Most of the areas suitable for backcountry touring in Montana are on publicly-owned National Forests. These forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Each forest is required to have a management plan and those plans must be updated every 10 or 20 years. Forests are also required to have travel management plans dictating where vehicles (including off-road-vehicles) are allowed to go on the forest. As of 2014, forests that have snowmobile use must also include snowmobiles in their travel plans. This process is moving slowly and largely starting in California.
Additionally, forests have to analyze and solicit public comment for decisions that will have a significant impact on the forest. Relevant to backcountry skiing, these decisions are typically ski resort expansions or access issues.
The most important things to know about forest policy is that there are several opportunities for public comment in each process. It’s critical that managers hear from backcountry skiers and riders when making their decisions. Please consider submitting comments and attending public meetings when appropriate.
Below is a list of where our local forests are in the planning, travel planning and other policy processes. We’re doing our best to keep this list updated. Follow us on Facebook for more regular updates and opportunities to engage.
The Flathead National Forest released the draft environmental impact statement for the draft revised Land and Resource Management Plan (a draft forest plan) for review in May 2016. Those comments are being reviewed. For more information, see: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/flathead/home/?cid=stelprdb5422786&width=full
The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest has begun revising their forest plan. Community meetings on the proposed action are being held through the winter of 2017. For more information, see: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/helena/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprd3798801&width=full
The Custer Gallatin Forest Plan Revision is in the assessment phase. The plan will be developed through the winter of 2017, and an EIS is expected in January, 2018. For more information, see: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/custergallatin/landmanagement/planning/?cid=fseprd482956
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests Plan is being revised. Currently, public comments are being reviewed and alternatives are being drafted. For more information, see: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nezperceclearwater/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprdb5447338
The final decision for the Lookout Pass ski area expansion has been issued. To see the final decision, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=43757
The Snowbowl ski area expansion decision has been approved. To see the final decision, visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/lolo/news-events/?cid=STELPRD3799390