BLM concludes preliminary public scoping meetings to restore Bullwhacker access | TSLN.com

BLM concludes preliminary public scoping meetings to restore Bullwhacker access

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Central Montana District held a series of four preliminary public scoping meetings in December and January to discuss restoring motorized road access into the Bullwhacker Coulee area of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (UMRBNM). Approximately 60 people attended the meeting in Chinook and an average of 30 people attended each of the meetings in Great Falls, Lewistown and Billings.

Historic motorized public access to approximately 50,000 backcountry acres in the Bullwhacker area within Blaine County was lost following a 2011 court decision declaring a portion of the Bullwhacker Road crossing private lands to be a private road. A land exchange proposed in June 2014 to restore motorized access was considered, but was determined to be not in the best interest of the American people.

During the preliminary public scoping meetings UMRBNM Manager Michael Kania presented the two road building alternatives the BLM is considering. Kania also presented a brief description of two route alternatives that were not considered. One eliminated route would have crossed private land and the second crossed terrain unsuitable for road construction.

The preliminary public scoping meetings were held in an effort to gain input from the public on the issue of restoring motorized access. Scoping is the process by which the BLM solicits input on the issues, impacts and potential alternatives that may be addressed in this environmental assessment.

Public participation resulted in several options for the BLM to consider. They include:

-build a road on one of the routes being considered.

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-build a hiking trail, possibly with ATV access instead of full motorized vehicular restoration.

-take no action to restore motorized access.

-consider another land exchange option.

The BLM has initiated an open and transparent public process in which the public will have a number of opportunities to participate in a solution for restoring motorized public access to the Bullwhacker area. The BLM is preliminarily considering potential options to find viable access that would garner substantial support and be in the best interest of the public.

The next step would be for a draft environmental assessment to be presented to the public for further comment.

The BLM will also look to the insight offered by the members of the Central Montana Resource Advisory Council throughout this process.

"Public access to public lands continues to be one of BLM Montana/Dakotas' top priorities," said Stan Benes, the BLM Central Montana District Manager. "Our charge in this is to restore the motorized access the public historically had for decades."

"At all four public meetings we heard the public express interest in the BLM revisiting the idea of a land exchange option to restore motorized public access to the Bullwhacker area. We do not have a land exchange proposal at this time, but we would be willing to consider a land exchange proposal that has the support of a working group of interested parties and is broadly favored by the public," Benes explained.

For more information, contact Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Manager Mike Kania at (406) 538-1950. Public scoping is open until March 5. If you have comments or an option for the BLM to consider, you may send an email to blm_mt_public_access@blm.gov.

–BLM