Celebrating Lake Como “Thinning” by Ignoring the Fiasco


This week, the Ravalli Republic had yet another glowing article about a “thinning” project around the very popular Lake Como Recreation Area of the Bitterroot National Forest. The paper billed the project as “an effort to protect the forest from a mountain pine beetle invasion.” Here’s a snip:

Bob Walker and his small crew have been working to thin out the forest around the Lake Como Recreation Area since last year….“We need to be doing more work to get ahead of the pine beetle. It’s sad to see our forests dying right before our very eyes.”  The project his crew is working on now has that focus in mind.  Over the past year, Walker’s loggers have removed about 60 percent of the trees from most of the recreational sites in the Lake Como area in order to give the remaining trees a fighting chance when the mountain pine beetle arrives en masse.

And now, for the rest of the story, which the Ravalli Republic reporter has been provided a number of times over the years as the Lake Como “forest health” project does its best Energizer Bunny impersonation and “just keeps going…. and going…and going.”

But first, here’s a link to the official 2011 Decision Memo for the “Lake Como Recreation Area Hazard Tree Removal Project.”  Yes, this time I was able to rather quickly and easily find a recent decision memo on a Forest Service website. So perhaps this one-time success will develop into a trend of good luck with Forest Service websites. Of course, in order to get to the “Projects” portion of the website I first had to click on the “Land and Resource Management” link, which includes a somewhat idyllic and pastoral picture of horse logging on the Bitterroot National Forest….which must have taken place at least one time in the past, although I must admit I haven’t heard of any horse logging on the Bitterroot National Forest for quite some time.  But, hey, why not give the public the impression that horse logging is common-place on the forest, right?

OK, on with the rest of the story, courtesy of the local group Friends of the Bitterroot (which, I should point out, counts former loggers, retired Forest Service district rangers, biologists and even the son of the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor from 1935 to 1955 in its leadership).

Probably the most popular and well used trail on the Bitterroot National Forest snakes through an old growth stand of big ponderosa pines on the north side of Lake Como. The first half mile of the trail is paved to make it handicap accessible. Benches and interpretive signs have been placed as amenities along the way.

Darby District Ranger Chuck Oliver decided to improve the experience of what was a beautiful old growth pine forest by slashing and burning undergrowth. In April 2004 the area was torched on a hot dry day. The fire erupted out of control and burned many of the prime old growth pines.

Then the Forest Service salvage logged the area and burned the logging slash.

Subsequently pine beetles invaded many of the fire stressed trees and a bunch more big old growth pines died.

This offered the Forest Service another opportunity to salvage log big trees in 2006.

Then the logging slash from that logging was burned.

The end result of the Como fiasco is a handicap accessible paved trail through a thrice burned, twice logged remnant of old growth pine studded with many big stumps.

The new interpretive signs do not tell the reader that the fire was set by the Forest Service and do not point out that the beetle infestation area matches the burned area. The public is given the impression that the events were all natural rather than the results of Forest Service [mis]management activities.

Keep in mind that here we are in 2013 and the Forest Service is still logging trees in the Lake Como Recreation Area, including what appear to be (see photo above) some rather nice looking, green, large-ish ponderosa pines trees.  This would all be funny, if it wasn’t so sad and frustrating.  And, isn’t it absolutely amazing how none of the timeline or facts above about the Lake Como Fiasco make it into this reporter’s “feel good” story?  Equally so, how come none of this history made it into the “background” portion of the Bitterroot National Forest’s 2011 Decision Memo?

But wait…there’s more! The Forest Service now is analyzing yet another project for the area called the “Como Forest Health Project.”  Yep, this is truly a logging project that keeps on giving.

Update:  The Alliance for Wild Rockies has provided a copy of AWR’s scoping comments on the proposed “Como Forest Health Project.”

46 thoughts on “Celebrating Lake Como “Thinning” by Ignoring the Fiasco”

  1. I don’t know anything about the Lake Como fiasco/project, but the article here leaves me asking myself, is there yet another side to the story? If the actions taken by the Forest were as clearly destructive and underhanded as described here, isn’t there a history of appeals and why no legal challenge?

    My guess is, as usual, there are at least three sides here, of which we are being pitched two.

  2. Hello MD. Thanks for offering your thoughts. For the most part, management activities on the Bitterroot National Forest have gone forward without appeals or litigation, despite what you might hear from the logging industry or politicians.

    For example, I know of only 3 logging lawsuits on the BNF during the past 12 years. Furthermore, at one point Friends of the Bitterroot did an analysis of all the timber management activities conducted on the BNF since the organization was founded (around 1985 I believe) and they discovered that of something like over 500 activities, only a few dozen were appealed. Also, I know of no example of where a prescribed fire project has ever been appealed or litigated on the BNF.

    Anyway, as I’m sure you are entirely aware of, an appeal or a lawsuit of a timber sale, prescribed burning or any management activity takes place BEFORE the project is completed, so it very well could be that there was no history of appeals and legal challenge because the project was already completed.

    The Forest Service is, of course, welcome to come into our discussion here and tell their side of the story. Thanks.

  3. Unrelated to the Lake Como area, but in a similar vein, years ago on the Colville NF, someone proposed to “thin” some of the very large Ponderosa pine in and around a very popular lakeside USFS campground. No beetles, no other reason given that I can recall, other than these trees were large and easy to get to. Possibly a handfull of these large yellowbellies might have been deemed as hazardous to the users below. It took real screaming and pressure upon the DFR and Forest Supervisor to get this stopped. The project as planned would have largely wiped-out a beautiful stand of large pine overlooking Sullivan Lake. In the end less than ten trees were cut.
    Have to remember that in R-1 in the 60’s, timber management was “king”. And “get out the cut” was the word of the day.
    I would summarize by suggesting that we have gone from one extreme to another…overcutting to undercutting.

  4. The following comment was sent to me via email from Roy Keene and is shared here with his permission. Keene describes himself as “a public interest forester with 40 years of experience in the West.:

    The same problems abound with Eastside pondo pine “restoration” and collaboration logging in Oregon. The media ignores the real issues (or just doesn’t get it) and gives cheery. feel good reports. Meanwhile, our forests keep getting thinner.

    Inventory records show industry depleting their mature pine stands in the 90’s in both Montana and Oregon, easily possible since neither state’s forest practice act mandates sustained yield. In order to keep the mills fed, this leaves only one source of mature pine… public forests. Duh.

    Driven by high export log volumes, prices, and a burgeoning Chinese wood products industry, we’re seeing the same effect now even in the faster growing Westside Doug-fir forests. Private lands are being rapidly stripped of 50+ year old DF and industry is clamoring for substitute public timber to fill “domestic shortages”.

    Unchecked private forest liquidation leads directly to heavier cutting in public forests.

    Enviros wanting long term protection for public forests need to be taking on private forest practices, log exports, and timber tax subsidies. Obviously this is a conflict of interest for enviros already working collaboratively with the timber industry which is one reason they’re not saying anything.


  5. http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/como-forest-health-scoping-letter.docx

    Above is a link to the official NEPA scoping comments submitted by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for the proposed “Como Forest Health Project.” Please take a look and let us know what you think Below is a snip from AWR’s comments, requesting that the Forest Service design the project within the framework of the Montana Restoration Principles.

    The Montana Forest Restoration Committee (2007) adopted 13 Principles which were written collaboratively by a diverse set of stakeholders which included two Supervisors of national forests in Montana along with representatives from timber and forest products industries, conservation groups, recreation interests, and others. We urge the Forest Service (FS) to design the Como Forest Health project within the framework of those Principles, and request that the NEPA document include discussions of Project consistency with each of the 13 Principles.

    • Matt: If the comments are numbered 1-6, they are undecipherable. I think you need a secret handshake and a decoder ring to begin trying to figure out what is being said. If they can be translated into English, I would be happy to comment. Looks like the type of Bureaucrat-speak that the legal team will love.

      Many of the “13 Principles” have been debated and discussed here many times. Personally, I’m not too impressed with the types of normative science that are at the basis of several of these. Phrases such as “enhancing ecological processes” and “reestablish fire as a natural process” leave me cold. More Jabberwocky in my corner of the world, and more misdirection in the management of our forests. And more time in the courtroom.

      I’d guess that you are not too surprised by my thoughts. Maybe Ed can offer something more positive.

      • Sorry Bob, but I don’t follow any of the first part of your comment. What comments numbered 1 to 6? In this thread? Or in AWR’s scoping comments? Either way, seems like plain English is being used. I’m also sorry that you are so quick to dismiss the “13 Montana Restoration Principles.”

        • Matt: They are the comments numbered 1 to 6 in the first link you sent. And, trust me, they are NOT written in Plain English. Why are you unable to locate them?

          I didn’t quickly dismiss the “13 Principles.” Just the ones based on value statements and debatable “scientific” terminology. They sound like they came out of a courtroom, or can be quickly herded in that direction. They are not unique to “Montana,” certainly, and are the exact reason I posted on the topic earlier: http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/8829/

          • Oh, OK, Bob, you mean the short section in the AWR comments dealing with old-growth issues that starts with “Zack et al., 1997 “addresse(d) the following six issues and related UCRB DEIS objectives and standards?”

            Not my comments Bob, so I really can’t respond to how they are written and the words used within the comments.

            However, I assume all the abbreviations and those 6 points correlate directly with the Zack et al study, which is cited at the end of the comments:

            Zack, Art; Bob Ralphs, Jim Byler, Jenny Taylor, Gayle Worden, Joyce Stock and Darrell Frogness. 1997. Mature/Old Forest Strategies (draft). Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District, Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

            RE: the 13 Montana Restoration Principles.

            In January, 2007, the Montana Forest Restoration Working Group came together to define a set of principles that define forest restoration in Montana. They never set about to do anything outside of Montana. When the Principles were developed the MFRWG stated that the 13 principles should be applied when planning and executing all forest restoration work on national forest lands in Montana. Projects should adhere to all applicable principles.

            Our organization, WildWest Institute, was deeply involved with the development of these Principles. So too were key players in the Montana timber industry, Forest Service supervisors and district rangers and scientists, U of Montana scientists, National Forest Foundation, restoration practitioners, other conservation groups, etc. I think they were put together by about two dozen people in total.

            Your statement and opinion that the 13 Montana Restoration Principles “sound like they came out of a courtroom, or can be quickly herded in that direction” is something I’ve never heard before, and sort of interesting considering that the Forest Service and timber industry were deeply involved in their creation. I seriously doubt any federal court judge anywhere would halt a Forest Service project because they don’t adhere to the 13 Montana Forest Restoration Principles, if that’s indeed what are getting at with your “herded in that direction” comment.

              • In this particular case, JZ, with the Forest Service’s proposed “Como Forest Health Project,” the Forest Service send out their scoping notice and provided the public with less than a 2 week turn-around time to submit comments. Check it out yourself….Letter dated Feb 14, 2013 (delivered a few days later) and comments due March 1, 2013. That’s a pretty quick turn-around to expect substantive comments from the public, and certainly not much time for the public to visit the site. Anyway, I was away for part of that time, so we didn’t get our comments in before the deadline. Thanks for asking though.

            • “Not my comments Bob, so I really can’t respond to how they are written and the words used within the comments.”

              “Above is a link to the official NEPA scoping comments submitted by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for the proposed “Como Forest Health Project.” Please take a look and let US (emphasis added) know what you think…”

              Which is it Matt? You ask for comments on what we thingk then disavow all knowledge of the content?

              • I don’t know what to tell you JZ that’s any different than what I told Bob.

                “Which is it” you ask?

                Not my comments JZ, is my answer, so I really can’t respond to how they are written and the words used with the comments.

                The “US” I used in that quick update to this post was meant to refer to the collective group here at this blog (ie “Let us know what you think.”)

                It seems like Sharon will often include an invitation for others to share their thoughts with all of us, so that’s what I attempting to do.

      • Bob, the comments are actually fairly well done and a heck of a lot more professional than many The Undecipherable portions are citations in the document.

        Scoping letters in the NEPA process are the first step in a potentially legal end-game that the enviro’s know all too well. Comments need to be dealt with in their entirety and there’s no requirement for the public to use the plain english guidelines. A tactic that many (not necessariy above cited comments) use as appeal points. “The FS voilated NEPA by failing to respond to blah, blah, blah…”. I liken it to a tennis match…even tic-tac-toe at times. Particulary with similar projects..the comments and end result usually turns out the same and everyone gets to play.

        For grins, here’s a more diabolical take on it for you Bob. The above comments could be considered the equivalent of a cancerous tumor. It (the comments) needs to be dealt with in their entirety or else…or maybe a swarm of mosquitos surrounding/trying to get thru a hole in your tent might be another fun way for you to think about it.

    • Matt: My thoughts on the “13 Principles,” as promised:

      1) Restore functioning ecosystems by enhancing ecological processes. Matt, this doesn’t even make sense. Did an ecosystem stop functioning somewhere? Are all “ecological processes” in need of “enhancing?” Can the definitions provided in Appendix A be any more discombobulated and unclear? If you followed my earlier link in this string, you know my thoughts on “restoration.” This is the opposite.

      2) Apply adaptive management approach. In theory, I very much like the idea of “adaptive management” – it’s what people do, and have done, throughout history. In practice, it has been a near total failure in the hands of USFS and BLM since it became a regulation of some sort about 20 years ago. By all appearances, I think it was probably neutered by the legal teams, but I am biased in that regard. Hasn’t worked too well, if at all, in practice is my point.

      3) Use the appropriate scale of integrated analysis to prioritize and design restoration activities. Yow. You really don’t want my opinion here. The statement: “While economic feasibility is essential to project implementation, priorities should be based on ecological considerations and not be influenced by funding projections” pretty much says it all. What, after all, is an “ecological consideration?” That’s a rhetorical question, Matt, so please don’t try another definition on me; I’m already feeling a little queasy wading through this stuff as is.

      4) Monitor restoration outcomes. I’m in total agreement with this principle, even as defined. I’m just worried that the Monitors will be looking for “ecological functioning” or some other theoretical concept that cannot be measured or readily defined. The key is “baseline measurements.” THEN start worrying about “feedback loops” and so on.

      5) Reestablish fire as a natural process on the landscape. I don’t believe in “natural fire regimes” in the first place, and have no idea as to how (or why) they can (or should) be “reestablished.” My field is documenting landscape-scale fire histories, and my findings for the past 500 years (which are documented) routinely run counter to the “natural fire regime” models – which can’t be documented because they are almost entirely theoretical and can’t be found in nature. Plus, they are based on the idea of human-free environments, which don’t exist in history. This is what I call “normative science,” as embraced by the anti-logging, anti-wildfire suppression, people-as-pathogens, Let-It-Burn crowd. Whom I strongly disagree with.

      6) Consider social constraints and seek public support for reintroducing fire on the landscape. Absolutely in agreement, if we are talking about prescribed fire. Absolutely not, if this is simply another stab at selling “natural fire” to the public. One is educational and needed; the other verges on propaganda and has proven destructive to our forests and grasslands, wildlife populations, and rural families and communities. I’m guessing “outreach” here may be referring to urban populations, which are seemingly clueless in these regards.

      7) Engage community and interested parties in the restoration process. Total agreement, again. At least until we get down to such details as: “restoration efforts should be developed jointly by agency staff, community members, and other interested parties.” The “other interested parties” sounds too much like the self-anointed “eco-warriors” and their legal staffs for my comfort. And there is a documented basis to my discomfort. Otherwise: total agreement.

      8) Improve terrestrial and aquatic habitat and connectivity. “Improve” it to what? From what? Is the connectivity becoming lax these days? Did it use to be better? Are glaciers and volcanoes part of this process? Windstorms, floods and landslides? Weed infestations? Wildfire? Although I’m glad that this concept “does not preclude future active management,” I’m far more concerned with the present, and the insinuation that this gibberish doesn’t allow for short-term actions – assuming they are even needed, depending on what, exactly, this is trying to promote. It does sound kind of scientific, though – I’ll give it that. Otherwise: normative science (to be polite) in action.

      9) Emphasize ecosystem goods & services and sustainable land management. I’m guessing everyone had a good feeling when they adopted these words, however they are defined, and whatever they might mean to whoever has to deal with them. Personally, I’ve never been too impressed with the “ecosystems services” concept since it was first invented a few years ago. Are we personifying the landscape as a rationale for adopting passive management decisions? That’s what it sounds like. All depends on how you are defining your terms – and, exactly, why you are doing so. More “committee industry” stuff, with nearly zero practical need for consideration, in my opinion.

      10) Integrate restoration with socioeconomic well-being. Well, why not? Sounds like putting people back to work in the woods and actively managing our resources again. Even the definition of this principle sounds reasonable –and in apparent total contradiction with some of the earlier stuff about “natural fire regimes” and “ecosystem services.” Couldn’t agree more.

      11) Enhance education and recreation activities to build support for restoration. Personally, I think working and playing in the woods does this on its own. Generally sounds good, until you come to the parts of the definition including such words as “promote” and “facilities.” I much prefer the words “allow” and “campgrounds and trails” in their stead. A proven winner, and for thousands of years. Although I don’t think such activities are necessarily needed “to build support for restoration.” I think that takes place without saying – depending on how “restoration” is defined, of course (I like my four principles way better than these 13, but I’m biased).

      12) Protect and improve overall watershed health, including stream health, soil quality and function and riparian function. Here we go again. According to whose standards and definitions? If they are mine, I’ll buy into this. If they are someone else’s, I’m going to be very cautious and suspicious. Couldn’t have been written better by an environmental lawyer looking for some job security.

      13) Establish and maintain a safe road and trail system that is ecologically sustainable. I don’t know what “ecological sustainability” is, and I don’t think you do, either. Or anyone else, for that matter. Some more of the New Forestry terminology based on taxpayer-funded normative science writings, so near as I can tell. I am all for safe road and trail systems, however – I just have no idea as to whether they are “ecologically sustainable,” or not. And neither do you, or anyone else. Something for the serial litigators (and Larry calls them) to sort out.

      So, there you go. My unvarnished thoughts and opinions. Hope they are helpful, or at least contribute to this discussion. (You owe me, Matthew.)

      • I agree with (almost) everything Bob is saying here. Semantics and synonyms are a poor excuse for sensible site-specific science. Maybe we need to agree upon definitions, first?!? Since landscapes are quite varied, I am sure we will need to use all the “tools”, including “passive restoration”, for the variety of stands and their incredible diversity. I have always believed that good work can get done without having “repeal the Endangered Species Act”, or suspend NEPA.

        Matt talks about a lack of lawsuits in his area, and we have to take that claim at face value. Certainly, if it were up to the lawyers, I am pretty confident that many more issues could be contested. We need to trust that the three “C-words” of collaboration, consensus and compromise will not fail us. We need to use these to expose and marginalize the extremes, on both sides.

        It is pretty difficult to justify clearcutting over a less-intensive “treatment”. Similarly, I think that “passive restoration” is a tough-sell when talking about sickly forests. There ARE “middle grounds”, and I think that educated people should be able to see what is the “greater good” for the land AND the humans.

        • And, Larry, I agree with (almost) everything you have written! I am not so sure about this “middle ground” thing, though. That has seemed to mostly refer to the table between the legal teams from my experience, while excluding most local residents and industries and non-agency forest scientists. My preference is “other options.” I know — more semantics. And in the PNW, “other options” has mostly been described as “variations on a theme,” with the theme being to reduce logging and decommission roads and trails. Why I finally stopped going to these types of meetings and not bothering to comment on their “outcomes” in the first place.

          • Even if some of that middle ground is seen by some as inadequate and a waste of money. There is some benefit in showing the public that we can implement collaborative projects and follow through. If a project is truly a failure, then steps can be taken to show the public (and dissenting scientists) where we need to change. Chances are, “collaborative stewardship” can “repair” any truly “bad” projects.

            This thinking made me think of a cutting unit I worked in last summer. This was a former clearcut which had been commercially thinned 15 years before. Being mostly a monoculture, we were to leave any other species, which were mostly incense cedar. There seemed to be plenty of surprisingly large pines to “space off of”. This second thinning should result in a much more “natural” ponderosa pine stand, especially with its south-facing aspect. Leave trees should quickly become future “old growth”, or “large cohorts”, whichever you prefer. In the end, that first thinning was seen, by the silviculturalist, as “inadequate”, needing to “fixed”. There might possibly be another selective harvest there, 20-30 years down the road.

            Edit: My point with this example is that the “inadequate” first thinning maybe wasn’t so “inadequate”, after all?

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the 13 Montana Forest Restoration Principles Bob. Hopefully the group of Forest Service supervisors/rangers/scientists, Montana timber industry reps, loggers, University of Montana scientists, National Forest Foundation reps, restoration practitioners and other conservation groups who put these principles together back in 2007 will also read your thoughts. Maybe they will even offer their own perspectives here.

        • Matt: That would be great. Since you were so heavily involved with the group, maybe you could post this column to them via email? As I recall, there were about 25 people in the group? It would be a good thing to have them chime in on this, since it is their work that is being reviewed.

          • Bob, I actually wasn’t heavily involved with the group that developed the Principles. At the time, I had our (WildWest Institute) ecosystem defense coordinator participate in the group, as I felt that his involvement was most important for a variety of reasons. I do remember that the National Forest Foundation, which facilitated the meetings, thought that the decision to have our ecosystem defense coordinator was a key ingredient for success. I too would hope that those who sat around the table and hammered these Principles out would chime in here and comment. I can certainly alert some of them to this blog post, but I don’t know of any way to mass email that group anymore. Thanks again.

              • I think I see where you are heading with this (maybe), JZ. The person that signed in for Michael Garrity on the March 1, 2013 “scoping letter” that Matt posted, appears to be Jeff Juel — who was identified as Defense Director of WildWest Institute at that time:


                Matthew, your replies to JZ’s queries are beginning to appear strangely evasive at this point. I’m not sure who or what within the National Forest Foundation found Jeff’s participation in developing the 13 Principles was a “key ingredient for success,” but I’m beginning to find it odd that you seem to be backtracking from your initial post so rapidly. Or am I misunderstanding this exchange?

                Are you going to send this discussion string to Melissa, as JZ suggests, to see how they respond to my criticisms, or not? After all, this discussion — and my criticisms — are based on your post and your request for feedback; and you were the one that suggested those members might be willing to express their thoughts on my own, here. Certainly, posting a two-week old letter by Jeff to start this thing off suggests you are still in contact with your former Defense Director. And JZ did provide you with Melissa’s contact info. What am I missing?

                PS I still think it is a great idea, and am curious what the framers of the “13 Principles” think about my thoughts. Based on your request. And your suggestion.

                • Bob: Please do me a favor in the future. Don’t post a comment here at 10:42 pm on a Friday night that’s a sort of firm, quasi conspiracy laden request for me to drop what I’m doing and write someone else on your behalf in order to share your thoughts with another group of people. OK?

                  I’ve been nothing but accommodating here in this discussion and there is nothing to assume that I wouldn’t be accommodating with your request to send your comments to the MFRC since you requested it, and JZ found the contact info at 6:18 pm on a Friday night. For the record, I’ve not only never met Melissa Hayes, but I’ve never even heard the name.

                  But now you see below (and I also directly cc’ed you in the email) that once I woke up on a Saturday morning I got right to processing your request, sir. So again, please spare me from posting something here late night that sort of makes all these assumptions about what I’m going to do, not going to do, etc. Bob, when you asked, “What am I missing?” I think what you are missing here is all of this which I’ve had to explain above.

                  Regarding some of your other stuff. Yes, from 2006 to 2007 Jeff Juel was the Ecosystem Defense Director for WildWest Institute. Yes, Juel was our organization’s rep as the MFRC developed the 13 Principles. Yes, Mary Mistos of the NFF and also Brian Kahn of Artemis Common Ground (two of the facilitators and conveners of the MFRC group) told me directly in a meeting in 2006 that Juel/WildWest’s participation in the development of the 13 Restoration Principles was a key to success.

                  Anything else you want to address Bob? Just be aware that I’m not going to spend my entire weekend sitting in front of the computer waiting for your next request or task. So if I don’t get back with you until Monday, please be patient. Thanks.

                  • Matt: 1) don’t tell me what time of day (or night) to make a post. 2) Stop bending the truth. You tasked me (and the others) with reviewing your 13 Principles. It was me — not you — who was being “accommodating” by spending about 90 minutes of my own time honoring your request. There was no time limit given to respond to any of my posts (and never has been), and whether you want to spend the weekend in “front of a computer,” or not, is your choice. You seem to be possibly suffering from that “convenient memory” problem that some people talk about.That’s why Gore invented the written word.

            • I just love how my honest response above (Comment #21) gets an anonymous ‘thumbs down.’ Am I the only one who thinks the anonymous ‘thumbs up’ / ‘thumbs down’ rating system here is sort of stupid, childish and doesn’t lend much to the discussion?

              • Matthew.. I do too. I think it was Iverson’s idea and actually I think he wanted “likes” but that is more complicated than I can accomplish in WordPress. Any volunteers who are interested in exploring that are welcome!

                Until then, I am turning it off.

                • Thanks, Sharon! I, too, have been regularly visited by the “anonymous thumbs” fairy and was curious why so many of my responses were being perceived that way — and sometimes so quickly! I think the less anonymity in these discussions, the better.

  6. Matt: While understanding the danger of having this exchange become accused of being the “Matt and Bob Show,” I think the “13 Principles” probably deserve a more pointed response — which I will try and put together in the next few hours (and please note that the link I provided in this string only identified four principles — way fewer potential legal arguments). In the interim:

    I have honestly never heard of Zack, et al. 1997, but it sounds like the “decoder ring” I was referencing. Matt, it’s a 15-year old DRAFT, for Gore’s sake, from an Idaho NF or something. I’ve never heard of any of the coauthors, either, nor do I know who’s signature was submitted in lieu of Michael Garrity’s, nor am I familiar with Michael Garrity or have any idea what his academic credentials might be. Plus, the “six points” are unreadable. At least the link worked this time! (Couldn’t resist. Sorry).

    You may have noticed that I consistently decry the gross mismanagement (and personal financial gains) of our nation’s forests and grasslands by “lawyers on both sides of the table.” Depending on how you define “timber industry,” it is (and has been for decades) to the distinct advantage of industrial forest landowners NOT to have to compete with USFS timber sales. The spotted owl is their buddy, too. They have seemingly been the willing — and very well compensated — “straw man” in this debate through the years. And when the environmental industry heads to court, it is the USFS and forest industry LAWYERS that are sitting on “the other side of the table.” So, I am not at all surprised when you state that forest industry and USFS personnel were “deeply involved” in the formulation of the “13 principles.” Someone else has referred to this as the “committee industry,” and that’s a pretty good characterization, in my book.

    Now I’ll look at your 13 Principles in a little more detail.

  7. I think I’ll take Matt’s advice and “re-post” this Missoulian story over to this thread. The link below is a story about the “Larry Bass project” on the Bitterroot. VERY similar to the Lake Como thinning discussed here. Exact same low elevation ponderosa pine ecosystem. Both area are very popular with the non-motorized set. Heavy use recreation areas.


    I was lookin at the Larry Bass project earlier on the USFS website. A couple highlights.
    There are more acres in the “mature” (100-150 year old) catagory today than estimated 100 years ago by “Losenksy. For anyone not familiar with the work of Losenksy…he “compiled” the maps and inventories of early foresters, circa 1900 (plus or minus) and created “climatic sections” for the inland Northwest which represent pre-settlement conditions. The research is widely cited in about every EIS’s I’ve ever read.

    In the project area, there are NO early seral acres…even though Losenksy found 10% was in that condition 100 years ago. Keep in mind, this is thee classic ponderosa pine of a frequent fire low density big trees regime.

    The Missoulian story says the USFS received $432,000 in “stumpage” payment from the loggers. The EA economic’s section predicts there would be $200,000 in “sale costs.” NO “below cost timber sale” here. Most of that “profit” will stay on the forest under the stewardship.

    The trees removed, as seen in the photos, are exactly the “small diameter” trees they want to remove in Arizona. When looking at the “cut trees” in the photo…I’m guessing 85% will be under 14″ DBH…easily. The problem in Arizona, for 20 years, was no timber industry..and tree size had nothing to do with it.The Montana mill is paying $100/thousand board feet for these small trees, while the USFS in Arizona is “paying” to have them removed.

    What I love about these two projects, is they’re both in high use recreation areas. It’s been my observation, that the public likes to see their hiking trails “thinned.” I once met with a forester on a timber sale that I thought was gonna cut too many trees in a very popular hiking area. I was wrong. There wasn’t a peep of public opposition before,during, or after the sale. There were a dozen cars parked at the trailhead this last weekend. The public likes their trees, and they like their shade, but they also like to see flowers,choke cherries, grass and cool rock outcrops. They “don’t” like to see dead trees or burned forest. Look bub,you show me one person who won’t go hiking because they see some stumps, and I’ll show you a dozen who won’t go because they see a pile of black deadfall.

    I might add, that after the thinning, these trees will se the beauty of the “thinning release.” In the example I cite above…the thinned trees have grown “one inch” in DBH in the last 6 years. The growth rings went from “paper thin” to an eigth inch. In 20 years, those 14″ DBH trees at the Larry BAss project will be an 18″ DBH forest flirting with old growth status.

    The best part…is these projects, and most USFS projects in the WUI for that matter, are gonna be very visible to the public. When the wildfire does blow through, and the treated area survives, the public is gonna ask, “Why didn’t the USFS treat more of the forest this way?” It is inevitable.

  8. As usual…I leave things out. I want to add, that the Larry Bass project, and the Lake Como project, were both heavily logged over a hundred years ago…and the areas to be treated now were logged in the 60’s and 70’s. And yet the USFS is gonna get almost $600/acre for the cut trees. Both places are perfect examples of “second growth” forests that cover Montana and the West. As the “project Decision Notice” stated, after the logging, the public will see what the pre-settlement forest will look like. We’re certainly not talking about logging “old growth” stands in roadless here. Just the opposite. Now who could object to thinning out these forests? Not many I’ll tell you that.

    • Derek, Thanks for taking the time to share all this information here.

      First off, I’m glad you submitted an additional comment pointing out that the forests around the Larry Bass project and the Lake Como project areas were both heavily logged over a hundred years ago.

      Truth is, most all of original old-growth ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests on the lower portions of the Bitterroot Face (and many other parts of western Montana) was logged during 1880s to early 1900s by Copper King Marcus Daly. So that’s very much the reason why Losenksy found so little old-growth or mature forests in that area 100 years ago.

      In fact, when I was a post-grad student at UM getting my secondary teaching degree I had to take a basic Montana history class in order satisfy the Montana teaching requirements….even though I already had a History BA at the time. The course was taught by the legendary Harry Fritz and I remember one lecture that dealt specifically with Daly’s illegal logging of the very newly created federal forest reserves in the Bitterroot Valley. As I remember the lecture, Daly was illegally logging in these forest reserves to feed the mines in Butte, the smelter in Anaconda and just generally build his empire and the federal government was about to come down on him. However, Daly pretty much ran Butte and Montana at that time and with some less than “above-board” efforts at the last minute Daly was able to get his man elected to the US Senate. And one of the first thing Daly’s man did (I believe in 1897) was open up these federal forest reserves to logging and other resource extraction, because when they were created by the Feds in, I believe, 1892, no logging was allowed originally.

      Also, Derek, I think you may be missing my main point for highlighting the Lake Como project. While I agree with you that the Larry Bass project and the Lake Como project are similar in some respects, they are certainly not similar with respect to the recent history of the Lake Como fiasco, as told by Friends of the Bitterroot, which is the main purpose of the blog post here. In other words, I’m not so much commenting on the current logging project in regards to Lake Como, as I am highlighting the somewhat sad and ironic recent history of that area over the past 10 years.

      A few other general thoughts and points. I agree with you that for the post part the Larry Bass area and the Lake Como area are generally characterized by a lower elevation ponderosa pine forest, with pockets of Doug fir. I agree with you that both areas are very heavy use recreation areas, but I disagree strongly with your characterization of the Lake Como recreation area as being “popular with the non-motorized set.” Truth is, Lake Como is VERY popular with the motorized recreation set. It’s really one of the only spots in the entire Bitterroot Valley where people can motor boat and the motor boaters flood the area during the summer. The area is also big with ATV’ers, some illegal, some not.

      In fact, here’s a story from a few years ago of retired LA police officer (who lost one of his legs in the line of duty) being run over by an outlaw ATV rider in the Lake Como area. Again, sad but true.

      Finally, both the Larry Bass project and the Lake Como project offer up some evidence that not every timber sale in Montana is appealed and litigated. I don’t have volume figures handy for Lake Como, but the Missoulian article Derek shared clearly states that the Larry Bass project is a 4 million board foot timber sale that will require 1,100 log trucks to take the trees to the mill. To visualize how much volume that really is, imagine log trucks lined up along side the highway for nearly 10 miles. Again, that’s hardly “no logging” or “no management”….and that’s just one project we’re talking about.

  9. As per Bob’s request and JZ’s suggestion….

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: RE: 13 Montana Forest Restoration Principles
    Date: Sat, 16 Mar 2013 08:20:58 -0700
    From: Matthew Koehler
    To: [email protected]
    CC: Bob Zybach

    Hello Melissa,

    I’m a contributor for a blog called “A New Century of Forest Planning.” Over the past few days the 13 Montana Forest Restoration Principles developed in 2006-2007 by the MFRC have been discussed on the blog.

    See: https://ncfp.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/celebrating-lake-como-thinning-by-ignoring-the-fiasco/

    As you’ll see at that link, in the comments section, Bob Zybach has provided his thoughts on the 13 Restoration Principles and he really wants those involved in the process of developing these Principles to see his thoughts. So I’m sending you the link so that you can share his thoughts with the group. Perhaps those who developed the 13 Restoration Principles will chime in on the blog as well.

    Thanks so much,

    Matthew Koehler

    • Thanks, Matt: However, your tone is a little condescending and you are not being quite accurate. If you will check this string, it started with you (not me) “really wanting to learn everyone’s thoughts.” And it was your initial interest — not mine — in stating: “Hopefully the group of Forest Service supervisors/rangers/scientists, Montana timber industry reps, loggers, University of Montana scientists, National Forest Foundation reps, restoration practitioners and other conservation groups who put these principles together back in 2007 will also read your thoughts. Maybe they will even offer their own perspectives here.”

      Otherwise, it is good to see that JZ was able to hook you back up with the individuals with whom your “organization, WildWest Institute, was deeply involved with the development of these Principles.”

  10. I just got through reading this.. it has gotten mildly personalized, but I think the fundamental dynamic is that of any policy work.

    You get a group of people together who don’t necessarily agree, and it tends to go to words that people want in. Those words tend to be fuzzy so that more people will agree with them and “buy in”. (this happens internally as well, I remember working on the 1995 RPA Program..), So we actually postpone discussions of things like “watersheds- do treatments to protect them from soil-destabilizing fire count as water quality improvement or not?” to the project level. Which is OK, but is agreement on fuzzy language really “agreement”?

    This question has to do with the post on NEPA and collaboration as well. What can we do to make sure that collaborative groups are clear and not full of fuzzy language that just postpones disagreements? IMHO, the planning rule itself if full of fuzzy language and normative language like “ecological integrity”. Folks put words in to make some group happy, but I think you should have a public (yes, public, on the internet, like this one) discussion of the meaning of these words before you put them in. Because ultimately they may end up in Legal World, who will define them in its own way, which may or may not make sense in Physical World.

  11. It’s take me awhile to respond…since, as is frequently the case with all the USFS’s websites, the Bitteroot website is shut down for the weekend for “re-tooling” I assume. Other than that, I’ve found the USFS websites to be a wonderfull source of info.

    Anyway…No Matt, Losensky “adjusted” for cutover lands…in fact…if it had been logged at the time of inventory, those acres were included in the “mature and over mature catagory.” Losensky’s climatic section M332B, which includes the Bitterroot, found that 67% of the Ponderosa pine was “over Mature”(151 year and older). For some reason the Larry Bass Project EA lumped mature and over mature together. So, 78% of the “pre-settlement” project area was in that catagory. Today they found that 98% was in that catagory. Now, I will tell you right now, that there is no way that 67% is in the “over mature” catagory. I have no doubt there is less Ponderosa pine old growth in Montana today than 100 years ago…but what the heck, it’s very likely your house is built out of old growth P-pine.Missoula’s historic district is built out of old growth p-pine. I think it’s naive to bemoan all that historical logging…without sharing with us your how you would have “done things differently” to shape an alternate historical ending. p-pine was THEE tree of choice to be logged right up to the 60’s.

    But that’s not my point. My point is two part. Number one: unfortunately Losenky doesn’t tell us “how dense” this old growth was. Early forester maps did map “how many thousand board foot/acre”…and it would be neat to see those maps. Eventhough, 15% of the P-pine was in the seedling-sapling stage, while today NONE in the project area is. Once again, early seral is lacking.
    Number two: as I’ve said before, there are tons of this “mature” second growth p-pine on past “Anaconda Copper” cutover lands all over Montana. I follow Montana’s DNRC timber sales. On the sale prospectus they list “average DBH diameter.” In what seems a bit ironic to me…some of the “biggest” diameter trees in their timber sales are found on low elevation land that was logged off of it’s old growth over 100 years ago(it’s impossible to find a USFS sale prospectus). It grows back peoople.

    Once again, restoring this kind of p-pine to pre-settlement condition should be something everyone could get behind. The next time your on a timber sale Matt, get down on your knees and look at the growth rings of a recent stump. In fact the Larry Bass would be a good place to go. A lot of this area had a commercial thinning in the 60’s. You’re gonna see some stunning “growth release” in the rings from past thinnings. Because of this growth release,in 20 years, I could see 75 18″-20″ Diameter trees per acre, with a healthy forage understory. To quote the project, “The public is going to get a chance to see what the pre-settlement forest looked like.” Granted, you’re not gonna see 300 year old 3′ diameter trees….but the quickest way to get large diameter trees back on site…is through thinning.

    Before I get back to Star Trek, I just want to add aq couple more things about Losenky’s climatic sections. Not all was roses in the Bitterroot. P-pine was only 16% of the forest. Of the Doug fir, which made up 16%, only 23% was “over Mature” while 20% was “seedling sapling.” Of the lodgepole pine, which made up 30% of the forest, only 3% was in the “old growth” catagory, while 33% was seedling sapling. You see that pattern constantly with lodgepole throughout Montana. With Douglas fir, you see around 30% in the “old Growth” catagory…but on the other end there’s always 30% in the seedling sapling. Of the “high elevation” spruce fir, almost always was 65% in old gowth and very little in sapling. This is interesting because the resaerch done by Veblen and Schoenagel et.el, that downplays insect epidemics and their effect on wildfire, is based upon a beetle epidemic that killed large amounts of spruce fir in colorado in the 40’s. Spruce fir forests that were at 9,000-10,000 feet in elevation. From Losenky’s inventories…it didn’t look like those forests burned very much if at all in the pre-settlement forest. To apply such research to lower elevation lodgepole pine seems a “bit of a stretch” to say the least. I’d say the vast amount of “Losenky’s pre-settlemtn lodgepole” that was in the seedling sapling stage speaks for itself.

    • Derek: I am unfamiliar with Losensky’s work, but you ask some very important questions regarding precontact forest conditions — and, yes, in general, I think those are the types of conditions that a large portion of the public would like to see across the landscape. Also the types of conditions that would produce: thousands of tax-paying jobs and rejuvenated manufacturing infrastructure across the region; greatly reduced wildfire risk and damage; favorable and safe habitats for our native wildlife species; protected watersheds and water supplies; improved quality of recreational opportunities; and become stunningly beautiful in the process. Why not?

      I won’t speculate as to why this potential is not being seriously addressed by our foresters and politicians at this time. Partly, we seem to have become addicted to taxpayer-funded models and “feel good” banalities in lieu of actual historical research and documentation in describing the past. Near the beginning of this discussion I included a link to an earlier post on how and why I think these problems can be addressed, by using the nearly-completed (some untested links and peer-reviewed text that needs to be rewritten in spots before putting online) Upper South Umpqua Project in western Oregon as an example.

      I’ve never looked at the General Land Office (GLO) survey records in Montana, but they have been been consistently applied across the western US since the early 1850s and are undoubtedly a useful resource in your area as well. Here is how we used them in the Upper South Umpqua — along with historical maps, photographs and reports — to answer the types of questions you raise regarding tree species’ distribution, diameters, and densities, and to try and better understand forest conditions (including human use patterns) as they were 200 years ago:

      GLO Survey Notes: http://www.ORWW.org/Rivers/Umpqua/South/Land_Surveys/Index.html

      Historical Photographs: http://www.ORWW.org/Osbornes_Project/River_Basins/South_Umpqua/

      Historical & Scientific References: http://www.ORWW.org/Rivers/Umpqua/South/References/

      Historical Maps & Research Findings: http://www.ORWW.org/Rivers/Umpqua/South/Upper_Headwaters_Project/Maps/

      We are not quite finished with writing the final peer-reviewed report on this, including completion of the website report, but hope to have it completed sometime later this year. I have no idea why the USFS has steadfastly refused to ignore this type of data in their discussions of “restoration,” nor why they don’t simply make it available for the lands under their control so that all citizens can have access to it. It is relatively cheap to locate and format for online use, and detailed presentations have been made to each of our three past Regional Foresters in specific regards to this (Upper South Umpqua) project (2+ years ago), to the Blue Mountain project that is the subject of a recent post here (one year ago), and to the Jim’s Creek project that deHarpport just referenced in his post (ten years ago). Our response has varied from feeble excuses (“we still don’t have any money”– twice), to encouragement (“you need to present this to the next Regional Forester”), to silence and no response at all (or even a return of our annotated draft from the Governor’s office).

      Maybe you can have better luck with USFS officials in Montana than we have experienced here in Oregon, but this is the type of research methodology that will answer your questions for specific locations throughout your area of interest. Why the USFS continues to ignore these valuable datasets in favor of speculative modeling and New Forestry lingo remains troublesome to me.

      • Thanks Bob. I luv lookin at this kind of stuff. Losensky’s stuff is
        “Historical Vegetation Types of the Interior Columbia River Basin”….John Losensky, 1994
        The USFS in Montana quote extensively from it.So does the Montana DNRC. It covers Oregon and Washington also.

        • Thanks, Derek: Me, too! You might want to check out the work of John Leiberg for your area. I did a draft report (unfinished and unpublished) on his work in SW Oregon that will give you a taste of his abilities: http://www.ORWW.org/History/SW_Oregon/References/Leiberg_1899/

          Most of his reports for your area (Idaho and Montana) are from 1899 to 1904 and often include lots of maps and photographs. Larry should like his work — if he’s not already familiar with it — in northern California. So near as I can tell, his reports were politically squashed by people (“Pinchot”) intent on showing that USDA management of US Forest Reserves was better accomplished by “educated” USDA leadership than by Leiberg’s (and others) USDI work, and it had remained largely unknown until being reintroduced in the early 1990s by myself and a few others (including Losensky, it appears). It would be 30+ years until the quality of USDA work attained Leiberg’s standards, and he was sent overseas to finish his career when the National Forests were created. Those politicians!

          Losensky (I followed your lead) cites Leiberg extensively, as he should. Might as well get it straight from the horse’s mouth, though!

          • I’ve seen some of the maps before…of early foresters that is.(don’t think it was Leiberg)…and I think they give some indication of “density” by “merchantable board feet” hatching. The map I have has different hatching for “skattering timber, under 2,000 bd.ft./acre, 2000-5000 bd.ft./acre, 5-10000 bd.ft./acre, and over 10000bd.ft/acre. In those days…14” DBH was considered “minimum merchantable”…but scribner was around and little changed since then. 2000-5000 bd.ft./acre would be the equivelant of (let me try and remember) around 20 14″ DBH trees, or 10 18” DBh. I don’t want to look it up.

            It looks like Losensky might have converted those catagoris. He does have a “percent cover type by structural development stage.” On the Bitteroot, or that climatic section,it looks like only 33% of the P-Pine was “old forest-single story” (closed canopy), while 24% was Open canopy. and 33% was Old forest-multi strata…which meant broken canopy with all tree sizes and ages included. Anyway…

            • Derek: I’d still go with Leiberg. Losensky appears to have mostly just used the 1930s Forest Survey maps (which are very general and contain errors, as I showed in my previous links), and converted them to tables. Leiberg often visited sawmills where he could count the rings of various species and use the information to help age standing trees.

              Scribner scale has been in use since the Civil War, so provides a good measure since that time. In Oregon, trees were measured down to 12″ diameter and called “pole timber” in the early 1900s. At that time thousands of tie mills (typically fed by horse loggers), covered the US, serving the pre-creosote treated railroad tie industry and making small diameter timber a lot more valuable than old-growth. In fact, when steam donkeys first came into use, old-growth “clears” were often used to feed the boilers because they were easy to split into firewood — and difficult to handle commercially.

              You might be interested in Sargent’s 1880 Census report on North American forests in those regards:

    • Derek wrote: “it’s very likely your house is built out of old growth P-pine.”

      You are correct Derek! My house was built in 1941 and yes, the 2 x 6 rafters are all built out of very nice ponderosa pine, which I always assumed came from the Bitterroot Valley. Some of the boards still have bark on em and I’ve often thought about how the trees needed to make that type of lumber really don’t even exist anymore…at least not nearly in numbers enough to justify using old-growth ponderosa pine for rafters on a 900 square foot house.

      P.S. I also have a hand-crafted end table – which we purchased at a non-profit’s silent auction 12 years ago – that is made out 100 year old reclaimed old-growth Bitterroot Valley ponderosa pine. The craftsman told me he believed the wood was from one of the first Forest Service timber sales in the Valley, but I’m not entirely sure how he’d know or could verify that.

  12. Keep in mind, both the expanded Como timber sale project and the Larry / Bass timber sale are on some of the best forest growing land in the Bitterroot.
    I wish I had digital copies to circulate of the Lick Creek photo sequences to shed light on pre-settlement forest conditions. Lick Creek experimental forest area is within the analysis area of the proposed expanded Lake Como fiasco. On occasion the photo of a logged Lick Creek area has been used by USFS, et al, to deceptively portray the recently logged forest as representing a ‘pre-settlement open, park-like stand of ponderosa’. The actual pre-logging photo shows a crowded cathedral of huge, healthy pine, the likes of which we will never see again in the managed forest, where the management paradigm has gone amuk.

  13. According to today’s Missoulian newspaper, the logging slated to begin on the Bass Creek project of the Bitterroot National Forest (referenced above a few times by Derek) has been delayed because Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co’s log yard is too full and they have too much inventory.

    An unusually dry spring will keep an extremely popular recreation site open to the public a couple of weeks longer than planned this spring.

    Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. has pushed back the start of its logging operation at the Bass Creek Recreation Area to about June 1 because its log yard is fuller than expected this time of year.

    “We didn’t anticipate this very dry spring weather,” said Gordy Sanders, Pyramid Lumber’s resource manager. “Our decision to delay the start of the logging operation has to do with the overall management of our log inventory.”

    The drier-than-normal spring allowed Pyramid’s loggers and contractors to bring in more timber than their mill could accommodate.

    So the mill’s log yard is full.


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