Today the Bitterroot National Forest took an important step in protecting wild and quiet winter landscapes. In the newly published Bitterroot Travel Plan the Forest Service brings travel management on the Bitterroot up to speed with the management direction in the existing forest plan and in line with regulations set forth in the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle Rule to minimize snowmobile impacts on the forest and other users.
In writing this travel plan the Bitterroot National Forest did something we rarely see – Forest Supervisor Julie King acknowledged that motorized recreation has a disproportionate impact on non-motorized recreationists. Rather than considering motor vehicle designations in a vacuum, the Bitterroot National Forest recognized the interplay between motorized and non-motorized recreation and wrote a travel plan that minimizes the impact of motorized recreation on quiet users and on forest resources. While this may seem obvious, many forests choose to undertake motorized travel planning in isolation, leading to plans that don’t account for how motorized and non-motorized recreation experiences are intertwined. By recognizing these impacts and designating motorized routes and areas appropriately, the travel plan proactively works to minimize conflicts between uses and aims to improve the quality of all types of recreational experiences. This benefits everybody who visits the forest.
The new travel plan protects important wildlife habitat and restores opportunities for quiet winter travel within Wilderness Study Areas and areas that have been recommended for Wilderness on the Bitterroot National Forest. It also protects skier experiences at the Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area by making permanent a motorized closure that was previously based on temporary forest orders.
While the new plan isn’t perfect – after all, its starting point is a 29 year old forest plan – it is a great step toward bringing balance to our winter backcountry. We recognize the plan creates heartburn for our mountain biking partners by closing some trails in Wilderness Study Areas and Recommended Wilderness to bikes. However, Winter Wildlands Alliance supports the Bitterroot in its management approach to recommended wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. We also support addressing mountain biking concerns in the upcoming forest plan, a big-picture document that guides everything from travel management to timber sales. This forest plan revision, which the Bitterroot is set to begin soon, is an opportunity to re-assess which areas of the forest should be managed to protect Wilderness values and where other uses, like mountain biking, should be allowed.
We want to give the Forest Service a big high-five for their work on this travel plan. You can help us out by taking a moment to email Forest Supervisor Julie King (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let her know that the Bitterroot Travel Plan is a great step toward balance in the backcountry.