This morning’s Missoulian has another look at the Colt Summit timber sale on the Lolo National Forest, the first timber sale on the Lolo to be litigated in over 5 years. Here are some snips from that article:
Project opponent George Wuerthner, a writer and ecologist, countered in an email that the cumulative effects are there for anyone to see from an airplane. In a series of photos he posted online (bit.ly/L1436w), he argued the Colt-Summit area is one of the few remaining bits of habitat left in the region.
“I was shocked to see how much of the Seeley-Swan Valley is already logged that is not readily visible from the main highway or even by driving backroads,” Wuerthner wrote. “The problem for the Forest Service is that they are up against limits. You can’t continue to cut more and more of the valley without jeopardizing other values. There is such a thing as cumulative impacts and death by a thousand cuts.”
Friends of the Wild Swan director Arlene Montgomery added that the legal record also contradicts Forest Service claims of being inclusive and thorough.
“I’ve been through the whole project record, and I didn’t see anything that the collaborators who’ve come out against us were any more involved than I was,” Montgomery said. “The fact they think they can paper over cumulative effects in an area so fragmented from past logging – it’s quite remarkable they put in such little regard for our laws. The environmental assessment was devoid of that kind of analysis. And that’s not a gray area where we didn’t know where the line was. It was pretty black and white.”
My personal feeling on the matter is that it’s important for people to understand that not all “collaborative” groups around the country are created equally. Unfortunately, in the opinion of lots of conservation groups around the country, some of the “collaboration” currently taking place in Montana is viewed negatively because it feels more like a takeover of our public forests by largely well-funded organizations, the timber industry, local governments and politicians.
My observation being a part of some of these Montana “collaborations” is that if you don’t agree up-front to most of what the Forest Service and the timber industry wants to do anyway, that these “collaborative” groups just make it difficult for a normal citizen or smaller organization to participate. And, besides, many of these Montana “collaboration” meetings take place mid-day during the week, not exactly an ideal time for most of the general public.
So, essentially, the vast majority of the people attending some of these Montana collaborative meetings are paid to be there. Either they work for the Forest Service, timber industry, well-funded conservation groups or local governments or a politician. On top of that, many of the meetings never seem about understanding the latest science, research or legal requirements. It’s more about supporting the Forest Service’s projects by attending these meetings, smiling, nodding in agreement, eating your bag lunch and then going out and running a PR campaign through paid ads, letters to the editors and hosting one-sided events to give the impression that everyone in the world agrees with what the Forest Service has come up with.
Take Colt Summit, for example. It’s clear from the administrative record that the Forest Service designed the Colt Summit Project and the specific prescriptions, then delivered the project to the SWCC (Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative group) for approval and inclusion in the SWCC’s CFLRP application.
Claims by some of the “collaborators” that the plaintiffs didn’t participate in the up-front planning for the Colt Summit project are completely untrue. In fact, the public record for this timber sale actually reflects a higher level of involvement from the plaintiffs from some of the ‘collaborators.’ Plaintiffs attended all meetings, all field trips and submitted extensive, detailed and substantive comments during the entire NEPA process. Some of the collaborating conservation groups didn’t even submit detailed comments during NEPA. They are essentially replacing their largely self-selective “collaborative group” for the NEPA process, which is open equally and inclusively for all Americans.
One of my main concerns with some of the worst examples of “collaboration” that I see in Montana is that some of these conservationist ‘collaborators’ are running what are essentially political campaigns, not campaigns to hold the Forest Service accountable and make sure that management of national forests is guided by law, the latest science and economically-sound policies. These conservation groups, such as the Montana Wilderness Association, have effectively abandoned any of these public education efforts. Honestly, I’m not sure that most of MWA’s new hires over the past few years have any clue about the law, science and economics of the federal timber sale program. Furthermore, some of these conservation groups have basically neutered themselves from speaking out against Forest Service logging projects or the timber industry’s demands to do away with the public appeals process and exempt many Montana logging projects from court challenge.
What the future of national forest management looks like without an effective checks-and-balance on the Forest Service and timber industry is anyone’s guess, but my hunch is that some of these “collaborative” approaches that we are seeing here in Montana will not be in the best interest of America’s public lands legacy.