Forest releases draft comprehensive river plan for Flathead River’s Forks

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Rafters hit the North Fork in this file photo.

The Flathead National Forest Wednesday released a draft proposed action on how federal agencies will manage the three forks of the Flathead River system for about the next 10 years — a plan that could include permits for some sections of rivers.

About 219 miles of the North, South and Middle forks of the Flathead are protected to various degrees under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

The proposed action sets thresholds based on desired conditions of various sections of the rivers and brings up the possibility of a permit system for each Fork, depending on its “desired condition” and what section of the river a person or party is floating.

For example, in the 40-mile long scenic section of the North Fork of the Flathead, which runs from the Canada border to the Camas Bridge, the idea is to manage the river for solitude and, at least on the Glacier National Park side, wilderness values.

As such, the Forest has identified a range of possible “trigger” and “thresholds” if too many people are found floating the river in that section..

In this case, a trigger would be that “no more than three parties per day be encountered during 60 percent of the peak use season” and a threshold would be “no more than three parties per day be encountered during 80 percent of the peak use season.”

The peak use season is defined as running from June through August. A “trigger” is defined as a “condition of concern for an indicator that is enough to prompt a management response to ensure that desired conditions continue to be maintained before a threshold is crossed.” Thresholds, in turn, are “minimally acceptable conditions associated with each indicator.”

If the threshold is breached, management actions could include limiting the group size, instituting a permit system, and restricting outfitter use, among other restrictions.

Not all sections of the river system are treated equally.

For example, the 16 miles of the Middle Fork of the Flathead that are classified as recreational from Cascadilla to West Glacier, the threshold of crowds and rafters is quite high, with encounters of no more than 10 parties per day during the summer season 80 percent of the time.

From West Glacier to the South Fork, the threshold is set at a trigger of 150 boats per day and a threshold of 170 boats per day.

Conversely, the Middle Fork’s wild section, which is in the Great Bear Wilderness, has a much lower threshold of just two floater encounters per day during the summer months. If that’s breached, group size and permits are suggested.

The trigger and threshold numbers include professionally guided trips, noted Chris Prew, Forest recreational program manager.

The numbers to maintain similar objectives in the South Fork’s wild section are also similar, with a threshold of just three parties encountered per day during 80 percent of peak use during the summer season.

The Forest Service will hold a couple of public meetings to discuss the draft plan in detail on Aug. 13 and 20 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the lower level of the Arts and Technology Building at Flathead Valley Community College.

Prew said the Forest wants public input on the plan.

“If we’re off the mark, that’s what we want to hear from folks,” he said.

The draft is available for download at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/crmp.

The proposed action can also be accessed at the Flathead National Forest NEPA page (Flathead Comprehensive River Management Plan): www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56536.

Hard copies of the proposed action document are also available for review at the Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger Station (10 Hungry Horse Drive, Hungry Horse, MT, 59919) or at the Forest Supervisor’s Office (650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, MT 59901).

The public can provide us comments by doing the following:

• Email comments to: comments-northern-flathead@usda.gov. Acceptable formats include MS Word, RTF, or PDF.

• Fill in an electronic form by going to the same Flathead National Forest NEPA page and selecting “Comment/Object on Project” on the right hand side of the screen.

• Hand-deliver or mail comments to the Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger Station in Hungry Horse or the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Kalispell.

After the comments are analyzed, a draft environmental assessment will be released in January and February, with a record of decision expected in early 2020.

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