Mike Bader

Montana’s National Parks, Forests, state parks and other public lands are very accessible. There are tens of thousands of miles of open roads and motorized trails putting people at any trailhead, boat launch and over scenic mountain passes. Car and trailer campgrounds, picnic areas and fishing access sites dot our rivers. Even in remote Fergus County there are over 1,100 miles of roads open to recreational users.

Driving public roads is a pleasant activity enjoyed by many. So many in fact, that access must be managed, and seasonal closures are sometimes put in place to protect sensitive fish and wildlife habitat.

This is a result of a public Travel Planning process. The end product is the forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), which defines where and when motorized use is authorized. These are literally the rules of the roads on National Forests which everyone is required to abide. They are part of the Forest Plan and the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy.

With the mild winter and roads that dried earlier than usual, some wanted access to forest roads via highway vehicles which is not allowed between November 30- May 1 as per the MVUM. Seeley Lake District Ranger Quinn Carver threw open the gates on April 19th. Rather than announce it through the Lolo National Forest email process they announced it in a Facebook post. The post said resource damage to the roadbeds would not be factor. The MVUM accounts for many things including fish and wildlife needs.

The Lolo Facebook page has received many comments including those advocating lock-picking, lock and gate destruction including photographs of lock-picking and lock pick sets, which is destruction of federal property, not to mention illegal use of a closed road. Some of the commenters on the Lolo FB page complained of tyranny while advocating destruction and law-breaking. That’s anarchy.

Another comment referred to local and non-local conservationists with an offensive nickname. The Lolo just leaves this offensive comment up online. Many days after posting, the Lolo still had a comment about getting a lock pick set. Great example, huh?

Just because the weather was unseasonably warm with low snowpack doesn’t mean the rule book can be brushed aside. If the Lolo wants to amend the Forest Travel Plan it must go through the process, not make decisions via Facebook.

Could Rangers like Carver extend snowmobiling into times when grizzly bears are out of their dens just because some people want it? Allow roads to remain open in Fall elk security areas because some people want it? Let’s hope not.

Despite the tens of thousands of miles of open roads and trails, extreme access advocates want snowmobiles and e-bikes in the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness and other special places even though there are abundant opportunities nearby. The Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest rewarded them by expanding motorized vehicles and snowmobiles into the Great Burn because a few people asked them to. There is a pattern.

The Forest Service has an inherent bias because access advocates provide cover for their plans to expand the federal road system into roadless areas. When motorized use is allowed the Forest Service then claims historic use and that the area is no longer qualified for Wilderness, as the Nez-Perce Clearwater did.

Rules of the road? It’s hard to take the official Motor Vehicle Use Maps at face value if National Forests disregard it when it suits them. It has the same unpleasant odor of the Forest Service Holland Lake fiasco.