Forest Plan Amendments

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

Page updates: May 17, 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

  • 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

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 meeting agenda (pdf 0.1mb). Click here for meeting transcript for April 12, 2018.

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 has received seventy-four timely objections regarding the revision of the Flathead National Forest Land and Resource 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 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.

If you submitted an objection, you will be invited to participate in any discussion on the eligible issues you raised in your objections. If you would like to participate in the discussions on eligible objection issues you did not raise in your objections, you should request interested person recognition for those issues.   

In order to ensure that these objection resolution discussions are open and transparent, interested persons may also participate in the discussions. In order to be formally recognized as an interested person and participate in the objection resolution discussions with the objector(s) and the reviewing official, you must have requestd this status within 10 days of the legal notices (by March 5, 2018) listing the objections.

Next steps in the objection resolution process

  • A 90-day objection review period commenced when the 60-day objection filing period ended. The review period may be extended at the discretion of the reviewing officer.
  • One or more meetings, will be held with the objectors, reviewing officer, responsible official(s), interested persons, and forest staff during the objection reviewing period. All parties will be notified of the meeting time(s), location(s), and any necessary conferencing contact information.  These meetings are open to the public.
  • At the end of the objection reviewing period the reviewing officer will issue a written response. The written response will set forth the reasons for the response, but is not required to be a point-by-point response. It may contain instructions to the responsible official. The written response will be the final decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the objections.
  • Once the reviewing officer has issued the response to the objections, and the responsible official has followed any instructions contained in the written response, the responsible official may sign the final records of decision for the forest plan and the amendments.
  • For more detailed information on the objection process, see 36 CFR 219 Part B.

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