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If the US Forest Service doesn’t follow the rules, why should we? • Daily Montanan

Montana’s national parks, forests, state parks and other public lands are very accessible. There are tens of thousands of miles of open roads and motorized trails that allow people to get to every trailhead, boat launch and over scenic mountain passes. Our rivers have car and caravan camping areas, picnic areas and fishing spots. Even in remote Fergus County, there are more than 1,100 miles of roads open to recreational users.

Driving on public roads is a pleasant activity for many. So much so that access must be managed and seasonal closures are sometimes implemented to protect sensitive fish and wildlife habitat. This is the result of a public travel planning process. The end product is the Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), which defines where and when motorized use is permitted. These are literally the rules of the road in National Forests that everyone must follow. They are part of the Forest Plan and the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy.

The mild winter and roads drying up earlier than normal led some to want to access forest roads via highway vehicles, which is not allowed between November 30 and May 1 under the MVUM. Seeley Lake District Ranger Quinn Carver threw open the gates on April 19. Instead of announcing it through Lolo National Forest’s email process, they announced it in a Facebook post. The post said damage to roadbeds would not be a factor. The MVUM is responsible for many things, including the needs of fish and wildlife.

Lolo’s Facebook page has received many comments, including comments advocating lock picking and destruction of locks and gates, including photos of lock picking and lock picking sets, which amounts to destruction of federal property, not to mention not to mention the illegal use of a closed road. Some commenters on the Lolo FB page complained of tyranny and advocated destruction and lawbreaking. That’s anarchy.

Another comment referred to local and non-local conservationists with an offensive nickname. The Lolo Facebook simply leaves this offensive comment online. Many days after posting the Lolo still had a comment about getting a lock pick set. Great example, huh?

Just because the weather was unseasonably warm with little snow doesn’t mean the rule book can be discarded. If the Lolo wants to change the Forest Itinerary, he must go through the process and not make decisions via Facebook.

Can rangers like Carver expand snowmobiling to include times when grizzlies are out of their dens just because some people want them to? Allowing roads to remain open in elk safety areas in the fall because some people want that? Let’s hope not.

Despite the tens of thousands of miles of open roads and trails, extreme access advocates want snowmobiles and e-bikes in the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness and other special places, even though there are plenty of options nearby. The Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forest rewarded them by expanding motorized vehicles and snowmobiles into the Great Burn because a few people asked them to. There is a pattern.

The Forest Service has an inherent bias because access proponents provide cover for their plans to expand the federal highway system into roadless areas. When motorized use is allowed, the Forest Service then claims historic use and that the area no longer qualifies for wilderness, as the Nez-Perce Clearwater did.

Traffic rules? It is difficult to take official motor vehicle use maps at face value if National Forests ignore them when it suits them. It has the same unpleasant odor as the Holland Lake Staatsbosbeheer fiasco.