Bull elk standing along an open flat creek botom during elk season.  Walrath 2015

MONTANA HUNTING GROUPS FIGHT HELENA-LEWIS AND CLARK NATIONAL FOREST PROPOSAL TO ELIMINATE BIG GAME HABITAT SECURITY
By Moosetrack Megan


from the Montana Wildlife Federation

A group of Montana hunting organizations have filed suit against the
Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest (HLCNF) for implementing a weak
wildlife security amendment.  The groups –  including the Helena
Hunters and Anglers, Anaconda Sportsmen’s Club, the Clancy-Unionville
Citizens Task Force, the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and
Anglers and the Montana Wildlife Federation – say that wildlife and
public hunting will be negatively impacted by this change in forest
management standard.

Montana’s elk, deer, and other big game – and related hunting
opportunities — depend on secure habitat on public land.  Simply put:
lack of secure habitat makes hunted animals more vulnerable and results
in less hunting opportunity. For the past several decades, on national
forests, this habitat security has been protected by Forest Plan
Wildlife Security Standards based on extensive cooperative research and
years of proven application.

However, the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest (HLCNF) has amended
its Forest Plan Standard for Big Game Security to eliminate the current
wildlife security standard and replace it with a new standard that
removes all traditional and measurable components of secure habitat.
The new habitat standard potentially allows for areas of habitat that
might not actually contain any trees.

“We do not wish to litigate. We would prefer to work with land
management agencies to do what is best for our natural resources,”
says Gayle Joslin of the Helena Hunters & Anglers. “But we feel we are
currently left with no other options.”

“The amendment proposed by the USFS would result in immediate,
progressive, and long-term degradation of hiding cover across an
expansive landscape, for as long as the Forest Plan is in effect –
which, like the previous plan, could be 30 years,” says John Sullivan,
chair of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“The Forest Service’s decision to adopt a treeless security standard
sets a dangerous precedent for how big game security is defined and
managed in the Helena National Forest and on other public lands
throughout the West,” said Dave Chadwick, executive director of the
Montana Wildlife Federation.

Hunting groups participated at every step in the planning process to try
to influence the content and implementation of the Big Game Security
Standard amendment.  After that process, their only option was to file
a formal objection under Forest Service procedures.   Helena Hunters
and Anglers and the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
filed Objection resolutions, both of which were denied on August 24,
2015.  The USFS informed the groups that once the final objection
letter was issued, their only option was to litigate if we were
dissatisfied.

The Forest Service’s decision was made in the absence of the
environmental and alternatives analysis required by the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); conflicts with the best available
science on managing for big game security; is a significant amendment to
the existing Helena Forest Plan; and will likely have major negative
effects on the amount of hiding cover and secure habitat available for
big game and other wildlife species.

The treeless habitat security amendment will result in the continued
displacement of wildlife from public lands on to private lands and
public land hunting will deteriorate. Montana hunters have an interest
in making sure public officials apply the best available science and
take a hard look at all available alternatives and impacts before making
significant decisions that affect public resources.

A legal challenge will require the Forest Service to reinstate the
existing standard while they develop reasonable, science-based
alternatives that follow their own regulatory code.  Wildlife and
hunters will both benefit from a legitimate standard that includes
hiding cover while addressing road density.