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Bitterroot National Forest Opens Objection Period On Bikes In WSAs

U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen vows the agency will meet with mountain biking groups who want to regain access to two wilderness study areas in the Bitterroot National Forest.
Mountain biking.

The Bitterroot National Forest has kicked off a 45-day objection period focusing on bicycle access in two wilderness study areas.

The Blue Joint WSA is south of Darby in the Bitterroot mountains along the Idaho border. The Sapphire WSA is southeast of Hamilton.

Both were closed to mountain bikes in 2016, when the forest’s travel management plan was enacted.

Amy Fox is the Bitterroot National Forest’s Environmental Coordinator, she says, "Total, it’s about 121 miles of trails that are located within the WSAs."

A misunderstanding on behalf of the Bitterroot National Forest led to the temporary reopening of the trails to mechanized use earlier this summer. Federal Judge Dana Christensen shut down those trails again earlier this month.

The recent objection period is in response to a June ruling by Christensen on a lawsuit challenging the plan. At least six groups sued for more access to the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs, arguing the comment period was inadequate. Christensen agreed.

“In order to be eligible to file an objection you had to comment during either the scoping period or on the draft EIS for this project,” says the Bitterroot National Forest's Amy Fox.

Fox adds the most valuable comments are those that stick to the point.

“As much as people can talk to specifically those trails, and why they object to the closure of those trails, that will be the most helpful to us.”

The deadline to submit objections is October 9.

A decision is expected by late November.

To submit an objection:

Objections mailed or hand delivered must be submitted to the reviewing officer by one of the following methods; mail: Objection Reviewing Officer, USDA Forest Service, 26 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804. Fax: (406) 329-3411, or email:  Hand delivered objections must be delivered between 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding holidays.  

Objections should include: 1) Objectors name, address, phone number, and organization represented, if any; 2) title of project on which the objections are being submitted along with the name of the national forest; 3) A description of those aspects of the proposed project addressed by the objection, including specific issues related to the proposed project; if applicable, how the objector believes the environmental analysis or decision specifically violates law, regulation, or policy; suggested remedies that would resolve the objection; and 4) objectors signature.  

Please put “Bitterroot Travel Plan Objection” in the subject line for emailed objections.  An automated response will confirm that your electronic objection has been received. All objections are open to public inspection and will be posted to the Forest Service website.           

For more information or questions, please contact Amy Fox, Environmental Coordinator, 1801 N. First Street, Hamilton, MT 59840 or (406) 363-7100.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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