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 By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News

Big Sky Connection - It's the last day (Monday, 4/1) for public comment on a management plan for Montana's Lolo National Forest. The land is critical to wildlife habitat, recreation and logging interests. The plan, the first update since the 1980's, tries to strike a balance between the interests, but some say it could go further. Comments from Skip Kowalski, retired U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist and board member, Montana Wildlife Federation.

Click on the image above for the audio.  The Lolo National Forest's geographic location is seen as critical for connecting wildlife habitats. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

April 1, 2024 - Today is the deadline for public comment on Montana's Lolo National Forest management plan. Advocates say the input will shape how the land is used for decades, but others say it could go further.

This is the first time the Lolo management plan has been revised since the late 1980s, said Montana Wildlife Federation board member and retired U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Skip Kowalski.

It will shape how the forest is managed for the next 30 years - affecting everything from recreational use and wildlife protections, to logging rules and grizzly bear habitat connectivity.

"Its location, in the area of Missoula," said Kowalski, "is equidistant between the north Continental Divide grizzly bear recovery area, and the Cabinet-Yaak recovery area - which is in northwestern Montana - and the recovery area for grizzly bears in the Selway Bitterroot."

Some sporting and conservation groups want the plan to make wildlife habitat connectivity a bigger priority. Today is the last day for public comment.

Kowalski said the proposed management plan is a good first step in managing the Lolo - but he called it a "work in progress" that needs to consider Montana's growth, which is why public input is so critical.

"We have a lot of increased recreation use," said Kowalski. "There's a lot more people moving into western Montana, and this will give the Lolo and opportunity to be able to manage the National Forest in concert with all of these other development pressures that are occurring."

The proposal designates the entire Montana portion of the Great Burn as Wilderness, which is a critical step in safeguarding vital wildlife corridors in the face of climate change.

But Kowalski argued it should consider more roadless areas there, too.

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