Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to present first draft of new joint management plan

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter
The forest management plan for the Helena-Lewistown and Clark National Forest is in its first draft and the Forest Service is holding meetings in Stanford and Great Falls to get public comment and improve it.

The two forests combined in December 2015, each sporting its own set of management rules from 1986. The change, coupled with the age of those rules, instigated a new management plan. That plan is midway through a 4-5 year development process, according to Forest Service Public Affairs Officer Kathy Bushnell, and is already very different from its two predecessors.

“The plan that we’re trying to develop is based on the 2012 planning rules, so it has different regulations and directions on how we develop it,” she said. “[The rules] help us make this forest plan more adaptive, more flexible and less prescriptive than the previous plan.”

Bushnell warned members of the public: Comparing the plans to try and find the biggest change would be hard.

“I think just the fact that we’re consolidating into one forest plan, since the two forests did consolidate, [is the biggest change],” she said. “Moving from two forest plans to one is a big change.”

So what can the public expect at this round of meetings? According to Bushnell, information, explanations and lots of questions and answers.

“Before, we’d come to communities and we’d ask them to help generate ideas and suggestions for ideas to put into our forest plan,” she said. ”This meeting is more question and answer because we have a proposed action that we release in December.”

Bushnell explained each meeting would break members of the public into two groups.

“We’ll ask people if they want a run-through of the proposed action so they can get a feel for that document,” she said.

For those that do, Forest Service staff members will break the draft down, much like an orientation, and then move to a question and answer session. Bushnell said the second group would be for those with questions already prepared.

“The other group will be the people who are pretty familiar with the proposed action . . . who want to just jump in the q-and-a,” she said.

While people can comment during the meeting, Bushnell said comments would still have to go through an official submission to be considered. That won’t be hard, though.

“We will have hard copies to write comments down there at the meeting,” Bushnell said, adding the Forest Service would help by describing what kinds of comments had been helpful in the past.

“We really do want to hear from people and gather specific comments to help us move through the process,” she said. “We’ve done these community meetings up to this point and we think it’s really working well for this plan. We really want the public to remain actively involved because that will lead us to the best plan.”


Add your voice
Don’t understand something? Want a quick and easy way to comment? The Forest Service is hosting meetings just for you:


Stanford
When: Jan. 30
What time: 5-7 p.m.
Where: Stanford City Hall, 102 Central Avenue

Great Falls
When: Jan. 31
What time: 4-7 p.m.
Where: Great Falls Civic Center, 2 Park Drive South


Why should Central Montana care?
Some people may hear Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest and think of forests to the west. Effects of the plan, estimated to be complete in 2018, might hit closer to home. Need an example?

Recommended Wilderness
Little Belt Mountains: Mount Baldy parcel, 89,321 acres
Snowy Mountains: Big Snowies parcel, 103,480 acres

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