The Saga of Colt Summit Continues: Opportunity for Direct Action?


Just when you think it might be done, because it went to court and the judge told the FS to analyze more and the FS did…

Maybe it’s time for some of the direct action proposed earlier on this blog. Here’s a link to the members of the Western Environmental Law Center Board of Directors. If I were one of the collaborators on the project, or any knowledgeable person in the area who supports the project (especially those with environmental street cred), I might organize with my collaborators to call them up, and invite each one to talk about your opinion of what action they should pursue, or maybe take a tour with the FS and the collaborators of the project area, plus some nearby areas that have had similar treatments to get an idea of what the completed project would look like.

My personal curiosity is why of all the possible environmental problems in the world, including in the interior West, they chose to spend energy, their funds, and your tax dollars litigating 597 acres of commercial thinning and underburning near Seeley Lake, Montana. Well, maybe based on the yarding acres there will be 706 acres commercially treated.. still..

As we’ve discussed on this blog, there are fuel treatment projects everywhere in the West (and south). Why of all of them… this one? Is it some kind of Montana thing? But who is from Montana? Doesn’t look like any of the board members.

Also, the news stories keep calling it a 2,038 acre “logging project” which is a bit of a summary.. but I don’t think the broadest category of “logging” would include “understory slashing and prescribed fire”. So is it really accurate to call it a 2,038 acre “logging project” or more accurate to call it a 2,038 acre fuels reduction project with 706 acres of logging? (People who work on this project: ifyou read this blog could you please send me the correct number of “logged” acres?) Note that the acres that would be logged were reduced by over 50% based on public comment.

Here’s the link and below is an excerpt.

MISSOULA — The U.S. Forest Service says it has successfully answered a federal judge’s legal questions involving a 2,038-acre proposed logging project in the Lolo National Forest about 10 miles north of Seeley Lake.

Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin last week wrote there was no need for additional information about the Colt Summit Project proposed in 2011. The decision opens the way for work to start this summer.

“I have found no reason to further supplement, correct or revise my March 25, 2011, decision,” she said.

Four conservation groups — Friends of the Wild Swan, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and Native Ecosystems Council — sued in September 2011 to stop the project, saying it would harm lynx, bear and trout habitat.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy last June knocked down most of the plaintiffs’ claims and said the Forest Service properly studied the project’s effects on lynx and grizzly bears. The exception was the claim that the Colt Summit Project analysis violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not studying the cumulative effects of the project on lynx, a threatened species. The judge sent that portion of the proposal back to the Forest Service for further consideration.

Austin in August submitted a supplemental environmental assessment for public review and comments to address those concerns about lynx, which she said clears the way for the project to continue.

Western Environmental Law Center attorney Matt Bishop, who represented the environmental groups, said he was disappointed Austin didn’t issue a new environmental assessment but chose to reaffirm the old one. He said he needed time to review Austin’s decision before the conservation groups could consider their next move.

18 thoughts on “The Saga of Colt Summit Continues: Opportunity for Direct Action?”

  1. I wonder what it’s like to be the lone objector to a largely supported federal project. Is it REALLY that bad of a project? If it was, why are there so many supporters?

  2. “My personal curiosity is why of all the possible environmental problems in the world, including in the interior West, they chose to spend energy, their funds, and your tax dollars litigating 597 acres of commercial thinning and underburning near Seeley Lake, Montana. Well, maybe based on the yarding acres there will be 706 acres commercially treated.. still.. ”

    Sharon, you are trying to apply common sense to an illogical problem. You, of all people should understand where these folks are coming from and why….as I’ve said before, they are just trying to exploit any/all perceived weakness. Controversy is good business for these folks. EAJA fees collected by these orgs are “pocket change” as far as DOJ is concerned, so EAJA reforms aren’t likely going to be pursued anytime soon, alas.

    Quick look at WELC’s expenses to give everyone an idea of operating expenses of an outfit like WELC (don’t think they’re in it to feel good):

    First link – everything linked to Western Environmental Law Center: (note orgs and $)

    WELC specific:

    • JZ-1) the first link didn’t work for me.. could you send another.?

      2) thanks for the link to their financial reports.. I also thought their impact summary was interesting..

      WELC’s secret to success is tried and true: take a small but connected and determined force, WELC’s staff, and give them a powerful lever, the law, and you can change the World. WELC’s staff has over 150 years of collective experience of using the law to protect the West. We have lived here even longer, forging connections to both our natural environment and to the other committed advocates in our communities; connections that allow us to deeply understand the issues we face and the solutions that will work in the West. Whether its going to court, working the halls of a legislature, or sitting down with a roomful of officials and Western resident, WELC knows which lever to pull to get results.

      Hmm.. protecting the West, one 700 acre thinning project at a time ;)?

      3) Also I don’t think they are in it to make money, I think they really believe they are helping make the Earth a better place. And why not, if they only hear one side of the story? Who knows what they are thinking based on what they’ve heard? That’s why I think they need to hear both sides, from folks who have walked the ground and know the area (and support the project, as well as those who don’t), before they decide to fund litigation.

  3. I’d wager that the WELC attorney on the Colt Summit case is more familiar with what’s in the U.S. Forest Service’s Colt Summit project file than anyone else, including the Forest Service. And where is this supposed notion that those who filed suit against the Colt Summit timber sale haven’t heard from the “other side” or haven’t actually “walked the ground and know the area?”

    Are you seriously claiming the people at Friends of the Wild Swan who live, work and recreate all around the Colt Summit timber sale area don’t actually “walk the ground or know the area?” Utterly ridiculous and total non-sense! Seriously, sometimes these discussions are just plain dumb and pointless.

    If you think the only way to express conservation, wildlife or ecological issue/concern with this timber sale is to simply add up the acres, bust out your calculator and go right ahead. That’s certainly not what the US District Court did. If people actually take time to view the briefs in this matter you’d see the crux of this timber sale has to do with more industrial logging in an already heavily logged part of Montana (cumulative impacts with other proposed timber sales in the area) that happens to be a critical important corridor between the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Mission Mtn Wilderness Complex. And certainly a major issue is how more logging impacts ESA species (and designated critical habitat) for creatures such as lynx, grizzly bear, bull trout, etc.

    Go ahead, call up all the WELC board members or anyone else. The assumption that a bunch of “yes-men” “collaborators” who have never filed a timber sale appeal or lawsuit in their lives and wouldn’t know a NEPA document if it they tripped over it while walking down the street have all the answers, or studied all the science and research is just baloney. Anyone ever stop to think that it’s these “collaborators” who have a vested financial and political interest in these timber sales going forward?

    • Matthew, I have not met the WELC attorney, and I’m sure he is very knowledgeable. But let me share my experience. In my experience, attorneys know a lot about projects, but it is through a different filter than your average wildlife biologist or vegetation ecologist (silviculturist), especially about what the prescription means and the effects it will have. So I find it hard to believe that a person without that kind of background would know more than the folks directly involved in project design (and in watching the results of other projects in the same area).

      And it’s interesting to me that in many discussions folks talk about the importance of “science”, that the observations of local scientists carry such little weight.

      Matthew, I read the arguments and the analysis in the court case, and really it is not about the wildlife per se, but how the FS analyzed the cumulative impacts on one but not all of the species analyzed.

      And I think it’s disrespectful of the people who worked with the FS to say that they are “yes-men or women” who “wouldn’t know a NEPA document if they tripped over it”.

      And the “vested financial interest” of the TWS or NWF (?) in seeing the project go forward.. really? So you think they are getting some kind of cut of the proceeds from the FS or the timber company?

      a link from a previous post.

      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.

      Or “political interests”?? Exactly what do you mean by that?

      Here’s how it looks to me from many miles away, based on what you are saying.

      Some people worked with the FS on the project.
      Based on that, the FS went way down on their acres with timber removed.
      Friends of the Wild Swan did not agree with the project..
      So WELC supported them, and used funding from donations to their group.

      So folks can agree or disagree but it’s the ones who can bring bucks to the table to litigate who get their way, either through settlements or winning (or perhaps not, in this case).

      This hasn’t reduced my interest in why WELC picked this project to litigate.

      I have heard your arguments about the corridor, and looked at the document and how they mitigated wildlife concerns in the project design. I wonder if the Board Members are really aware of these things.

      Note that in the comments to the post linked above, there is a story posted by Matthew where Mr. Garrity states :

      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.e

      OK, so if you make a claim that it’s illegal, and the judge disagrees, aren’t you wrong? So if it is legal, then, ergo, is Mr. Garrity wrong about the collaborators, and perhaps an apology to them would be in order?

      • Sharon, when organization such as the Montana Wilderness Association and The Wilderness Society collect over one million dollars in grants from foundations in recent years to support “collaborative” timber sales and Wilderness bills that include mandated logging I would put forth that, yes, groups like MWA and TWS have a “vested financial interest” in seeing these supposedly “collaboratively” developed logging projects go forward.

        When this millions of dollars in foundation money is channeled to the “Montana Forest Coalition” ( [NOTE: website set up and officially registered to Trout Unlimited)] so that this group can flood Montana newspapers with full page ads and Montana radio and TV with ads supporting mandated logging and “collaborative” proposals for more logging, yes, these groups have a “vested financial interest” in seeing the logging go forward.

        And of course, the members of these “collaborative” groups that work in the timber industry have a “vested financial interest” in seeing the logging go forward.

        Heck, maybe someone should call up TWS’ Scott Brennan and ask him about all the phone calls he make to multi-million dollar foundations complaining about the Colt Summit lawsuit and trying to steer money away from groups who try and hold the Forest Service accountable.

        • So Matthew, in my work, I have been on the other end of “full page ads” by folks like Pew Charitable Trusts. It doesn’t feel good to have foundation folks from out of state run ads saying what you’re doing is wrong, especially when they don’t tell the truth about what you’re doing and think that that’s OK. I so understand that.

          But if Pew gets grants to stop state roadless rules, for example, does that mean that they have a “financial interest”? Are there “good foundations” from which it is OK to accept money and “bad foundations” from which it is not OK? Are open records for 501c3 organizations clear enough about where the money is coming from and where it is going for us to be able to judge?

          I notice that you said “flood Montana newspapers” and perhaps you and I can agree that it does not feel good to have out of state rich people donating to not for profits attempt to decide local outcomes.

          I know you say you are “trying to hold the FS accountable” but Garrity was rolling the dice on his case and, well., lost. The FS has evolved to deal.. through coevolution.

          You don’t think Mr. Brennan cares about accountability?

          I think it’s OK for Mr. Brennan to spend his time talking to people about what he thinks. I think it’s OK for us to spend our time telling people on the board of WELC what we think.

          I think if more people spoke about what they think eyeball to eyeball we would have potentially less work for lawyers.. and if we are talking about vested financial interests, it seems to me that lawyers might have such interests in litigation.

  4. What keeps WELC in business in large part, is the USFS’s arrogant unwillingness to see anyone’s point of view, other than their own. In my view, Debbie Austin should have, rather than just revising a flawed EA, started from scratch and crafted a document with the aid of input from all parties. In the event the project can’t be designed in a way that all parties can live with, it should be abandoned. (it happens in a democracy) Those who support these projects typically have a financial stake in them or at least have a willingness to say my Forest Service right or wrong.

    The USFS critiques itself, uses it’s own scientists and experts as it’s basis in fact and alone decides whether an appeal has merit. The USFS’s interpretation of the laws is slanted toward it’s own goals and the endless stream of litigation continues. It always will continue until the USFS learns that pure environmental concerns and the concerns of the citizens at large are critical to the function of forest management.

    • Jerry, you have a very nice ranger, Mr. Terry Baker, right in your neighborhood. He doesn’t seem arrogant or unwilling to see anyone’s view. So who exactly is this “Forest Service”? I’m sure Mr. Baker, Ms. Austin and the FS employee down the street have a lot in common. On the other hand, in my experience, it can be a wild ride with FS employees whose feelings and allegiances are all over the map in an organization that prides itself on decentralization.

      The reason the FS proposes projects of various kinds is that it is required to do so by Congress (yes, the very same folks that pass environmental laws). Nowhere did Congress say “if someone doesn’t like it, projects should not go forward.” In fact, it looks like Congress thought about appeals, to the extent they wrote the Appeals Reform Act and asked for an objections rule last year.

  5. Wow. I am so impressed that the Seeley Lake volunteer fire department is in favor of the project. And the counties too. Such knowledgeable, unbiased, thoughtful people.
    I never worked in this area in my career, but I travelled through numerous times, and I feel strongly that this narrow corridor is a critical habitat for those bears and lynx who inhabit both mountain ranges nearby. If any small area in Montana needs very special attention in respect to T&E species, this is the one.

    • Apparently you do feel strongly. Nice of you to think so highly of people you’ve not met.

      Also nice to see you base your “opion” based on the fact that you’ve “travelled through” the area.

      WOW is right….

      • I can’t restist. What I get a kick out of, is the map Sharon posted awhile back that was part of the EA on this project. It showed that the highest density of radio collared Lynx was on cutover regenerating Plum Creek lands, while there were almost none in this vital “Wildlife corridor.” Do you spose the “supplementary analysis of cumulative impacts” will thank Plum Creek for creating such wonderfull Lynx habitat. I know “that does not compute” with most. Sharon, “giving these people a call” doesn’t do a thing. They’re not interested in making a better project, they’re interested in NO project.When the moderate enviros come to realize that common sense and appeasement doesn’t work, then we’ll see change.

        • Derek:

          Not a big deal, but I was the one who posted the map and nope, it wasn’t a part of the EA for Colt Summit. It was a letter we discovered that John Squires
, Research Wildlife Biologist
 at the Rocky Mountain Research Station
 in Missoula sent to Missoula County’s Rural Initiatives program in response to some of their questions.

          Of particular interest is that Squires stated:

          “The Seeley Lake area represents some of the most important lynx habitat in Montana.”

          And also, “[L]ynx are very sensitive to forest management, especially forest thinning. Thinning reduces habitat quality for lynx with effects lasting up to several decades.”

          “[T]here is likely a threshold of thinning below which lynx will not be able to persist. The extent of forest thinning and forest fragmentation around Seeley in the last 5 years is of concern for lynx in western Montana. Preliminary analysis of population viability suggest that lynx in the Seeley area may be declining, so concerns for maintaining available habitat does have a scientific basis.”

          You can read the whole letter and view the map, which Derek references at this previous post:

          Finally, while it’s true that the map with Squires letter did show that some lynx were moving through some of the cut-over Plum Creek Timber Company lands, it’s not correct for Derek to state that there were almost no lynx outside of Plum Creek lands or that lynx weren’t using wildlife corridors. Thanks.

          • For those following this, here is the link to the supplement to the EA, and below is something from that on the BO (note that FWS is a separate agency, in a separate department, from the FS, with regulatory responsibility for ESA).

            “In March, 2007, the FWS issued a Biological Opinion (BO) on the effects of the NRLA on the Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Canada lynx in the contiguous United States in
            accordance with section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (M16-20; 14650). The Biological Opinion considered the effects of implementing the standards and guidelines of the NRLA, the LCAS, the lynx recovery plan, critical habitat designation, and other information (M16-20;
            14650). In addition to other findings, the BO concluded that: 1) the Forest Service had demonstrated a commitment toward conservation of lynx, 2) the standards and guidelines of the
            NRLA would provide connectivity and foraging for dispersing lynx, 3) the vegetation standards of the NRLA adequately address the impacts of harvesting forests and creating early stand initiation stages and therefore moderate impacts on snowshoe hare production, and that 4) although negative effects on lynx may not be totally eliminated, they are significantly reduced by the management direction included in the amendment. The Biological Opinion also found that in
            at least 94 percent of the core and occupied secondary areas, vegetation management projects designed under the guidance of the NRLA would likely avoid adverse effects on lynx (M16-20; 14726). Furthermore, the BO found that in the remaining six percent of these areas, fuels management projects could be designed in compliance or in partial compliance with the standards and guidelines and that other projects such as recreation development would be constrained by standards mandating maintenance of connectivity (M16-20; 14726). Ultimately, the FWS concluded in their BO that “the programmatic and project-level objectives, standards, and guidelines in [the] proposed action provide comprehensive conservation direction adequate to reduce adverse effects to lynx from Forest management and to preclude jeopardy to the lynx DPS” (M16-20; 14724).
            The Colt Summit Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project was designed in compliance with all standards and guidelines of the Northern Rockies Lynx Amendment to avoid adverse effects on lynx. Furthermore, it considered more recent scientific research, including studies conducted in the project area, in order to avoid adverse effects to lynx.

            Although I can’t find it now, I also thought there was something in the project about burned over areas not being good for lynx either and that these thinnings might be able to help keep cover on these areas in the event of a wildfire. I don’t see the statement by Dr. Squires above addressing that question specifically.

  6. I came down out of the woods today on a road I rarely travel. A few private landowners live along this road. I noticed a state timber sale that basically clearcut their ownership right up to the property line of one home. Their entire viewshed a clearcut.

    I tried to put myself in the shoes of the forester charged with laying out the sale. Wow, what a challenge…maybe, maybe-not. State timber funds schools after all….

    I tried to put myself in the shoes of the landowner. At first I’d certainly be upset. This wasn’t a trophy home, however…just “Joe average” living outta town…not likely to pack up and move just because their backyard got logged. Then I got to thinking…wow, what if they have kids?! What an opportunity for them! Forts and all other kid things aside, the opportunity to see a forest grow over your lifetime! Pretty cool! (this is a very productive site we’re talking about).

    How many of you have gone back to where we’ve grown up and remarked at how different things look? I sure have. I can barely recognize some of the Plum Creek timber sales I laid out in western MT some 15+ years ago…

    Point is, forest are resilient. To logging even. Things grow back. Enviro’s don’t seem to want to acknowledge this at all. “Looks” are an extremely selfish motive for stopping forest management (logging). When, admitedly, your morals oppose any extractive use of NFS lands, then your motives (such as lawsuits) will always be in question. I doubt a grizzly bear or lynx is going to go, “WHOA – chainsaw stump!, better turn around”. But the Judge alreadty made that point…

    And to the folks who think that collaborators are all “yes-men” (should be “yes-men/women” or “yes-folks” [cultural transformation and all]) all have our hands in the corporate pockets, well….you know what….we’ve been over this so much it’s not worth arguing. There is a bus headed for Roswell. I bet you’d have a blast…


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