This is one of our favorite projects to follow, for newer readers. One of the reasons is that there is a narrative that you will hear from some “if only the FS worked with collaboratives, then litigation would cease to be a problem.” I think I even heard that in some of the Chief’s testimony before Congress. Colt Summit is a data point that refutes that narrative.
From the current EA (my bold):
In response, members of the Lolo Restoration Committee unanimously agreed Colt Summit was consistent with the 13 principles of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee and the project would accomplish its restoration, monitoring, and adaptive management goals. Members of the Southwestern Crown Collaborative applauded the project for its responsiveness to their strategy for landscape restoration. Support for the project was provided by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and United States Fish and Wildlife Service; agencies responsible for managing the recovery of grizzly bear, Canada lynx, and other wildlife in the project area.
Last week, the next stage of Colt Summit was released. To summarize, the judge wanted more lynx cumulative effects analysis. As far as I can understand it, the claims that the project would hurt lynx were not upheld, but they just didn’t analyze the cumulative impacts the way (at the scale?) the judge thought was best. (other more legally minded folks are welcome to clarify my understanding). The FS provided it, but it wasn’t in the right format. (I don’t think folks are allowed to ask format questions, but I could be wrong; I’d like to hear the FS story of how that misunderstanding happened).
So hopefully now it is in the correct format. Here’s the link to all the analyses. An amazing amount of verbiage for 600 acres of commercial thinning. As Derek would say, this would probably not be a big deal in Wyoming, Colorado, or South Dakota (I don’t know about points west). If I had to generate a hypothesis, it would be that groups in Montana like to sue more, rather than any difference in environmental conditions. I’d be interested in other hypotheses that explain the data, including this data point. Here’s where WELC claims “Victory!”, perhaps a bit early. It does make me curious who funds them and why they pick the projects they do.
It is the July 2013 Supplemental EA here..
The original Environmental Assessment has been supplemented to assure the Court and the public the Forest Service has provided the hard look that is required; more specifically, to characterize past projects or actions the Court found to be lacking in the original Environmental Assessment and project record. In this SEA, the Forest Service describes past, ongoing, and reasonably forseeable actions and characterizes their aggregate effects on lynx. This characterization is provided at the scale of the LAU because the Forest Service prevailed in its selection of the LAU as the appropriate scale to conduct such analysis Friends of the Wild Swan et al v Austin (D. Mont. 2012) (9:11-cv-00125-DWM, Doc. 50, Filed 07/11/12, pp. 22-23 and 40-43). In response to public comment, activities outside of the LAU have also been examined. In addition, portions of the original Environmental Assessment have been modified to provide a more comprehensive discussion of the project in order to support the supplemental analysis for lynx.
I like that the District clarified and improved some other parts of the document based on what they were hearing. They are trying to do a good job at explaining what they are doing.
However, if the judge is happy with this one, the taxpayer paid for all the supplemental analysis because one group decided to sue. Somehow it doesn’t seem …er… just. And no, because the court system is called “justice system” does not change my impression. It seems like lawyers would say it provides “accountability” for the Forest Service, but there doesn’t seem to be much accountability for the watchers of the Forest Service to the citizens.
In my opinion, a certification-like process would do more for accountability across all forests, be more transparent, improve actions done rather than actions as written, and be less costly for the taxpayer.