Flathead River Group Launches Wild and Scenic River Webinar Series

In an effort to help shape the ongoing wild and scenic river management plan, stakeholder group hosts speaker series to assist public understanding

By Tristan Scott
Snow blankets the Belton Bridge and the banks of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in West Glacier on Jan. 7, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A nonprofit stakeholder group developed to help shape the future of the Flathead River is preparing to launch a webinar series featuring local managers and advocates of a protected wild and scenic river system that is at the center of a years-long public planning process.

To help members of the public brush up on the finer points of a management planning process that only happens every two decades, the nonprofit Flathead Rivers Alliance announced a two-part live webinar speaker series ahead of the anticipated spring public comment period for the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP).

“This is an opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of Wild and Scenic Rivers and river management plans from expert regional and local managers and advocates,” according to a news release from the group. “Additionally, gain an understanding of how to be an active participant during the public portion of the river management plan process that only happens every fifteen to twenty years.”

More information on the webinar speaker series, including how to register, can be found at www.flatheadrivers.org. The nonprofit group’s website also includes details about the planning process and a history about a river system that was the birthplace for the idea of a National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

Designated by Congress in 1976 under the Wild and Scenic River Act, the Three Forks of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River are currently managed under the 1980 Flathead River Management Plan. For the last two years, the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park have been drafting an updated CRMP for these rivers that they cooperatively manage, taking into account a significant increase of use (both on shore and by boat) and an obligation to protect the river system’s “Outstanding Remarkable Values” as characterized by the federal legislation.

Work on the lengthy CRMP 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; however, staffing and funding issues forced a delay. 

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.

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 first hour-long installment of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River Webinar Series is slated for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., and focuses on “The Wild and Scenic River that Connects Us.” The second installment is March 30 at 7 p.m. and is dubbed “CRMP 101 – How does management of Wild and Scenic Rivers work?”

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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