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Don't be surprised by how our public forests are managed

The Custer-Gallatin National Forest stretches over 400 miles of south central, southeastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota, with 3.1 million acres under its banner, a million of which are designated Wilderness. The USFS website notes that it is the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 states.

It's also home to 45,000 AUMs of grazing use on public land, and 15,000 AUMs of grazing use on private land that is intermingled with National Forest lands within grazing allotments. It contains private landowner access, timber, minerals, fire challenges, recreation opportunities and more.

To say the least, it's important for resource based industries to know what's happening with publicly managed resources.

Some grazing allotments in the western side of the forest have been retired over the years, and access priorities are ever-changing. These changes shouldn't come as a surprise to landowners and users.  The Forest Service maps out management plans and objectives that guide their decisions years in advance, and the planning process is about to begin again. The Forest management plans are Goliath documents -- the 1987 plan, which has been updated through 2015, is 385 pages in all -- but, it's imperative agriculture shows up to advocate for the continued availability of these grazing resources and guide other uses of our public lands.

The Forest Plan is the comprehensive, overarching document that guides forest management, use, and protection providing broad direction, standards and guidelines for the Custer Gallatin National Forest for years to come. The four-year process for a new plan began this year.

(From a Jan. 29 USFS email) Forest Plan Revision meetings will be the first opportunity for the public to provide local knowledge and information about current conditions, trends, perceptions and concerns, while also introducing the Forest Plan Revision team to communities around the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

Meetings will begin with a brief introduction and overview of the Forest Plan Revision process and understanding the Custer Gallatin National Forest as a whole, along with the identification of important interests in communities. Following the presentation the Custer Gallatin planning team will be available for questions and to speak one-on-one with citizens.

  • Monday, Feb. 22: Broadus, MT 6:30–8 p.m., Broadus Community Center

  • Tuesday, Feb. 23: Ashland, MT 3–4:30 p.m., Tongue River Electric Co.

  • Tuesday, Feb. 23: Colstrip, MT 6:30 – 8 p.m., Colstrip Public School Auditorium

  • Wednesday, Feb. 24: Ekalaka, MT 5:30–7 p.m., Carter County Fair Building

  • Thursday, Feb. 25: Buffalo, SD 5:30–7 p.m., Buffalo Recreation Center

  • Monday, Feb. 29: Big Timber, MT 3- 4:30 p.m., Sweet Grass Co. Annex (adjacent to Extension office).

  • Monday, Feb. 29: Livingston, MT 6:30–8 p.m., Duncan Hagemeyer Conference Room at the new Livingston HealthCare Medical Center

  • Tuesday, March 1: Columbus, MT 3–4:30 p.m., Columbus Fire Hall

  • Tuesday, March 1: Red Lodge, MT 6:30–8 p.m., Red Lodge Senior Center

  • Wednesday, March 2: Bozeman, MT 6:30–8 p.m., pending final venue location

  • Thursday, March 3: Big Sky, MT 2–3:30 p.m., Big Sky Chapel

  • Thursday, March 3: West Yellowstone, MT 5:30–7 p.m., West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce

  • Monday, March 7: Gardiner, MT 5:30–7 p.m., Yellowstone Association

  • Tuesday, March 8: Cooke City, MT 5:00–6:30 p.m., Cooke City Chamber of Commerce

  • Wednesday, March 9: Billings, MT 5:30–7 p.m., Billings Fire Station #1, Emergency Operations Center Training Room (2300 9th Ave North Entrance), plan time for on street parking.


Overview of grazing/range-specific portions of the current forest plan:

Here's a few highlights from the summary of how various resources and activities are managed under the 1987-present Forest Plan. These resources include recreation, wilderness, visual quality, cultural resources, wildlife, fish, range, timber, water and soils, minerals, land ownership, facilities, fire, special areas and wild and scenic rivers.

g. Range

  • Improved forage management will be used to maintain or enhance the range environment and to provide for increased AUMs.

  • Development and use of available forage will depend upon the livestock industry’s ability and desire to make the necessary investments.

  • The Plan calls for continuing to administer about 15,000 AUMs of grazing use on private lands that are intermingled with National Forest lands within grazing allotments.


DESIRED FUTURE CONDITION OF THE FOREST
End of first decade (1997)

Livestock grazing is expected to increase slightly in the first decade. This increase will be accomplished through more intensive management on existing allotments and possible initiation of stocking on a few new allotments. This increase could be from 43,400 AUMs to 44,900 AUMs and will be accomplished to protect or enhance other resource values.

End of the fifth decade (2035)

It is anticipated that the moderate growth in livestock grazing will level off at about 45,000 AUMs per year.

E. FOREST-WIDE STANDARDS
The following Forest-wide Standards apply to National Forest land that is administered by the Gallatin National Forest. These standards are intended to supplement, not replace, the National and Regional policies, standards, and guidelines found in Forest Service manuals and handbooks and the Northern Regional Guide

Of course, in a 385-page document, you're bound to be interested in more than just grazing and range management objectives. The plan also outlines how private-public relationships and agreements are reached and used, and much more.

Again, with detailed documents like this publicly accessible, there's no reason public land management should come as a surprise to informed landowners and stakeholders. We all have a great stake in how these land are managed. It impacts our ranches, our rural communities and our livelihoods in big ways. Please take the time to plan to attend one of the public meetings in February and March. Listen, learn, ask questions and share your voice. And as always, our team is here to help you do that!