CSKT official says forests managed better with less on reservation

From the Missoulian here:

The vice chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes told a congressional committee Thursday that the nation would not experience the devastating wildfires it does if U.S. forests were managed the way forestland on the Flathead Indian Reservation is.

Testifying in Washington, D.C., before the House Natural Resources Committee, Carole Lankford said the rest of the country could learn much about healthy forests from her tribes.

“Had our national forests been managed similarly, this country wouldn’t be having the massive forest fires that are occurring with great frequency in recent years,” Lankford said.

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“Operating understaffed and underfunded programs means that we cut corners and pay our employees less than other federal agencies pay their employees for the same work,” Lankford testified. “When we cut corners, some important job requirements fall off the table and don’t get done.”

Still, she said, CSKT has reduced fuels on an average of 7,638 acres of forestland per year for each of the past 10 years through thinning, piling, pile burning and understory burn projects.

“We were the first tribe in this country to treat 10,000 acres in one year,” Lankford told the committee. “As a result, when the Chippy Creek fire crossed state and federal lands before it reached the Flathead Reservation in 2007, we were able to get it extinguished more efficiently than other jurisdictions. Firefighters from other jurisdictions, who were helping us as we helped them, commented on how efficient the fuels-reduction program in this part of the reservation was.”

Chippy Creek was Montana’s largest wildfire of the 2007 fire season, burning almost 100,000 acres, or 155 square miles.

“You can therefore imagine how surprised (we were) when the administration came up with a new method of allocating fuels dollars,” Lankford said of the Hazardous Fuels Prioritization and Allocation System, which she added would have reduced CSKT’s fuels budget by 94 percent.

The new formula, Lankford charged, was “biased in how it could be applied and how easily the formula could be gamed.”

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11 Comments

  1. Ah, yes, Montana’s Chippy Creek fire.

    There’s an interesting first-hand account I was told (by someone who was in the room) about the “pissing match” that took place between the U.S. Forest Service and the State of Montana DNRC about just “who’s fire this was going to be.”

    According to this source, who worked at Montana DNRC and was in the room listening to the speaker phone, quite literally while the state of Montana and U.S. Forest Service “leadership” argued about who’s fire this was….

    They could hear firefighters who were on the scene of the fire when it was just a few acres in size, but were told to ‘stand down’ until the “brass” figured it all out from their offices, yelling that the fire was going to get too big to easily suppress before the brass got it all figured out.

    Yep, 100,000 acres later…..

    P.S. The Chippy Creek fire burned through some of the most heavily cut-over, roaded landscape on both the Lolo National Forest, that also included a good chunk of MT State lands and Plum Creek Timber Company lands.

    • I think you would find that type of behavior is fairly common when a fire starts. Big money to be spent fighting fires. That’s what the FS told Calfire when part of the Biscuit started, the FS then let it burn for 3 weeks before spending some serious money, like 150 millions dollars and 500,000 acres later. Great way to take care of our forests and the pattern is repeated over and over.

      • Interesting RE: “I think you would find that type of behavior is fairly common when a fire starts” [ie state and feds arguing over who’s fire it is].

        Well, on the positive side, when a fire gets big (like Chippy Creek and Biscuit) you can always blame the environmentalists and weakened environmental laws and regs.

  2. For 5 years I lived on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Flathead Reservation and nearly every single weekend (winter/spring/fall/summer) was spent hiking/biking/skiing in the woods and mountains. The entire Reservation is about 1.3 million acres and for the most part, forest lands outside of the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness and a few roadless/primitive areas have been very heavily logging and roaded. Knapweed and other invasive weeds are prolific throughout the entire Reservation, including in all these logging/roaded areas.

    According to info I found on-line, looks like the CSKT has between 300,000 and 400,000 of commercial timber land based on recent forest plans. If it’s true that about 7,500 acres of forestland per year has seen some type of logging, thinning, piling, pile burning and understory burn projects I fail to see how that differs significantly from what the Lolo, Flathead or Kootenai National Forest also accomplish. Based on a quick reading of the forest plan, looks like most of that 7,500 acres per year falls under the “understory burn projects.”

  3. Whatever, Matt, but the fact remains that tribal forests come in under everyone in terms of expenditure and rank right up there in terms of effectiveness. Few years back I did a project with Evergreen for Intertribal, a project funded by the Ford Foundations that got hung up and delayed by an infatuation with the Montreal Process protocols or some darn thing.
    But part of that was a week long photograph road trip into a bunch of closed reservations as well as the Flathead. Bottom line is, the Indians don’t dink around. They have integrated fire with logging, are very adaptive, and don’t waste money they don’t have. They are very bloody minded about old growth, they will let trees get big, but not decadent. If salvage doesn’t pay, they don’t. Where it does, they do. And when the smoke and Castrol fumes clear, the habitat is danged effective at producing wood and game. Period.

        • I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about here Dave. I made a comment based on my experience living on the actual Flathead Reservation (in the Jocko Valley) for 5 years and shared some of my observations and opinions about what some of the forests outside of the CSKT’s Tribal Wilderness and Jocko Primitive area looked like, to me anyways. If you doubt the tremendous presence of knapweed and other weeds, that’s cool by me, but it’s all over the place in the logged, roaded and grazed landscape.

          Anyway, part of my point was to say that I fail to see how the 7,500 acres of thinning, logging and under-burning per year on the Flathead Reservation really differs significantly from what the Lolo, Flathead or Kootenai National Forest also do. Do you have an actual response to that? Or actual numbers that might show the CSKT is light years ahead of the USFS? If not, that’s cool too. But that seemed the point of the article and the reason Daines invited the CSKT person to the hearing.

          And for the record, I totally support the right of the CSKT to manage their forests how they want, within the confines of their own forest plan and the regs, etc they have to follow.

  4. Oh, there’s a big significant difference in how the tribe manages their forest versus the USFS. Nothing I like better than apples to apples comparisons. I’d say it would be fair to compare the Flathead Reservation to the Lolo National Forest. According to the “Flathead Indian Reservation Forest Management Plan” ( http://www.cskt.org/documents/forestry/fmp05.pdf ) there are 459,000 “forested acres” on the Rez (pg. 47 and 91). Now, of that 459,000 acres, 166,000 is set aside as “administratively unavailable” in wilderness areas and roadless ect.. Another 57,000 is “restricted” to timber harvest. So that leaves 236,000 acres where timber harvest is “administratively available.” On that land base, the allowable harvest is 20 MMBF(million board feet)/year…and in 2013 they did harvest 18 MMBF.

    Now, lets compare that to the Lolo. They are similar in that the they both have around 40% of the land base in “roadless and wilderness” where timber harvest will never happen. Comparing the Flathead to Lolo is complicated somewhat by different terminologies. The definition of “administratively available” in USFS terminology can be open for debate. The current forest plan (1985) for the Lolo set aside 1.2 million acres as “suitable for timber production.” And that’s about 60% of the total forested. The new proposed “dumbed down” Lolo Forest plan which seeks to justify to the local rubes why we can’t harvest as much timber and which will be greeted with as much derision by ALL Montana politicians as the Beaverhead Deerlodge plan was….has created two categories out of the “suitable.” Now, 750,000 acres is “suitable for timber “production”…and another 600,000 acres is suitable for “timber harvest if the responsible official determines it to be appropriate(LMFAO)” That 600,000 acres is “available”…we just don’t plan to schedule harvest there…because…well….that’s not what we DO anymore…but you’re gonna love the prescribed natural wildfires we have planned for there…right????

    NOW…lets “really” compare Indian forestry to USFS forestry. I’ll “error on the side of caution” and use the smaller 750,000 “suitable acres” on the Lolo…eventhough if the tribe were managing the Lolo…they’d be using the 1.2 million acre ‘old” definition. SOO… The Tribe logging 20 MMBF from a 236,000 acre “available” land base would be comparable to the Lolo logging 60 MMBF/yr from a 750,000 acre “suitable” land base. For the last 5 years…the Lolo has logged an average of 15 MMBF/year(non-firewood). If the tribe were managing the Lolo under the very same philosophy they’re using on their reservation…they would be logging 4 times MORE timber than the USFS. For the ten years ending in 1989, the USFS logged an average of 60 MMBF/yr on the Lolo. Are you saying that the CSKT is logging at the same rate as the USFS did in the 80’s? How can that be. I do love it when politically correct concepts collide then crash and burn.
    Frankly…I don’t think the 600,000 acres the USFS has put in the “kinda suitable but we don’t feel like it” category would be classified as “unavailable” by the tribe. so lets run the numbers considering that 1.2 million acres of the Lolo would be “available” to the tribe…and we get a “Lolo timber harvest” of 100 MMBF/yr. ..which is what the 85 forest plan called for.

    I can’t find it in my pile of files…but if I recall, the Quinault Indian reservation in Washington state..logs 40 MMBF from 120,000 acres….while the vaunted Olympic NF logs 15 MMBF/yr. I will say in fairness and perspective…that both tribes harvest half of what they did back in the 80’s and harvest way below what sustained yield is. The difference between them and the USFS…is the USFS harvests 10% of what they did.

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