In a front page Ravalli Republic article (20dec12), Darby District Ranger, Chuck Oliver, was quoted as reporting that about six trappers had set 20 or more traps in the area groomed by the Como Trails Club. He went on to say, “They can leg
ally place their traps adjacent to the trail on those particular portions of the groomed trail.”
Erica Strayer, Bitterroot National Forest recreation technician, said the agency recommended skiers keep their dogs on a leash because of the trapping potential even though that was not legally required and had not been necessary for skiers during the previous 4 years that the area had been groomed for skiing.
Once again the Forest Service along with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks found themselves in the middle of a controversy that had the potential to direct public wrath toward both organizations. This certainly wasn’t the first time controversy visited these two agencies. A look at news coverage and the public’s response to their actions and directives over a period as short as the most recent 12 months provides quick verification.
It is unfortunate that, like most bureaucracies that have been in existence for any length of time, the US Forest Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks are fossilized agencies that have institutionalized the rewarding of mediocrity and the punishment of innovative thinking. That statement is not an indictment of those who work the frontlines for either agency, people who live in our communities and perform the on-the-ground work necessary to care for public lands held in trust for all citizens. Rather it is a fact-based assessment of government agencies that have become top-heavy with managers and, in the case of the Forest Service, an organization that strips far more than half of the money allocated annually by Congress—in excess of $5 billion—for administration, leaving far too little for employees of local Forest Service Districts to complete the jobs they are sworn to perform.
Fortunately for residents of and visitors to the Bitterroot Valley, the current Forest Supervisor of the Bitterroot National Forest, Julie King, made a bold move by bucking the culture of the Agency and, using common sense and civil discourse with the interested parties, reached a solution to the conflict between skiers and trappers in less than 48 hours. Her decision to sign an order which requires trappers to follow specific setback regulations may be temporary, but it gives everyone breathing space while a more permanent solution can be found.
It is likely that many factors went into her decision, possibly including the facts that non-extractive outdoor recreation pumps many times more dollars into the Montana economy than the miniscule amount derived from the trapping of fur bearers and trophy animals.
Aside from nearby National Parks, the Lake Como Recreation Area is one of the most heavily used places in the state for year-round outdoor non-extractive recreation—swimming, hiking, boating, skiing, fishing, horseback riding, backpacking, bicycle riding, bird watching, and animal viewing. Each year these activities attract visitors by the thousands to the Bitterroot National Forest and Ravalli County. While many of those visiting are local residents, but many more are from other areas, out of state or even outside the country. Every one of those people invests money in our local economy by purchasing goods and services when they visit our National Forest.
Kudos to Julie King, and those who work with her, for employing the innovative thinking required to find a speedy resolution to a potentially explosive situation. That solution may not have been the most expedient or the one preferred by her agency’s prevailing bureaucratic culture, but it is certainly acceptable to the majority of residents in and visitors to the valley her agency serves.
Michael Hoyt, President
Bitterroot Cross-Country Ski Club