The Flathead National Forest in Montana is soliciting comments for the Flathead National Forest changes to recommended wilderness management and travel management. Comments are due May 6, 20224. Scoping for this project began in 2022, in which we were engaged advocating for more OSV use on the forest. In 2018 the forest completed the Forest Management Plan that dictates management of the forest for the next few decades and in which all other plans must comply. During this process the forest service identified recommended wilderness areas throughout the forest. The USFS is proposing to close roads leading to recommended wilderness areas even if they are not within the boundaries. They are also proposing to update areas in which OSV use will be allowed. You can read the entire environmental assessment on the forest service website. We encourage everyone to send in a letter below and include any significant or individual information at the beginning of the pre-written text.

These proposals will affect the Glacier View, Hungry Horse, Spotted Bear, Swan Lake, and Tally Lake Ranger Districts within the Flathead National Forest.

During the Forest Plan revision several years ago, the forest identified 12,848 acres as suitable for OSV use. With the current proposal the USFS is proposing to allow OSV use on 12,588 of those acres. These acres being excluded are to avoid potential avalanches that would affect the groomed trail. However, in coordination with local groups it is clear that the terrain naturally restricts OSV use in these acres, the forest service does not need to be making any official restrictions because as we can see in this plan, once restrictions are made they will continue to expand in areas that are used by over snow vehicles. The areas that will now be open will be from December 1-March 31 or May 14 depending on the area. You can see the dark green areas below that will change to suitable for OSV use. Orange will no longer allow OSV usage.

Currently there are 383 acres that allow OSV use that is within recommended wilderness. This plan would prohibit any future OSV use within this acreage. If OSV use has been permitted historically, it does not meet the definition of wilderness and should not be managed as such. However, according to the 2012 planning rule they are required to manage “areas recommended for wilderness designation to protect and maintain the ecological and social characteristics”. They should be maintaining the current values which contains OSV use.

The 2018 Forest Plan says, mechanized transport and motorized use are not suitable for use in recommended wilderness and the USFS is proposing to add the following: except for accomplishing administrative purposes such as restoration activities (for example, management of ignited fires or using chainsaws to reduce stand densities around whitebark pine trees) and trail maintenance. This additional language is a step in the right direction for proper management to avoid wildfires.