Forest Service to update Custer/Gallatin forest plans

By Eden Jones

Community meetings have begun for public input on the revision of the 1986 Custer and 1987 Gallatin Forest Plans. Meetings run June 15 to 30 in eight communities throughout southern Montana and South Dakota, focusing on educating the public and identifying current landscape trends to help in the revision process for the current forest plans.  

“The Forest Plan is basically the overarching document guiding anything we do here in the forest,” said Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan, head of public affairs for the forest plan revisions. “Forest Plans typically have a 10-15 year lifespan, and ours are obviously much older than that, so a revision was needed.”

The first phase of the revision process encompasses assessment of the existing forest plan and ongoing economic, ecological and social conditions to guide the revision process, Leuschen-Lonergan said. 

“It’s typically a four-year process. We’re assessing the existing conditions of a 3.1 million-acre landscape across seven ranger districts — trying to find out what the status is, what needs to change,” she said. “All national forests have a plan pertinent to their forest, and most national forests are having to go through plan revisions after a new planning rule was implemented in 2012.”

The 2012 planning rule hashes out a framework for a three-phase plan revision process, including an assessment phase, a revision phase, and a monitoring phase. The revision process kicked off in January with the beginning of the assessment process, with the final decision and approval for the revision scheduled for fall 2019. 

Another element of the new planning rule is increased public involvement. “With the new planning rule, we’re trying to get public involvement woven throughout the whole process, every single step of the way,” Leuschen-Lonergan said.

She added that the agency is seeking consistent policy across the two forests.

Leuschen-Lonergan also said that part of the revision includes evaluating current technological advances, as well as other resources that were unknown in the 80s. 

“Another thing we’re looking at is what people want to see occurring on the landscape, sustainability wise,” she said. 

The plan revision proposal is tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2017, and the formal commenting period will begin then. 

Dates and times of upcoming community meetings for public input on the plan revisions can be found on the Public Involvement page of the Custer Gallatin National Forest website.