Forest proposal good for business

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Study after study has shown that outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands are essential to maintaining Montana’s robust economy.

In fact, the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation estimated in a 2018 report that the state’s outdoor recreation economy supports some 71,000 jobs — about 10% of all jobs in Montana and more jobs than in manufacturing and construction combined. All told, $7.1 billion in consumer spending in Montana can be attributed to outdoor recreation.

The study also shows that the vast majority of folks in Montana — about 80% — live here for the outdoor lifestyle. Most agree that access to our wild places creates happier and healthier communities.

That’s why we support a proposed alternative that would create nearly 40 miles of new multi-use trails in the Flathead National Forest near Whitefish.

The Taylor Hellroaring Project would impact about 1,851 acres of the Whitefish Range near Big Mountain, with the proposed trails connecting high-alpine terrain to the well-used Whitefish Trail network around Whitefish Lake.

The new trails would disperse hikers and mountain bikers using the Whitefish Trail onto more remote and challenging trails “with greater opportunities for solitude,” the environmental assessment notes.

Volunteer groups would lead trail-building efforts, using grant funding for the work.

Better access to more trails, with an economic boon to boot? That’s a win-win.

Another benefit of the project is the proposed fuels management to reduce wildfire risk in an area squarely in the wildland-urban interface. Forest treatments would include commercial thinning, clearcuts and some prescribed burns.

We take comfort in the fact that the Whitefish Face Working Group has been involved with this project from the beginning. Members of this diverse group include representatives from F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co., Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish Legacy Partners, the Flathead Snowmobile Association, the city of Whitefish and others.

Now is the time to share your thoughts on the plan. Public comments on the environmental assessment will be accepted through May 23. The EA is available online at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50518.

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