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Pilots urged to comment on aviation access to Montana forestsPilots urged to comment on aviation access to Montana forests

The U.S. Forest Service has opened public comments on a revised forest plan that could directly affect aviators’ access to Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, an area stretching 150 miles north to south, and 200 miles east to west, including much of Montana’s Continental Divide. AOPA asked members to write in and comment on the plan to ensure unfettered access to the region’s natural wonders, which include 9,000-foot-tall mountain peaks, prairie grasslands, glaciers, lakes, and abundant wildlife.
Sunflowers are native to Montana's Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.
Sunflowers are native to Montana's Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

The revised management plan defines access for multiple-use activities, including recreational aviation, while minimizing negative impacts to wildlife habitat and reducing conflicts between motorized and non-motorized recreation, and preventing damage to cultural resources.

Prior to 2015, Helena National Forest and Lewis and Clark National Forest were two separate forests and each had its own forest and land management plan. They are now combined into one massive area.

Recreational Aviation Foundation Director Emeritus Jerry Cain recommended pilots reference Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Plan Revision #44589 with their comments before March 31 to ensure aviation is included in the long-term forest plan.

“Your voice matters, and I hope you join me in supporting the Recreational Aviation Foundation’s work by submitting comments about why it is worth protecting backcountry aviation access on public lands at places like Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest,” said AOPA President Mark Baker.

In the Recreational Aviation Foundation's comments, Cain directed aviators to specifically address the definitions of “aircraft,” “airstrip,” and “motorized equipment.”

He explained that “motorized equipment” as defined in the plan should exclude aircraft. Since airplanes only briefly operate on the ground for takeoff and landing operations, the foundation asserts aircraft are incidental to the intent of language restricting other motorized vehicles from forest service land.

Moreover, he stressed that backcountry airstrips and the aircraft operating on them are valuable resources utilized to navigate to and from remote trailheads. As such, Cain also recommended that the words “airstrip” and “aircraft” be defined in the forest plan revision.

“Decisions are based partly on public input and typically remain in effect for decades,” Cain wrote to Montana's Recreational Aviation Foundation members. He urged them to make their voices heard to keep public lands open and to protect aviation access to them.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Advocacy, Recreational Aviation Foundation, US Travel

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