The Makings of a Forest Plan

Sorting out the Puzzle

by Mariah Leuschen-Lonergan

Puzzle pieces come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, coming together to create a picture that can be quite intricate and unique.  The Custer Gallatin National Forest started forest planning a year ago, and in 2017 we get into sorting the puzzle pieces out and starting to piece them together.  

A forest plan is the overarching document that guides forest management on the given forest for decades into the future.  Every forest in the nation goes through forest planning at some point, and this timeline rotates on a national timeframe.  

The 2012 national planning rule is the framework document that provides guidance on developing forest plans today.  The Custer Gallatin National Forest falls squarely in the middle of developing its revised forest plan this spring.  As a recent consolidation is part of the package, the final product will encompass what was once two separate forests into one plan.

We are just finishing up with our initial series of public meetings, with the Bozeman Public meeting April 3-4. If you missed one of them, there are also a handful of webinars to attend:    
April 7 – Desired Conditions Focus Webinar
April 26 – Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Focus Webinar with General Q & A

Throughout the spring as we move through the Wild and Scenic Rivers process and step one of the Wilderness process (Inventory), public feedback periods will be available.  The absolute best way to stay abreast of up-to-date information is to subscribe to our electronic mailing list by opting in yourself online at - click on Forest Plan Revision or by requesting so at:

As we continue to move into developing the draft plan, we’ll work with other government counterparts including Tribal, local, state and federal entities.  Through our interactions with the public and various organizations, we expect additional information will arise to incorporate into the process.  

There are quite a few voices in the equation to balance and we are building a picture looking at the future of the Custer Gallatin National Forest.  

The Vision
Step one in making a plan starts with making desired conditions.  Desired conditions describe the aspirations or vision of what the Custer Gallatin N.F. (or portion of) should look like into the future and drive the development of other plan components.  For our meetings we’ve broken that down into relatable questions such as:

What opportunities do you see on this landscape?
How do you want this landscape to look?
Is this different in different places?
What specific areas in this landscape would look different than they do now?
What are those differences?
How might the changes you envision be achieved?  
*      (also available through an online questionnaire) - click on Forest Plan Revision.

Desired conditions don’t prescribe any sort of project or make a task list of what will happen on the landscape, but they do act as the vision for Forest direction.

From our public meetings February thru early April, we collected many thoughts and the beginnings of these desired conditions.  After some internal working time, we’ll come back out with additional public meetings in June.  
In June we get into further details in forest planning such as management approaches, objectives, standards, guidelines and monitoring.  This starts getting into the details:  

Objectives provide measurable and time-specific statements, giving an idea of progress towards the desired conditions put forth for the particular landscape described.  

Objectives example: “Treat 10,000 acres of weeds in ten years.”

Standards place constraints on a project or activity that may occur – they are put in place to ultimately help achieve a desired condition.
Standards example: “All revegetation projects shall require weed-free seed.”

Guidelines are similar to standards, although allow more flexibility so long as they achieve the purpose of the guideline.  
Guidelines example: Non-native invasive plant treatments in riparian areas should utilize mechanical, biological and cultural methods before chemical control methods.”
Geographic Areas – Recognizing Uniqueness in an Area
In 2016, our initial year of forest planning, we heard from basically every community visited that there is an overarching concern to recognize and address the uniqueness of an area.  Under the 2012 planning rule guidance we are able to set up either management areas or geographic areas or both.  The Custer Gallatin National Forest is particularly well-suited to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize geographic areas and set particular direction for particular areas.  As one of the most geographically diverse national forests, we have developed six geographic areas that take into account the large amount of diversity across our landscape.  As we move across the different communities throughout our public meetings we’ll be working place by place and hearing about each geographic area and the importance that arises from that landscape and be asking if these geographic areas make sense.    

Geographic areas across the Custer Gallatin National Forest:
Bridger, Bangtail and Crazy Mountains
Madison, Henrys Lake and Gallatin Mountains  
Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains
Pryor Mountains
Ashland Ranger District
Sioux Ranger District

Continued Involvement     
We encourage your involvement in this next year.  This next year is akin to getting out in the sandbox and seeing what there is to work with, seeing what can go into the future plan and where the pieces might lie.  We’ve built this year to be interactive and accessible through a variety of means, allowing people to plug into meetings more in-depth or less, depending upon your interest level.

The planning process does have a lot of complexity to it, and many opportunities exist.  We are striving to provide current information across a wide variety of communities and people, from public meetings, to speaking at organizations, to social media or webinar venues. Ideas can be submitted to    

Two more years of planning lie past 2017, and the structure gets more formalized and concrete as we move forward.  Get out early and get involved.  Be sure to stay up to date by requesting to be added to the mailing list at: or adding yourself to the list by scanning and entering your information.

Wild and Scenic Rivers Process and Wilderness Process
The Wild and Scenic Rivers process and Wilderness process are two processes under the 2012 planning rule that must also be completed concurrently with the development of the plan.  

Public involvement is incorporated throughout the two processes.  Outlined is the flow of each process through Wild and Scenic River Eligibility and through potential Wilderness inventory, evaluation, analysis and recommendation (if any).