June 24, 2015

Director (210)
Attn: Protest Coordinator
P.O. Box 71383
Washington, D.C. 20024-1383

Re: Billings & Pompeys Pillar RMP and FEIS Protest

On August 20, 2008 the BLM had an open house to introduce the upcoming Billings and Pompeys Pillar Resource Management Plan (RMP) which would also include a Travel Management Plan (TMP). We were impressed with the initial open house and the direction the BLM was taking, particularly as it pertained to the TMP. After nearly seven years the RMP FEIS has finally been issued.

 

The Montana Trail Vehicle Association (MTVRA) is a Montana organization which is supported by individual memberships, local clubs, small businesses and those interested in OHV recreation, safety, education, trail maintenance and relating interests. The following is a listing of our experience with the RMP process from August 2008 to present and the problems and frustrations we encountered.

1. From 2009 until March 2013, when the DEIS was issued, MTVRA and other local interests had limited conversations, contact or updates with BLM. Several times we were told about delays due to a sage grouse lawsuit and how it was changing the RMP process and documentation. The March 2013 DEIS came out in four volumes which totals 5.5 inches of paper.

2. While reviewing the March 2013 DEIS, we discovered the TMP portion of the RMP was not complete and lacked sufficient route numbers or names. One BLM staff person called the DEIS a work in progress as far as the problems confronting us, inhibiting us from doing a proper review before the end of the DEIS comment period.

3. On June 3, 2013 MTVRA made a written Comment Period Extension Request for a 90 day period. It is our understanding other entities made similar extension requests. A June 21, 2013 letter from Acting State Director Katherine P. Kitchell declined our extension request. Kitchell mentioned the sage grouse situation and reminded us of the June 28, 2013 deadline for comments. Why did it take so long for Kitchell to make the denial? Kitchell stated there would be a ROD by September 2014. Our final DEIS comments were dated June 26, 2013.

4. On June 8, 2015 we received a CD copy of the June 2015 RMP FEIS. On June 10, 2015 we received a hard copy of the FEIS which was in five volumes which totals 7.5 inches of paper. The protest period ends June 29, 2015. The BLM had two years to add an additional 2 inches of material to the DEIS to make the FEIS. We have had 19 days to review and make a protest. Considering the outcome of our DEIS extension request, we felt it would be a waste of time to request a FEIS extension. The sage grouse train left the station a long time ago.

5. The RMP establishes 11 Travel Management Areas (TMAs) which will have separate TMPs in the future. We read “The Travel and Transportation Management (TMM) planning should be completed within five (5) years of signing of the ROD for the RMP”. We find “should be” somewhat ironic considering the fact the RMP process has been going on for 7 years and still does not yet have a ROD. Back in 2008 we and I’m sure the local BLM staff had no clue the RMP process would still not be finished in June 2015. Travel routes which are not in the TMAs apparently have fallen through the cracks of the RMP. When and how will the missing travel routes be addressed?

Unlike some larger special interest groups and organizations across the country, MTVRA does not have deep pockets, paid staff or attorneys either on staff or on retainer. There is a big difference between local based user groups and the big and powerful groups which basically high-jacked the local RMP and many RMPs across the western states. This is a mismatch which needs to be addressed.

Because of the short period of time to review 13 inches of documents, write comments and protests, the situation is like spitting into the ocean. The whole process was unfair to actual users of BLM land who are many miles from Washington and do not have the time and money to respond properly. Will the final RMP and ROD be a working document or a showcase for lawsuits (current and future), Washington bureaucrats, politicians and special interests?

We realize this protest could be dismissed as a commentary. However, it does point out some real problems in procedure and how one bird species could and did completely change this RMP and other plans. What will be the next bird, animal, insect or fish in the future? How much did this whole affair cost? How much was paid to groups filing lawsuits and how much did attorneys collect? A FOIA request for information and cost amounts would probably take forever.

Sincerely,

J. Bruce Reierson, President
Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association
11 West 52nd St.
Billings, MT 59106
406-860-1660