Earlier this summer season, the Custer Gallatin Nationwide Forest launched the draft file of determination (DROD) for the forest plan revision. This doc outlines administration priorities for the Custer Gallatin that may final for as much as three a long time, so for sure, the contents of the choice have been painstakingly thought-about and much more intently scrutinized.
As a part of the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP), the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Affiliation was inspired to see a lot of the GFP settlement mirrored within the DROD. The partnership, a coalition of recreation, conservation, enterprise, landowner and company teams, spent years creating complete administration suggestions for the Forest Service, and the collaborative effort appears to have paid off.
The DROD strikes an vital stability between conservation and recreation, figuring out new recreation emphasis areas, the place present utilization is concentrated and future use will probably enhance, whereas additionally outlining wildlife administration areas, the place recreation shall be extremely regulated with out being banned outright. New really helpful wilderness was instructed for vital sections of the Gallatin Vary, probably ending a long time of disagreement of the way forward for the Gallatin Crest.
From a mountain biker’s perspective, there’s a lot to be pleased about. We commend the Forest Service for recommending fashionable trails in Hyalite stay open to bikes, together with Emerald Lake, Hyalite Creek, and Storm Citadel. Traditionally, mountain bikers have loved entry to those iconic trails, and SWMMBA volunteers have spent many hours clearing these trails early in the summertime, opening them for all customers.
We have been additionally pleased to see the Porcupine drainage recognized as a backcountry space, centered on wildlife administration with out limiting mountain bikes. The Huge Sky group is surrounded by congressionally-designated wilderness, the place mountain bikes can’t go, and Huge Sky-area bikers rely upon the paths in Porcupine for entry. With continued seasonal administration, we are able to coexist with the drainage’s wildlife. Below the present file of determination, the traditional Buffalohorn to Porcupine trip may also stay open.
Whereas there may be a lot to rejoice on this draft file of determination, a couple of key factors of the GFP settlement weren’t included, and we urge the Forest Service to rethink in these instances. For instance, the settlement referred to as for added really helpful wilderness within the Cowboy Heaven space of the northern Madison Vary. This panorama is significant wildlife habitat that sees little recreation use—it could make a logical addition to the adjoining Spanish Peaks Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Together with our GFP companions, SWMMBA helps really helpful wilderness in Cowboy Heaven.
Moreover, whereas extra recreation emphasis space was added within the Storm Citadel and Little Bear zones, South Cottonwood was overlooked. The GFP outlined administration throughout the Gallatin Entrance, the place we see extra concentrated recreation. Leaving South Cottonwood out of this zone ignores the excessive recreation worth South Cottonwood already has. Hikers, runners, dog-walkers, skiers and cyclists all use the South Cottonwood path, and this space logically suits into the recreation emphasis space designation, which might additionally shield it from logging.
Going ahead, it’s clear the Custer Gallatin Nationwide Forest must actively handle these extremely regarded landscapes for each recreation strain and conservation outcomes. The GFP settlement does simply that, figuring out wildlife-management priorities, areas the place recreation could be concentrated to focus use, and landscapes applicable for future wilderness designations. The draft file of determination goes a good distance towards adopting many key factors of the GFP settlement, and SWMMBA seems ahead to seeing a closing file of determination that retains such a excessive stage of overlap.
Ian Jones is the president of the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Affiliation board of administrators. He served as a SWMMBA consultant to the Gallatin Forest Partnership and is a passionate advocate for public-lands recreation and conservation.