Viewpoint: Citizen alternative needed for Lolo, Bitterroot plan revisions
Patty Ames, Claudia Narcisco, Fred Rice, George Nickas and Jake Kreilick
We’re surrounded by public lands and opportunities to enjoy them. Whether hiking, bird and wildlife watching, angling, hunting, camping or scientific study, there are multiple ways to be sustained by wildlands. It’s easy to take it for granted it will always be this way.
The Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force understands our national forests transcend personal uses. The Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests hold some of the most ecologically significant public lands in the Northern Rockies, home to rare and unique wildlife; grizzly bears, wolverines, Canada lynx, and bull trout. We all have significant interest in management of our national forests.
With the scope of the changes all about us, it’s reasonable to ask if our favorite camping or fishing spot, hunting grounds or the places of solitude we’ve come to expect will still be here thirty years from now? Will adequate habitat for imperiled wildlife and fisheries remain? You have an opportunity to help answer these questions through the upcoming revisions to the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forest Plans.
More than 1.2 million acres of Wilderness-quality lands remain unprotected and vulnerable to road building, logging, mining and excessive mechanized and motorized recreation.
This region is ‘connectivity central’ for wildlife. The Lolo National Forest has lands in three different Grizzly Bear Recovery Areas and is critically located between the Northern Continental Divide, Greater Bitterroot and Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystems. The Bitterroot National Forest connects this ecosystem to the rest of the Northern Rockies.
Each National Forest has a Forest Plan that guides management for decades. The Lolo and Bitterroot Plans were completed in 1986 and 1987 and are long overdue for revision. Much has changed, including 65,000 new residents in Missoula and Ravalli Counties and the growing specter of climate change. Revisions need to address the changes in the environment as well as socially and legally.
Recent Forest Plan revisions have been a disappointment. Previous commitments are being dropped and environmental analysis and public involvement constrained. The needs of fish and wildlife and the role of intact forests in mitigating the effects of climate change are not being fully considered. These issues need a seat at the table and a citizen plan needs to be considered by the Forest Service as one of the official alternatives. That’s where the Lolo-Bitterroot Partnership comes in.
The Lolo-Bitterroot Partnership citizen plan is based on the best available science and will protect our most valuable economic asset. It has the support of dozens of organizations, businesses and leading scientists. In an increasingly overcrowded world, the need for solitude is more important than ever. As Aldo Leopold wrote, “what good are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”
Opportunities for solitude and spiritual growth are being reduced and competition for the areas that remain has increased. Use limits, advance reservations, lotteries and ticketed access are on the rise.
Some say Montana is Colorado 100 years ago. In thirty it may be Colorado today. Even now the sprawl of human residences into our forests has led the Forest Service to declare massive areas as “Wildland-Urban Interface” with timber projects that seriously diminish intact forests, wildlife habitat and scenic viewsheds.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and make an alternative plan a reality. If we keep dividing up the pie it will leave tiny fragments that require limited access and reductions in fishing and hunting seasons and solitude, and quality wildlife habitat will become a thing of the past.
To learn more about the Lolo-Bitterroot Partnership and how you can get involved in the revision process, please look for our table in downtown Missoula on Saturdays and visit www.montanaforestplan.org
Patty Ames, Claudia Narcisco, Fred Rice, George Nickas and Jake Kreilick are board members and advisors of the Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force in Missoula.