Big Sky country nation's largest gated community

commentary by Mike Aastrom  Kalispell, Montana

July 14, 2002

In 1997 the United States Forest Service [USFS] adopted the Road Management Plan [RMP) which identified every forest road in the state of Montana and scheduled them for either maintenance or obliteration.

Though there is a statewide strategy yet to be explored, this article will concentrate on Flathead County. A large portion of Glacier National Park lies within the boundaries of the Flathead.

The federal government claims to control 70 percent of Flathead county's 5,099 square miles in northwest Montana. There are 2,104 roads in what the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) describes as a forest system.

At present, according to the State of Montana, 1,910 of those 2,104 roads have been gated or rendered impassable by permanent 'Kelly humps' made by government bulldozers, or by some kind of closure, be it gates or the like. Each of these permanently closed roads say to us, in effect: "You can no longer access your state land, lands that you pay taxes on for your use, benefit and enjoyment by a sovereign state under the Constitution of the United States."

The public no longer has access to 90 percent of the public lands in Flathead County.

We have talked to our local officials on these issues, but the road closures continue according to plan. Motor sports recreation has become a thing of the past in this region except for a few places that are as of this writing, still open. If we continue to use these areas, they will be overused as well. Hunting, fishing and hiking are also becoming pastimes that are not favored by forest managers.

Flathead Forest supervisor Superintendent Kathy Barbeulateos has a degree in hydrology, but doesn't have much experience in the science of road management or the science of good sound forestry stewardship.

How are we going to fight the fires that will come, if all roads are locked or blocked off? A little bit of common sense explains that: We CAN'T!

Superintendent Barbeulateos does not seem to question the authority of the Fish, Wildlife and Parks or the USFS with regard to the road closure/obliteration agenda -- regardless of how it impacts/obliterates the livelihoods and traditional recreation habits of the good people of the Flathead.

We are good stewards and we love our land; why else would we live here? Montana is special! We are 49th in the nation in wages; we stay here for the beauty and the way of life.

According to the Montana Road Management Plan, there is a difference between obliteration and closure. Obliteration is a process that involves removing culverts, moving road bed materials, and reshaping the terrain to resemble what the experts believe it used to be. Then they replant the disturbed areas with indigenous plants. This is a very expensive process that usually seems to be disastrous for the landscape as the new plants cannot hold back the forces of Mother Nature which erode tons of material into the fish habitats they are arguably intending to protect.

On the other hand, a road that is to be closed must be gated permanently for four years. At the three-year mark, the USFS plants trees on them. After six years the gates are removed because by then the roads are no longer drivable anyway.

According to the RMP

Roads that are scheduled for closure are being planned for permanent closure. The end result is an obliterated road. It is much better for several reasons: It is less expensive, it is less harmful to the environment, FW&P claims to be saving funds, and the public doesn't realize a road is being obliterated until the gates come down and it's no longer a road.

We are being locked out of the very lands that we pay to maintain through our taxes. The militant environmentalist Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) use the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) as the major legal hammer to accomplish their every objective with regard to “preserving the ground for Gaia.” {environmentalism by religion} The ESA 'died' in 1994, but the federal government resurrects it in subsidies (appropriations) annually.

In the Flathead is grizzly bear habitat and wildlife corridors. The tri-states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have complied with the wolf management plan. We now have a number of wolf packs, but they want more. We believe that the federal government is using the NGOs to prosecute the ESA in court so that bears, wolves and lynxes (and I've seen the lynx issues) can have their own corridors. I say to them: "You guys lied about the lynx study and you got caught. Where's your credibility now?" It's so sad that you had to resort to lying to keep the public out of our lands that we pay taxes of all sorts on to keep up from a good stewardship, commonsense point of view.

Our resource-dependent communities in northwest Montana are dying. These towns sprung from the ground along with mining, logging, ranching, cattle grazing, and farming. With the money earned from these industries we fed our families and supported local business. We funded everything from schools to county roads with money made from this bountiful land. Now we are all going broke and still tax us through the passage of levies and bonds. There are new levies on every ballot.

Adding to the criminal nature of what is happening all around us; our taxes and levies are not enough to fund a school bus for the high school football team or new textbooks for the elementary school kids; but county government employees voted themselves a 14 percent pay raise this year.

We should be grateful here in Flathead {UNESCO County}. There are seven plaques in the park that say "UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biolife/Biosphere Reserve."

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]


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