I am really tired of writing about the coronavirus, but I did not expect the U.S. Forest Service to step in with a big controversy, all in the last two days.
Apparently several commercial entities have applied for several permits for activities on the North Fork. Starting yesterday I have been flooded with emails and phone calls from North Fork landowners who oppose any new North Fork commercial permits, several of them also opposing current permits, namely for river guiding.
Like my neighbors, I too oppose the new permits. My biggest complaint is the short public comment period. Apparently, it was released to the press on April 17 and comments ended on May 1. Most of us were not aware of the proposed permits until this week. Aren’t comment periods usually 30 days or longer? Big deal to me is why wasn’t this possibility mentioned at the Winter Interlocal? The whole thing appears to be a deliberate attempt to avoid public comment.
Given federal mandates to increase public recreation and to pander to every special interest, I am not surprised at requests for more commercial users. I know they are public lands and that commercial activity is not banned. I also know that the USFS is mandated by congressional action to maintain these lands for future generations of Americans.
That means they must protect the habitats of all wildlife, fish, birds and even vegetation. Any motorized activity threatens one or more of those things that must be protected. To me, that means decisions about increased use must be made with a lot of caution. How close is current public use by noncommercial users to completely overloading the system? I know that is the case in Glacier Park. Isn’t it also possible – or even probable – on Forest Service land?
Just for current private recreationists, forest infrastructure is woefully inadequate. There are way too few toilet facilities and campground maintenance is shoddy to lousy.
The North Fork Road is pretty much at capacity all summer and traffic control (law enforcement) is nonexistent.
Side roads are Forest Service maintained and that maintenance is a joke. Do we really want or need to encourage more traffic on a dirt road that is only graded once every two to three years?
I’ll bet that the broken picnic tables at Red Meadow Lake are still broken, and I wonder if the “bike packing” tour will reserve all or most of the campsites there, and who would enforce that? The two Forest Service law enforcement officers?
Finally, will these potential commercial users pay all of the costs to maintain the facilities they use with administrative costs included – and maybe some improvements for future expansion of facilities?
More public use may be inevitable but we need to plan carefully so we don’t love the place to extinction. What do you think?
Larry Wilson’s North Fork Views appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.