New Congress New Ideas… Example AWR and the East Reservoir Project

It would be interesting if courts required documentation of mediation efforts prior to this kind of litigation…like I have said before, it would be interesting to know in advance, in public, transparently, what changes in design would be asked for by the plaintiffs. That would be one way of trying to get more justice in the resolution of these disputes. IMHO. Wonder if Congress could require that? I wonder if there are similar approaches in other legal worlds (besides divorce, and the BLM IBLA we have discussed previously here).

New Congress, new ideas.. we could take this project and ask the question, how could we do better with justice for all and still follow the existing laws? Ideas? When I retired, the solution to this was “collaboration”- folks have been doing this, and spending a great deal of time and energy… but the same result seems to be occurring (in some cases). It is certainly not the solution that some believed.

Here is an op-ed from the Missoulian..

Loggers, conservationists stand by Kootenai timber sale
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America is a nation of laws. But that does not mean the courtroom is necessarily the best place to resolve problems.

Sometimes, the best place to settle differences is out in the fresh air, in the scent of pines and the sound of the breeze overhead.

The people of northwestern Montana are no strangers to legal battles, especially over our national forests. But as conservationists, loggers, mill workers, community members and sportsmen, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to resolve differences and move the Kootenai National Forest ahead.

That is why we are so disappointed that the Alliance for the Wild Rockies has formally threatened to sue over a substantial, but carefully crafted logging and forest-restoration project near Lake Koocanusa.

As neighbors, we’ve put four years of hard work into helping plan the project. It’s hard to imagine a better result coming from the delays, frustrations and expense that go hand-in-hand with litigation.

Last Thanksgiving, the Kootenai National Forest approved a large project on the east side of Lake Koocanusa. The East Reservoir project involves logging about 39 million board feet of timber. While that is modest compared to the logging heyday of the 1980s, it is substantial by today’s standards.

This forest management project covers an area of nearly 90,000 acres, with only 8,800 of those acres actually receiving a timber harvest treatment. The project will be spread out over five or six individual contracts, each of a three- to five-year term. Of the 39 million board feet to be harvested, roughly 24 million will be sawlog volume and the balance non-sawlog to support local small log markets.

But what really is remarkable is the breadth of people who support the project. In fact, it earned the endorsement of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition.

Our coalition includes not only timber and economic development groups, but also a slate of local and regional conservation groups. Together, we’ve identified opportunities for timber harvest, identified prime habitats that are better off left alone and seized opportunities to repair old scars on the land to improve water quality.

We are confident that the effort will withstand legal challenge. After all, the Kootenai National Forest currently has more than 150 million board feet of timber under contract with sawmills. Those sales are in the clear and ready to go, largely because the Forest Service, conservationists and timber interests have been willing to sit down together, walk the woods, and come up with reasonable and legal forest management projects.

For those of us who live here, and for the land itself, it’s a far cry better than the old timber wars.

There is a quiet success story going on in western Montana national forests. Collaborative efforts to help the Forest Service be more successful are working. They are providing real results on the ground, both in terms of timber harvested and in terms of improving habitats and streams.

On the Kootenai National Forest alone, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition has helped bring about more than 10 forest management projects that include both logging and conservation goals. These average about 6 million board feet of timber apiece. More of these projects are taking place in the Lolo National Forest, because of similar collaborative processes.

This success story often occurs below public radar because the news media are naturally more interested in a conflict than collaboration. The media, by and large, has moved on to other “hot button” issues. That means it’s up to us to make sure people know these success stories are happening.

We have invited the staff at Alliance for the Wild Rockies to visit the slopes above Lake Koocanusa and talk over their concerns about the project. So far, their leader has declined those invitations, but the invitation still stands.

Lincoln County is rugged and remote, but even in northwestern Montana, times change. It’s up to all of us to accept those changes and work together to keep our national forests healthy and productive.

The tired old tactics and the obsolete battle lines of the past simply no longer make sense. Our national forests belong to all of us and the best way to ensure their future is to work together.

This opinion from the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition board of directors is signed by executive board members Robyn King, executive director of the Yaak Valley Forest Council; Paul McKenzie of Stolze Land and Lumber; Tim Dougherty of the Idaho Forest Group; Ed Levert, a Lincoln County forester; and Amy Robinson of the Montana Wilderness Association.


  1. IMAGES: At left is the project map from the Forest Service for the East Reservoir timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest. At right is a satellite image of the project area, showing the extent of past clearcuts and logging. The Forest Service is proposing to log 8,800 acres with this project, including about 3,600 acres of clearcuts. Nearly 8,000 logging trucks would be required to haul out the trees. According to a Notice of Intent filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the project area is home to bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bears, among other wildlife species.

    Once again…Here some more context. This ‘puppy dogs-n-ice creme’ oped from the timber industry and two groups who haven’t opposed a timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest in 15 years somehow managed to mention the general word “wildlife” zero times and certainly didn’t say anything about bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx or grizzly bears, which is the entire crux of the issue.

    Here was my response posted on the Missoulian’s website:

    As a former member of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition I read this oped with interest.

    So, even though the letter writers admit that “America is a nation of laws,” they just don’t think the U.S. judicial branch of our government is a worthy place for legal issues to be solved.

    Instead they hold a somewhat pollyannaish view that “the best place to settle differences is out in the fresh air, in the scent of pines and the sound of the breeze overhead.”

    I’d encourage these letter writers to go tell that to their friends and neighbors who were knowingly poisoned and killed by WR Grace. Yes, perhaps if some of the Libby townsfolk’s would’ve just gone on a walk in the woods with WR Grace executives, the corporate executives would’ve come to their senses, right?

    It always amazes me how these rhetoric-filled opeds from ‘collaborators’ always need to be signed by so many people (gotta show the public all that support, right?) and always fail to provide the public with many of the actual details or substantive issues.

    Funny, but there’s zero mention by Robyn King and the other letter writers of bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bear species native to the impacted area. Yet, that’s the entire crux of AWR’s Notice of Intent to sue over this huge logging project.

    Attorney Timothy Bechtold (an upstanding Missoula community member who raises money for local parks, etc) representing the Alliance for The Wild Rockies, sent this notice of intent to file suit on Dec. 2, 2014, to the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. As anyone can clearly read, the notice alleges this large timber sale fails to adequately address the protection of bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bear species native to the impacted area. See for yourself.

    So ask yourself, why would King and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition completely fail to mention anything about bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bears? Could it be that they don’t want the public to know the details and substance? Are they more concerned with winning a PR battle, than actually informing the public about what’s happening on public lands and to imperiled wildlife?

    While this oped mentions that 8,800 acres (almost 14 square miles) of the Kootenai National Forest would be logged under this timber sale, the letter writers fail to let the public know that about 3,600 acres of this logging would be done via clearcutting. And that much of this clearcutting would take place in habitat for bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bears.

    Again, ask yourself, why would King and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition completely fail to mention anything about this?

    While the letter states that the timber sale would result in 39 million board feet of logging, the public should know what this really means. That much logging will require nearly 7,800 log trucks, which if lined up end to end would stretch for nearly 70 miles down the highway full of trees from our public national forests.

    Keep in mind that much of this logging would take place not only within important habitat for bull trout, white sturgeon, Canada lynx and grizzly bears, but it’s also proposed to happen within a part of the Kootenai National Forest that is already heavily fragmented by previous clearcuts, logging projects and criss-crossed with roads.

    Again, I’d encourage the public to actually dig deeper and not take the rhetoric from the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition at face value. As a former member of that group I can tell you for certain that their main goal was to get more logging done your public national forests and there was very little, if any, attention paid to important wildlife issues.

    Please read the actual NOI from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies to see what issues are actually at stake. If we are truly a “nation of laws” you’d think this oped from King, the Montana Wilderness Association and Friends wouldn’t leave out most all of the details, substance and context. Thanks.

  2. It would be interesting if courts required documentation of mediation efforts prior to this kind of litigation…like I have said before, it would be interesting to know in advance, in public, transparently, what changes in design would be asked for by the plaintiffs. That would be one way of trying to get more justice in the resolution of these disputes.

    It seems like we keep going over this, but… First of all, at this stage this isn’t “litigation”, and there is no “plaintiff” at this time. That’s not just semantics: a NOI to sue is a notice for USFS and USFWS to cure some (very explicitly described) violations in order to avoid future litigation. It’s asking the agencies to follow the rules that they are legally bound to follow. Mediate? Let’s see, maybe we could allow them to follow only half the rules, and ignore the other half, that would be a compromise…

    There used to be an appeal process for projects, with required documentation, now we have an “objection” process which is significantly abbreviated, but it still is required to be documented. That’s probably the closest thing to a “mediation effort” that’s available, and it’s not as if the Forest Service is especially enthusiastic about participation in it.

    If and when there is litigation, why would the plaintiff(s) be expected to come up with “changes in design”? What is being asked for here (and typically) is a thorough (and legal) analysis of the factors that the agency has used to design the project, rather than a whitewash and ignoring of legally required procedure (read the NOI, it’s in there, as well in Matthew’s post).

    Sharon’s question, “how could we do better with justice for all and still follow the existing laws?” is largely a non sequitur: For the agencies to start by “following the existing laws” is always a necessary first step towards achieving “justice for all.” It’s really not that complicated, but getting the agency to do it is like trying to catch a rainbow trout with your bare hands.

    • Once again, thanks Guy for some important facts, clarification and substance, which continues to be too often missing on this blog….especially when it comes to some people’s clear attempt to play fast-n-loose (or just plain dumb?) with important facts related to anything AWR. [NOTE: I intended to write “Just play dumb?” above.]

      Sharon, for how often you tell us you are a retired Forest Service official (great for you!) you sure seem to be confused with some pretty basic policies and procedures. Why is that?

      • I am not confused… I just disagree with you. But after five years on this blog, I am pleased that I have moved from the “Concubine of the Sith Lord” to another epithet more reminiscent of SNL of the past.. “Jane you ignorant ____” 😉 Sticks and stones….

        • Sharon. For the record I certainly didn’t call you “Concubine of the Sith Lord” and have no idea who did.

          Also, I wanted to write “Just play dumb” above, but apparently I wrote “or just plain dumb?” above. Sorry about that. Actually people who “just play dumb” might be quite smart in my experience. That’s why it’s frustrating when they “just play dumb.”

          But again, that’s not what I intended to write and actually what I ended up writing (as a mistake) is grammatically incorrect. So please spare me “Jane you ignorant _____” bit, or the sticks and stones.

          But hey, I’m glad you got to bring up Suckling’s “Psychological warfare” quote again. Round-n-round we go.

    • My my my… I think we just got through with a project Colt Summit where “not analyzing sufficiently” was also alleged but not proven. Just because someone makes a claim does not mean that the claim is valid. Hence courtrooms.

      I have been on the agency side with many advisors of the legal persuasion… including DOI and OGC on the same project. In fact, I have sat in many rooms with different highly qualified OGC attorneys disagreeing on what is legally sufficient.

      Guy, you make it sound like FS people (human beings) are sitting around looking for ways to “break the law”. That is not my experience…

      Like I’ve said before, I’m starting to develop a soft spot in my heart for Kieran Suckling, he of the psychological warfare who is honest about his motives. Maybe it’s because he has a bachelor’s from Holy Cross (my father-in-law taught there), as quoted by Ray Ring of High Country News here.

      “(Lawsuits) are one tool in a larger campaign, but we use lawsuits to help shift the balance of power from industry and government agencies, toward protecting endangered species,” Suckling told HCN in 2009. “By obtaining an injunction to shut down logging or prevent the filling of a dam … we are in the position of being able to powerfully negotiate the terms. …”

      Suckling’s group often wins in court. But instead of helping various parties come to an agreement, as Gina does, Suckling wants to steamroll opponents: “New species listings and new bad press take a terrible toll on agency morale. When we stop the same timber sale three or four times running, the timber planners … feel like their careers are being mocked and destroyed — and they are. So they become much more willing to play by our rules. … Psychological warfare is a very underappreciated aspect of environmental campaigning.”

      Suckling’s warlike strategy doesn’t characterize the environmental movement as a whole, but it’s shared by enough groups to shape the general public misperception that all environmentalists are determined to get their way regardless of the costs to other people’s livelihoods and lifestyles.

      But if AWR were simply interested in getting the FS to follow the law, and not in changing policy, how would we be able to tell that through their actions?

  3. I’m sure I’ll get slagged for this, but anything AWR says about their motives is intended to hide the bottom line — a zero cut, burn it all down before the evil capitalists can exploit it, mentality.

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