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MT Groups: More Wilderness Protections in National Forest

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Monday, September 28, 2020   

HELENA, Mont. -- The process of developing a new management plan for a national forest in Montana enters its next phase this week.

Those who object to certain decisions will get a chance to speak up, in hopes of securing modifications.

Last May, federal officials released their final draft of a revised management blueprint for the Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest, which features scenic vistas and a range of wildlife across 17 counties.

Amy Robinson, conservation director for the Montana Wilderness Association, said while the group likes a lot of the plan, they believe some areas didn't receive enough wilderness protection.

"The Big Snowies was recommended for wilderness [protection]; about three quarters of the area," Robinson said. "We believe that area can be expanded. And then the Middle Fork Judith area actually was not recommended at all."

The purpose of a wilderness designation is to maintain the lands as untouched and wild as possible.

Starting on Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service will hear arguments from groups who have filed formal objections, with the possibility of a resolution between both sides. Those meetings, being held virtually, wrap up on Thursday.

The plan is expected to be finalized in the coming months.

One of the concerns over how certain areas are designated is that it might result in activities some feel aren't suited for pristine public lands.

Sherri Lionberger, director of Montana Back Country Horsemen, said even though some sections of the forest are labeled "primitive," the plan still allows the use of mountain bikes. She said that won't mix well with people hiking or horseback riding.

"It changes the perception of the use of what we all think of as primitive, which is, you know, kind of the ancient, old way of transportation," Lionberger said.

Forest management plans also cover timber production. And the draft update said there are 119,000 fewer acres in Helena-Lewis and Clark that are suitable for such production when compared to the previous guidelines.

These forests merged back in 2015, and had been operating under management plans last updated in the mid-1980s.


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