The following article is written by Keith Hammer, Chair of the Swan View Coalition in Montana. Hammer has shared his views on this blog before – including raising red flags about some types of ‘collaboration’ in Montana. – mk
When there is wildfire smoke in the air, the timber industry and its cronies in Congress blame it on a lack of logging. As though logging prevents wildfires, which it does not. Moreover, they blame the alleged lack of logging on lawsuits brought by conservation groups simply wanting to insure the Forest Service follows the law as it logs public fish and wildlife habitat.
In February, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), emphatically and falsely told Montana Public Radio “Unfortunately, every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation. Every one of them.”
Listeners, including Swan View Coalition, challenged Tester’s statement. The Washington Post investigated and found there to be 97 timber sales under contract in Montana’s national forests with only 14 of those being litigated and only 4 of those stopped by a court order! The Post awarded Tester “Four Pinocchios” and noted the Forest Service responded “Things should be litigated that need to be litigated. If there is something the Forest Service has missed, it is very healthy. We absolutely should be tested on that.”
Then politicians and the Forest Service went back to lying as though this never happened. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) visited Essex on the border between Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest and claimed the summer’s wildfire smoke “is completely avoidable.” He went on to promote his Resilient Federal Forests Act, that would speed up federal logging and require citizens to post unaffordable bonds before suing the Forest Service to make it follow environmental laws. He then proposed that future Wilderness designations allow logging to reduce fires.
Such proposals fly in the face of federal studies like the Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Project, which found roads and logging render ecosystems less resilient to natural disturbances like fire. Countless other studies find large trees, including fire-killed trees, are essential for fish and wildlife habitat.
Forest Service research shows that forest thinning within the last couple hundred feet of our homes and structures helps save them, not distant logging where fire helps renew natural ecosystems. This summer’s fire that burned the remote and abandoned Bunker Creek bridge shown here was started by lightening in an area burned in 2000.
We’ve supported thinning around the village of Swan Lake, the Spotted Bear Ranger Station, guest ranches, and trail-heads, but such thinning needs to be repeated often to remain effective. Neither the American taxpayer nor our natural ecosystems can afford to apply such front-country logging to the distant backcountry.
As I write this article, Montana’s entire Congressional delegation has done an about-face and is urging the Forest Service to slow down and give loggers more time to log federal timber sale contracts in the face of a glutted timber market.
It’s also time to consider how backcountry logging, most often done at a taxpayer loss, is taking money and market demand away from the thinning that should instead be done adjacent to human homes and other structures.