The Bitterroot National Forest and Ravalli County commissioners are in conflict over a draft decision on a travel plan for the Forest Service.
The Forest Service said a past board did not meet the deadline for comment.
The draft has been in the making for years. Most of the focus is on restrictions that would be placed on two wilderness study areas -- the Sapphire, in the extreme eastern portion of the Bitterroot, and the Blue Joint, which lies to the south -- plus several recommended wilderness area scattered in forest land to the west.
It comes to light as the public took one more turn to have its say on how and where we travel in the forest.
The draft decision is a six-year effort by the Forest Service to update the travel plan.
More than 13,000 comments were taken.
Current commissioners submitted a natural resource policy to the Forest Service. It's a vision that includes logging, mining and water rights issues for the forest. That policy was submitted in 2012. The Forest Service said the deadline for comment ended in 2009.
"You are John Q. Public, that was the exact quote from the forest supervisor," said Commissioner Jeff Burrows.
Bitterroot Forest supervisor Julie King said, "The process treats the county like the public. It expects the county to participate in our process."
King said federal regulations prevent her from making the call to include the commissioners' request, but the board will draft a letter asking that the policy be included in the record.
"We want a seat at the table," said Commissioner Greg Chilcott.
At a public hearing, one man carried a sign that said no commissioners made comments to meet the deadline.
The draft decision plan calls for eliminating motorized and mechanized travel in the two wilderness study areas, Sapphire and Blue Joint, plus several areas recommended for wilderness in the Bitterroot. That's close to 180,000 acres.
Both sides weighed in.
"I've seen the increased amount of pressure put on by motorized industry and bikes, too," said Clint Carlson of Florence.
Dan Thompson, from the Ravalli County Off-Road Association, said, "Specific groups of people are being targeted for reduction in opportunity."
"From a cyclist's point of view," said bicyclist Jeff Kern, "it certainly fails."
Michael Chandler, from Backcountry Horsemen, said, "The Bitterroot Forest has done an almost magnificent job."
The debate can certainly be connected to a growing population that values time in the woods, but having different interests in how they want to see that wild land.
In the 1970s there were 18,000 people in Ravalli County. Today there are about 45,000. More and more of them are recreating in the Bitterroot National Forest.