Conservationists oppose logging lawsuit in Lolo National Forest- More on Colt Summit

We have discussed the Colt Summit project here before, here and the Cone of Silence post here. There may be more, you can just use the search box to the right and type in “Colt Summit.”
It might be interesting to imagine that we were using objections instead of appeals and see whether you think this would have changed the dynamics at all.

Here’s a link to all the documents, which I got by typing in “colt summit project” into Google.

.. we have ringside seats to see how this litigation process goes. At this step, some conservation organizations are filing supporting briefs. Here’s a link to the news story.

Conservationists oppose logging lawsuit in Lolo National Forest

Story
By EVE BYRON Independent Record

HELENA – A proposed project that includes logging, roadwork and weed spraying on national forest land north of Seeley Lake is pitting a wide-ranging array of organizations against four environmental groups that filed a lawsuit opposing the work.

On Monday, organizations including the Seeley Lake fire department, the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Wilderness Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Lewis and Clark, Missoula and Powell counties all filed legal briefs supporting the five-year project on 4,330 acres of the Lolo National Forest.

Representatives of those groups said that the “unprecedented interest in the case marks the first time such a large and diverse number of groups and individuals have ever assembled to defend a forest restoration project in the court of law.”

“We decided to get involved because this is a science-based decision and we had our staff truth-test it,” said Jean Curtiss, a Missoula County commissioner. “This area is such a unique, intact ecosystem, with all the plants and animals there that were there when Lewis and Clark came through.”

During a news conference Tuesday, representatives from some of those groups said the logging, burning and road treatments are direly needed to restore forest health and create a better habitat for wild animals that include endangered lynx, bull trout and grizzly bear, while at the same time lessening the threat of wildfires near communities.

“In the summer of 2007, we had the Jocko Lakes fire that covered 31,000 acres and cost $40 million,” said Frank Maradeo, the Seeley Lake fire chief. “We evacuated 85 percent of the community during that fire. This project, the Colt Summit, is at the north end of our fire district.”

They also pointed out that the project is a collaborative effort among a wide range of interests, including loggers, timber mills, environmental groups, community members and local, state and federal officials.

“What we are focused on doing is what’s best for the ground,” said Megan Birzell with the Wilderness Society. “There may be some cases where the best thing to do is to try to stop a project, but we think a better approach and one that’s more successful, rewarding and fulfilling is to seek positive solutions on the ground, recognizing there are places where active management is needed and is appropriate.”

But Michael Garrity, executive director of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies, disagrees. That’s why his organization, along with the Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit in federal court in November to try to stop the work.

“It’s not the right place for a timber sale,” Garrity said. “It’s critical lynx habitat. And if the whole idea is to protect the wildland-urban interface – it’s 10 miles north of Seeley Lake and there’s no community there. There are plenty of places around Seeley Lake where they could do logging, but this is just the wrong location.”

He added that they believe the environmental assessment done on the project violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

The project calls for logging and burning on about 2,038 acres; decommissioning or storing 25 miles of road; restoring four miles of streamside road and rerouting the access; reconstructing five miles of road; and conducting noxious weed herbicide treatments along 34 miles of national forest roads and on six acres of existing infestations.

In a brief filed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the state agency said the project will have clear benefits for fish and wildlife.

“The Colt Summit Project will significantly increase the amount of secure lynx and grizzly habitat within an important riparian corridor, will remove roads that are sending sediment into a native trout stream, and will maintain sufficient cover to allow a variety of wildlife species to continue to move through the area,” said Jay Kolbe, an FWP wildlife biologist. “This project is thoughtfully planned out, grounded in good science and long overdue.”

Reporter Eve Byron can be reached at 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com.

Read more: http://missoulian.com/news/local/conservationists-oppose-logging-lawsuit-in-lolo-national-forest/article_378a11e8-6254-11e1-ae6c-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz1nmbl5a3P

4 thoughts on “Conservationists oppose logging lawsuit in Lolo National Forest- More on Colt Summit”

  1. Here’s a copy of the AP article, which is much more balanced….

    Conservationists unlikely opponent to logging suit
    By Matt Volz, AP

    Conservation groups suing to block a logging project in a western Montana have found an unlikely opponent: other conservation groups.

    The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and three other conservation groups filed a lawsuit last year saying the U.S. Forest Service approved the 2,038-acre Colt Summit Project without ensuring it wouldn’t harm lynx, grizzly bears and bull trout.

    The groups have been successful in the past in delaying or halting numerous timber projects across Montana by challenging government agencies’ adherence to environmental laws and endangered species protections when making their proposals.

    But the Wilderness Society and the Montana Wilderness Association say this project in the Lolo National Forest should be allowed to move ahead because it was developed as part of a collaborative effort to restore the forest.

    They and 25 other named and unnamed groups and individuals from loggers to firefighters filed a brief Monday in U.S. District Court in Missoula supporting the Colt project.

    Megan Birzell of the Wilderness Society said Tuesday that they are part of an ideological shift toward collaborative forest projects that involves in the planning everybody who has a stake in the forest, including governments, conservationists, industry and communities.

    “We’ve got to set aside the differences between all the groups for the safety of the community,” said Seeley Lake Fire Chief Frank Maradeo. “We’ve got a common goal, and we’re going to defend it.”

    The project has received federal government funding as part of the 1.5-million-acre Southwestern Crown of the Continent restoration project. The project will improve the forest’s health by combining logging and burning fuels, decommissioning roads or converting them to trails and treating noxious weeds, the groups said in their brief.

    Mike Garrity, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies’ executive director, said he is bothered by the other conservation groups’ opposition to the lawsuit, but that doesn’t change anything. The proposal is illegal because it did not consider the impact on lynx and other endangered or threatened species that live in the forest, and no amount of collaboration can overlook that, he said.

    “I’m really upset with these groups that claim to be conservationists and environmentalists, and they are promoting a project that will harm lynx and grizzly bears and bull trout. I think they should give their members all their money back,” Garrity said.

    The groups supporting the project say that they tried to involve the suing conservation groups early in the project’s planning, but they chose a different path.

    “They’ve adopted a litigation business model and choose to go down that track and not be involved upfront,” said Gordy Sanders of Pyramid Mountain Lumber.

    Garrity said his organization has been involved in the project since it was formally proposed by the Forest Service, but its recommendations were ignored.

    One conservation group that is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, the WildWest Institute, supports Garrity’s view. The group filed its own court document in which it characterized the logging project as solely a Forest Service proposal masquerading as a collaborative project.

    The Forest Service pushed the project through without input or vote by the Southwestern Crown of the Continent project members on the proposal, WildWest Institute attorney Christopher Karr wrote. If it goes through, it could set a bad precedent for collaborative projects, he added.

    “This is less a collaboration and more of a rubber-stamping of a pre-packaged project without looking at any of the impacts on the environment or wildlife,” Karr wrote.

    Birzell said the Southwestern Crown of the Continent is mainly a funding mechanism, and the development of the project was undertaken by a collaborative group called the Lolo Restoration Committee.

    The Forest Service has asked Judge Donald Molloy to dismiss the case. No hearing has yet been set.

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  2. Smokey, seems like the Forest Service should follow the law and their own regulations when logging on our public national forests lands, wouldn’t you agree? No amount of ‘collaboration’ between the government and well-paid ‘go-along-to-get-along collaborators’ should change that fact.

    Here’s some more details regarding Colt Summit:

    My organization, the WildWest Institute, filed a brief (http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/amicus-wildwestinstitute-final.pdf) in support of the plaintiffs (Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan, Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and Native Ecosystems Council, all represented by the Western Environmental Law Center).

    Our brief (http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/amicus-wildwestinstitute-final.pdf) questions some of the claims made by the collaborators regarding the relationship of this Colt Summit logging project to the Southwestern Crown of the Continent (SWCC) ‘collaborative’ group. We also question key aspects of the very nature of the SWCC ‘collaborative’ since the Forest Service and The Wilderness Society currently make up 43% of the voting block of the “collaborative.”

    Yes, that’s right, unlike any other national forest ‘collaborative’ group that we know about in the country, the SWCC ‘collaborative’ allows Forest Service officials to be voting members. Currently 7 of the 28 voting members of the SWCC ‘collaborative’ are Forest Service employees.

    Also, the co-chair of the entire SWCC ‘collaborative’ for the past two years has been the Forest Service Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest. Again, to our knowledge, this is something that isn’t done in any other national forest ‘collaborative’ around the country. Ironically, a few weeks ago, the SWCC Charter was amended to remove the Forest Service from being able to co-chair the ‘collaborative;’ however, the SWCC ‘collaborative’ still allows Forest Service employees to be members and to vote as part of the ‘collaborative.’

    No matter what the “feel-good” rhetoric is, the fact of the matter is that the Forest Service didn’t do a great job on their NEPA analysis for this project and there are some real concerns with this project and the process used to put it together. For example, the Forest Service contracted the Finding Of No Signification Impact (FONSI) prior to completing the Environmental Assessment. Here’s a snip about that from our brief [emphasis added]:

    “…in a discussion of the upcoming EA, IDT meeting notes, dated April 27, 2010, state “The forest [service] has designed the project to have no significant issues so that a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) can be written after the environmental analysis (EA).” Colt Summit Restoration and Fuel Reduction EA, IDT Meeting Notes, I-8:926. Document I-9 of the administrative record contains the above quotation, then furthers that idea by stating, “EA should already have reached conclusions on significance. Write from that point and perspective, providing support and evidence for no significance.” I-9:939. The following three pages basically provide a mini-seminar on how to persuasively say that the actions of the Forest Service have so significant impact on the environment. See I-9:940-942.”

    Here are some other things to keep in mind. While the ‘collaborators’ (lead by The Wilderness Society) sent out a media advisory worthy of a blockbuster Hollywood movie trailer (using words such as “targeted” “attacked” “bury it forever” “blowback” and “Ideological rift”), the simple fact of the matter is that the Lolo National Forest hasn’t faced a timber sale lawsuit in over 5 years and there have been 99 active timber sales on the Lolo National Forest between 2005 and 2010.

    The ‘collaborators’ are claiming that the plaintiffs didn’t participate in the up-front planning for this project, which is a lie and completely untrue. In fact, the actual public record for this timber sale actually reflects a higher level of involvement from the plaintiffs (Alliance for Wild Rockies/Friends of Wild Swan) than from some of the ‘collaborators.’ Indeed, plaintiffs attended all meetings, all field trips and submitted extensive, detailed and substantive comments during the entire NEPA process.

    Finally, from the plaintiffs briefs, here are some details about the Colt Summit Timber Sale:

    • 2,038 acre logging project in lynx critical habitat and MS1 habitat for grizzlies

    • logging will occur in old growth and mature forest stands;

    • logging will remove the dense horizontal cover in forest stands that is so important for lynx foraging and denning

    • “vista” cuts to open views of the swan mountains for motorized users are part of the project

    • technically, project is in WUI (as per the Seeley fire plan) but it’s 10+ miles from the nearest community

    • project is in the important Summit Divide wildlife corridor – the best place for lynx and griz to cross H83 as they travel between the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness

    • logging is proposed in a number of wetland areas

    • Forest Service shrunk the INFISH buffers (designed to protect native trout species, including bull trout) to accommodate project.

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  3. For a reference point (sort of) of USFS voting members elsewhere, here’s the revised list of Tongass Futures Roundtable membership after the state/industry exodus:

    Bruce Botelho, Mayor, City and Borough of Juneau
    Tim Bristol, Director, Trout Unlimited, Alaska Office
    Beth Pendleton, Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service Region 10
    Forrest Cole, Supervisor, Tongass National Forest
    Erin Dovichin, Associate State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska
    Karen Hardigg, Alaska Forest Program Manager, The Wilderness Society
    Rick Harris, Vice President, Sealaska Corporation
    Lindsey Ketchel, Director, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council
    Robert Sanderson, Jr., Ketchikan Indian Community
    Aileen Lee, Salmon Program Director, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
    Byron Mallott, Senior Fellow, Alaska Native Policy Center, First Alaskans Institute
    Harold Houston, Vice President, Tlingit Haida Central Council
    Eric Myers, Audubon Alaska
    Wendy Vanasselt, Wilburforce Foundation
    Bruce Wallace, Environmental Chair, United Fishermen of Alaska
    Randy Wanamaker, Board of Directors, Goldbelt, Inc.
    Woody Widmark, Chief, Sitka Tribe of Alaska
    Bill Possiel, The National Forest Foundation
    Tricia O’Connor, Deputy Supervisor, Tongass National Forest
    John Sund, OceanAlaska
    Cecilia Tavoliero, Southeast Alaska Landless Corp.
    John Bruns, Craig
    Updated: 3/1/10

    Currently, the TFR is in such a state of disarray, it appears there may be insufficient reason for the Nature Conservancy (which is paid by the Moore Foundation to staff the TFR proceedings) to further update the TFR membership list. Much has happened since 3/1/10.

    One notable exit was Erin Dovichin, Associate State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, is now working for the Moore Foundation directly.

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