The Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) is offering an opportunity for the public to provide input on recreation management – specifically mountain bike use – in the Sapphire and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas.
The Blue Joint and Sapphire are home to stunning alpine lakes, thriving native fisheries, and abundant wildlife, and have been protected since the Montana Wilderness Study Act was passed in 1977.
In 2016, the BNF completed a travel management planning process for the area. You may remember it – your comments led the Forest Service to safeguard the wild character and solitude of these areas. The plan disallowed motorized and mechanized use within the boundaries of the wilderness study areas, while allowing motorized and mountain bike access elsewhere else on the Bitterroot. We considered it a success.
Unfortunately, after the plan was finalized, a group of local motorized users and mountain bikers sued the Forest Service for access to the WSAs. That lawsuit has led to two immediate outcomes:
Recently, a judge ruled in favor of the BNF’s decision to prohibit “non-conforming uses” – motorized vehicles and mountain bikes – within the WSA boundaries, BUT that ruling requires an additional public objection period specifically concerning mountain bike access in the Sapphire and the Blue Joint.
The upshot of these joint outcomes is that the BNF is accepting comments, called “objections” at this point in the process, to the travel management plan until October 9th, and that’s where you come in. We’re asking you to join MWA in objecting to mountain bike use in the Sapphire and the Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas.
MWA will be submitting comments urging the Bitterroot National Forest to uphold their original travel management decision for these sensitive wild areas. The BNF should continue to prohibit all motorized and mechanized uses, including mountain biking, in the Sapphire and Blue Joint WSAs.
Doing so will:
- Uphold the wilderness character of these special places, in compliance with the management directives of the 1977 Montana Wilderness Study Act
- Protect the outstanding fisheries and clean headwaters in the Sapphire and the Blue Joint
- Guarantee abundant game populations, which support the area’s hunting heritage, draw numerous visitors, and stimulate local economies
- Decrease user conflict and the time and money spent by the BNF on enforcing recreational use boundaries
- Create opportunities for quiet recreational users. According to a survey conducted by the BNF in 2016, non-motorized & non-mechanized users make up over 78% of all recreational users on the BNF
Please make your comment as specific and personal as you can, and offer the Forest Service real actionable solutions whenever possible. Objections are due by October 9th, 2018.
Thank you for your ongoing support. We have the power to make sure these places stay wild forever.
– Grete Gansauer, MWA northwest Montana field coordinator
Categories: Public Lands