Policy Update – February 2022

In this month’s policy update, we share news on Custer Gallatin Forest Plan and Flathead National Forest in Montana as well as updates from Inyo National Forest in California and Ambler Road in Alaska.

 Photo by Jason Hummel of Colton Andrew Jacobs

From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (2/25/2022)

Here we are at the end of February, in the heart of winter. In Montana, where I’m at, we’re on the tail end of an Arctic cold snap and I’ve been enjoying the subzero temperatures and fresh snow over the past few days. I hope it’s good and wintery where you are too!

Custer Gallatin Forest Plan (Montana)

It’s been an exciting month in policy news, starting with the release of the new Custer Gallatin Forest Plan, which was published at the end of January after I sent out my January policy update.

As I describe in this op-ed, the new plan is good news for winter recreation. Now, we and our partners within the Gallatin Forest Partnership are urging the Montana Congressional delegation to introduce legislation that build off the new plan and cement permanent protections for the western part of the forest.

Flathead National Forest (Montana)

In other Montana forest planning news, 3 years after completing their forest plan revision the Flathead National Forest has begun the process of addressing the changes the revised forest plan made pertaining to suitability of over-snow vehicle (OSV) use and recommended wilderness areas.

One frustrating aspect of forest plan revision is that it doesn’t make any site-specific decisions. For example, if an area determined to be not suitable for OSV use, the Forest Service has to go through a separate site-specific process to actually close that area to OSVs (or vice-versa).

The Flathead forest plan deemed that recommended wilderness areas are not suitable for motorized or mechanized transport, and identified some places as suitable for OSV use that are currently closed. Now the Flathead is following up by formally closing recommended wilderness areas to motor vehicles and mountain bikes, and designating areas for OSV use within the newly suitable zones. They’re also proposing a troubling forest plan amendment that would open the door to extensive “administrative” motorized and mechanized use within recommended wilderness areas.

Comments were due last week and we applauded the Forest Service for following through on its forest plan commitments, reminded them that any OSV use designations must comply with the OSV Rule, and pushed back on the proposed forest plan amendment. We also urged the Flathead to go beyond a few site-specific OSV designations and conduct winter travel planning for the entire forest – something they will need to do eventually.

Inyo National Forest (California)

Just over a thousand miles away, the Inyo National Forest is doing just that. The Inyo completed a forest plan revision shortly after the Flathead and they are now gearing up for forest-wide winter travel planning. In late January, David and our Eastern Sierra partners attended a travel planning kickoff meeting and we are looking forward to delving into this process!

Ambler Road Update (Alaska)

I also have an update in our efforts to stop the Ambler industrial access road in Alaska’s Brooks Range: on February 22, the Biden Administration acknowledged significant legal problems with the Interior Department’s decision to approve the Ambler Road, announcing they will suspend (but unfortunately not withdraw) the federal rights-of-way permits for the Ambler road project.

At the same time, the Department of Interior asked the Court to remand the road right-of-way decision back to the federal agencies for them to address flaws in the analysis of impacts to subsistence and cultural resources. While this is definitely good news, Interior ignored several other significant legal deficiencies in the permit approvals and we are disappointed that they did not cancel the right-of-way permits. Click here to read our full press statement.

Until next month,