BOZEMAN - As Montana’s population continues to grow, the push to keep public lands sacred is becoming a pressing issue for Montanans. Now, the Custer Gallatin National Forest is rewriting a decades-old forest plan that will guide how they manage the forest in the future.
It’s a definitive moment for people with a personal attachment to the forest and its public lands.
The goal of the plan is to provide a comprehensive document that will guide the forest service’s management, protection, and use of the forest for the next few decades.
The last time the Gallatin plan was updated was 1987, with the Custer plan being updated only a year earlier. Since then, the two forests have merged and science has evolved. Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan, the Forest Public Affairs Specialist for the plan revision, says that some of the recent scientific developments that they’re taking into account for the plan are air quality, fire, wildlife, connectivity, and perhaps most importantly: climate change.
The forest service has been working on this revision for three years. Leuschen-Lonergan says that since the revision began in January 2016, they’ve held over 80 public meetings to gather community input.
The Custer Gallatin National Forest covers a massive area of 3.1 million acres from Bozeman to South Dakota.
Now, forest officials are calling on the public to weigh in on the plan.
The Gallatin Forest Partnership is a Bozeman organization made up of landowners, mountain biker, fishermen, hunters, backcountry hikers, conservationists, and anyone else who has a personal stake in the Gallatin wilderness south of Bozeman.
Gallatin Forest Partnership member and Senior Regional Representative for member organization The Wilderness Society Barb Cestero says everyone in the partnership is passionate about the wild land around them.
"We came together because we saw this forest planning process as a real opportunity to roll up our sleeves, and shape the future management of the place we love most to go recreate in, the Gallatin Range,” she explained.
They’ve launched a campaign to include a few additions of their own to the forest service’s plan. Their agreement will add to the existing forest revision proposals, specifically along the Madison and Gallatin ranges. Cestero says they’re generally just asking the forest to keep public lands as they are today: "Our proposal will give some certainty to all of us who love it here so much that the things we enjoy about our public lands today will stay the same 20-30 years from now."
Public comment on the draft plan and environmental impact statement will close on June 6. The forest service has six more public meetings and webinars planned for the next month.