Problems with permits, too

| May 6, 2020 7:06 AM

On behalf of the North Fork Preservation Association, and seemingly more than a few North Fork residents, our comments on the recently proposed Special Use Permits for Recreational Events and Guiding have been submitted to Forest Service officials by the scant May 1st deadline.

The NFPA works to protect the watershed, wilderness, and wildlife in the North Fork Valley. As demonstrated through our work in the Whitefish Range Partnership, we believe the enjoyment of public lands should consist of a diverse group of users.

And, while we empathize with the many small businesses in the Flathead and beyond who are sure to face trying economic times in 2020, we are deeply concerned by the lack of information provided in these proposals as well as the lean opportunity given for the public to comment.

In a time when popularity is growing among individual “through” hikers and bikers, combined with local recreationalists and accommodating the of overflow tourists from “full” entities like Glacier National Park, the arteries of the Whitefish Range are already pumping non-commercial users through them at an obese rate.

Adding commercial users will undoubtedly increase the possibility of human-bear conflicts and put more pressure on minimal infrastructure, which wasn’t addressed in the majority of the twelve proposals.

Also, the use of “categorical exclusions” to avoid preparation of either an EA or EIS is not appropriate for reasons listed in our official public comment letter.

In short, the full nature and extent of the COVID 19 pandemic remains uncertain. It can be reasonably anticipated that some of the proposed activities will bring an influx of recreationalists from out of the area into the “gateway community” of the North Fork. We need more information. Likewise, we believe that the cumulative impacts of these multiple proposals need to be analyzed, with particular attention to potential conflicts with species of special concern, including grizzly bears, lynx and wolves through a traditional NEPA process to better inform the public and decision-makers of potential impacts. We need more time.

A 30-day comment period after more information is provided to set a healthy precedent moving forward.

Flannery Coats

NFPA Vice President