Fewer trail miles proposed for Whitefish project

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The United States Forest Service proposes to drop 12 miles of new trails originally tied to the proposed Taylor Hellroaring Project but would approve construction of trails totaling 28 miles in the Whitefish Face — the southernmost portion of the Whitefish Range.

The Taylor Hellroaring Project also proposes to thin trees and conduct other “vegetation management” interventions. Goals include reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the region, with specific mention of protecting the “wildland-urban interface” and Whitefish Mountain Resort.

An earlier alternative would have constructed 40 miles of new trails.

In a draft decision notice for the project released Aug. 9, Forest Supervisor Chip Weber said he determined an environmental assessment released in April provided a sufficient review of the project’s impacts and that a full environmental impact statement isn’t necessary.

The Aug. 9 release triggered a 45-day objection period to the alternative proposed by the Forest Service.

“The objection period offers folks a formal window to object to the project,” said Bill Mulholland, district ranger for the Tally Ranger District, providing a process to seek resolution of specific concerns without litigation.

The draft decision notice reports “the proposed trails would connect the Whitefish Trail system and existing National Forest Service trails,” providing options for users “to disperse into more remote and challenging trails with greater opportunities for solitude.”

The Forest Service says the trails would be located, designed and maintained to limit the risk of wildlife/human contact.

The draft decision notice references public comments previously received regarding the project’s environmental assessment that expressed concerns about the potential for conflict between mountain bikers traveling at high speed and wildlife, specifically grizzly bears.

In June 2016, a grizzly bear killed a mountain biker after he collided with the bear on a trail not far from West Glacier. A review board concluded the biker’s speed and comparatively quiet mode of travel contributed to the collision and the fatal attack.

The notice further observes trails can be designed to reduce mountain bikers’ speed and to avoid dense concentrations of food sources such as huckleberries. In addition, trails can avoid riparian areas and vegetation clearing can improve sight distances so bikers and bears don’t surprise each other, the Forest Service said.

Trail design could also build in educational information about how to recreate more safely in bear country, the agency said.

The Forest Service said it eliminated 12 miles of trails in response to public comments citing concerns about the potential for some trails to impact wildlife security and cause displacement of animals, especially near riparian areas and huckleberry patches.

An earlier alternative would have constructed about 15 miles of trails in patches of huckleberries, an important food source for grizzly bears, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Flathead Area Mountain Bikers had voiced support for the alternative that would have constructed about 40 miles of trails.

Trail building will be shepherded primarily by volunteer groups that will seek grant funding.

The Taylor Hellroaring Project area would include about 7,800 acres of the Flathead National Forest; vegetation management would occur on about 1,813 acres, the Forest Service said.

Documents related to the Taylor Hellroaring Project and the draft decision notice can be found at: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50518

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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