment in early 2020 with a final decision delivered that summer but staffing and funding issues forced the delay. 

In July 2019, managers with the Flathead National Forest and Glacier Park released a proposed action plan for the three forks of the Flathead River — the North, South and Middle forks, which all received federal designations in 1976 under the Wild and Scenic River Act.

The Wild and Scenic Rivers System has three river classifications: wild, scenic and recreational. A single river or river segment may be divided into different classifications, depending on the type and intensity of the development and access present along the river at the time of designation.

On the Flathead River system, all three levels of classification exist along 219 miles of river and the draft plan is necessary to protect and enhance the values identified in the original designation. The last management plan was adopted in 1980.

To do so involves a balancing act that uses “indicators,” “triggers” and “thresholds” to prompt management actions including permitting and limiting sizes of float groups and restricting outfitters.

 Managers use triggers and thresholds to help them set and evaluate levels of resource condition and user capacity with a prescribed monitoring plan that takes into consideration the unique characteristics of each of the river’s three forks. .

The new timeline anticipates a draft CRMP and environmental assessment will be released in the spring of 2022 for public review and comment, including a public engagement session. The final decision and CRMP is expected for late summer.

More information on the Flathead Wild & Scenic River Comprehensive River Management Plan can be found at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/crmp.

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