Analysis, data collection and project development began more than 12 years ago for the Blackfoot Travel Plan, and public comments received throughout that time have been incorporated. More than 300 comment letters were received during the scoping process in 2010, which assisted specialists specialists in the development of issues and and alternatives for analysis.
The Helena National Forest submits three alternatives in the DEIS, which includes a “no action/existing condition” alternative and two action alternatives that vary, but both incorporate the comments received by the public. The action alternatives include changes to the existing motorized and non-motorized route system on the Lincoln District. In some cases certain roads and trails are proposed to be closed at varying levels (e.g., closed, stored or decommissioned). In other cases, certain roads and trails are proposed to remain open and would be designated for specific use(s); and new construction for designated motorized trails is also being proposed.
“The overall objective of the Blackfoot Non-Winter Travel Plan is to provide the public with a safe travel system of designated routes to enjoy, while maintaining consistency with our agency travel management regulations and resource protection responsibilities,” Helena Forest Supervisor Kevin Riordan said. “After many years of scientific analysis and public involvement, we have developed this DEIS that balances the need for safety, resource protection, recreational opportunities, and clear route designations for the public.”
Based on preliminary analysis of the alternatives for the Blackfoot Non-Winter Travel Plan DEIS, forest staff identified the need for a programmatic amendment to the forest standard (Standard 4a) for big game security index in the 1986 Helena Forest Management Plan.
The programmatic amendment would replace Helena Forest Plan Standard 4a, which provides direction to maintain or improve big game security which would only apply to the Blackfoot Travel planning area.
Our current standard is based on a ratio of hiding cover and open road densities during the general rifle season. The Forest is proposing to replace this standard with a method that takes into account the spatial arrangement of security blocks that are generally greater than 250 acres and more than one-half mile from an open road.
The amendment applies to all eight elk herd units included in the Blackfoot analysis area. For the specific amendment proposal, along with detailed background information and specific travel plan alternative comparisons, review Appendix F of the Travel Plan DEIS.
The Blackfoot Travel Plan DEIS and the Programmatic Plan Amendment to Standard 4a are two separate decisions with two separate public comment periods. The two formal comment periods will begin on the same day—the day after the Notive of Availability of the DEIS is published in the Federal Register—but the duration of the public comment periods will differ. The Blackfoot Travel Plan DEIS formal comment period will be open for 45 days and the Programmatic Plan Amendment formal comment period will be open for 90 days.
It is expected, but not guaranteed, that the Notice of Availability of the DEIS will be published in the Federal Register on January 25; please check the Federal Register website (http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/) for the exact publication date and calcuate the formal comment periods to begin the day after that publication date.
Individuals who submit substantive comments during the 45-day comment period for the Blackfoot Travel Plan DEIS will have legal standing to appeal the final EIS and Record of Decision for the travel plan. Substantive comments are those that clearly state issues and concerns and are most helpful when they are focused and clearly articulate the reviewer’s concerns and contentions.
Individuals who submit substantive comments during the 90-day comment period for the Programmatic Plan Amendment will be eligible to use the “Pre-decisional Administrative Review Process” (also called an “objection process”) rather than an appeal process, as is authorized under the agency’s new Planning Rule (36 CFR 219).
To review the Blackfoot Travel Plan DEIS, all project appendices (including Appendix F, the programmatic plan amendment), and project maps go to the Helena National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/helena/; printed copies are available for review at the Lincoln Ranger District office, the Helena Forest Supervisor’s Office, and both public libraries in Helena and Lincoln.
Formal comments will be accepted any of the following ways for both the Blackfoot Travel Plan DEIS and the Programmatic Plan Amendment: Electronic: Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Blackfoot Travel Plan” in the subject line; Written: Mail comments to: Helena National Forest, ATTN: Blackfoot Travel Plan, 2880 Skyway Drive, Helena, MT 59602. Fax written comments to: 406-362-4253; Hand-delivered: Deliver comments between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to either the Lincoln Ranger District office (1569 Hwy. 200, Lincoln, MT) or to the Helena Forest Supervisor’s Office (2880 Skyway Drive, Helena, MT); or Open Houses: Provide your written comments while at one of the open house meetings that will be held at the Lincoln Ranger District office on February 11th and February 28th both beginning at 2 p.m until 8 p.m. If you have questions, contact Lincoln District Ranger Amber Kamps at 406-362-7000 or visit the Helena Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/helena/.