TNC terminated logging agreement with Plum Creek following illegal logging

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has announced it’s logging agreement with Plum Creek Timber Co (now Weyerhaeuser) on 111,740 acres of national forest land in Montana has been terminated after a Federal Court ruled the logging done by TNC on Forest Service lands was illegal.

The public was notified of this in the Flathead National Forest’s draft Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Chilly James Project in Montana’s Swan Valley.  The Chilly James Draft Decision Notice stated that on January 5, 2016, The Nature Conservancy notified the Forest Service that their logging agreement with Plum Creek was terminated and that they have no future logging  plans on Montana Legacy acquisition lands.

Last summer, the federal district court in Montana reaffirmed and clarified its September 2014 ruling that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved logging procedures for 111,740 acres of newly-acquired national forest lands.  The Court’s ruling requires the Forest Service to halt logging until it complies with both the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act requirements to analyze “potential environmental effects, reasonable alternatives, and cumulative impacts on those lands” and “comply with the consultation requirements of Section 7 of the ESA with respect to those protected species affected on the lands.”

These so-called “Legacy Lands” in Montana’s Swan Valley were former Plum Creek Timber Co. lands which were purchased by the federal government and are now part of the national forest and subject to federal laws that protect the environment and threatened or endangered species.  These lands are critical habitat for grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine, bull trout, and a very rare plant called water howellia.

TNC bought these lands from Plum Creek Timber in 2008. A condition of the agreement called for TNC to sell Plum Creek Timber 92 million board feet of timber off its former lands over the next 10 years, a condition carried over even though the public then purchased the lands from TNC via a $250 million tax credit to TNC.

Four conservation groups Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit in 2013 in Federal District Court challenging the logging by The Nature Conservancy on these former Plum Creek lands.

“It’s good to know The Nature Conservancy won’t be logging any more of the few trees Plum Creek left on these lands,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of Swan View Coalition. “It’s time for the Forest Service to now turn the page and begin restoring these industrial lands to a more natural state by removing a substantial number of the logging roads that came with them.”

“Since the Agreed Operating Procedures between the Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy were deemed illegal by the court it is right and appropriate that the logging agreement is terminated,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “This protects what’s left of the trees in riparian areas and old cutting units on these heavily logged and roaded lands and allows wildlife habitat to be restored.”

“The U.S. Forest Service authorized logging procedures and thousands of acres of clearcutting on these lands without any analysis of how the logging might affect and harm endangered species in the area,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  “Of particular concern to local conservationists is the lynx, a rare forest cat that requires large expanses of unlogged area for survival.  The Swan Valley is one of the best potential habitats in the Lower 48 states for lynx, but lynx are declining in the area due to logging.”

“The bottom line,” Garrity concluded, “is very good news for the threatened and endangered species that call these lands home, since all commercial logging on these ‘Legacy Lands’ by The Nature Conservancy has stopped.  The American people paid $250 million for these lands.  The Nature Conservancy should not have been allowed to continue clearcutting land they no longer owned.”

BACKGROUND: Here’s some background information, first from the Fall 2014 newsletter of the Swan View Coalition and next a previous post from this blog.

5 Comments

  1. Bravo to these principled grassroots in the restoration of ecosystems and justice. Bravo to our nation’s founders for creating the separation of powers. Full restoration, however, takes decades to centuries, and time is short. In the meantime our planet needs less rapacity in the name of “conservation,” and more forests to regulate climate, preserve watersheds, provide biodiverse habitat, and produce oxygen. Private enterprise on private tree plantations already provide our nation’s needs for timber.

    There are several other deeply disturbing expose’s of TNC’s outrageous duplicities in this country, but unfortunately there are far more elsewhere. “TNC” is also the acronym for “Trans-National Corporation” (def. “A transnational corporation is any enterprise that undertakes foreign direct investment, owns or controls income gathering assets in more than one country, produces goods or services outside its country of origin, or engages in international production”) which, of course The Nature”CONservancy” is doing, in a very big way.

    As in being the largest conservation “nonprofit” on the planet. Charity Navigator notes TNC has net assets of $5,762,300,943 billion, its CEO receives $587,752/yr., and its Managing Director OF NORTH ASIA receives $761,166/yr. alone.

    So, TNC is quite comfortable throwing its prodigious weight around the planet to manage the greenwashing of transnational resource exploitation. It’s particularly disturbing that over 15% of their budget is quietly being funded by the US government — slipped out of the wallets of US Taxpayers, to pay for their outrageous swindles in the name of conservation — $250,000,000 million in this incident alone.

    For all the dutiful recitations from the neoliberal hymnal of “frivolous lawsuits” and the supposed costs arising from citizens demanding their government follow its own laws, please consider the principles of justice. While extolling the divine virtues of “collaboration” that TNC and many others are rewarded to champion, a little circumspection will go a long way towards grasping the actual costs to the public owners of the national forest system.

  2. It sounds like logging was part of the price paid to get the land into public ownership. If the alternative was going to be logging in private ownership (or subdivisions), I think TNC’s involvement produced a better deal for the land.

    It’s also interesting that TNC changed their mind about logging, apparently based on public opposition. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often when the Forest Service holds the logging rights.

    Regardless of what TNC has done elsewhere (and a lot of that is also good for the land), I have a hard time seeing them as the villain in this case.

  3. None of the “environmental groups” groups listed in the lawsuit have done anything to improve habitat where I live in extreme southwest Montana as far as I am aware. I could be wrong, but certainly nothing big. On the other hand TNC has been very active for many years doing riparian, Aspen and habitat improvement. I am talking about real, “roll up your sleeves” projects like transplanting thousands of willows. While at the same time giving employment to young troubled kids and those interested in an outdoor career. To me, they at least, are putting money to real, on the ground, improvements for wildlife in the Centennial Valley, a critical corridor. They may be too big for their own good, but so is the Forest Service and BLM. Just my tcw.

    • Hi Pat,

      The “environmental groups” listed in the lawsuit fought hard to protect the remaining public roadless wildlands in SW Montana from more logging, development and roads. As a big game hunter who regularly (and successfully) hunts on public roadless wildlands I certainly appreciate what they have done to protect millions of acres of critical wildlife habitat. There are many other examples too, such as NREPA, which would protect (and in some cases re-connect through on-the-ground restoration) important wildlife habitat throughout SW Montana. Thanks.

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