By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR
BOZEMAN – Following the March 1 release of the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s latest round of revision plan documents, the public has a final opportunity to provide input on how they would like to see the forest managed. Comments will be accepted through June 6, after which managers will develop a final forest plan for release in 2020.
The revision package includes a draft of the proposed forest plan, as well as an assessment of alternatives that take into account public comments from the past three years.
“It has the entire spectrum of what was heard. Each alternative that we have has tradeoffs and benefits to the resource,” said U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan.
The draft plan doesn’t identify a preferred alternative at this point, but does include definitions and an overall direction for forest management.
Leuschen-Lonergan recognizes that the four-year revision process, which will update the management directive for the Custer Gallatin from plans originally created in the 1980s, is lengthy and forest planning science is complex. However, public input remains valuable.
“We want to see the full spectrum of public comment for this final comment period,” she said. “What is really helpful at this juncture is to go beyond a simple vote and dig deeper to what it is that you prefer or do not prefer in an alternative.”
To assist the public with their commentary, the Forest Service has provided a 16-page summary of the 933-page alternative assessment, which is officially referred to as a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, along with pointers on how to provide comments and interpret the documents.
Leuschen-Lonergan also noted that the final forest plan will be developed at the discretion of Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, who may adopt different portions of the five proposed alternatives rather than select one alternative in its entirety. This decision will be made based on the best available science and public input.
Additionally, those who have been involved in the commentary process will be given an opportunity to state any objections to the final document next year, while individuals who have not been involved will not be able to file objections.
There will be public meetings to discuss the forest plan at Bozeman’s Hilton Garden Inn on April 3 at 6:30 p.m. and in West Yellowstone on April 4 at 5:30 p.m. at the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce. There will also be ten resource-specific podcasts released in the coming weeks, available on the Your Forests, Your Future website.