The Flathead National Forest officially approved the Taylor Hellroaring project just north of Whitefish Monday. The project will include nearly 2,000 acres of logging, mechanical thinning and prescribed fire treatments as well as construction of 28 miles of new trails.
The Taylor Hellroaring project has been in the works for years and was initially introduced under the old Flathead National Forest management plan, which was revised late last year. The project was rescinded after some scoping requirements under the old plan prevented it from moving forward. It was reintroduced under the new forest plan.
Tally Lake Ranger District Ranger Bill Mulholland says Forest Service found no significant impacts under its environmental assessment.
The agency, however, did receive comments concerning the impacts the new trails would have on grizzlies. Mulholland said the trails would give users visibility, decreasing the risk of surprising bears.
“We’re going to do our best to locate folks those trails in areas that are more conducive to seeing bears having visual qualities to it that you can see where you are going,” Mulholland said.
The project would connect existing trails near Whitefish and Big Mountain to 28 miles of new trails for hiking and mountain biking. Swan View Coalition Chairman Keith Hammer contests that the new trails would have no impact.
“So this fills in the blank between the trail system down in Whitefish and the trail system up on the mountain and we’re going, ‘Where’s wildlife supposed to live in the middle of all of this,” Hammer said.
Hammer is also concerned that more high-speed activities like trail running and mountain biking will lead to more human-bear conflicts. Noah Bodman sits on the Flathead Area Mountain Bikers board. The group is collaborating with the Forest service on the project. Bodman says none of the trails would be in core grizzly habitat.
“If you’re going to say there may be a grizzly bear somewhere around the trail, then that kind of prohibits any trails anywhere in western Montana and I don’t think that’s a rational conclusion,” Bodman said.
The Forest Service and stakeholder groups are still working out when and how trail construction will move forward. Some of the logging within the project could move forward by next summer.