OPINION: New Improved Bitteroot Travel Management Plan

A recent Montana BHA Letter to Editor Highlights why this newly approved travel plan, while certainly not perfect, is better for Montana hunters and anglers, elk and trout...

Elk and trout don't get to participate in land management decisions such as travel planning. The new travel plan for the Bitterroot National Forest is important to the future of both elk and trout, as well as those who care about them. Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has spoken on behalf of elk and trout all eight years of planning.

If too many open roads and trails dissect the forest, easy hunter access forces elk to leave public lands for private lands. While the Bitterroot Travel Plan still leaves open some elk habitat to motorized use, it secures important habitat like Blue Joint and the Sapphire Divide. Large, secure areas allow long hunting seasons, larger bulls and good public land hunting. In recent years, mountain bike-assisted hunters found they could quickly and easily penetrate the heart of secure habitat, thereby lessening its value to elk. In addition to regulating motorized use, the travel plan closes some backcountry areas to mountain bikes, improving elk security values.

Some good elk habitat will be remain compromised under the Plan due to high road densities or routes on ridgetops that are particularly detrimental to elk habitat. These open route areas will provide opportunities for motorized enthusiasts on ATVs and motorbikes. Elk will be displaced from these areas, but improved security of other areas will help offset this displacement.

Likewise, trout will benefit from the new travel plan. Simply put, the forest has too many roads and trails to maintain adequately under current budgets. Without regular maintenance, neglected roads bleed sediment into streams where they smother fish eggs, reduce fish food and fill instream gravel spaces with sediment. Closing some roads encourages revegetation of old road surfaces and allows available funding to be spent maintaining the remaining open roads.

Greg Munther, Conservation Director

Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

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