Stand up for public forests or lose them

Steve Kelly, an artist and volunteer director of Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, defends his group’s lawsuit “against the federal government to stop the clear-cutting and bulldozing of new logging roads in the Ten Mile Watershed.” Says “The assault on public values by the timber industry and Forest Service is relentless.”

Also, “Collaborative groups today are designed to limit political options, undermine public participation and marginalize any group or individual who will not conform to the federal government’s false premise, inaccurate diagnosis and hidden agenda, which is invariably more and more logging.”

Stand up for public forests or lose them

Standing up for public forests is not what Montana Ecosystems Defense Council is doing.

Kelly’s essay is a response to a June 29 editorial by the Independent Record, Collaboration, not lawsuits needed for Ten Mile project which says “This is the kind of lawsuit that lends credence to those who claim environmental organizations, like the ones Kelly and Johnson represent, are simply obstructionists.”

Montana Ecosystems Defense Council didn’t get their way from the collaborative process or via administrative review. Why should they be allowed to sue?

26 thoughts on “Stand up for public forests or lose them”

  1. Hi Steve, You do of course realize that you, and the corporate media, leave most of the facts out, right?

    For a more complete look at this logging sale, I’d encourage people to pick up the Helena Vigilante, an Indy newspaper that actually dug a little deeper into this public lands logging sale and some of the issues surrounding it. Here’s their article:

    The fact is that 65% of the acres to be logged in the timber sale are via clear-cutting. Don’t believe me? Well look at the Forest Service’s own documentation.

    The fact is – as was mentioned in Vigilante article – this clearcut logging is just the start of the Forest Service plans to build 30 miles of NEW logging roads within the watershed.

    Also, here’s an official map of the project area directly from the U.S. Forest Service:

    As anyone can clearly see on the map, dark pink = clearcut logging and the Forest Service is proposing to pretty much clearcut the forest around the entire reservoir. Why did the Helena IR not tell people this fact? Doesn’t the public have a right to know?

    Yep, nothing says public lands watershed, and drinking water, “protection” in 2014 quite like clearcuts and 30 miles of new logging roads.

    Again, why did the Helena IR not tell people this fact? Doesn’t the public have a right to know? Would public sentiment perhaps be different is the Helena IR shared some of these simple facts?

    Whey did the Helena IR not tell the public that the Forest Service had to violate their own elk habitat standards to facilitate all this clearcut logging in the watershed? Is that not important? Do people in Helena not care about elk habitat?

    And it of course goes without saying that the Montana Wilderness Association, sitting in front of their computers in their nice new office/castle courtesy of nearly a million dollars of money from the out-of-state Pew Foundation to push more mandated public lands logging on our National Forests has absolutely ZERO to say about this timber sale.

    This is what has become of some of Montana’s “conservation” groups. They are nothing more than mouthpieces of the timber industry, Democratic party and USFS. They refuse to speak up and out against bad management of public lands for fear of losing their comfortable seat at the “collaborator” table.

    Again, I’d encourage Helena citizens to look at the Forest Service’s map ( and try and figure out how clear cutting a huge circle around the reservoir, to be following in coming years by 30 miles of NEW logging roads bulldozed into this area, is a sane way to protect a watershed and Helena’s water supply.

    Thanks to those who hold the Forest Service accountable. Perhaps the Helena IR should do a better job informing the public, or at least admit in their editorial that they apparently don’t want the public and Helena citizens to know all these facts.

    Finally, I’d just like to point out that perhaps longtime Montana resident Steve Kelly knows a little more about the specifics of how “collaboration” is actually playing out in Montana (specifically) rather than someone in Oregon. It goes without saying that there is a widespread believe that “collaboration” as being practiced here in Montana comes with some very serious problems and consequences. I’ve spoken on a number of panels dealing with “collaboration’ over the years, and even big supporters of “collaborative” fully acknowledge that if their “collaboration” was run like some of the worst examples coming from Montana they too would bail. Furthermore, there have been a few PhD level studies done on “collaboration” in Montana on public lands issues, and those independent studies also pointed out some of the pitfalls and problems. Thanks.

    • Matt, have you been to the site or looked at the photos provided by the USFS or Google Earth? Did you notice the swaths of crowded stands of dead and dying lodgepole? Would it be better than harvesting SOME of that or to let it burn? A fire in that area very likely would burn at high intensity across a far larger area than the 489 acres where harvesting is proposed. And, as you may know, a high-intensity fire would put the reservoir and streams at a much greater risk of sedimentation.

      Roads? What roads? In its response to the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council admin appeal, the agency said, “Post-project road density in the analysis area would not differ from pre-project road density, as the project does not include any road decommissioning or building of permanent roads.”

      • Hello Steve:

        I wrote: “The fact is – as was mentioned in Vigilante article – this clearcut logging is just the start of the Forest Service plans to build 30 miles of NEW logging roads within the watershed.

        From the article:

        “People should also know that the Chessman timber sale is just the start, not the end, of the Forest Service’s logging plans in Helena’s watershed,” Johnson said. “The Forest Service Interdisciplinary Team is working on a plan for building 30 miles of new logging roads to ‘treat’ 20 to 40 percent of the watershed. What that means is that 20-40 percent of the municipal watershed are likely to be ‘treated’ with clearcuts like the current proposal, which would result in 5,260 (20 percent) to 10,520 (40 percent) acres of additional clearcuts in the watershed. A square mile is 640 acres, just to give some perspective to what’s headed Helena’s way.”

        Nope, I have not been on site. Yes, I have looked at USFS photos, maps & USFS documents available on-line. Yes I have looked at Google maps/earth.

        • Matt, “working on a plan” means very little. I’ll wait to see what is actually proposed. In the mean time, the Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir Project “does not include any road decommissioning or building of permanent roads.” THAT’s a fact.

          • Steve: What I wrote is pretty clear. Johnson’s quote is pretty clear. If you doubt that Johnson is correct when she stated, “The Forest Service Interdisciplinary Team is working on a plan for building 30 miles of new logging roads to ‘treat’ 20 to 40 percent of the watershed,” that’s fine by me. But please take it up her and prove her wrong. Or call the USFS ID Team and see what’s up. FWIW, nobody doubted your “THAT’s a fact.”

          • As my bus buddy in D.C., Mike Williams of Lands, used to ask me about my work “are you guys still plannin’ with yourselves?” 😉 I

  2. Sorry about the mangled sentence: I meant:

    Would it be better to harvest SOME of that or to let it burn?

    Seems like many enviro, groups these days automatically choose the latter.

  3. “Why should they be allowed to sue?” Steve, one reason is, because that’s what the law says. Realizing that some folks don’t like the law, but there it is.

    And, as Steve Kelly notes, “Lawsuits are necessary to force federal agencies to follow current laws and regulations.”

    It’s true, some find the laws inconvenient (such as the USFS, which doesn’t even like its own legally binding rules, hence their “serial amendments” approach to the Helena NF). But again, not liking the law is no excuse to break it.

    On the lighter side, here’s a local news story that quotes Helena City Manager Ron Alles as being concerned about the epidemic of the “pine birch beetle.” Now, that would really be a pest to worry about! 🙂 (I suspect he knows better and was misquoted)

    • For a landscape perspective, Google “chessman reservoir montana” and go to Google Maps for the area, then select the satellite view. I don’t see many clearcuts, but lots and lots of dead trees. Bloggers, take a look for yourselves. What is the greatest threat here? Fire? Roads? Clearcuts? Hands-off management? Pine birch beetles?

      Happy Independence Day, everyone!

      • I don’t know where is the best place to insert this on this thread, but this is from Mac McConnell. Note: anyone can insert photos into comments. Just make a fake blog in wordpress, upload your photo into a fake post, and copy the html. If you have trouble email me and I can talk you through it. Teach a person to fish and all that 🙂


        The near-end state of “snag forest habitat” can be seen on the left. This photo was taken on ~June 5, 2012 on the 2nd day of, and near the origin of, the Little Bear fire that burned over 44,000 acres and destroyed 224 homes. Building fire line in this environment was extremely difficult and dangerous. Holding line under the weather conditions that later developed was impossible.” This photo foretells the future of the Chessman Reservoir fire area in the absence of management.

        • Hello Mac. That’s an interesting photo. It couldn’t be much larger in size for how little of the landscape or ecosystem we can actually see.

          Did you see the excellent photo, video and article put together by an independent newspaper out of Helena? The photos/video show the current, on-the-ground conditions of the forests – slatted for clear cutting – around the Chessman Reservoir.

          It’s hard to say because your picture is such a close pan of just one spot, but it appears to me as if there are some important differences in the types of forests around the Chessman Reservoir and the picture you posted.

          So I’m not so sure your “photo foretells the future of the Chessman Reservoir fire area in the absence of management.”

          Also, I’m not so sure anyone is saying “no management” as they express some legit concerns with the Chessman Reservoir clearcut logging project. I’d encourage people to look at this on-site pictures and video:

  4. As fate would have it….Just posted.

    An on-the-ground report (including photos and video) of the conditions on the ground by the Helena Vigilante newspaper:


    • MatthewK

      Thank you for the very helpful “on the ground” video at the bottom of the Vigilante article at:

      If the video is truly representative, as it appears to be, and if it was my call, I’d strike a middle ground that would accomplish everyone’s goals. I’d leave a 100 yard untouched strip around the shoreline to severely limit any chance of harming the lake’s water quality. Then continuing to move away from the shoreline, I’d clearcut a 100 yard fire buffer and regenerate it. Then as I moved even further away from the lake, I’d repeat the alternating 100 yard contoured strips of untouched naturally recovering land and regenerated clearcut with appropriate adjustments in widths so that the last strip would be a 100 yard regenerated clearcut between the established forest not affected by the beetles and the last naturally recovering strip in the beetle killed area.

      Fire hazard would be significantly reduced by the clearcut strips, natural recovery would provide a continuum of habitat while the regenerated clearcut provided a different earlier successional habitat while the abundance of edge effect between the alternating strips would provide easy access to cover for the rabbits and other animals that would move into the open clearcut edges for foraging as their forage in the naturally recovering strips decreased as the overstory gradually shaded out that forage.

      Could you go for such a compromise?

  5. This is not about forestry, it’s about burning it to the ground so evil capitalists can never pay any taxes from their wicked, wicked profits.

    I looked at the Vigilante pictures and they are of terrible quality, but saw enough. The reservoir is surrounded by the same ridiculous mortality that dominates Flesher Pass, huge chunks of Mullan, et cetera ad nauseam. Every time I am down that way, my contempt for environmentalist stupidity is renewed. Foresters knew 30 years ago, from SCIENCE, that Montana’s lodgepole stands would be approaching the end of their NATURAL lives. There is no such thing as “old growth” lodgepole.

    It doesn’t matter to Steve Kelly that lodgepole is a stand-replacement species. It doesn’t matter to Steve Kelly that all it’s going to take is one spark, match or lightning strike at the wrong time and all that gray and red will be black. That’s bone-dry wood, if there’s enough understory for ignition, it will still go and go big. It doesn’t matter to Steve Kelly if it burns and then we have another Hayman Fire reservoir fiasco and big dumps of fish-killing goop. It doesn’t matter to Steve, or apparently Matt, even Guy, that the wise thing to do in the long term IS to put in roads (well engineered road prisms ARE hydrologically transparent) for FUTURE management of both fuels and fire.
    One last thing — pine bark beetle could be mis-caught or mis-heard by a forestry-illiterate reporter with a bad scrawl…

  6. Ahhh…the “Red Mountain Chessman Reservoir” project. As the Helena IR editorial sez, they’ve been trying since 2008 to do something in Helena’s municipal drinking watershed…and the poor impotent and neutered Northern Region is finally getting around to it. I’m sure in about 8 years the 9th circuit will allow them to proceed (remember, the Cabin gulch project on the Helena began “scoping” in 2006 and has just been allowed to proceed by The Man).

    Perhaps one reason the city of Helena backs the clearcutting around their reservoir is because they’ve seen my “clearcuts don’t burn” photos(they have). Perhaps one reason the Helena IR backs it is because they’ve seen my “clearcuts don’t burn” photos (they have).

    I do share Matt’s frustration with the media…from the anti-matter perspective. As you can see from the IR editorial…the Western media, while being fine people I’m sure, are still squishy feely enviros…and the clearcut bugaboo is still strong with them…but as I’ve harped so many times before…this is the perfect “wedge issue” between the pragmatic moderates and radicals. I think we can safely place the IR editorial board squarely in the “prag” column. A few years back, in my “mid-life get involved idealism crisis (LOL), I sent my “don’t burn” photos from 8 different fires to all the media in Montana. I thought it would make a great story…in light of the MPB epidemic and wildfire (the Ten Mile collaborative was very much in the news then-LOL). I got a lot of “wow…I didn’t know that…very interesting” responses…but no story. So I agree with Matt, the Helena IR should do a story telling the public that the USFS intends to clearcut around their reservoir…and then show my clearcuts don’t burn photos in the same story.

    I find it wonderfully ironic that for decades logging was banned in municipal watersheds…and now there are several projects throughout the West that are logging in those same watersheds. Google earth “Dillon Reservoir” in Colorado. The USFS, with the Denver Water Board’s blessing(they’ve seen the photos too…along with the local governments), has clearcut MPB killed timber right down to the shore (well, there IS a SMZ buffer). The Pike Isabel forest near Leadville is proposing a similar project(Tennesee Creek Project) around Turquois lake…again with the blessing of those well known lackeys of Big Timber…the Denver Water board. I can think of a half dozen more municipal watershed projects that have or want to “thin” forests in their “warm dry habitat” forests…including those well known lackeys of Big Timber living in the new age crystal capital of Santa Fe.

    All these MPB killed areas are just about to enter the “deadfall phase.” Fire hazard will then peak for the next 10-20 years. Of course it makes logical sense, that leaving a SMZ buffer along the reservoir will filter what little logging sediment is produced, and the “green island” that will develop in the clearcut over the next 10-20 years will filter the mud flows that come off the burn.

    Frankly…my evil self can’t wait for the Ten Mile watershed to burn. That might be the only way for the media to tell the public about my phenomenon. At least I feel comfortable knowing that when the reporter sees a “green island” in a sea of black…and wonders why “that happened”…their memory might be jogged by my photos. Hence begins, the new age of forestry on USFS lands. Ti-i-i-i-i-ime… on our side, yes it is.

    • The “snag huggers” will never address the issue of re-burns, even with the Rim Fire being a perfect example of how unsalvaged fuels will burn again, often catastrophically. The fascination of dead trees by a portion of the eco-community even embraces dead trees along forest roads, pretending that woodpeckers will use them. Ya know, actually, nest trees would be much safer for the birds, if they weren’t next to roads, where woodcutters can get them. The trick is to get in there and do the work before the birds can establish nests where we don’t want them. Of course, that concept might just be a lil too difficult for the “whatever happens” crowd to understand.

  7. Matt, Dave – I would have to think most folks would have already have made up their minds as to what level of FS management they find acceptable. This continual back and forth seems like like petty stone throwing after a while. I’m really curious if you think peoples opinions are truly swayed by the continual battle of collaboration/clearcut/corporate sellout op-ed’s over there in MT?


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