At a recent gathering of 2,000 land trust staff from all over the nation, it was consistent throughout the conference that land trusts are doing more and working closely in helping our communities plan – for recreation, disaster mitigation, water reliability, wildlife corridors, and more. We heard from the communities of Northern California where fires burned so hot and fast that people couldn’t get out.

I am painfully aware that this could’ve been Montana and we have some things to learn and improve. Land trusts across Montana including Prickly Pear Land Trust (PPLT) have long assisted our public land partners in their planning efforts -- when we partner with and supporting our public land managers, we ALL win.

One plan of particular interest for its wins in wildlife, vegetation, and recreation resources is the USFS Helena Ranger District’s Tenmile South Helena Forest Plan. The recent release of a Draft Record of Decision -- following an entire year’s worth of public meetings, outreach, listening sessions, drafting and redrafting science-based proposals for managing the wildlife, vegetation, timber, and recreation values that our national forests provide -- means that we are almost across the finish line. Thanks to the leadership of Forest Supervisor Bill Avey and District Ranger Heather DeGeest, this major accomplishment in planning for more accurate future management, sets our stage for success.

One doesn’t have to look far to see that our forests and public lands generally, are more threatened than ever before -- by poor policy considerations, misaligned intent, decreasing budgets, and increasing pressure and demands. Our public land managers have an increasingly difficult balancing act. Luckily in this region, we are blessed with creative and visionary USFS leadership. Key to PPLT’s support is the recreational trails component of this decision. Our forest’s ability to manage resources including those for tomorrow’s recreationists is critical -- retrofitting or decommissioning old roads and building beautiful trail connections while balancing other values is important as we look to the future.

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Montanans understand the values of our public lands and the importance of supporting our public land managers to do their jobs better. Let’s support this Forest Plan and get it across the finish line.

Mary Hollow is the executive director of Prickly Pear Land Trust, a regional land trust working with local communities to advance conservation, open space, and recreation opportunities with its mission: To inspire connections to the landscapes, water, wildlife, recreation and agricultural heritage of west-central Montana through conservation, now and for future generations.

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