The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service released the draft record of decision for the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s final revised land management plan and final environmental impact statement (EIS).
In a press release, officials said the revised plan and environmental impact statement, released today, is the product of four-plus years of interactive collaborative effort across the Custer Gallatin National Forest working with communities and those that utilize these National Forest to provide the best possible vision and final land management plan moving forward.
“The Final Land Management is a culmination of the dedicated time of hundreds of people, from employees in their associated fields of expertise, to invested members of the public offering feedback, to collaborative groups working across the state and across multiple interests to find a compromise that supports the long-term resource needs and the best overall public benefit,” said Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson.
The final revised plan highlights the potential for over 200 new jobs to the region and approximately 10 million in additional labor income. The plan will also help set priorities for investments that support work with state partners, Tribes, communities and stakeholders to achieve active landscape management, vegetation and wildlife conservation, and help maintain sustainable mining, grazing, forest products and recreation industries.
The plan details the desired conditions, standards, guidelines and objectives that would provide the foundation of future management activities across the forest for the next 10 to 15 plus years. The plan includes active management to improve forest conditions, while providing for clean air, water, and forest products.
Management direction is updated for all plant and wildlife species and Key Linkage areas contribute to the role of connectivity within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and across our broader landscape.
The final environmental impact statement analyzes the environmental, social and economic effects of the proposed land management plan and lays out several alternatives. The draft record of decision describes the selected alternative, which will become the land management plan. A 60-day objection period begins with the publication of the Notice of Opportunity to Object in the Federal Register. The objection process provides an opportunity for those who have participated in the process to have their unresolved concerns reviewed prior to the Forest Supervisor issuing a final decision. The reviewing official for the land management plan is Northern Regional Forester Leanne Marten.
The 60-day objection period begins with the publication of the legal notice in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Billings Gazette and Rapid City Journal paper of record, expected on July 9, 2020.
All project documents are available electronically, including instructions on how to object on the Forest Plan Revision website. Master hardcopies are available for reference by appointment only at local ranger district offices or by thumb drive. Objection or resolution-centered meetings will be announced upon the determination of objection standing and information will be forthcoming late fall 2020. The objection process also includes an interested person format for those interested in how objections are resolved.
Interested persons include any party not named in the objection and individuals who submitted substantive formal comments demonstrating their participation in the planning process. Information for filing as an interested person is available online at: www.fs.usda.gov/custergallatin, click on Forest Plan Revision. Final documents, maps, how-to and archived information is also available online.
The Montana Wilderness Association responded to the announcement:
"The plan recommends establishing and expanding Wilderness protections in the Madison and Gallatin Ranges south of Bozeman and applies other kinds of conservation measures for key areas in both ranges. The plan also recommends establishing Wilderness protection for the Crazy Mountains, located northeast of Livingston, and recommends expanding Wilderness protection in the Pryor Mountains.
“We’re pleased the Forest Service has recognized the importance of conserving the Madisons and Gallatins,” says Emily Cleveland, senior field director at Montana Wilderness Association. “These places are some of the wildest areas near Bozeman, and play a key role in supporting wildlife, clean water, and outdoor recreation. We are also delighted to see that the Forest Service decided to offer protection for the Crazy and Pryor Mountains, two ranges that play a significant role in Apsáalooke (Crow) culture.
“We are, however, disappointed to see so little protection for other beloved areas across southern Montana, including Cowboy Heaven and the Lionhead.”
The Forest plan recommends Wilderness designation for the heart of the Hyalite-Porcupine- Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area in the Gallatins and for a section of Taylor Hilgard in the southern Madisons. It also offers conservation protections for West Pine and Porcupine Buffalo Horn in the Gallatins. With some exceptions, these decisions are similar to the recommendations offered by the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP), a broad coalition of local interests with a stake in the future of the Madison and Gallatin Ranges, of which MWA is a member. Exceptions include Cowboy Heaven, which is not recommended for Wilderness by the Forest Service (as the GFP proposed), and the Hyalite Recreation area, which, in the Forest plan, is half the size of what the partnership proposed.
The CGNF plan eliminated the existing recommended Wilderness in the Lionhead near West Yellowstone, one of the only areas recommended for Wilderness in the 1987 Gallatin Forest plan.
“This is a very disappointing outcome for the Lionhead, and demonstrates how allowing mountain biking in recommended Wilderness can threaten any chance of these places being designated as Wilderness,” Cleveland says.
The final draft of the Forest plan recommends Wilderness protection for the southern end of the Crazy Mountains around Pear and Crazy Lakes and establishes a protective “backcountry area” along Sweet Grass Creek and surrounding areas.
“The Crazy Mountains stand as one of the most dynamic and sacred places in our homeland, having provided our communities with knowledge, power, and other blessings since time immemorial,” says Shane Doyle, a Crow Tribal member and founder of Native Nexus Consulting. “I’m extremely encouraged, especially given the time we’re living in, that the Forest Service chose to honor that historical and spiritual connection we have to these mountains and to protect the sanctity we go there to find.”
The Crazy Mountains’ numerous isolated basins offer some of the most productive mountain goat habitat in the state, sustaining a population of approximately 450. With mountain goat population numbers dropping throughout the species native range in the U.S. and Canada, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks consider the Crazies as essential for the future survival of the species. The island range’s alpine and riparian ecosystems also provide crucial habitat for pikas, wolverines, and other species that are dwindling in number as a result of climate change.
“Protection of the Crazies is a huge victory for the Apsáalooke, MWA’s members, and everyone else who cherishes this range and sent in comments urging the agency to protect the cultural and ecological richness of these mountains,” Cleveland says.
In the Pryor Mountains, another significant area for the Apsáalooke, the Forest Service expanded an existing recommended Wilderness protections in the Lost Water Canyon area of the southeast side of the range, and recommends Wilderness protections for Bear Canyon to the west of Lost Water Canyon.
“MWA and our members have long advocated for protection of Bear Canyon, and we are elated to finally see the Forest Service recommend it for Wilderness,” says Aubrey Bertram, MWA’s eastern Montana field director. “But the Forest Service should have extended those protections to the Big Pryor and Punch Bowl areas, which are just as wild as Lost Water and Bear Canyons.”
MWA lauded the decision by the Forest Service to create backcountry areas in several locations within the Ashland Ranger District.
Those who submitted comments on previous drafts of the CGNF plan now have 60 days to submit their objections to the final forest plan draft before the Forest Service signs its record of decision, the final step in the forest plan revision process. MWA will, in the coming weeks, provide guidance about the best way to submit objections.
“MWA thanks our members and supporters who took the time to learn about technical forest planning processes and participated in our comment writing parties, showed up for dozens of meetings, and submitted comments on behalf of the wildlands we love in the CGNF,” Bertram says. “While we wish the agency had done more to respect the wishes of the thousands of people who have weighed in over the years in support of more protection for our public lands, we thank the Forest Service for the years of painstaking and labor-intensive work that it has taken to get to this draft final plan.”