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Environment & Science

Public Start Giving Input On Custer Gallatin National Forest Plan

Flickr User, Tim Lumley (CC-by-2.0)
Looking down on one half of the Twin Lakes in the Custer Gallain National Forest, June 2016

The Custer Gallatin National Forest is hosting public meetings about a proposal to update its management plan for the next 10 to 15 years. The Forest Service released a draft plan last month that could essentially re-zone sections of the 3 million acre forest and affect how people use it. Two national forests — the Custer and the Gallatin — were combined into one administrative unit in 2014, but it’s still being managed under two separate plans from the 1980s. 

Mary Erickson is the Forest Supervisor.

“So this forest plan is really bringing together the direction for a beautiful, unique landscape but a pretty large and sometimes unwieldy landscape. The nature of communities from South Dakota through eastern Montana, through the communities in the Greater Yellowstone, they’re very different, and the needs of those communities are very different and the forest is very different,” said Erickson.

The draft plan is similar to zoning in a community. It doesn’t authorize any specific projects. Rather, it creates a framework for the Forest Service to make future decisions. The public can submit comments on any of the five proposed forest plan alternatives and the draft environmental impact statement.

“What we hear from the public is incredibly important. We have a 90 day comment period. We really want to hear from people,” said Erickson. She emphasized that specific comments are the most helpful.

“People can tell us what alternative they prefer, but the more they can tell us the ‘why’ and the rationale behind what they value and what’s important, the more insight they can give us, the better,” said Erickson.

The Forest Service is considering five alternative plans. Alternative A would be ‘no action’, meaning the forest would continue to be managed under the two amended plans from the 1980s. Alternative B represents a mix of new recommended wilderness, backcountry and recreation emphasis areas, plus lands identified as suitable for timber harvests. Alternative C is similar but with more acres dedicated to wilderness, backcountry and recreation areas.

Alternative D has the highest recommendation for wilderness areas, higher objectives for restoration and less land available for timber production. Alternative E does not include any recommended wilderness areas and instead focuses on more land available for timber production and areas for more motorized and mechanized recreation use. 

The first of ten public meetings took place in Bozeman last week. Over 150 people attended to learn about the five alternative plans and break-out into small group Q&As with Forest Service staff.

Doug Rand from Gallatin Gateway says he’s concerned about the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area near Big Sky. As a study area, it doesn’t have the same level of protection from development or activities like mountain biking as designated Wilderness, which requires action from Congress. Rand says there’s a lot of pressure from mountain bikers to create a recreation area in that zone.

“And I’m concerned about the impacts on wildlife, the effects of fast riders on wildlife. The way I see it, wildlife don’t have another place to go. I think the bicycle do, and it’s going to be a big question to see how this all works out,” said Rand.

Rand said he supports Alternative D, which would provide the most acres of designated wilderness. He called over another meeting attendee, Kevin Kelleher, who happens to be his neighbor.

“He’s a conservative Republican, and I’m a liberal Democrat, and we’re good friends. And we agree on a lot of stuff,” Rand said. 

“Yeah, I just have not had a chance to pour over all of it, but a lot of what Doug said, I’m in agreement with, especially for the wildlife and waterways and protection of that as Big Sky grows,” said Kelleher.

Alternative D would also remove over 200,000 acres for winter motorized recreation, which is problematic for Darrin Vickmark of Belgrade.

“Now that is a huge concern for me because I’m a big proponent of snowmobiling. I love it. It helps me access places that are 20 miles into the backcountry,” said Vickmark.

The deadline for comments is June 6. 


Electronic comments can be sent here. Comments delivered by mail can be sent to the Custer Gallatin National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 10 East Babcock, Bozeman, MT 59715.

10 public meetings

  • April 3 – Bozeman, from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Hilton Garden Inn
  • April 4 – West Yellowstone, from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce
  • April 8 – Ashland from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. at TRECO (Tongue River Electric Cooperative, (2435 Hwy 212)
  • April 9 - Camp Crook, South Dakota – from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. at Camp Crook Community Center (203 Main St.)
  • April 10 - Billings – from 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Bighorn Resort Broso/Bighorn Rooms (1801 Majestic Lane)
  • April 11 - Red Lodge, from 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Roosevelt Center Community Room (519 S. Broadway Ave.)
  • April 22 – Big Timber, from 10:30 a.m. – noon at the Sweet Grass County Extension Office (515 Hooper St.)
  • April 22 – Livingston, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge (1515 W. Park St.)
  • April 23 - Cooke City, from 10:30 a.m. – noon at the Cooke City Chamber of Commerce Community Room (206 W Main St.)
  • April 23 – Gardiner, from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Gardiner Community Center (209 W. Main St.)