Forest Plan Amendments

On this page: Purpose & Need | FEIS | Documents | Objections

Page updates: November 23, 2018

Amendments to incorporate relevant direction from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy into the forest plans for the Helena, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, and Lolo National Forests

The Forest Service is amending the land management plans (forest plans) of the Helena, Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests to incorporate relevant direction from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy (GBCS) to support a recovered grizzly bear population in the NCDE.

Photo credit: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
3 grizzly bear cubs on old road bed

Purpose of these Amendments

The purpose of the amendment is to incorporate relevant portions from the NCDE GBCS into the forest plans for the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests (also referred to as “amendment forests”) to have an integrated set of plan direction (referred to as plan components) consistent across the national forests that are a part of the NCDE.

Need for the Amendments

Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, federal agencies are directed to use their authorities to seek to conserve endangered and threatened species. The amendment forests’ associated plans (Helena National Forest, approved by the Regional Forester in 1986; Kootenai National Forest, approved by the Regional Forester in 2015, Lewis and Clark National Forest, approved by the Regional Forester in 1986; and Lolo National Forest, approved by the Regional Forester in 1986), have management direction related to grizzly bear habitat, to support recovery of the threatened grizzly bear.

Since the development of this planning direction, the grizzly bear population in the NCDE has met and exceeded recovery goals. In particular, habitat conditions and management on the national forests have contributed importantly to the increased population size and improved status of the grizzly bear across the NCDE. To support a healthy, recovered grizzly population the Forest Services’ continued, effective management of the NCDE grizzly bear's habitat is necessary.

In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the availability of a draft GBCS for the NCDE population for public review and input. When finalized, the GBCS would become the post-delisting management plan for the NCDE grizzly bears and their habitat. By incorporating the relevant habitat-related direction from the NCDE GBCS into forest plans, the proposed amendments will demonstrate to the USFWS that adequate regulatory mechanisms exist on national forests within the NCDE to support delisting this grizzly population. Thus, the amendment forests need to amend their forest plans and incorporate the relevant desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and monitoring items related to habitat management on NFS lands in the NCDE to show that the amendment forests have adequate regulatory mechanisms in place to contribute to sustaining a recovered grizzly bear population.

Role of the Flathead National Forest

The Flathead NF (which also lies within the NCDE) is concurrently proposing to incorporate the relevant portions of the NCDE GBCS as part of its plan revision process. Information regarding the revision of the Flathead National Forest forest plan can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/fpr. The Flathead NF planning team, in addition to conducting the plan revision, is coordinating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) effort for the amendment with the Helena, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, and Lolo National Forests.

Final Environmental Impact Statement

Forest Supervisors Chris Savage, Tim Garcia, and Bill Avey have released the draft record of decision and final environmental impact statement for forest plan amendments to the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests, which incorporate habitat management direction from the draft Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy. Alternative 2 modified from the draft EIS was selected for the forest plan amendments in response to internal and external reviews and public comments on the draft EIS. These documents reflect extensive public participation over the past 4 years through collaborative working group meetings and other public input. The Forest Service greatly appreciates the commitment of interested participants who have provided important contributions toward the development of the forest plan amendments.

Amendment plan components will guide future land management actions related to motorized access and secure core, developed recreation sites, vegetation management, livestock grazing, and energy and mineral development. In general, habitat conditions in the primary conservation area will be maintained at levels that occurred during the time period when the grizzly bear population was known to be growing and increasing in distribution, thus contributing to recovery of the NCDE grizzly bear population. In zone 1 and the demographic connectivity areas, plan components will be added to limit grizzly bear mortality risk and provide for population connectivity to neighboring grizzly bear recovery zones. In a portion of zone 2, a desired condition aimed at providing for genetic connectivity between the NCDE and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will be added. A desired condition and a standard regarding food/wildlife attractant storage special order(s) will apply across the primary conservation area, zone 1 including the demographic connectivity areas, and zone 2. New forest plan monitoring items will be added to the forest plans.

Documents

To access the following documents click on the titles below. For documents related to the Flathead National Forest revised forest plan go to: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/fpr.

Final Environmental Impact Statement (November 2018)

  • Volume 3: Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Forest Plan Amendments to Incorporate Habitat Management Direction for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Population on the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests
  • Volume 4: Appendices and Glossary

Final Environmental Impact Statement (December 2017)

  • Volume 3: Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Forest Plan Amendments to Incorporate Habitat Management Direction for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Grizzly Bear Population on the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests
  • Volume 4: Appendices and Glossary

Draft Records of Decision

Biological Assessments (Forest Service) and Biological Opinions (USFWS):

Objections

The 60-day opportunity to object to the Flathead National Forest's forest plan and Regional Forester's species of conservation list, the NCDE Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy forest plan amendments for the Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests, or the associated final environmental impact statement ended on February 12, 2018.The Forest Service objection process allows the Agency to consider public concerns early on, before a decision is made, aligning with the Forest Service's collaborative approach to forest management and increasing the likelihood of resolving ongoing concerns. As part of this process, objector(s) and the reviewing official meet for face-to-face discussions about particular objection issues.

The Forest Service received seventy-four timely objections regarding the revision of the Flathead National Forest Land Management Plan (forest plan), the associated regional forester's species of conservation concern, and/or the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem amendments for the Lolo, Helena-Lewis and Clark, and Kootenai National Forests.

Trilobite Peak fron Gooseberry Cabin Fall Colors Spotted Bear Ranger DistrictThe reviewing officer has issued a written response. The written response sets forth the reasons for the response, and is not required to be a point-by-point response. It contains instructions to the responsible officials. The written response will be the final decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the objections.

  • Click here for the Regional Forester Leanne Marten's objection response letter for the Flathead National Forest revised forest plan and NCDE amendments.
  • Click here for the Reviewing Officer Response to Eligible Objections.
  • The planning record exhibits referenced in the Response to Eligible Objections can be linked to below:
    • Ake, K. (2015). Timber suitability process documentation, Flathead National Forest--GIS documentation. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00251.
    • Archer, E. and J.V. Ojala (2018). Stream Habitat Condition for Sites in the Flathead National Forest. InFish Biological Opinion (PIBO) Monitoring Program, USDA Forest Service, Logan, UT. Planning Record exhibit #00981.
    • Frament, E. (2017). Revised Flathead National Forest plan: Riparian management zones (RMZs) and timber suitability. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00641.
    • Green, P., Joy, J., Sirucek, D., Hann, W., Zack, A., & Naumann, B. (2011). Old-growth forest types of the Northern Region (1992, with errata through 2011). Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Retrieved from http://fsweb.r1.fs.fed.us/forest/inv/project/old_growth.shtml. Planning record exhibit # 00504.
    • Henderson, E. (2017). SIMPPLLE modeling for forest plan revision. Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Planning record exhibit # 00255.
    • Kuennen. R. (2014) Consideration of BASI submitted by commenters on the Flathead forest plan revision. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00675.
    • Kuennen, R., Van Eimeren, P., Trechsel, H., & Shelly, S. (2017b). Revised Flathead National Forest plan: Sensitive wildlife, fish, and plant species biological evaluation--Summary of determinations. Kalispell, MT: USDA Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00631.
    • Larson, J. (2017). Details of the IMPLAN economic impact analysis for the Flathead forest plan EIS. Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Planning record exhibit # 00566.
    • Meridian Institute. (2017). Flathead National Forest plan revision stakeholder engagement final report phase II. Dillon, CO: Meridian Institute. Planning record exhibit # 00648.
    • Moore, M. (2017). Mapping summer and winter recreation opportunity spectrum for Flathead Forest plan revision. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00556.
    • Thomas, C. (2017). Riparian management zones: Supporting literature and rationale. Missoula, MT: USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Planning record exhibit # 00647.
    • Trechsel, H. (2015). Process to develop timber suitability map for Flathead national Forest revision, final--February 2015. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00180.
    • Trechsel, H. (2017a). Documentation of changes in modeled future vegetation conditions between draft and final EIS [for forest plan revision, Flathead National Forest]. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00467.
    • Trechsel, H. (2017b). Modeled natural range of variation, existing condition, and desired condition vegetation attributes and natural disturbances: Flathead forest plan revision. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00258.
    • USDA. (1995a). Inland native fish strategy: Decision notice and finding of no significant impact and environmental assessment.USDA Forest Service, Intermountain, Northern, and Pacific Northwest Regions. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev3_033158.pdf. Planning record exhibit # 00365.
    • USDA. (1995b). Decision notice: Amendment to the Flathead National Forest land and resource management plan, Flathead National Forest, Montana: Amendment no. 19, allowable sale quantity and objectives and standards for grizzly bear habitat management. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00193.
    • USDA. (2014b). Travel analysis report for Flathead National Forest. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Retrieved from https://www.fs.usda.gov/flathead. Planning record exhibit # 00413.
    • USDA-USDI-EPA-NMFS. (2013). The Interior Columbia Basin strategy, interagency memorandum of understanding: A strategy for applying knowledge gained by the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project to the revision of land use plans and project implementation.USDA Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, USDI Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Marine Fisheries Service. Planning record exhibit # 00422.
    • Van Eimeren, P., & Gardner, B. (2017). 2017 Bull Trout Baseline, Flathead National Forest. Kalispell, MT: USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest. Planning record exhibit # 00672.

Resolution Meeting Schedule and Transcripts

The objection resolution meetings were Wednesday through Friday, April 11-13, 2018. The meetings were held at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1840 U.S. Hwy 93 in Kalispell, Montana. Click here for the final agenda. Transcripts of the objection resolution meetings can be accessed by clicking on the date of the session: April 11, 2018, April 12, 2018, April 13, 2018.

Next steps in the objection resolution process

The Forest Service anticipates the final record of decision and notice of plan approval will be issued 30 days after the Notice of Availability of the final environmental impact statement (Federal Register Notice published November 23, 2018). The final record of decision will include the instructions from the reviewing officer and how they were addressed.


Documents and materials associated with the Forest Plan Amendments Draft EIS can be found on this archive page.



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