Results of Meeting with Forest Service: Feb. 13
The SMCC and appellants of the Travel Plan met again today with the Forest Service to discuss the Gallatin Travel Plan and how it affects access to ice climbing in Hyalite. The appellants attending were myself, Bill Dockins, Pat Callis, Chris Naumann. Other appellants are Conrad Anker and Peter Aengst. Also some non-appelants attending were: Bill Murdoch (County Commssioner), Peter Fritsch (legal), David Cobb (local Sen. Baucus representative), Jerry Johnson (MSU Political Science Dept prof), Joe Josephson , Neil Westesen (BSF-Nordic Co-Chair) and Bob Seibert (BSF-Nordic, Trails Coordinator), Amber Patterson (Outside Bozeman). Gallatin National Forest personnel: Supervisor Becki Heath, Deputy Supervisor John Allen and Bozeman District Ranger Jose Castro.
As appellants, the Forest Service is required to have this meeting with us; and they have 125 of these appeals; so they have scheduled 30 minutes for each one. As such, we didn't expect to get much resolved.
The appeal involved is an appeal to the boss of whomever makes the decision; in this case, the travel plan was decided by the Gallatin National Forest Supervisor; as such, the appeal goes to Region 1 FS HQ, in Missoula.
30 minutes for each of thes cases isn't a lot of time to get a whole lot resolved; neither the FS nor us ( the SMCC and appeallants) really expected to get very much resolved; but, I feel we made some progress.
Our meeting with the FS personnel was not contentious, but at times they seemed slightly uncomfortable. We re-inforced the idea that a gate across the road at some time, at some point in the Canyon, during the year would severely curtail ice climbing from that point on. We reminded them that their message, early on, in the travel planning process was that the FS wanted to improve ice climbing access as part of the Travel Plan, not reduce it; and that they recognized the world-class nature of ice climbing in Hyalite in the official documents. We underscored the bombproof legal arguments that we had made in the appeal. I got the impression that none of them had read all of our appeal.
The FS made the points that unmanaged "pioneering" (their term) up the road in Hyalite had to come to and end. Their position was that it created an unsafe situation. Our main response was that many such "4WD trails" (it's an official FS designation of a type of road) exist in the summertime, throughout the Gallatin National Forest; their main response was was that Hyalite was a more heavily used venue; Pat Callis got the final word by pointing out that more usage made Hyalite safer, not more dangerous.
En Fini, they made no concessions (it was, after all, only 1/2 hour; less time than it takes to lead a WI4 pitch for most of us!). The result of the meeting was that we agreed to meet again (that's how bureaucracy works).
Some progress may have been made in terms of the FS personnell understanding the importance of vehicular access to Grotto falls parking lot for ice climbing in Hyalite; especially given variable snow levels year-to year: no definitive gating point or date is appropriate. The primary gain from this meeting may have been, that the FS understands this better now.
All that being said, we are certainly not withdrawing our appeal of the Gallatin Travel Plan. We feel we have legal grounds which, if reviewed by a court of law, would uphold our case. Our appeal, composed by Bill Dockins, Joe Josephson, Peter Fritsch, and many others, will be transmitted to the Region 1 Headquarters in Missoula. They might return the Travel Plan to the Gallatin NF to be redone; or they may approve the Gallatin NF plan; either way, we still feel we have a bombproof legal case to make, which would require a full-blown lawsuit.
If anybody want to get further involved, contact myself, Joe Joe, or Bill Dockins. I am thinking that "Creative Practical Solutions to Keeping Utter Idiots From Driving Up Hyalite Road at 2 in the afternoon, in a Front Wheel Drive Buick, Without Installing a Gate" might be the theme of our next discussion.