HELENA, MONT., April 27, 2015--The Helena National Forest recently released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Records of Decision (ROD) for the Divide Travel Plan and associated Forest Plan programmatic amendment for Standard 4a (big game security) on the Helena Ranger District.
“We are pleased to be so close to a final decision for this travel planning project,” Forest Supervisor Bill Avey said. “I know that the Helena District Ranger along with district and forest staff have been working diligently with a variety of environmental and user groups, as well as other specialists throughout the analysis process, to develop an implementable project that aims to balance multiple objectives, including resource management and protection, a variety of recreational opportunities, and consistency with travel regulations on National Forest System land. Not everyone is going to be happy, but I believe this provides the most balanced decisions that provides the widest spectrum of recreation opportunities while meeting the needs of the land and the laws that apply.”
Along with motorized travel system designations, the draft ROD specifies access to and parking around dispersed camping sites, and identifies opportunities for limited new trails to connect to existing routes. Some of the highlights from the draft ROD include:
- 259 miles of National Forest System Roads open to highway-legal vehicles, of which three miles will have seasonal restrictions;
- 62 miles of National Forest System Trail open to vehicles 50” in width or less, of which 48 miles will have seasonal restrictions;
- 86,600 acres of National Forest System lands open seasonally to over-snow motorized vehicles;
The draft ROD for the Forest Plan programmatic big game security amendment for the Divide travel planning area documents the selection of Big Game Security Forest Plan Amendment Alternative B. Alternative B would replace the existing big game security standard 4(a) in the Forest Plan with a new standard that would only apply to National Forest System lands within those portions of an elk herd unit within the Helena National Forest, Helena Ranger District boundary.
“It’s important to note that regardless of the selected action alternative, a forest plan programmatic amendment was needed,” Avey said. “Due to the current condition of the forest and the security issues based on the 1986 Forest Plan, an amendment was necessary to do any activity within the travel planning area. The bottom-line is that the condition of the forest has changed in ways not envisioned when the 1986 Forest Plan was written.”
The Divide Travel Plan includes open or closed determinations for wheeled and over-snow motorized vehicles on National Forest System lands within the 155,000-acre planning area, which is located in Lewis & Clark and Powell counties on the Helena Ranger District. Specific methods for route closures will be further analyzed and included in a separate decision(s).
The FEIS, maps, appendices, and both draft RODs are available for review at the Helena Forest Supervisor’s office and online at http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/helena/landmanagement/projects.
The Divide Travel Plan FEIS and draft ROD are subject to the pre-decisional administrative review process (also called the “objection process”) pursuant to 36 CFR 218, subparts A and B. The Big Game Security Forest Plan Amendment draft decision is subject to the objection process pursuant to 36 CFR Part 219, subpart B. Individuals or groups who have previously submitted specific written comments during the official scoping period(s) of this project are eligible to file formal objections to the project.
If anyone from the public is interested in participating as a party to the objection process but is not interested in filing an official objection, they may file as an “interested party.”
The objection period for the draft ROD for Divide Travel Plan began April 24, 2015 and is open for a total of 45 calendar days. The objection period for the draft ROD for the Forest Plan programmatic amendment began April 24, 2015 and is open for a total of 60 calendar days.
Objections can be submitted through regular mail to: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, ATTN: Objection Reviewing Officer, P.O. Box 7669, Missoula, MT 59807; USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, ATTN: Objection Reviewing Officer, 200 East Broadway, Missoula, MT 59802; or submitted electronically to: firstname.lastname@example.org with “Divide Travel Plan” or “Divide Travel Plan–Forest Plan Amendment” in the subject line.
Within 10 days after the close of the objection period, the responsible official will publish a legal notice of all objections in the applicable newspaper of record (Helena Independent Record) and post the notice on the Helena National Forest website. An “interested party” must file a request to participate as an interested party for this project within 10 days of publication of the notice of objection.