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Custer Gallatin Forest nears final decision on management plan

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Ramshorn Lake with Fortress Mountain standing tall in the background. PHOTO BY LOUISE JOHNS PHOTOGRAPHY

Public comments due June 6

By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR

BOZEMAN – A revision to the guiding management plan for the Custer Gallatin National Forest has reached the home stretch and the last phase of open public comments are due by June 6.

At its May 21 meeting in Bozeman, the Gallatin County Commission voted to send a letter to the Custer Gallatin National Forest that endorses the Gallatin Forest Partnership’s recommendations for the plan, which includes suggestions for recommended wilderness and wildlife management areas.

While a mixed crowd at the meeting commented to the commission both in support of and against the letter, commissioners unanimously chose to send the correspondence, which will be included with individual comments and letters from other organizations in response to the draft forest plan that was released in March.

Following the decision, Commissioner Joe Skinner told EBS that while they heard from people representing extremes on both sides of the decision, there was positive support for a collaborative approach like the Gallatin Forest Partnership, which was described in the commission’s letter as a “broadly supported proposal [that] advances the interest of multiple stakeholders who worked together to find common ground regarding a longstanding conflict in this community.”

“The Commission came in on the side of the collaborative and a compromise,” Skinner said.

The Custer Gallatin revision package is comprised of documents that include the proposed forest plan and assessments of different plan alternatives that have been suggested and discussed over the last three years. Ultimately, the plan will dictate how the U.S. Forest Service will manage the 3-million-acre Custer Gallatin, which encompasses federal land surrounding Big Sky, and stretches east to Camp Crook, South Dakota.

Among other topics, the plan will dictate the future of the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area. The decisions concerning this tract of land southeast of Big Sky, as well as the overall handling of the Gallatin Range, have been widely controversial within the Bozeman community. This has spurred the development of coalitions such as the Gallatin Forest Partnership, which endorses a compromise of 124,000 acres set aside for potential wilderness, as well as letters sent to Congress requesting support for more expansive wilderness designation.

The forest’s planning process began in January 2016 in order to update management documents that were developed in 1986 and 1987. The process has included several periods of public comment and statewide community meetings, with the latest round of commentary open for 90 days.

Following this latest round of public input, forest managers will develop a final plan for release in 2020. At that point, those who have been involved in public comment will have an opportunity to state objections, but individuals who have not been involved will not be allowed to file objections.

The draft plan is available online or in person at the Forest Service district office in Bozeman or the Big Sky Community Library.

Visit fs.usda.gov/custergallatin to review the draft forest plan or submit comments electronically to the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Comments may also be submitted by mail to Custer Gallatin National Forest, Attn: Forest Plan Revision Team, P.O. Box 130, Bozeman, MT 59771. Comments are due by midnight on June 6.

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