More Details on Colt Summit and ‘Collaboration’

The Colt Summit project area is located in the upper-center portion by the "83" and bend in the road. The surrounding area (including the portions of the Lolo National Forest and private lands) have been heavily logged and roaded, significantly compromising critical habitat for lynx, grizzly bears, bull trout and other critters.

Thanks to Sharon for her most-recent post (below) on the Colt Summit timber sale project on the Lolo National Forest.  Here is a link to the AP article, which takes a more balanced look at the project, the lawsuit and the “friend of the court” briefs filed this week.

As the AP article indicates, my organization, the WildWest Institute, filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs (Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and Native Ecosystems Council, all represented by the Western Environmental Law Center).

Our brief questions some of the claims made by the collaborators regarding the relationship of this Colt Summit logging project to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent (SWCC) ‘collaborative’ group.  We also question key aspects of the very nature of the SWCC ‘collaborative’ since the Forest Service and The Wilderness Society currently make up 43% of the voting block of the “collaborative.”

Yes, that’s right, unlike any other national forest ‘collaborative’ group that we know about in the country, the SWCC ‘collaborative’ allows Forest Service officials to be voting members.   Currently 7 of the 28 voting members of the SWCC ‘collaborative’ are Forest Service employees.

Also, the co-chair of the entire SWCC ‘collaborative’ for the past two years has been the Forest Service Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest.  Again, to our knowledge, this is something that isn’t done in any other national forest ‘collaborative’ around the country.  Ironically, a few weeks ago, the SWCC Charter was amended to remove the Forest Service from being able to co-chair the ‘collaborative;’ however, the SWCC ‘collaborative’ still allows Forest Service employees to be members and to vote as part of the ‘collaborative.’

Another issue to keep in mind is how the SWCC’s scheduling of meetings favors ‘collaborators’ who get paid to be part of the SWCC. Normal citizens, or organizations with limited resources, often cannot afford to attend mid-day, mid-week meetings at various locations around western Montana.  This is from our brief:

“SWCC’s scheduled meetings are always held on the third Tuesday of the month, currently from 1 pm to 4 pm. However, during the period [WildWest Institute] was a member of the SWCC, the meetings ran from 9 am to 4pm. Additionally, according the SWCC website, [SWCC's] Prioritization Committee meets from 10 am to 2pm on various weekdays at the Seeley Lake Ranger District, north of Seeley Lake and [SWCC's] Monitoring Committee meets from 1pm to 4pm on various weekdays, also at the Seeley Lake Ranger District office.

The fact that these meetings are held during the middle of the day, on a weekday makes it difficult for members and the general public to attend these meetings. Those individuals who have full time jobs not directly tied to national forest management must take time off work. Those who don’t live in the Seeley Swan area must also travel to and from the meetings, sometimes at great distance and cost. Forest Service employees, however, attend these meetings as a part of their position. Wilderness Society employees also attend these meetings as part of their full time jobs.  Taking days off work and traveling is not an issue for them because their attendance is a part of their job.

Furthermore, inability to make the meetings is penalized. Missing three consecutive meetings can result in an individual being stripped of their voting rights. See Id at R-5:68131. Therefore, the meeting schedule itself seems to give unfair favoritism towards those members who attend these meetings as a part of their full time job.”

No matter what the “feel-good” rhetoric is, the fact of the matter is that the Forest Service didn’t do a great job on their NEPA analysis for this project and there are some real concerns with this project and the process used to put it together.   For example, the Forest Service contracted the Finding Of No Signification Impact (FONSI) prior to completing the Environmental Assessment.  Here’s a snip about that from our brief [emphasis added]:

“…in a discussion of the upcoming EA, IDT meeting notes, dated April 27, 2010, state “The forest [service] has designed the project to have no significant issues so that a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) can be written after the environmental analysis (EA).” Colt Summit Restoration and Fuel Reduction EA, IDT Meeting Notes, I-8:926.  Document I-9 of the administrative record contains the above quotation, then furthers that idea by stating, “EA should already have reached conclusions on significance. Write from that point and perspective, providing support and evidence for no significance.” I-9:939. The following three pages basically provide a mini-seminar on how to persuasively say that the actions of the Forest Service have so significant impact on the environment.  See I-9:940-942.”

Here are some other issues to ponder.  While the ‘collaborators’ (lead by The Wilderness Society) sent out a media advisory worthy of a blockbuster Hollywood movie trailer (using words such as “targeted” “attacked” “bury it forever” “blowback” and “Ideological rift”), the simple fact of the matter is that the Lolo National Forest hasn’t faced a timber sale lawsuit in over 5 years and there have been 99 active timber sales on the Lolo National Forest between 2005 and 2010.

The ‘collaborators’ are claiming that the plaintiffs didn’t participate in the up-front planning for this project, which is a lie and completely untrue.  In fact, the actual public record for this timber sale actually reflects a higher level of involvement from the plaintiffs (Alliance for Wild Rockies/Friends of Wild Swan) than from some of the ‘collaborators.’ Indeed, plaintiffs attended all meetings, all field trips and submitted extensive, detailed and substantive comments during the entire NEPA process.

Finally, from the plaintiffs briefs, here are some details about the Colt Summit Timber Sale:

• 2,038 acre logging project in lynx critical habitat and MS1 habitat for grizzlies

• logging will occur in old growth and mature forest stands;

• logging will remove the dense horizontal cover in forest stands that is so important for lynx foraging and denning

• “vista” cuts to open views of the swan mountains for motorized users are part of the project

• technically, project is in WUI (as per the Seeley fire plan) but it’s 10+ miles from the nearest community

• project is in the important Summit Divide wildlife corridor – the best place for lynx and griz to cross H83 as they travel between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness

• logging is proposed in a number of wetland areas

• Forest Service shrunk the INFISH buffers (designed to protect native trout species, including bull trout) to accommodate project.

UPDATE Feb 29, 4:15 pm: Thanks to Larry H for finding the google map link of the Colt Summit project area (see comments section). I just added a photo to this post, which is a view of the Colt Summit project area (roughly upper center by the 83 and bend in road), which also includes an expanded view about 8 miles in any direction from the project area.  As anyone can see, the majority of the area around Colt Summit has been very heavily logged and roaded.

16 Comments

  1. Nice post, Matt. Nice brief as well.

    From the post, with comment.
    “Currently 7 of the 28 voting members of the SWCC ‘collaborative’ are Forest Service employees.” Jim Burchfield is a former FS employee. So does that make the tally 8? Not necessarily, since I too am a former FS employee and any collaboratives I might work in would likely NOT think me a lackey for beholden to the FS. I wondered about Dale Kerkvliet who is associated with Rocky Mt. Elk Foundation, since so many RMEF people are former FS people. Nope, not a former FS employee. Looks like Dale works for Plum CreekTimber Co. in his day job. http://www.montanaforests.com/members/voting.htm Correct?

    ” … technically, project is in WUI (as per the Seeley fire plan) but it’s 10+ miles from the nearest community” Interesting. I wonder what it takes to exclude a project from Wildland Urban Interface?

    From the brief, with comment:
    “… meeting notes indicate that SWCC took the Forest Service’s [FONSI] documentation at at face value and conducted no independent study of the project whatsoever. … The Forest Service provided them with a project, which they took at face value. There is also no evidence that a vote was ever taken to approve this project.” This is Collaboration?

    “… other collaboratives do not have the level [25% of voting bloc] of Forest Service involvement that is found in SWCC. For example, the LRC limits members of the U.S. Forest Service to advisory status and expressly prohibits them from being members of the forest restoration committees.” This seems reasonable. In my only experience, many years ago, with high-level collaboration, the FS reached out to folks to see if they wanted to begin a collaborative effort, but immediately distanced itself to a subordinate role, allowing collaborators to use the Forest ID team if they wanted, and making sure that the Forest Supervisor (and the Regional Forester in that case) listened to the collaborators as input to a decision that would be construed by the courts as a ‘federal action’. More on that in a comment I made to my NCFP post “Building Public Decisions, 2/5/2010.”

  2. Thank you Dave for providing this additional insight and perspective. The tally was done simply by going to the SWCC’s official website. Here it is:

    Our Members (http://www.swcrown.org/about/partners/)

    The Southwestern Crown Collaborative’s voting membership currently includes the following individuals and we are actively working to expand our membership.

    Amber Kamps, US Forest Service*
    Anne Carlson, The Wilderness Society
    Anne Dahl, Swan Ecosystem Center*
    Cara Nelson, University of Montana
    Chris Bryant, The Nature Conservancy
    Cory Davis, University of Montana
    Craig Rawlings, Forest Business Network
    Dale Kerkvliet, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
    Debbie Austin, US Forest Service*
    Gabriel Furshong, Montana Wilderness Association
    Gary Burnett, Blackfoot Challenge*
    Jim Burchfield, University of Montana
    Joe Kerkvliet, The Wilderness Society
    Jon Haufler, Ecosystem Management Research Institute
    Keith Stockman, US Forest Service
    Ken Barber, Clearwater Resource Council
    Kevin Riordan, US Forest Service
    Marnie Criley, Citizen at Large
    Megan Birzell, The Wilderness Society
    Melanie Parker, Northwest Connections
    Mo Bookwalter, Citizen-at-Large
    Rich Kehr, US Forest Service
    Rob Ethridge, Montana DNRC
    Sandy Mack, US Forest Service
    Sarah Canepa & Sarah Richey, Missoula County Rural Initiatives
    Scott Brennan, The Wilderness Society*
    Tim Love, US Forest Service
    Travis Belote, The Wilderness Society

    *Indicates member of the Executive Committee

  3. Matthew – Just out of curiousity, could you get us a google maps lat and long for the area?It seems to me from memory that there are houses on the private land chunks on the map but would like to see.

    Thanks

    Sharon

  4. The Tongass Futures Roundtable in Southeast Alaska offers and operates upon very similar dynamics, with the identical cast of ‘collaborators’ steering consensus, (The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, USFS, state DNR, etc.) having been the same.

    “Having been”, because the TFR also descended into a divisive state of chaos. A rancorous exodus by the state and other industry reps, simply reconvened in the Governor’s hand-picked “Timber Task Force” a name nicely invoking a militancy of purposeful outcomes.

    “Task Force” frames with an even clearer intention, than merely reducing the Tongass to, well, “Futures” (an agreement traded on an organized exchange to buy or sell assets, esp. commodities or shares, at a fixed price but to be delivered and paid for later.) To be paid for later, indeed.

    Outcomes are also the same: the promised land of collaborationist happily-ever-afters quickly devolved into the realization of rigged outcomes operating on a subverted NEPA process.

    Perhaps the most salient feature of collaboration so far has been the way it was twisted from the beginning into a device to effect division of the environmental community. Most of the voting enviros being heavily dependent upon corporate charity, with some of those attending the roundtable through funds with strings attached which worked at cross purposes, and fundamentally compromised, basic environmental principles.

    The TFR even set ground rules which included a prohibition of press or public from recording of any kind, of their plenary sessions. Funders of the TFR also have voting membership, acting as hall monitors making sure their funds are being wisely spent and their grantees towing the foundations’ bottom lines.

  5. Well, at least Matt’s list of “collaborators” didn’t include any environmental lawyers or judges leading the way, as in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. This process seems a lot closer to “co-conspirators” (taking advantage of another federal boondoggle) than any kind of actual “forest restoration” project. I fear for the language — ever since preservationists became conservations and hoot owls became an endangered species.

    The ca. 1900 burn pattern was probably 1902 or 1910. Even though I lived in Oregon, I planted trees in Seeley Lake and purchased a log home kit there because of local craftmanship and because of how straight and clean the lodgepole were that followed the fire. And because they were cheaper than I could put together in Oregon with my own trees.

  6. Matthew- it appears to me that the plaintiffs briefs said (based on your quote) and the modified proposal:

    “Finally, from the plaintiffs briefs, here are some details about the Colt Summit Timber Sale:

    • 2,038 acre logging project in lynx critical habitat and MS1 habitat for grizzlies

    597 plus 60 plus 19 seem to be “logging”; how do plaintiffs get from 676 to 2038 of “logging”?

    • logging will occur in old growth and mature forest stands;

    are we talking the 17 acres of “enhancement”?

    • logging will remove the dense horizontal cover in forest stands that is so important for lynx foraging and denning

    That’s not what the FWS letter says, but it appears the trees are dying anyway, from google maps, so loss of cover may happen either way.

    • “vista” cuts to open views of the swan mountains for motorized users are part of the project

    19 acres ?

    • technically, project is in WUI (as per the Seeley fire plan) but it’s 10+ miles from the nearest community

    how many houses do the plaintiff’s think you need to count as “needing defensible space?” What makes a “community”?

    • project is in the important Summit Divide wildlife corridor – the best place for lynx and griz to cross H83 as they travel between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness

    and so will the thinning hurt the wildlife? Or would fire burning the area be possibly worse? Here’s what it says in the FWS concurrence letter
    “All treatments proposed would maintain the forested nature of the stands, thus maintaining the ability of lynx to travel through matrix habitat (PCE1d). Habitat connectivity would be maintained and the action would not result in permanent destruction of lynx or snowshoe hare habitat. The proposed action is consistent with all applicable standards and guidelines of the Northern Rockies Lynx Management Direction.
    We agree with the conclusions in the biological assessment that project related impacts to grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and designated critical habitat for Canada lynx would be insignificant.” See link here.

    I don’t know about the last two but so far, I find the plaintiff’s arguments unconvincing. You can look at the map and see the dead trees and houses. Hope the judge has a chance to do so.

    • logging is proposed in a number of wetland areas

    • Forest Service shrunk the INFISH buffers (designed to protect native trout species, including bull trout) to accommodate project.”

  7. Sharon, I’m pretty sure most of your questions could be answered by referring to the plaintiffs statement of undisputed facts, which is part of the public court record.

    I do have to say that I find it curious that your view of the google map of the Colt Summit project and the surrounding area (http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/coltsummitarea.jpg) cues you into “the dead trees and houses” and not into the tremendously fragmented nature of this entire area due to logging, clearcutting and roadbuilding on Forest Service lands, state lands and private timber lands. For the most part, the valley bottom between the Mission Mtn Wilderness and the Bob Marshall Wilderness is logged, roaded and fragmented.

    Yes, there are some very widely scattered houses in that area. Perhaps these folks shouldn’t have built a house in the middle of the forest? Yes, the town of Seeley Lake sits about 12 miles south of the Colt Summit project area…with tens of thousands of acres of clearcuts, logged over patched, roads, etc in between.

    I guess like they say, “perception is everything.”

    • Matthew, I agree that it’s fragmented but don’t agree that thinning will cause “fragmentation.” The question of “folks building houses in the middle of the forest” is an interesting one .. maybe with the same funding used for litigation, those ownerships could be bought out?

      Perhaps when time permits I’ll go through the plaintiff’s statement. Or perhaps someone closer to the project would find that easier to do? I would be willing to use material from someone without using their name. As litigation rolls on, we’ll have plenty of time.;).

  8. And 100 years ago, as the project record shows, the area was “fragmented” by wildfire. Oops,I forgot. Would someone please think about the snags. Memo to enviro minister of propoganda:you needs to invent a “snag dependent” species that is a candidate for endangered species listing. I’m sure that top, top people in the enviro/academic world are working on it now. That is how you “reintroduce” stand replacement wildfire to the general public.

  9. Pingback: Judge: USFS failed to study how Colt Summit timber sale affects lynx habitat « A New Century of Forest Planning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>