Input Critical for Forest Plan
Draft plan for the Kootenai and Panhandle Forests will mean some changes if adopted.
The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public comment on the Draft Land Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Kootenai and Panhandle National Forests. The development of the Plan has been ten years in the making and will guide how the agency will manage the two forests for the next decade or more. Opinions gathered during this process will be instrumental in determining the future of the remaining roadless lands in both the Kootenai and Panhandle National Forests. The comment period on the plans has been extended until May 7. It is critical the U.S. Forest Service hears from the public on how the forests should be managed.
The managers of our national forests face the unenviable task of satisfying the needs of an increasingly diverse public. The goal of the planning process is to produce a product addressing the concerns and needs of local communities while protecting the environmental integrity of the forests. The comment period is likely the last opportunity for the public to help shape and formulate the final forest plans.
The Draft Land Management Plan for the Kootenai National Forest states, “the overarching aim is to seek a balance of access opportunities on National Forest lands.” This elusive balance sought by both the Kootenai and Panhandle Forest Plans would supply timber for the regional mills and provide access for motorized recreation while preserving enough roadless areas and wilderness for future generations.
The Draft Forest Plan is a complex set of documents, much of which was developed from public input gathered at 30 public meetings and community based working groups. Unfortunately, a small minority of the public attended the meetings and an even more exclusive number of people were part of the working groups. This comment period is, however, an opportunity for everyone to get involved and express an opinion on the management of our National Forests.
Before submitting your comments, there is some critical information to consider for the Kootenai and Panhandle National Forests. The Kootenai National Forest is 2,279,000 acres and 4.2 percent is designated wilderness. The Panhandle National Forest is 2,474,000 acres with less than 1 percent designated wilderness. By contrast, Montana’s Flathead and Bitterroot National Forests both exceed 45 percent wilderness. The Kootenai and Panhandle have less designated wilderness than any other forest in all of Forest Service Region 1, which includes all of Montana and North Idaho.
The 94,360-acre Cabinet Mountains Wilderness is currently the only wilderness protected in the Kootenai National Forest and is being threatened by the proposed Rock Creek and Montanore copper/silver mines. The Panhandle National Forest contains a portion of one federally protected wilderness: the 10,000-acre Salmo-Priest Wilderness along the extreme northwestern border of the forest.
Only Congress can officially establish a national wilderness area, but the essential first step is for the forest plan to recommend an area for wilderness protection. The Kootenai National Forest contains 638,000-acres of Inventoried Roadless Lands, much of which are adjacent to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness. The Panhandle National Forest contains 823,000-acres of Inventoried Roadless Lands. No wilderness has been added to the Kootenai National Forest since 1964.
The final Forest Plans will reflect the views of those who became engaged and respond to the Kootenai and Panhandle National Forests with substantive comments. Those who hike and walk need to recognize that commenting on the Forest Plan is critical for preserving access to the wild places we have long enjoyed. According to the Draft Plan, special places like the Rock Lake trail in the Kootenai would become motorized—your comments could change that. If a balanced approach is indeed the goal of the planning process, then preserving more of our remaining wild lands should be a priority. For more information on the plans or for suggestions on submitting comments contact Save Our Cabinets at 406-544-1494.
Learn more about the plans at the Forest Service website online here (http://tinyurl.com/7rzea77), or stop by your local Ranger District office.