Three national forest plans to be amended to address grizzly issues
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: December 18, 2017

Forest Plan Amendments

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):

Opportunity to Object

A legal notice of the initiation of the 60-day objection period was published on December 14, 2017, in the Flathead, Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forests’ newspapers of record: the Daily Inter LakeGreat Falls TribuneMissoulianHelena Independent Record, and Billings Gazette. A Federal Register notice of the opportunity to object was also published on December 14, 2017. The legal and Federal Register notices inform the public that a 60-day period is being initiated during which individuals or entities with specific concerns related to the Flathead National Forest’s forest plan, 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 may file objections for Forest Service review prior to the approval of the revised land management plan and the forest plan amendments. This is also an opportunity to object to the regional forester’s list of species of conservation concern for the Flathead National Forest.

How to participate in the objection process

  • In order to object you must have previously submitted substantive formal comments related to the forest plan, amendments, or draft EIS during the public comment periods. Objections must be based on previously submitted substantive formal comments attributed to the objector unless the objection concerns an issue that arose after the opportunities for formal comment.
  • If you wish to object to the analysis in the final EIS, the forest plan, the amendments, the list of the species of conservation concern for the Flathead National Forest, or to either of the draft records of decisions you must do so in writing during the objection filing period, which is the 60 days following the publication date of the public notice in the newspaper of record (note that time extensions are not allowed).
  • An objection must include the following:
  • The objector’s name and address along with a telephone number or email address if available. In cases where no identifiable name is attached to an objection, the Forest Service will attempt to verify the identity of the objector to confirm objection eligibility;
  • Signature or other verification of authorship upon request (a scanned signature for electronic mail may be filed with the objection);
  • Identification of the lead objector when multiple names are listed on an objection. The Forest Service will communicate to all parties to an objection through the lead objector. Verification of the identity of the lead objector must also be provided if requested;
  • The name of the plan revision, forest plan amendment, or list of species of conservation concern being objected to and the name and title of the responsible official;
  • A statement of the issues and/or parts of the plan revision to which the objection applies;
  • A concise statement explaining the objection and suggesting how the proposed plan decision may be improved. If the objector believes that the plan revision is inconsistent with law, regulation, or policy, an explanation should be included;
  • A statement that demonstrates the link between the objector’s prior substantive formal comments and the content of the objection, unless the objection concerns an issue that arose after the opportunities for formal comment; and
  • All documents referenced in the objection (a bibliography is not sufficient), except that the following need not be provided: All or any part of a Federal law or regulation; Forest Service directive system documents and land management plans or other published Forest Service documents; documents referenced by the Forest Service in the planning documentation related to the proposal subject to objection; and formal comments previously provided to the Forest Service by the objector during the plan revision comment period.
  • An example objection template is available.
  • Once the objection is received by the reviewing officer it will be reviewed to determine if it contains the necessary information. The reviewing officer will confirm receipt of the objection, and accept, partially accept, or set aside the objection in writing.
  • After the 60-day objection filing period ends, a 90-day objection review period will begin.  The review period may be extended at the discretion of the reviewing officer. If there is a time extension the reviewing officer will notify all parties.
  • Within ten days after the close of the objection filing period the responsible official will publish a legal notice in the newspapers of record and on the Forest websites listing those people and organizations who have objected to the revised Forest Plan. This legal notice will also ask for those members of the public who wish to be considered an “interested person” to send a request to the reviewing officer. The contact information will be contained in the legal notice. There is a 10-day period to make this request. An “interested person” is someone who may, or may not have objected or commented during the forest plan and amendments process, but who has an interest in supporting or opposing a submitted objection. Additional information about the role of an “interested person” and how to request this status will be included in the legal notice and on this website.
  • One or more meetings, via teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or in person, will be held with the objectors, reviewing officer, responsible official(s), interested persons, and forest staff during the objection reviewing period to discuss each objection. 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 one or more written responses to each objection. The written response(s) 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.

Where to submit an objection

The following address should be used for objections submitted by regular mail, private carrier, or hand delivery: Objection Reviewing Officer, USDA Forest Service, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT  59804. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding Federal holidays. Please specify whether the objection is related to the Flathead forest plan, the NCDE grizzly bear forest plan amendments, or the Flathead’s list of species of conservation concern.

Objections can be faxed to the objection reviewing officer at (406) 329-3411. The fax coversheet must include a subject line with “Flathead Forest Plan Objection,” “NCDE Grizzly Bear Forest Plan Amendments Objection,” or “Flathead Species of Conservation Concern Objection” and should specify the number of pages being submitted. Electronic objections must be submitted to the objection reviewing officer via email to appeals-northern-regional-office@fs.fed.us, with “Flathead Forest Plan Objection,” “NCDE Grizzly Bear Forest Plan Amendments,” or “Flathead Species of Conservation Concern” in the subject line. Electronic submissions must be submitted in a format that is readable with optical character recognition software (e.g., Word, PDF, Rich Text) and must be searchable. An automated response will confirm that your electronic objection has been received.

Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.

Responsible officials: The responsible official who will approve the record of decision for the Flathead National Forest revised forest plan is Chip Weber, Forest Supervisor of the Flathead National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT  59901, (406) 758-5208. The responsible officials who will approve the record of decision for the amendments are William Avey, Forest Supervisor of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor’s Office, 2880 Skyway Drive, Helena, MT  59602, (406) 449-5201; Christopher S. Savage, Forest Supervisor of the Kootenai National Forest, 31374 U.S. Highway 2, Libby, MT  59923, (406) 293-6211; and Timothy Garcia, Forest Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, 24 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula MT  59804, (406) 329-3750. The responsible official for the species of conservation concern is Leanne Marten, Regional Forester, Northern Region, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT  59804.

The regional forester is the reviewing officer for the revised plan and plan amendments since the forest supervisors are the deciding officials (36 CFR 219.56(e)(2)). The Chief of the Forest Service is the reviewing officer for the species of conservation concern identification since the regional forester is the deciding official (36 CFR 219.56(e)(2)). All objections should be sent to the objection reviewing officer for the Northern Region using the address provided above.

For further information, contact:  Project Leader Joe Krueger, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT  59901, (406) 758-5243.