After six years and tens of thousands of public comments, one of the largest and most popular national forests in the Northern Rockies has a new forest plan to guide its management for the next 15 years.
The new forest plan will replace the 1986 and 1987 Custer and Gallatin forest plans. (Custer and Gallatin were combined in 2014. Prior to that they were separate national forests with individual forest plans.) The new plan fleshes out how the U.S. Forest Service will balance ecological, recreational and economic considerations in the most-visited national forest in Region One, which includes all of Montana and North Dakota as well as parts of Idaho and South Dakota. Forest Service Spokesperson Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan said 3.1 million visitors annually spend time in the Custer Gallatin, which encompasses more than 3 million acres across southern Montana and northwestern North Dakota.
The effort to replace the nearly 40-year-old plans was launched in January 2016 with 15 community meetings and an assessment of existing forest conditions. In 2019, after issuing a draft plan, the Forest Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement that included five potential land management visions for the forest. Each of those alternatives included some mix of recommended wilderness designation, motorized and mechanized use, and acreage eligible for timber harvest. The proposals also touched on varying approaches to livestock grazing leases, wild bison management, stream restoration, noxious weed treatment, and enhancement projects targeting at-risk plants and wildlife. The plan doesn’t contain detail at the “project” level, so there are no specific timber sales, grazing allotments or thinning projects included in the 247-page document or its 335 pages of appendices.
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