Abuse of enviro laws may doom them- Editorial from the Mountain Standard

Thanks to Terry Seyden for this one from the Mountain Standard.

Who knew that Fleecer Mountain had such a thriving population of grizzly bears? And who would have thought that taking out some dead and dying trees, working on stream restoration and improving sagebrush range lands might lead to the extinction of lynx?

Environmental groups do – at least the handful that find themselves in court every time professionals in the U.S. Forest Service try to do their jobs and actually manage land.
This week two environmental groups – the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystem Council – filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service for its proposed Fleecer timber sale.

What a surprise.

It’s hard to think of any instances in recent years when the Forest Service has tried to do logging or habitat work on the public land it manages without these groups, as well as the WildWest Institute, having sued to stop it. They constantly cite the damage such projects could cause to the land and to the animals on or under consideration to go on the Endangered Species List in the northern Rockies. When they sue, they allege violations of several other environmental laws as well, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act, but the ESA is almost always used because of the species on the list in the northern Rockies.

The leaders of these two groups have made careers out of suing the Forest Service and other federal agencies. Listening to their rhetoric, one might get the impression that government employees are bent on wiping out native species and butchering forests into moonscapes.
The Fleecer project is a prime example. Forest Service scientists carefully planned the project to deal with numerous dead and dying trees in the area and supply some logs to the timber industry. They looked at conifer encroachment into native grasslands and the decline of aspen groves. And they considered the health of the streams and ways to improve the movement of fish.
But Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, saw the Forest Service’s real, sinister motives. He proclaimed the project “one of the most corrupt” ever proposed in Montana and said the lawsuit was necessary “for the sake of the elk, grizzly bears, lynx and a myriad of other old growth dependent species.”
The trouble is, the project area has no old growth – it’s all been historically logged. There have never been grizzlies spotted there. And Forest Service personnel say their analysis found the lodge pole pine areas where the logging is proposed is not prime lynx habitat.
Even other environmental groups see the folly in the tired arguments that the extremists keep pushing.
This week the Wilderness Society and Montana Wilderness Association – hardly groups bent on destroying the earth – filed a brief in support of a logging project near Seeley Lake on the Lolo National Forest that the Alliance and three other groups challenged. They noted that the project was part of a collaborative effort involving the Forest Service, local community and themselves and the logging and habitat work is needed.
Undeterred, Garrity countered by saying those groups have no business calling themselves conservationists and environmentalists. He called for them to give back the money they have collected from members for promoting a project that will harm endangered species.

But the turning of several environmental groups on the serial litigants is a sign that people of all stripes are fed up with their tactics. And as efforts to work together to solve habitat problems grow, people are seeing that these extremists have never done a thing for conservation other than file lawsuits. As long as they are filing lawsuits, they are protecting their jobs.
The real loser, however, is the ESA itself. This is a good law, albeit one that isn’t perfect. It has helped bring back bald eagles, grizzly bears in the lower 48 states and several other species that likely wouldn’t have made it without the act. But when it gets used by extremists to shut down any and every habitat or logging project because endangered animals could wander through an area, it’s hard to defend.

A word to the wise environmentalists, keep it up. Sue the Forest Service over projects that cut a single stick. Bring those corrupt government workers to their knees as they try to improve habitat.
But don’t forget that laws can be changed. And as the frustration grows over the management of public lands, eventually the ESA and other important laws to protect the environment will be gutted — or outright repealed.

Try filing legitimate lawsuits without any environmental laws on the books.

Note from Sharon: I don’t think realistically that there would be the votes to change those laws based on people who can separate the rhetoric of the lawsuits from the reality (local mostly westerners). However, you might see some federal lands policy changes from Congress and perhaps the change from appeals to objections is a step in that direction.

20 thoughts on “Abuse of enviro laws may doom them- Editorial from the Mountain Standard”

  1. When the ESA starts protecting critical habitats from catastrophic wildfires, I will consider it “fixed”. The ESA shouldn’t “protect” habitats from beneficial projects. I think that litigation reform is needed more than a re-write of the ESA. To me, there still seem to be examples of projects that do not follow the ESA, and should be questioned. For owls and goshawks, thinning is essential to save those core nesting areas but, economics need to be excluded within those large protected zones. There are creative ways to package that kind of non-commercial work with commercial thinning projects.

    I also think that the idea of “protected potential habitat” is one that should be dropped, especially when those areas are delineated with arbitrary elevational boundaries. Do areas lose that label when ALL the trees are dead? This idea sets aside huge areas as “snag preserves”, until the fires “re-balance” those landscapes. Does this really benefit wildlife?

  2. The more you know….A bunch of facts and information that you just don’t find in Montana Standard editorial. Those were certainly big words from the big boys at the Montana Standard. One has to wonder just why Alliance for the Wild Rockies wins about 80% of their lawsuits against the federal government. I hear it’s easy to sue the feds, take on the Dept of Justice and win, right? Like anyone with a computer and some stamps can do it, rigth?

    Copy of the complaint is here:


    February 22, 2012

    CONTACT: Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406 459-5936

    Conservation Groups File Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Road Building in Lynx, Grizzly and Elk Habitat

    Butte, MT — Calling it “one of the most corrupt logging projects ever proposed in Montana,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, announced today that the Alliance and Native Ecosystems Council have filed a lawsuit to stop a massive logging project in and around the Fleecer Mountain Wildlife Management Area. “This is well-known and much-loved elk country and the Forest Service simply ignored both the laws and science in deciding to clearcut much of the area. Yet the agency pre-determined there would be no significant impact almost two years before the environmental analysis for the project was even started.”

    The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court yesterday, seeks to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Fleecer Timber Sale. The groups say the timber sale, which authorizes 3,068 acres of logging — including 1,137 acres of clearcutting — as well as five miles of new road construction, increases road density above well-established thresholds in the area.

    “The elk population is already failing to meet the state’s population objectives for the affected Hunting Districts 341 and 319,” said Garrity. “Yet this plan calls for not only reducing elk habitat, but also conducting logging operations on elk winter range and using closed roads in an elk security area which will only stress the remaining elk further.”

    Garrity added that the logging and road-building proposal will also destroy lynx critical habitat and impact grizzly bear habitat and both lynx and grizzly wildlife corridors which he says violate the Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. “The sad fact is that the agency didn’t even bother contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding grizzlies or lynx, even though they are required to do so by law.”

    “This is the yet another example of the Forest Service trying to push money-losing, illegal clearcuts in important big game habitat. The Forest Service estimates that they will lose $33,000 on this timber sale. If the agency was honest and included all of their costs, they would show that these subsidized clearcuts will cost taxpayers over $4 million” Garrity explained. ”

    Sara Jane Johnson, PhD., is the Director of co-Plaintiff Native Ecosystem Council and a former Forest Service wildlife biologist. Johnson explained the importance of old growth, snag retention, and the interconnectedness of species in the area. “The Forest Service wants the public to believe that trees killed by beetles need to be removed in order to have a healthy forest. But nothing could be further from the truth,” Johnson says. “Wildlife and beetles go together. The beetles provide food for woodpeckers. When woodpeckers are in the forest, they drill holes in trees for nesting cavities. When woodpeckers are done using these holes, they’re used by many other birds that can’t drill out their own nesting holes. When the dead trees fall, they provide cover and habitat for mice, snowshoe hares and squirrels, which in turn are eaten by pine marten, lynx, goshawks and great gray owls. The downed trees also provide important cover for big game. All these
    species can thank the beetles for providing them habitat.”

    Garrity says they have taken part in every step of the administrative process in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the proposed logging plan, but that the agency simply refuses to listen to well-documented and accurate evidence. “It’s unfortunate that we have to take the Forest Service to court to force it to follow the law,” Garrity concluded. “But for the sake of the elk, grizzly bears, lynx, and a myriad of other old growth dependent species, at this point we have no other choice.”

  3. Well said Matthew.
    There are some periodicals employing fact-free screeds that should not be propped up in an attempt to give any more credence than they can muster on their own, and this is definitely one of them. Thanks to Sharon for revealing her editorial discretion. She invites, apparently, a similarly extreme example of poor journalistic discretion.

    As for your this line:
    “This week the Wilderness Society and Montana Wilderness Association – hardly groups bent on destroying the earth…”– how cluelessly naive.

    I have no personal association with MWA, but certainly with TWS, which shamelessly capitalized upon its name and turned to the corporate collaborationist dark side awhile back.

    May this public exposure make perfectly clear to the rest of the TWS membership that it is not only their members of Congress which can be bought off, but corporatized — once principled environmental organizations –can be bought-off as well.

    Kudos to you and those organizations which refuse to be bullied and refuse to cower in the presence of overwhelming displays of corporate control over virtually everything.

  4. From the article:

    “It’s hard to think of any instances in recent years when the Forest Service has tried to do logging or habitat work on the public land it manages without these groups, as well as the WildWest Institute, having sued to stop it.”

    Contrast with Matthew Koehler’s comment, here:

    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.(emphasis added)

  5. Dave, Thanks for pointing this out…I actually completely missed the reference to the WildWest Institute in the editorial. Now that I see it, folks should know that I sent this request to the editor of the Montana Standard to run a correction. I also pasted this request on the MT Standard comment section.

    Unfortunately, this is just another example of where many in the mainstream media often have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to forest management and lawsuits.

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: Gerry: Correction requested
    Date: Mon, 05 Mar 2012 09:53:43 -0800
    From: Matthew Koehler
    To: Gerry O’brien

    “It’s hard to think of any instances in recent years when the Forest Service has tried to do logging or habitat work on the public land it manages without these groups, as well as the WildWest Institute, having sued to stop it.” – Montana Standard Editorial, March 4, 2012 (source: http://mtstandard.com/news/opinion/editorial/abuse-of-enviro-laws-may-doom-them/article_f12a79dc-6563-11e1-ae59-001871e3ce6c.html)

    Good morning Gerry O’Brien:

    For some reason when I read your editorial this morning I missed the statement above.

    I am writing you to request that you print a correction in the next print edition of the Montana Standard, as well as include a correction in the on-line version of your editorial.

    Perhaps your editorial board didn’t “think hard enough” because….

    The fact of the matter is that the WildWest Institute hasn’t filed a new lawsuit against timber sale on national forests in Montana in over five years.

    In fact, during that time there have been hundreds and hundreds of active timber sales on national forests in Montana. Heck, even just the Lolo National Forest has had 99 active timber sales during the period 2005 to 2010.

    Please let me know that you have received this message and that you plan on running a correction for the incorrect information contained in your editorial. Also, if you’d like to speak with me about this, I can be reached at 406-396-0321.

    Matthew Koehler
    WildWest Institute

  6. As has been previously mentioned, I too have wondered about the very high percentage of successful lawsuits against Forest Service projects. It would seem that the agency’s legal experts would have learned by now where their weak spots are. And corret them. Or at least consul the project managers in the proper direction.

    • It’s called “Moving the Goalpost Syndrome”, Ed. All a group has to do to get a payday is win on just one item. “… didn’t properly analyze” is the key phrase in so many successful lawsuits. Soooo, you throw as many of those at the project as you can, and something will stick, when dealing with activist Judges in the Appeals Courts. Sometimes, though, one has to just shake one’s head when projects are pushed through which have little chance of making it through the courts. Those days of “sneaking” projects through the comment period are long since over.

    • Ed says,

      It would seem that the agency’s legal experts would have learned by now where their weak spots are. And correct them.

      Problem is, the Forest Service’s weak spots often are in the policy realm, which leaves them vulnerable to challenge at the project level—often for redress of concerns that could not be addressed at the program level due to a little game the FS plays w/r/t a legal term called “ripeness.” The Forest Service is full of people eager to wade in at the project level to construct and defend what some of us commonly call “good projects on the ground.” But try to get them to engage in getting useful policy to guide selection of projects. That is another matter.

      I remember when someone called our Deputy Regional Forester the “Regional District Ranger” because his eyes glazed over whenever discussion turned to anything other than a ground-level project.

      I’ve been after the Forest Service for years to ‘engage’ at the policy level, but they simply refuse. So I guess that they can continue to lose lawsuits, because judges have to look at law and policy first, and pretty much only, because they have no expertise to deal with judging whether or not a project is ‘good’ or just ‘something to do’ for an agency eager ‘to do.’

      I’m working up a post on the matter, but my guess is that no one will comment on that either, because much like the Forest Service most people here don’t want to deal with esoteric matters like ‘policy’ either.

      • Hey Dave, I just signed up for three years as a member of the Committee on Forest Policy at the Society of American Foresters. I know a couple of people from that group that read this blog regularly. Perhaps our current commenters aren’t that interested, but perhaps some readers would comment if you prepared a “policy” post.

  7. Just thought folks might like to know that I heard back from the Montana Standard’s editor, Gerry O’Brien and he informed me: “We are not running a correction on this. It is an opinion piece.”

    I was encouraged to write a letter detailing our concern and the paper would publish that. Pretty amazing to me that a newspaper could publish something they know full well to be false, and then when called out on it, not feel an obligation to run their own correction. So much for personally responsibility I guess.

    • Matthew, now you know how I feel about many topics, including Colorado Roadless. It feels very frustrating and makes you not believe other things you read in the paper. Good thing you have this blog to express, and be challenged on, your point of view. Better than the newspapers, and free of charge. How good is that?

  8. This isn’t “He said, she said” Smokey. This is about the truth.

    If the editor of a newspaper wants to write in his paper that he can’t think of a timber sale that my organization hasn’t sued, but the fact of the matter is that my organization hasn’t sued on a timber sale in 5 years and during that time there have literally been hundreds of active timber sales on Montana’s national forest, they I have every right to demand a correction.

    However, you know what is “old and petty” Smokey? People commenting here, not offering much in the way of substance or context, but just hiding their true identity. Yep, that’d be you.

  9. Mathew, could you give us the “source” for the 99 active timber sales?

    Could you share with us “why” your group hasn’t litigated in the last five years-is it because of a policy change?

    In fairness, I can think of some Lolo projects that haven’t been litigated. But then, the Lolo hasn’t exaclty been cranking them out either. The last EIS I can think of was the “butte project”. The USFS “settled” with the Alliance by slashing the timber harvest in half-so I guess that counts as not litigated(I don’t recall seeing that alternative in the EIs).

    Frankly, I would imagine that every Western Senator and congressman would like to dump these guys. Let’s hope they’re talkng to their kinsman back east. While we’re on the subject of Senators-why don’t they ask the CBO to “investigate” how much “extra” it’s costing the taxpayers to follow the law compared to oh, say 1988. Or let’s compare it “apples to apples” to EIS’s in enviro enclaves that have no litigation. We all know it should be compared to the states. Who could be opposed to that? Who could be opposed to transparency? The one thing that disgusts me about EIS’s, is the cost to do the NEPA analysis is not revealed. The “economic” section is full of blather about PNV and cost benefit-but nothing about how much it cost to prepare the EIS.

    Lets stop the dance.It has nothing to do with following the law-it has everything to do with soaking up USFS man hours so less can be accomplished on the ground. When we hack into your e-mails we’ll have the proof (of course-someone else will have to do that-I have a hard time burning a cd-or is it called a DVD now)

    • Hello Derek,

      You asked, “could you give us the “source” for the 99 active timber sales?”

      I got the information directly from someone affiliated with U of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research and is a grad student in UM’s forestry school. I assume the information is public, because they were releasing a report.

      Here is a link to the spreadsheet.

      I was told the info was gathered directly from the Forest Service and that spreadsheet was of active timber sales on the Lolo National Forest between FY 2005 and FY 2010. In addition to the spreadsheet of active timber sales, I also saw a report, which found “A total of 58 timber sales were sold by the Lolo National Forest between October 1, 2004 and September 30, 2010.”

      • Thanks for the list Mathew. I “saved” this one, fascinating stuff for a “Rain man” to look at.
        However, I want to point a few things out. I think you’re playing a little “fast and loose” with the data.

        #1–26 of the “timber sales” consisted of “10 log truck loads and less.” Several of the sales were for one load.

        #2–It’s neat to see how long the timber sale contract runs. Some of the bigger run for ten years (I suppose some of the HELO contracts got extensions with the current economy). In your “99 active timber sales for the 2005-2010” statement, you have a lot of “overlap” so to say. You include timber sales that started in 1997 and ended in 2005 and also include sales that started last week and will end in 2016. You’ve got 20 years worth of timber sales in five years.

        #3–currently, there are 10 active timber sales on the Lolo.

        The average timber sale is around 4 MMBF (6 tons= 1 MBF). The Lolo has a five year average of selling around 20MMBF/year. It used to sell 100 MMBF. At the current rate of harvest, the Lolo will log 1.5% of the “forested acreage” in the next decade.

        Thanks for the source Mathew. You didn’t “make it up.” But-I think it’s a stretch. “99” sure sounds like a lot don’t it.

    • Derek says,

      The one thing that disgusts me about EIS’s, is the cost to do the NEPA analysis is not revealed. The “economic” section is full of blather about PNV and cost benefit-but nothing about how much it cost to prepare the EIS.

      I hear you. I spent my career fighting that sort of bullshit. That is when I wasn’t doing battle with the self-proclaimed ‘Free Market Environmentalists’ bullshit. See, e.g. My Wars Against Economic Fundamentalism. A snip:

      Alan Randall had already declared “economic rational planning” dead just about the time I [came to the Forest Service in 1980]. I spent a couple of years trying to get my Forest Service economic colleagues to recognize the death, or a least to engage in dialogue about various schools of economic thought—and what each school believed relative to other schools. But it was not to be. Nobody wanted to hear that message, neither to engage in that conversation. Instead they just wanted practice their economic priestcraft, narrowly framed around so-called “efficiency analysis”—concocting Present Net Value indices, alongside “economic impact assessments,” trying to associate jobs and income with forest-related programs. My major “beef” was with the “efficiency analysis.” I left equally vexing problems with “impact assessment” to my colleague Hank Robison. Since I could not practice what the Forest Service Manual and Handbook mandated, I set out to develop an alternative practice. I initially set out my “advice” in a small publication that I handed to people whenever/wherever I felt the need. I finally framed my advice (Economic Advice for Forest Managers) as part of a three-part series that I aired on Eco-Watch,1995.

      But long before then I began research into who else was in the battle against government rational planning economics. It turned out that many were (and had been for a long time) waging a similar war in broader government settings. I compiled their findings and reconfirmed my view that I would not help people jinn-up formulaic, cost-benefit analysis numbers. I also advocated against the practice: Cost-Benefit Analysis: Wonder Tool or Mirage?

      … Of course, none of it would make a dent in economic practice in the Forest Service, since FS Manual/Handbook materials were considered gospel. I often referred to it as the Gospel According to Marx, not Karl but rather Groucho. Finally though, just before my retirement in 2007, we whittled the Forest Service Economics Manual/Handbook down to two pages, that said in essence, go forth and practice economics according to the ideas/philosophies/methods of whatever school of economic thought a practitioner aligned themselves with. (Assuming that the court of public opinion could sort out economic wheat from chaff). I wonder what has happened since?

      • Lying (that is, in the context of a demonstrably false construct) at the center of their prevailing economic rationale, is the notion that money can somehow equal life.

        It cannot.

  10. All- I think that you could extract the information from an FS database on litigation on whichever forests a given group had litigated.

  11. FYI: Today’s Montana Standard’s editorial page included this correction.

    The Standard’s Sunday editorial criticizing two environmental groups for opposing the proposed Fleecer timber cut also mentioned The Wild West Institute of Missoula for filing lawsuits to stop timber harvests … “The fact of the matter is that the WildWest Institute hasn’t filed a new lawsuit against timber sale on national forests in Montana in over five years,” said institute director Matthew Koehler

    Source: http://mtstandard.com/news/opinion/editorial/clarification/article_7507b052-67db-11e1-88e3-001871e3ce6c.html


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