Regional U.S.F.S. officials have announced that their expected response to objections filed over the issue of mountain bike use within the Sapphire and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) will be delayed.
When the updated Bitterroot National Forest Travel Plan was adopted in 2016 it was challenged in court. The court upheld the travel plan except on the issue of excluding mountain bikes from the WSAs. A judge ordered that the public hearing be re-opened on that issue alone since it was not studied during the updating process and allow people who had already commented to comment on this issue as well. Senator Steve Daines pushed to have the whole public involved and that’s what happened starting last September. Since then, officials in the regional office have been reviewing the 3,216 public comments that were received. A recommendation for response to the local forest was expected by March 11.
Senator Daines also recently sent the Forest Service a letter asking them to either reopen the areas to mountain biking or push back its deadline for a decision so it could consider some new facts that had been gathered. He said he was concerned that this approach would foster additional closures in areas with historic use and that the greater recreation community would suffer as a result.
“With over $7 billion in consumer spending coming from Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, we should be encouraging adaptive management principles across the Agency that help U.S. Forest Service decision-makers manage different uses across various landscapes, not exclude them,” he wrote.
According to Northern Region Press Officer Dan Hottle, besides receiving the letter from Senator Daines, the agency also met with members of both local and national mountain biking advocates last week. He said a proposal was discussed that involved leaving a couple of trails open that are not used by either hikers or horseback riders and closed during hunting season.
Hottle said that the reviewing officer thought that more time was needed to give this some serious analysis before responding. He offered no timeline on when the review process would be complete.
The newly appointed Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest, Matt Anderson, started work this week.