A Missoula environmental group has been turned down by the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) when its members asked that a public meeting be held in Missoula to discuss the forest’s weed management proposal. But a spokesperson for the national forest says that interested environmentalists had already received copies of the proposal and had an opportunity to attend a public meeting in Stevensville on the very topic.
Alexandra Gorman of Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) says she asked BNF officials for a public meeting in Missoula after the forest published its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on weed control. She says plenty of Missoulians would have been interested in attending because so many recreate on the Bitterroot forest. “This is a big project and I figured we had a lot of members in Missoula who would have been interested,” she says. When her request was turned down Gorman solicited a response from nine environmental groups in Missoula, who all asked for a meeting.
The groups include WVE, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Wilderness Watch, Native Forest Network, MontPirg, Montana Cheer, Cold Mountains, Cold Rivers, the Ecology Center and the Montana Environmental Information Center. Despite their request for another meeting, BNF officials still said no.
The denial came April 24, six days before the end of the official public comment period. Though Gorman says the groups did submit comments, “it was a bit of a scramble” to meet the deadline. She says BNF officials pledged to meet with the groups in Missoula at a later date if the groups hosted the meeting.
That’s one thing the two can agree on. “We told them we would come to a meeting of theirs if they wanted one,“ says BNF public affairs officer Dixie Dies. “We’re always willing to go to Missoula.”
She says forest officials had scheduled three meetings: one each in Hamilton, Darby and Stevensville. The latter venue is close enough to Missoula to attract Missoulians, she says, but Gorman, who attended that meeting, says she saw no one from Missoula there.
Dies adds that Missoula’s environmentalists are already on the BNF mailing list and received their copies of the draft EIS in time to comment. “We had had meetings throughout the valley including Stevensville. We felt Stevensville was a good halfway point [between Hamilton and Missoula].”
Dies and Gorman both understand that public comments will be taken past the April 30 deadline and will be incorporated into the final document as long as they’re not submitted at the 11th hour. Gorman says WVE plans to host a meeting with the BNF, but has not yet scheduled a date.