Report: Flathead National Forest Shirks Its Road Reclamation Duties

A new report from the Swan View Coalition in Montana gives a thorough rundown on how the Flathead National Forest in particular – and the Forest Service and Congress in general – are using the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) and other collaboration and “restoration” initiatives to keep its bloated road system and fool the public into thinking the problem in America’s forests is too many trees and not too many roads.

For those involved in bull trout and water quality issues, the report also documents ongoing road-related travesties in Bunker, Sullivan, Coal, and other key watersheds on the Flathead National Forest. The report also describes how the Flathead National Forest is trying to cheat its way out of road decommissioning and begin to instead rebuild roads decommissioned previously.

Read the full report here.

Executive Summary

In order to protect water quality and fish, the Flathead National Forest is required to either remove or monitor annually all culverts and bridges in roads closed in threatened bull trout habitat. Similarly, the Flathead is required to develop a monitoring plan for each road it chooses to simply close in providing Security Core habitat for threatened grizzly bear, rather than conducting the preferred reclamation by removing all stream-crossing structures.

Our investigation finds the Flathead has developed none of the required stream-crossing monitoring plans for roads closed to provide Security Core. Nor has it annually monitored stream-crossing structures on closed roads in bull trout habitat. Though the Forest Service set forth these requirements and the need for them, the Flathead has failed to implement them. Rather than correct the problem, it has instead set upon a course to do away with such requirements – as culverts and bridges continue to fail on roads both open and closed to motor vehicles.

This report will discuss how the Flathead tracks its roads and stream-crossing structures, discuss how it does and does not monitor them, and provide examples of the consequences when it fails to adequately manage them. It will conclude with recommendations on how to get the effort back on track rather than abandon it to the detriment of fish, wildlife and taxpayers.

4 Comments

  1. “Unfortunately, collaborative groups have been used on the FNF to promote the myth that the primary problem with forest ecosystems is that there are too many trees rather than too many logging roads.”

    The report documents the all too familiar outcome of Kabuki theater “collaboration.”
    That is, (1) kangaroo court dynamics require an appointed/ self-selected group endorsing a predetermined outcome in which, (2) protecting business as usual requires the exclusion of scientific rigor and legislative end-runs, (3) and the actual intent of “restoration” is maintaining systemic mismanagement (as revealed elsewhere across the NFS.)

    There is no shortage of excuses why this must be. First and foremost though, there exists the unspoken priority of the plot line: to use corporate proxies claiming conservation values to maintain the death spiral of disaster capitalism.

  2. The planning history on the Flathead National Forest is a complicated one because of the interplay between NFMA and the Endangered Species Act involving three listed wide-ranging species that occur across the Forest – grizzly bears, bull trout and Canada lynx. The ongoing plan revision process is an opportunity to lay out what conditions the Flathead needs to provide for recovered populations of these species (based on the best available scientific information).

    This report illustrates how challenging it can be to actually get changes made on the ground that are called for in a forest plan (at least those that don’t have a lot of political support for funding). It also illustrates how the Forest Service can shift responsibility and blame to the Fish and Wildlife Service. For both grizzly bears and bull trout, it is the biological opinions written by FWS that ultimately determine what the Forest Service does and doesn’t do with its roads and culverts. If the FWS were to say that the actual effects are not consistent with those assumed in its prior biological opinions, then ESA would require reinitiation and completion of consultation on the plan and/or projects before projects could proceed.

    There is no mechanism in the forest plan itself to insure that anything is actually implemented. Where restoration is important to achieving desired conditions, one thing to consider including in a revised forest plan is requirements that make future development actions contingent on prior completion of restoration activities. Future projects could also be made contingent on completion of monitoring or on results of monitoring. Greater certainty like this may be needed to comply with requirements for plan components that protect at-risk species. The draft forest plan is expected to be available for public comment soon, and it will be interesting to see how the Flathead proposes to address these issues.

  3. Haber’s last paragraph is exactly what I have thought and said for years. The first FPs were full of decisions that very specifically depended on monitoring results, and adjusting accordingly. But right from the start the monitoring provisions were unfunded and/or unstaffed. It was back to business as usual.
    Monitoring is not sexy. Congress and the “system” (back in the ’80s and today) ignore this vital aspect of the FPs, and thereby the mess we are in. I have no hope that revised FPs will find a way to insure funding/staffing of critical monitoring. It is a sad situation will no hope of change in sight.

  4. Sounds like a lot of whining to me about not much, 34 pages? Except obliviously, after reading the report, it is all about no timber harvest and more permanent road closures. The BLM and FS around here have been pretty busy tearing out culverts and closing roads. I find it “interesting” that Swan View finds a need to complain about them not doing enough on the Flathead. Of course the idea of harvesting some timber and having more funds to do more road maintenance doesn’t get mentioned. I guess the FS and US taxpayer is suppose to have unlimited funds to do whatever the Swan View Coalition thinks they should do.

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