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Blankenship gravel bar to remain unprotected

| July 27, 2022 1:00 AM

On Friday, July 15, Judge Donald Malloy denied Friends of the Flathead River’s motion for a temporary injunction to prevent camping on the Blankenship gravel bar on the Flathead River. According to his “Opinion & Order” (opinion), the Forest Service has no mandatory standard for monitoring use of the gravel bar on this designated Wild and Scenic River, nor a legal obligation to update the 42-year-old Comprehensive River Management Plan. He referenced being influenced by District Ranger Rob Davies’ declaration, which outlined a number of monitoring activities being done by his agency.

Friends of the Flathead River are saddened by Judge Malloy’s opinion, since many of the Forest Service activities stated in Mr. Davies’ declaration are exaggerated or frankly mythical. The unresolved issues remain:

No reliable emergency access for fire or EMS vehicles.

No after-hours recording at the Forest Service offices to instruct callers on how to report emergencies such as fires or shooting in the national forest — only how to obtain maps!

Management of gravel bar activities by posting signs, not by regularly patrolling or citing offenders. The Forest Service's response to numerous violations of posted “No Campfire” signs on the gravel bar was to remove the signs.

No provision for garbage disposal.

No enforcement of the three-day camping limit.

No enforcement to stop fireworks, shooting, mud-bogging ATVs, or illegal campfires during high fire danger periods.

And yes, Mr. Davies — “Gravel doesn’t burn,” but two major wildfires have emanated from another of your “distributed camping” sites on the North Fork Road.

Friends of the Flathead River still believe emergency access to the gravel bar must be improved and that a camp host with eyes and feet on the site would go a long way to solving most of the problems. We can only hope that these changes make it into the next Comprehensive River Management Plan, now five years in the making.

Dan Diamond, Friends of the Flathead River Board

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