Forest, Swan View at odds over special permit

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Dickey Creek, as seen in this file photo.

A conservation group continues to raise objections to commercial use of Dickey Creek Road in the Middle Fork of the Flathead, the but Forest Service maintains it wants more people to recreate on its lands in the winter.

Last fall, Hungry Horse Glacier View District Ranger Rob Davies allowed a temporary special use permit to Glacier Adventure Guides of Columbia Falls for guided backcountry skiing in the non-wilderness portions of the Essex Creek, Dickey Creek, and Paola Creek drainages along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor near Essex. In addition, the Izaak Walton Inn will be allowed to shuttle skiers to the end of the Dickey Creek Road.

The Dickey Creek Road is a fairly popular access point to the Great Bear Wilderness and to Dickey Lake inside the wilderness. The wilderness boundary is roughly a mile from the end of the road. The permit does not allow guiding inside the wilderness.

The road itself is heavily wooded — save for a scenic waterfall at the end of the road, the creek flows well below the road itself — largely unseen.

The Swan View Coalition has concerns on two fronts, noted Chairman Keith Hammer. For one, the group said the special use permit should have gone through a more public process. In short, he claims the Forest didn’t adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The act requires that federal agencies contact the public before they issue permits or implement projects, even for those small enough in scope to get a categorical exclusion from the preparation of an EA or EIS,” Hammer claimed.

The Forest Service didn’t do that, at least not initially, he claimed. Swan View also has concerns about increased commercial use in the area, which is also home to lynx and wolverines.

“Once these activities get commercialized, it is an upward spiral for business promotion with a goal of getting more clients and people into the backcountry, which is a downward spiral for wildlife habitat security,” he claimed.

But the Dickey Creek Road has been open to skiing and snowmobiling prior to the issuance of the permit for decades.

The nearby Izaak Walton Inn has been grooming the Dickey Creek Road since the 1970s. A permit to groom trails was first issued in 1973 and by 1986 there were approximately 7.5 miles of trails in the Essex and Dickey Creek drainages. The Forest Service approved an expansion of the trail system in the Essex Creek drainage to its current length in 1987. The Inn is part of the temporary permit, shuttling skiers up the road.

The Forest Service looks at the permit as a way to responsibly promote winter use of the region, Gary Danczyk, staff officer with the Flathead National Forest said Monday.

“We are encouraging more people to go into the backcountry to recreate. I think it’s something we’re hoping for. We want people to take advantage of public lands in the Flathead,” he said. “We don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Danczyk noted that being guided by a professional is a good way to experience the backcountry. He noted that Glacier Adventure Guides and the Inn, are quality outfitters.

Danczyk also noted that by using permitted guides, the Forest is managing and monitoring visitor use over time.

“We’re trying to cautiously expand winter use,” he said.

The Montana Office of Tourism is in the Flathead and Swan Valleys this week shooting commercials to promote winter recreation in the region. One shoot included the Dickey Creek area.

Forest Supervisor Chip Weber in a letter to Swan View last month admitted that District Ranger Rob Davies erred when he initially allowed the permit with no public comment, but he also noted that an analysis was by the Forest in November after a story on the permit was published in the Daily Inter Lake.

Weber also said that if the Forest does decide to make the permit permanent, then the Forest Service will do further public scoping and analysis before deciding on whether to issue one.

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