By Patrick Reilly - February 16th, 2019 - Originally published in the Missoulian.
The Bureau of Land Management lands near Missoula will be open to more logging and grazing should a new management plan become final.
Friday, the BLM’s Montana/Dakotas State Office announced it had completed a Missoula Proposed Resource Management Plan, and an accompanying Environmental Impact Statement.
Up for a 30-day protest period, the proposal elicited praise from at least one timber industry professional but protest from some conservation groups.
Gordy Sanders, Resource Manager at Pyramid Mountain Lumber, welcomed the news. “We’re encouraged that the BLM forestry professionals are looking very closely at their ownership and developing a sustainable level of active management over a sustained period of time ... It becomes a bit more predictable that they’re actually going to have (forestry) projects in a given year moving forward.”
“The Missoula RMP demonstrates that the BLM is shirking, if not abandoning its multiple-use mandate in favor of giving extractive industries everything they could want,” said Amy Robinson, the Montana Wilderness Association’s conservation director, in a press release. “Under (Interior) Secretary (David) Bernhardt and Acting (BLM) Director (William Perry) Pendley, our public lands are in serious jeopardy.”
The plan, initially drafted in May, covers 163,376 acres of BLM land in Missoula, Powell, Granite, Sanders and Lincoln counties, along with 268,000 acres of mineral interests. The final version lays out several changes in land use, including:
The lands available for forest management would drop from 105,020 acres to 101,669 acres. But the amount of timber harvest is projected to increase from 72 million board feet per decade to 79 million board feet per decade.
The total number of acres available for livestock grazing would increase from 117,774 acres to 145,558 acres.
The total amount of land in wildland fire management zones would increase, from 140,100 acres to 162,610 acres.
The acres of locatable mineral allocations recommended for withdrawal would drop from 820 acres to 283 acres.
The acreage of areas of critical environmental concern would drop from 1,225 to 640.
The total land designated as Special Recreation Management Areas would increase from 52,393 acres to 67,083 acres.
In a press release Casey Hammond, acting assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, stated this plan, along with one released for the Lewistown office, “reflect Administration priorities including recreation, public access, forest and wildland fire management, livestock grazing, and responsible development of minerals and energy resources.”
The Wilderness Association is especially concerned about the area’s official and unofficial wilderness. Currently, the region has three BLM Wilderness Study Areas — Wales Creek, Quigg West and Hoodoo Mountain. They’re managed as wilderness until Congress either designates them as such or releases them, and the plan adjusts how the acreage would be managed if released.
The University of Montana and Montana Wilderness Association identified more than 16,000 acres of potential “lands with wilderness characteristics.” The plan calls for managing 2,365 acres under this designation. That's not enough, in the Wilderness Association’s view.
“We’re assessing our options at this point so we will participate in the protest process and prioritize what our protests are going to be,” Robinson said.
Greg Munther, the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers’ volunteer board conservation director, struck a more conciliatory tone.
“While we didn't get everything we asked for in this plan, we're encouraged to see that the BLM acknowledged many of the requests of public land owners, and that now, special protections like Backcountry Conservation Areas and Special Recreation Management Areas are being proposed for some of the highest quality hunting and fishing areas,” he wrote in an emailed statement. ”For the sporting community, this is definitely an improvement from the old plan and far better than some of the proposed alternatives that were being considered."
The Resource Management Plan is now open for a 30-day protest period. For more information and to view the plan, visit https://www.blm.gov/press-release/proposed-plans-guide-federally-managed-lands-western-and-central-montana-released and click on the link at the bottom of the page.