“The times they are a changin” here in the Flathead River drainage. The United States Forest Service (USFS), as well as Glacier National Park are teaming up to form a new comprehensive river management plan (CRMP) for the forks of the Flathead River, which is designated Wild and Scenic. This designation is a hard thing to achieve. It literally takes an act of Congress. It sets into effect a series of protections that aim to maintain the remarkable qualities of these rivers for future generations. The hallowed designation was bestowed on the forks of the Flathead River in 1976 and shortly after in 1980, a CRMP was written and adopted. These series of regulations and guidelines dictated how the remarkable qualities of these rivers were to be protected as well as who could use the river for a commercial purpose and in what capacity. Since then, other than an amendment to the plan in 1986, there have been no changes to river commercial use permits or recreational guidelines. As most people who live and recreate in the Flathead River Valley know, there has been a large increase in traffic to the valley and especially Glacier National Park in recent years. This translates into more people using the Middle and North forks of the Flathead, which make up the southern and western boundaries of Glacier National Park, respectively.
The first of several public meetings on the CRMP took place in early March in Columbia Falls. The turnout was higher than expected and standing room only. The initial purpose of the meeting was an overview of how a third-party research firm, Hydro Solutions out of Helena Montana, will help coordinate the CRMP through a scientific assessment of the Flathead’s Wild and Scenic sections. This assessment is designed to help the USFS and Glacier National park officials make the best decisions based on science in creating the new CRMP. According to the USFS website, “the CRMP will address the current status of these resources, outline goals and desired conditions, determine user capacities, and create a monitoring strategy and plan to carry forward”. Hydro Solution’s data collection for the assessment is slated to take up to three years to complete. Once Hydro Solutions has finished their assessment, the USFS and Glacier National Park officials will create a new set of guidelines and rules for the Forks of the Flathead and present them in the new CRMP.
As to be expected in a room full of river rats and stewards, there was no shortage of opinions during the Q&A session with the most common opinion being that the rivers are being loved to death. Other popular topics, included air quality around the North Fork road due to increased vehicle traffic, the ever-present danger of Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s increased train traffic up the Middle Fork, and the abundance of trash and debris along the river corridor from careless river users. There was also a consensus of concern about the government agencies’ process for drafting a new CRMP and how much input would come from local citizen’s voices. Glacier National Park and USFS officials became aware during the Q&A session that they will be held up to a high standard of transparency and dialogue during this CRMP process. During the meeting one thing was made clear, the people of this valley care deeply about the rivers and will have a say in the CRMP to make sure the rivers best interests are being met. If not, in the spirit of Mr. T, I pity the government agencies that will have to incur their wrath. To find out more about the CRMP and public meetings information visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/flathead/home/?cid=fseprd573051&width=full.