Bitterroot National Forest managers say they've made changes to protect more elk habitat and old-growth trees in a major new management plan and would like to hear public thinks about the newest proposals.

Last year, Forest Service staff released a first draft of the Bitterroot Forest Land Management Plan, a sweeping document that aims to a healthier, more fire-resistant forest. The proposals called for more selective logging and land treatments to cut the risk of a major wildfire in Ravalli County, which ranks among the most hazardous communities for fire destruction.

But the plan drew an immediate, and sharp, reaction from environmental and conservation groups, who oppose the idea of more logging and thinning of the forest along the Bitterroot Mountain Front.

Now, BNF staff are releasing amendments involving elk habitat, old growth, snags, and "coarse woody debris", all of which can be key to wildlife populations.

Forest administrators admit the "current plan standards for elk habitat were based on outdated science." They say the changes are based on more recent research into issues like what constitutes elk forage, distance from open roads, and hunting pressure.

The agency also believes the changes to the management of old growth, largely considered to be stands of untouched, or very old timber, will increase the amount of acreage, in line with the Forest Service's national, and Northern Region policies.

BNF also notes the plan was completed with participation from groups like the Ravalli County Collaborative, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.

People can comment on the plan amendments over the next 30 days.

View the draft Draft Environmental Assessment here

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