MT BHA files Objection on Blackfoot Big Game and Roadless Amendments

Project Name:  Blackfoot Travel Plan FFEIS and Travel Plan Draft ROD

camping-backcountryProject Administrative Unit:  Helena National Forest

Lead Objector:  Greg Munther, Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Lead Objector:  Land Tawney, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Montana Chapter Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is an all volunteer organization comprised of Montana resident hunters and anglers who are dedicated to protecting and enhancing Montana’s public land wildlife and fisheries habitats, as well as fostering traditional non-motorized hunting and fishing opportunities for the present, as well as future generations.  Many of our members hunt and fish extensively within the public lands of the Helena National Forest.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a national organization that seeks to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands and waters.

Previously BHA and/or MT BHA have submitted comments on the Blackfoot Travel Plan in letters dated October 7, 2009, November 22, 2010, March 11, 2013.   Each of the subjects contained in these objections were identified in one or more of these three letters. The  Montana BHA co-chairman, along with other conservation representatives met with Helena Forest Supervisor Kevin Riordan on or about April 15, 2013.  On April 2, 2014 we attended a Lincoln Restoration Committee meeting in Lincoln with Ranger Amber Kamps present, as well as representatives of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks where we participated in the Travel Plan discussion.

The following are objections pertaining to the Blackfoot Travel Plan by Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Process Objection:   We find it inappropriate to have scheduled public objection to a travel plan that is relying on adoption of three Amendments which have not yet been finalized.  For the Blackfoot Travel Plan to meet all Standards of the Helena Forest Plan, the big game security, roadless and research natural areas amendments proposed concurrently with this proposed Travel Plan must be found to meet tests of appropriate laws, policies  and consideration of best available science.   However MT BHA and BHA are forced to be inappropriately speculative in these Travel Plan objections  because of the concurrent timing on an uncompleted separate process of public involvement of  proposed  three Forest Plan Amendments.  These are clearly interconnected actions.   It is clear that the Selected Travel Plan Alternative does not meet the current Standards of the Forest Plan.  Therefore, we, as a public conservation group, have to inappropriately decide whether to comment on the Travel Plan without consideration of Amendments, or rather with assumption of one, two or three amendments being finalized as proposed.    In addition, public acceptance of this Travel Plan predisposes legitimate debate about the Amendments, for which comment actually ends after the objection period for this Travel Plan.

A legitimate process would have been first propose Forest Plan Amendments, gather public comment and make a decision related to each Amendment.  Following that process, a Travel Plan process would begin based on an Amended Forest Plan.  The public could then assess how the proposed travel plan met the amended Forest Plan, including the new Standards, to the extent they were finalized

While we will likely object to all or portions of each of the three Proposed Amendments, we have great difficulty providing meaningful public input to this Travel Plan when we do not know the outcome of each proposed Amendment.

Proposed Resolution:    While we do not wish to delay a new travel plan, we assert the Forest must acknowledge the concurrent combined process is flawed from a public involvement standpoint, and therefore should not be emulated in other unit planning such as Divide Travel Plan, nor emulated by other Forests in the Region.    

Implementation Objection:  There is no assurance nor schedule  in the FEIS or the ROD to assure that this Travel Plan will be fully implemented (FEIS p 8) in a timely manner.  There is in fact, a caution and disclaimer as per”…….implement carefully”(ROD p 18).  There is also a projected cost of 2.689 million dollars (FEIS p 479), which would include cost of decommissioning, etc,.  The Lincoln District Ranger told  Helena Hunters and Anglers that the budget would dictate when the travel plan would be implemented.   There is no interim or progressive implementation proposed nor displayed.   Without a schedule and commitment to implement the Travel Plan, there is no assurance improvements in big game security, water quality or fisheries habitat will improve as stated in the FEIS.  It is entirely possible that new timber harvests and new road construction could take  place in the travel plan area  while the travel plan was still not implemented, therefore further reducing the effective big game security, water quality and fisheries habitat.   The Helena Forest Plan has been approved for over 28 years, and despite elk security Forest Plan Standards, little has been done to improve elk security.     The Travel Plan should be an implementation tool of the Forest Plan.   Rather than implement the Forest Plan, instead three substantial Forest Plan Amendments are concurrently being proposed, all of which negatively impact big game security.  The travel plan decision should result in immediate and substantial change to travel  on the ground.   With other Forest Service  Travel Plans, the legal publishing of a paper travel plan is public notice of the legal use that may occur and can be used to enforce the decision.  No such implementation assurance is provided in this decision.

Requested Resolution:  Once the objections have been heard and a decision signed, the Helena must commit to full implementation with the publishing of a new Travel Plan Map, with enforcement authority.  This must occur within  6 months  via legal publishing of the travel plan map.  This legal publication must  indicate that the enforcement of all routes will commence on a specified legal date not to exceed 3 months, and enforcement will be premised on the travel plan  map.  The Forest would likely benefit from providing interim signing at all closed routes, and should install some form of physical barriers within one year at the entrances to all closed routes.  As a minimum, this could be in the form of substantial and effective entrance obliterations of the road prism, which is likely less expensive than gates.    There should be commitment to complete decommissioning  or other road surface treatments within 2 years, unless imminent or ongoing projects need the road.  The District must aggressive seek implementation funding.

Enforcement Objection:  Forest Plan Standard 4f states Enforcement needs will be coordinated with MTFWP.  The Forest FEIS responded that this would occur during implementation (FEIS Appendix A p 10).   There is no documentation that law enforcement coordination has been integrated throughout this process, therefore important enforcement planning opportunities are already forgone.  Simply it is very difficult to implement a bad design of travel system.

Travel planning must include enforcement considerations throughout the travel planning process, not just during implementation.  For example, location of motorized routes through open terrain are vulnerable to illegal off road travel.  Travel restrictions with motorized  restrictions that begin out of sight from a traveled route are vulnerable to illegal travel.  Ability to enforce a “stored road” closed by a gate is far more difficult than a decommissioned or recontoured road.  Permitting motorized travel to camp up to 300 feet from a route is ripe for abuse and illegal use.   Enforcement personnel of both agencies must be involved throughout the travel planning process to insure a travel plan is feasible to enforce.   MTFWP will enforce illegal off road travel only during the hunting season, reducing enforcement capability at other times.

Requested Resolution:  Engage enforcement personnel from both agencies before the Decision Notice is signed and modify the locations of closures, types of road closures, and review of off road travel to campsites to ensure feasibility to provide a high rate of compliance and low violation potential.

Coordination Objection:  Forest Plan Standard 4h states the Forest Road Management Program will be developed in conjunction with MTFWP, yet MTFWP did not concur with application of elk security that left open the Helmville-Gould motorized trail, nor leave open Stonewall 417 after 9/1.  Standard 4h is clear in the intent to move forward with the travel plan only with concurrence by MT FWP.

MDFWP did indeed meet with Helena NF personnel on occasions .    However, we disagree that the Travel  Management Program was developed “in conjunction” with MTFWP.   MTFWP did cooperate with developing travel plan alternative 3 that provided considerably more elk security than selected Alternative 4.  

Requested Resolution:    As a minimum, restore the level of elk security in the Final Decision that MFWP agreed to when the Forest Plan Big Game Security  Amendment and Alternative 3 were jointly developed.  This would apply to all EHUs.

Off Road Travel Objection:  The Tri State Off Highway Decision closed national forest lands to off route travel, unless special areas are designated.  However, in contrast to this direction, the FFEIS response to Forest-wide Road Management Standards 1 (Appendix A p 22)states “ In all Alternatives, access to the Helena National Forest will generally be open to vehicles except for roads or trails that may be restricted as defined in the road and trail management objective.”

It is unclear to us and likely most readers of these documents if the Forest is closed to off road travel .  If off road travel is not clearly closed in this travel plan, we assert that this Plan is in violation of the Tri State Off Highway Decision.

Requested Resolution:  Simply affirm and state in the Decision and in all other parts of the FEIS that all off road or off trail travel is prohibited, unless otherwise authorized..

Road Maintenance and Road Minimization Objection Part 1:  Forest-wide Road Maintenance Standard 1 ( FEIS Appendix A p 23)  asserts that Roads will be maintained in accordance with direction provided in FSH 7709. And will be at a level commensurate with the need for the following  operational objectives:  Resource protection, road investment protection, user safety, user comfort and travel efficiency. 

In recent years the Helena has had maintenance budgets  far below that requested and there is no reason to believe maintenance funding will be close to that necessary to meet the above objectives on the entire road network proposed to remain in place within the Blackfoot travel plan area.  Failure to match the size of the road network with maintenance budget fails to comply with Forest Plan direction.  The Forest response is that maintenance funds will be directed to higher use roads and where resource needs have been identified.  However, it is likely most roads open to the public will not receive adequate maintenance at frequencies necessary to prevent sedimentation to streams, as well as provide user safety.  It is clear that the statement that annual maintenance of user created routes as stated in the FEIS will simply not occur, as response to Forest Fishery Standard 1 asserts.

Road Maintenance and Road Minimization  Objection part 2:  The Blackfoot travel plan does not comply with direction  in Travel Management Rule and Executive Orders 16644 and 11989 (EOs)  as well as FSM 7710 requiring determination of a minimum road system and minimizing environmental consequences.

Travel Management Rule and Executive Orders 16644 and 11989 (EOs) have specific requirements to address.  Unlike NEPA, which requires agencies to assess environmental consequences of their decisions but does not obligate agencies to take actions that minimize those consequences, the Travel Management Rule requires the Forest Service to aim to minimize environmental damage when designating routes.  Therefore the Helena must consider the “minimization” criteria set out in 36 C.F.R. § 212.55(b) and document how the agency applied the criteria in its designations on the record.  The language “with the objective of minimizing” means that the whole goal or purpose of the exercise is to select routes in order to minimize impacts in light of the agency’s other duties. Simply listing the criteria and noting that they were considered is not sufficient to meet this standard. Instead, the Forest Service must explain how the minimization criteria were applied in the route designation decisions.  Executive Order 11644 directs minimizing effects on resources and other users:  (1) Areas and trails shall be located to minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, or other resources of the public lands. (2) Areas and trails shall be located to minimize harassment of wildlife or significant disruption of wildlife habitats. (3) Areas and trails shall be located to minimize conflicts between off-road vehicle use and other existing or proposed recreational uses of the same or neighboring public lands, and to ensure the compatibility of such uses with existing conditions in populated areas, taking into account noise and other factors.

The application of direction contained in the Travel Planning policy is not thoroughly reviewed or specifically addressed.  FSM 7710 is described as “ Requires travel analysis (FSH 7709.55, ch. 20) to inform decisions related to identification of the minimum road system (emphasis added) needed for safe and efficient travel and for administration, utilization, and protection of National Forest System (NFS) lands per 36 CFR 212.5(b) and to inform decisions related to the designation of roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use per 36 CFR 212.51.   The selected final travel plan must comply with the FSM 7710 of minimizing the roads network on the Forest, and a discussion of compliance with the policy included in the NEPA documents including the FFEIS.

Selected Alternative 4 ignores the needs for visitor safety, facility protection and economics when the transportation network is larger than the expected maintenance budget.  This plan appears to invite Forest users to use a motorized transportation network that will have inadequate maintenance on most of its routes.   The resulting deteriorated condition is contradictory to this Standard with regard to issues of safety and resource protection. This Forest’s preferred alternative appears to invite Forest users to use an expanded transportation network that will not have adequate maintenance on most of its routes, which is certain to contain safety hazards and create additional resource impacts. 

Requested Resolution for both Part 1 and 2:  In the final Decision, determine both the minimum road network and  which portions of the current road network that can be maintained with the current budget. Specify only those specific roads in this travel plan that will be open to the public that can and will be maintained based on the recent historic anticipated road budget.   Close, store or decommission all roads and motorized trails that cannot be maintained at recommended intervals with the current Forest road maintenance budget, proportioned for that portion within the Blackfoot Travel Plan area.

Disruption of Wildlife Habitats Objection:   36 CFR 212.55 criteria for designation of roads and trails specifies that roads and trails will be minimized that 1) damage soil, water, vegetation and other forest resources, and 2) harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats.   We object that Alternative 4 motorized trails and roads allowed to be open in otherwise important elk security areas, including Helmville Gould trail and Stonewall violate the intent of this rule.  Leaving these routes open to public travel forces elk to leave these important areas and contributes to elk leaving public lands for private lands.

We assert that leaving motorized routes open during key reproductive use periods and important to wildlife security violates 36 CFR 212.55 with respect to “harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats”

Requested Resolution:  As a minimum, close Helmville Gould and Stonewall trails to public motorized travel from the period Sept 1 to December 1, and do not improve to invite additional public use.  Close roads and motorized routes in elk calving areas and nursery areas during the time periods specified.   Close all motorized routes detrimental to mountain goat habitats.  

Big Game Security Objection:  Selected Alternative 4 fails to meet current Forest Plan Standard 4a.  It also fails to  provide 50% Elk Security on all EHUs , and in Poorman and Ogden  EHUs reduces elk security below that of Alternative 3.  Because Alternative 3, by NEPA requirements, must be viable, the big game security offered in that Alternative is a viable alternative that substantially improves big game security in EHUs with a documented substantial shortfall in elk security.

Despite a proposed Forest Plan Amendment that acknowledges that at least  50% of an EHU qualifying as elk security is appropriate for the Blackfoot drainage, the tentative decision Alternative 4 fails to close motorized routes and even improves and constructs some motorized routes in EHUs with less than 50% in elk security.   This decision ignores the some recommendations of Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks as cooperating agencies, but also is not responsive to the body of science related to needs of elk and elk security.

Requested Resolutions re Alt 4 and elk security

Permanently close  Gould- Helmville trail 467 to motorized use yearlong or at least by 9/1 and do not reconstruct as a motorized route.  This ridgetop route slices through a large block of elk security, rendering the remnants much smaller and more linear, thus diminishing their effectiveness.   A motorized ridgetop route puts hunters easily at the top of drainages which disturbs elk and other big game from the preferred security habitat of drainage headwaters.   This route was largely user created, and was not a legal route within the Nevada Creek Roadless Area.    Private land is a short distance away and significant levels of disturbance off this trail almost certainly will drive elk lower onto private lands.  Reconstruction to an ORV standard would certainly greatly increase levels of use, particularly by archery hunters.

Due to lack of hiding cover security and excessive road density, displacement of elk from HNF public lands has occurred on all portions of the HNF, resulting in elk displacement to private lands and game damage complaints from many private landowners.  [Settle, Grady, Sandru, Shockley, Mannix, Grossfield, Jacobsen]  And harboring by others (Meyers Ranch, Croissant, old Vincent Ranch).  In an April Lincoln Restoration Meeting, FWP biologist Jay Kolbe stated keeping  the Helmville Gould trail open to motorized use would disturb elk that need only a short distance to move to private lands below.

Do not construct the motorized trail from the north intersecting with trail 487 as proposed on the map in Alt 3.  This trail is unnecessary and will direct more hunters onto the ridgetop route.

Close trail 1827 9/1 instead of 10/15 as in Alt 3

Do not construct trail U 1827 which would direct motorized trail hunters to near the ridgetop occupied by the non-motorized CD trail

Close rd 1892C1 and C3 on 9/1 instead of 10/15 to increase elk security in Dalton Mtn EHU which is currently deficient.

Close 1891 and 1833 road system 9/1 instead of 10/15 to increase elk security in Dalton Mtn EHU which is deficient.

Reevaluate all open roads or motorized trails in EHUs with less than 50% elk security to assess why each route must remain open after Sept 1.  Move each EHU  toward 50% elk security.  Commit to no more road or trail construction or reconstruction in these EHUs until the 50% elk security is achieved.   Adjust travel plan to obliterate through recontouring all routes closed and not needed in the foreseeable future. 

The final decision must decommission year-long closed roads, unless there is an ongoing or scheduled project.  Cost of decommissioning is less than properly maintaining a stored road over a short few years.   Decommissioned roads will also have less sediment, less risk to failure, far fewer motorized violations, less fragmentation of wildlife habitat and will no longer serve as effective conduits of hunters and others into secure elk security areas.  Preventing or enforcing illegal and renegade travel on stored roads closed to motorized use is also difficult to enforce, as they are easy conduits for motorized vehicles, even if a gate or other single closure device is in place.  They could intersect other motorized routes which allow motorized users to physically access a otherwise “stored” road.  Stored roads are easy conduits to enable non-motorized hunters easy access into otherwise secure big game habitats.  By serving as walking, mountain biking or horse travel conduits,  stored roads reduce the effectiveness of elk security.  We request all roads proposed for “storage” be instead planned for decommissioning unless a scheduled project needing the road is on the planned project schedule, and that the road use be conditional on decommissioning once the project is completed.

Elk Calving and Nursery Standard Objection:  Forest Plan Standard 4b states elk calving grounds and nursery areas will be closed to motorized vehicles during peak use by elk.  Calving is usually in late May through mid June and nursery areas are used in late June through July.  Forest indicates Standard is met (Appendix A p 10)  However, there is no data, maps or  information regarding where calving and nursery areas occur in the Blackfoot Travel Plan area.  Therefore the Forest cannot substantiate Standard 4b is met.  

There is no indication nor documentation the Forest used available knowledge or data in determining where calving and nursery areas are known to occur.  Did the Forest consult or specifically request such calving or nursery site specific information from MDFWP or local forest users?   We are certain that some such information is available, but this Standard is dismissed with the above blanket response.  Calving areas are usually associated with certain elevations and openings or thinner canopies, and nursery areas are commonly associated with wetter or mesic meadow habitats.  Even if there is some variability in specific use areas from year to year, known areas “will be closed during peak use”.   Even minor human use during key use times likely displaces elk from these biologically preferred areas.  The Forest Service routinely  has road or route closures for wet road conditions, snowmobiling conflicts, avalanche hazards, and even winter ranges, even though conditions favorable to those conflicts do not occur each and every year.  This Standard requires that this travel plan project close such known calving and nursery areas during the expected elk use times.  If the Forest cannot assimilate and apply site specific known calving and nursery information, it is appropriate to prohibit motorized use on routes in all associated habitat types and conditions favorable to calving and nursery until such elk use maps can be developed.  In addition, prior and existing motorized use may have displaced elk from their traditional calving or nursery areas therefore likely habitats or previously used calving and nursery areas must be given priority for removing motorized uses.

Proposed Resolution:  Before a final travel plan is issued, aggregate information  and develop maps displaying calving and nursery area information gleaned from local biologists and others. In the Final Decision ensure all motorized use is prohibited for elk calving and nursery areas for the times specified, with MFWP concurring on accuracy and completeness of maps.

Mountain Goat Habitat Objection:  Mountain goats have very restricted habitats and have low ecological amplitude. Therefore all known historic and occupied mountain goat habitat must be protected from motorized disturbance.  Forest Plan Big Game Standard 9 states that “Occupied bighorn sheep and mountain goat habitat will be protected during resource activities”.   The FEIS (Appendix p 11) states that Action Alternatives would provide additional protection.  However, motorized routes remain open to public use that are not critical for the management of the Forest, but adversely affect mountain goat habitat.  Alternative 4 leaves Stonewall 417 trail open until 10/15 annually and proposes to improve the route, increasing human disturbance.  The trail must be closed no later than 9/1 to comply with Forest Plan Big Game Standard 9 states that “Occupied bighorn sheep and mountain goat habitat will be protected during resource activities” as well as comply with 36 CFR 212.55 re minimizing disturbance and disruption to wildlife.

The Standard does not say “ additional protection”.  It states “will be protected”.  The FEIS discusses the location of mountain goats and their habitat.   These habitats need to be fully protected to meet the Forest Plan Big Game Standard  9.   FEIS p 380 para 1 discusses the issue of goat poaching off the Stonewall trail 417 and indicates that a 9/1 closure date would reduce risk, which is in better compliance with Standard 9.

Requested Resolution:  The Decision must be modified to assure protection of goats from motorized disturbance in all the habitats they currently occupy. Close Stonewall #417 9/1 or yearlong.  Close all other motorized routes immediately to or passing through mountain goat habitat yearlong or no later than 9/1.

Grizzly Bear Habitat Objection:  In table 1 (S-9) (S-18) the Forest asserts compliance with Forest Plan direction and NCDE Access Management Guidelines for grizzly bear security and habitat with in the recovery zone.   However the Forest admits that the Guidelines would not be fully met under any Alternative.  Alternative 3 closes some additional routes, and others could be considered.  We believe that inclusion of road and trail closures in an alternative developed must indicate which such closures are feasible.  Compliance with Guidelines to the extent possible should be the bottom line to meet Forest Plan direction and NCDE Guidelines.  Stonewall 417 left open longer and improved in the selected Alternative 4 will increase human use and the trail footprint.  In addition a connector trail in the Alice Creek drainage would likely dramatically increase use levels of the trail system in conflict with NCDE guidance.

Requested Resolution:  We believe to comply with Forest Plan direction and NCDE guidelines that the Decision must close all routes in the recovery zone for the greatest time period displayed in any of the four alternatives.  Stonewall 417 should not be improved and the most restrictive time period applied to protect grizzly bears.  In addition, the connecting trail in the Alice Creek drainage must be deleted from plans and not be constructed.

Fisheries Habitat Objection:  Forest Fisheries Standard 1 states  “Maintain water quality and habitat for fish by coordinating Forest activities and by direct habitat improvement.   The Forest response states “Unclassified routes added to the system would show improvements as they would receive annual maintenance”

Unclassified routes have not been located, designed or constructed with consideration to  water quality element.   More likely they are often oversteep, closely parallel stream channels, have no constructed drainage, or cross streams or wet areas.   Most would not meet Forest engineering standards for location, design nor construction.  Most of these routes cannot meet the most elemental watershed best practices.   By leaving these routes open to motorized use, sediment movement and delivery is accelerated and damages fisheries habitat downstream.   An estimated 1.7 miles within 150 feet of a stream  with 7 stream crossings would be added to the system (FEIS p 138).

Adoption of a user created route is defacto “construction” as it is added as-is to the transportation network .  This standard says that needed mitigation actions will be prescribed.   Those needs can only be identified if site specific analysis of each route leg has a soil related onsite visit prior to adoption.  Routes adopted in sensitive soils, steep lands or located vertically on a slope are almost impossible to mitigate soils, and only at great expense.  According to the Forest, those needed funds are not adequate and not projected to increase.   We find it irresponsible and in violation of this Standard to adopt user created routes without a detailed analysis of how feasible resource mitigation may be. 

Requested Resolution:   The Decision must close all unclassified/user created routes to public travel as part of this process.  Public use must not be permitted until the route meets Forest Service best management practices, including location,  design and construction standards. 

Sensitive Soils Objection:  Forest Plan Soil Standard 3 states “To reduce sedimentation associated with management activities, the highly sensitive granitic soils, which cover about 20% of the Forest, will have first priority for soil erosion control.  However the Forest acknowledges  “Granitic soils have not been prioritized for treatment under this project for soil erosion control.”  ( FEIS Appendix A p 18).

Simply the FEIS acknowledges they are not in compliance with the Soils standard 3.   Unless in full compliance with special granitic watershed treatments, no route should be authorized for use under this travel plan.

Requested Resolution:  All motorized routes constructed or located in granitic soils must be closed via this travel plan until special granitic watershed treatments have been installed and priority commitment to regular maintenance.

Infish Objection:  Infish Standards (Appendix A p 24) specifies that for each existing or planned road, the Forest will Minimize roads and landing locations in RHCAs.  The Forest has indicated it has minimized roads in RHCAs as part of this process, yet in the Selected Alternative 4, at least 145 miles remain in RHCAs(FEIS P 138).  The Forest has not demonstrated the Forest cannot be managed without these roads being open to public travel.  In addition, Alternative 4 specifies 0,8 miles of new road construction within RHCAs, and proposes to add to the system 2.7 miles of unclassified routes within RHCAs to the system.

Even Alternative 4 only proposes to reduce sediment from for closed or partially closed roads less than 3%. (285 tons per year with 7.9% less sediment in Alternative 4)(FEIS p 138)

Roads are known conduits of pollution to waterways, and the HNF leads the Region in water pollution.  The Helena Independent Record reported that the Helena NF has the most degraded watersheds in the entire Region (which includes Montana and parts of Idaho, North & South Dakota) according to results from the Forest Service's Watershed Condition Framework, (November 26, 2011  The DFEIS (65) notes:

“Approximately thirty percent of the 6th-HUC watersheds covered by the Blackfoot travel planning area contain a stream that is impaired by sediment, including some of the major streams in this area (table 17)…The Blackfoot Headwaters TMDL recommends a 30 percent reduction in system road sediment delivery reduction, and 100 percent for non-system roads (MT DEQ, 2004).”

Requested Resolution:   Provide specific justification, including water and fisheries specialist reports,  why each road segment in RHCAs within the selected Alternative 4 cannot be closed to the public or be relocated out of the RHCA.    For arterial roads within RHCAs that cannot be closed or relocated, evaluate seasonal closures to reduce sedimentation, assure commitment to road drainage or surfaceing .  New roads or unclassified routes added within RHCAs must be omitted in the final decision as they violate the intent and direction of Infish, and therefore violate the Forest Plan.

Off Road Travel Objection:  All Alternatives allow camping and associated off road travel up to 300 feet from a system road or trail.  The selected alternative specifies that no new roads can be constructed, streams crossed, etc.(ROD p 31).  We assert allowing the public to drive off-road regardless of site specific conditions is inappropriate within RHCAS,  is unenforceable and violates the intent of Infish.

At least one alternative should have included prohibiting all off road travel.  Most off road campsites occurs in RHCAs.   It is most common that sites are in riparian areas and often very near streams, with existing or potential damage to streambanks.  Roads can capture streams and serve as stream channels in the future.  There is no inventory of dispersed campsites displayed, with the Forest merely stating without data that most suitable sites are already in use.   Because there is no displayed campsite inventory, the public and perhaps the Forest does not know the extent nor the condition of these sites.  Furthermore,  there is no way to assure new roads won’t be constructed by off road use.  Is one track a new road?  Is two?  Are a dozen tracks now a road?  Once runoff follows  tracks in the road, is it now a road?  Simply, this decision allows or facilitates uncontrolled off road use in RHCAs .  The Forest Service at all levels has proclaimed RHCAs will have extra attention.  However this Travel Plan authorization of off road campsites without site specific designations is irresponsible, unenforceable and illegal.  Further, FEIS p 119 reveals that the intent to monitor offroad travel and campsites is:  “Effectiveness monitoring would occur based on available staff and funding. “ Therefore, while blanket travel off roads for up to 300 feet is permitted by this decision, effectiveness monitoring may or may not occur.  With the level of effectiveness monitoring uncertain, adverse effects to sediment delivery, riparian health, streambanks could occur throughout the Blackfoot Travel Plan area.  This violates Infish and Forest Plan Fisheries and Watershed Standards.

Suggested Resolution:  In the final decision, the Forest must provide firm direction that all offroad travel to dispersed campsites off a constructed route prism will be only those routes signed as a designated route.  Each dispersed site to be used will be identified and verified as suitable by a IDT including water and fisheries specialists.  Dispersed campsite and travel plan maps will include the location of these dispersed campsites.  Before designation, water and fisheries specialists must affirm in writing that such campsites comply with intent of Forest Plan direction, Clean Water Act and Infish.   

RHCA and Sediment Objection:  S21 Table indicates that the selected Alternative will only reduce sediment delivery in 5 of 11 sediment impaired watersheds.  We believe this Travel Planning effort has not complied with direction detailed in “Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Protocol for Addressing Clean Water Act Section 303d listed waters” (May 1999 Version 2). Further, this Travel Plan decision has failed to demonstrate effort has been made to comply with 75-5-703. “Development and implementation of total maximum daily loads” which promotes  action for 303d impaired streams: “all reasonable land , soil and water conservation practices have been applied”.  This assertion is supported and documented in FEIS p 117 stating “many of these roads could be considered to cause excessive water pollution (Forest Plan II/25) and thus should be corrected where feasible.  Further, the FEIS (p 117) states “Many of the roads that are sources of sediment would remain open during all alternatives.”   Most delivered sediment results from location, design, construction, lack of proper maintenance and use on roads or trails.  This travel plan leaves open 289 miles of road and 63 miles of motorized trail.  It adds 2 miles of unclassified  routes within RHCAs(S-23), which have not been located, designed or constructed to any standard.   Approximately 80 miles of roads are selected to remain open to public use in RHCAs under both alternatives 3 and 4 (S22), sensitive soils and have not been adequately maintained.  Use is proposed to be allowed to continue on these roads during wet weather and without adequate maintenance budget. 

Proposed Resolution:    In the final decision, further reduce the road network, implement seasonal closures to avoid travel during wet periods, close many more roads in sensitive soils and RHCAs, and expand the amount of decommissioning rather than storage of closed roads.   Do not authorize new motorized construction within 150 feet of streams as identified on S-20 of Alternative 4. Do not add any of the two miles of unclassified routes currently located in RHCAs to the system.

Nevada Mountain Roadless Area Objection:  Nevada Mountain Roadless Area (R-1) was designated non-motorized in the 1986 Forest Plan (FEIS p 225).  Simply, the Forest has neglected to implement the Forest Plan by not closing the Helmville Gould  trail to motorized use.  We assert the Forest must close this trail to motorized use to implement the Forest Plan.  The R-1 Amendment proposed is both unnecessary, and insensitive to roadless values and elk security, as well as occupied wolverine and grizzly bear habitat.   Implementing the non-motorized direction is certainly feasible. 

This trail is for the most part user created but was assigned a trail number at some point.  This route has serious consequences to the roadless character of Nevada Mountain.  It also unnecessarily diminishes elk security that is far below that deemed optimum through this travel planning process.   Both Grizzly Bear and Wolverine have been documented using the area.  Motorized use also adds unnatural loud sounds to the remaining portion of the roadless area.  Reconstructing the trail to accommodate easier and different classes of motorized use will substantially increase levels of human disturbance.

Requested Resolution:   Simply implement the 1986 Forest Plan designating Nevada Mountain IRA as non-motorized.   There is not sufficient cause nor management necessity to sustain the proposed amendment that would allow the Gould-Helmville trail to remain motorized.  Why can this travel planning decisison close system roads , non-system roads and motorized trails  that were present and open to public use prior to 1986 Forest Plan, but this particular trail is proposed to be left open simply because there was some level of historic use(FEIS p 225)?   This Decision is insensitive to roadless values, elk security, grizzly bear and wolverine, and interagency cooperation.    

U-403 Objection:  Motorized U-403 (FEIS p 279) near Hwy 279 violates 36 CFR 212.55 and therefore cannot be approved for public use.   The ridgetop serves as a migration/connecting corridor for eagles as well as grizzly bears and wolverines.   This route is not needed for any valid purpose except motorized recreation, yet has adverse effects on wildlife and research efforts.  Motorized use of this trail violates 36 CFR 212.55.  Motorized use of this trail dissects important elk security identified by MDFWP.

Requested Resolution:  Delete U-403 as a motorized route for public use.

About Caitlin Thompson