East Deer Lodge Project: Active Management vs. Do Nothing

This article describes a lawsuit by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council over the East Deer Lodge Valley Landscape Restoration Management project on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana. It is interesting that the project is “part of a restoration effort that began in 2006. That’s when the Forest Stewardship Program — made up of eight entities including the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Powell County commissioners; and Trout Unlimited — approached the Forest Service about the idea of working together to improve the banks of the Clark Fork River.”

The project area is about 40K acres, and commercial salvage and commercial thinning would occur on about 2,500 acres.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council lay out their objections in detail in the complaint. They oppose the project for a number of familiar reasons — the harvesting, threats to grizzly bears and lynx, threats to water quality, and so on. What I’d like to know is this: If these two groups were the land managers, what would they do? Nothing. An objection letter states that “We recommend that the “No Action Alternative” be selected.” The groups describe significant environmental problems that already exist — sediment in streams from roads, low-quality wildlife habitat, etc. Have the groups proposed an alternative management plan, other than “no action”?


24 thoughts on “East Deer Lodge Project: Active Management vs. Do Nothing”

  1. Thanks for this classic example of Disaster Capitalism and “free market environmentalism”, whereby GDP is measured in both, systematic destruction and then claims of “restoration.” Such breathtaking scales of mismanagement of public lands by captured agencies, aided and abetted by shameless “conservation” shills has all the timeless plot lines used by Shakespeare.

  2. Groups like AWR can’t be at the table because they don’t sell out to timber companies or other commercial interests like so many of these national organizations. That’s the problem with todays’ environmental movement, funders drive it, ecology is forgotten, facts are ignored, science is ignored. If they and the Forest Service would stand for ecosystem based management using the best available science that addresses the problems of climate change, habitat fragmentation, water quality, habitat degradation, species loss, population declines and the economic realities of these “extractive” industries, which are minimal in the overall picture but destroy our watersheds and the water storage capacity of same, we would be far better off When the Forest Service begins correcting its past damage instead of practicing willful blindness in support of its corporate masters, lawsuits will magically disappear because the laws and the intent of the law will be satisfied and the public interest met.

      • Soooo, you are saying that the Rim Fire, a human-caused firestorm, was a “natural process”? (Of course, you aren’t going to answer that question). Ditto for overstocked forests combined with “climate change”. Ditto for the dramatic loss of old growth in the Sierra Nevada. I love it when the ecological “Ditto-Heads” try to defend all the bad impacts of doing nothing!

      • True, 2ndLaw, but we now have a very large human population in the equation. We wouldn’t need flood-control dams on rivers if downstream communities, farms, infrastructure, etc., at risk to flooding.

  3. The more you know…

    The East Deerlodge logging project was proposed as a test pilot project by the invite-only, exclusive “Beaverhead Partners,” which behind closed doors wrote Senator Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

    According to a NEPA official on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, the Forest Service analyzed the East Deerlodge project area and found 3000 acres suitable for logging.

    Apparently, in a private meeting with the Forest Service, Montana Trout Unlimited’s Bruce Farling and Sun Mountain Lumber’s Steve Flynn objected to “only” 3000 acres of logging and instead proposed 10,000 acres for logging.

    At one point I was given the actual maps the Forest Service produced based on Farling and Flynn’s request and ironically the maps are called the Sun Mountain Lumber Additions.

    Funny thing, according to the Forest Service’s own analysis, every acre of more logging above 3000 acres, the East Deerlodge project actually loses more money. How such an approach pays for all that restoration work these “partners” keep touting is a real mystery.

    And how this sort of insider game serves the interests of America’s public lands legacy is also a real mystery. I’d encourage people to sit down with the leadership of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and see what they actually think about people like Bruce Farling, the Sun Mountain Lumber Company folks, Tom France at National Wildlife Federation, etc.

    • OK, Matt, but what do you think of the project’s actual proposed activities? Would you chose “no action”? If not, what would you prescribe for the project area?

    • Thanks for inserting some facts Matt.
      I have no problem with scarce public resources being used for valid restoration efforts, but “forest science” as taught and practiced in the USFS is too often an “agricultural science” rather than an “ecosystem science,” so it’s very hard to tell when projects represent real restoration, or misguided efforts to control mortality and divert wood to the mill.

      • “scarce public resources”?

        I remind you that only twice in the last 15 years has the Federal Government spent less than a billion dollars on wildfires in a fire season. When a single wildfire takes up a third of the annual firefighting costs, methinks there is a problem, eh? AND, those costs don’t even include post-fire dollar amounts.

  4. The impacts of the “no-action” alternative can be witnessed today on our national forests where a de facto no-action policy has been in effect for the past 25 or so years and where mortality has tripled. The national forests are now harvesting about 11% of the gross annual growth while 5 times that volume dies. Unmanaged, over-dense and aging timber stands are ravaged by drought, fire, insects, and disease while workers are jobless, families disrupted, communities die, industries shut down, and local governments and school districts face bankruptcy.

    Serial litigants, whose interest is focused only on “things” and “the ecosystem”, seem unaware of, or choose to disregard, the social and economic impacts of the no-action alternative on humans. The labeling of sustainable forest industries as “extractive” while condemning prudent husbandry as destructive and using terms such as “willful blindness” and “corporate masters” .makes clear why collaboration will never replace lawsuits and why remedial legislation such as HR 2647 is essential.

    • We need to showcase those impacts, via NEPA, so that they cannot be ignored by the courts, and the public, too. We need to spell it out to even the most ignorant members of the public. If it is not included in the NEPA “No Action” alternative, then it does not exist, according to the courts. We must assume that nothing is obvious, even tens of millions of dead trees and TV coverage of wildfires.

      I do welcome Matt’s point of view, and encourage him to display the actual site-specific conditions that help form his opinion. It’s not helpful to simply trust opinions from both sides. The Forest Service needs to “walk the talk” and include all points of view before putting projects out there. I truly think that the solution is there, somewhere, in the middle. It is more important, to me, to expose, and either accept or reject points of view (from both sides), rather than excluding them. Trust MUST be earned, IMHO.

    • Why were people not more concerned about mortality when it was caused by rapacious clearcutting on our public lands? Mortality is a natural process. It recruits snags and down wood habitat. It thins the forest (for free). It’s part of the self-regulating process that natural forests exhibit.

      Ecosystem managers should not fear fire, or mortality.

      • ” It recruits snags and down wood habitat.”~~~~ Which burn up in the next inevitable wildfire.

        “It thins the forest (for free).”~~~~~ Not when there are no live trees left! And, what about the average of over a billion dollars spent every single year on wildfires, since the year 2000? Besides, I really don’t want our forests “thinned” of old growth, as the Rim, King and many other fires did. Fires are indiscriminate in their burning, with no diameter limits on what to “thin”, and where (including irreplaceable wildlife and botanical habitats).

        “It’s part of the self-regulating process that natural forests exhibit.” ~~~~~~ Except when there are no seed sources left, and man decides not to salvage, replant and use herbicides. Do we really want old growth habitats to take up to 500 years (or longer) to return?

  5. What are the effects of a no-action alternative for a specific project? Is a fire going to occur, and if so when and what will its effects be? It’s really hard for a project-by-project approach to properly analyze this kind of question, and a court is likely to dismiss worst case scenarios as speculative (especially when compared to the certain effects of logging). (That’s why forest plans should strategically identify areas and circumstances where active management is the best approach to achieving desired conditions.)

    In contrast, a court recently agreed with the Forest Service analysis with respect to an ongoing insect infestation (not far away) that, “no action would likely result in greater tree mortality from continued insect infestation.”


    • That is EXACTLY why we need better analysis of the “No Action” alternative! We need to give America a choice in what they want from their public forests. I also think that the “analysis paralysis” scare is a little overblown. Much of the restoration projects use the same language in NEPA documents, and in those projects that require more site-specific analysis, I feel that more study is usually warranted.

  6. Interesting responses from the environmental left: all fire is good, natural and beneficial: thinning the forest and providing snag forest habitat. I believe we can all agree that managed fire is beneficial, but serious questions can be raised as to the contention that un-managed (wild) fire is the best way to achieve these results.

    More telling, is the complete absence of response to the listing of adverse impacts of non-management on the human community: an entity that is, arguably, the single most important component of the global ecosystem.

    To bring this argument down to an understandable level, here’s a listing of the documented impacts of non-management of the Apalachicola N.F. in Florida on the citizens of Liberty County, FL, where 49% of the land is in federal ownership. This listing is extracted from a PPt presentation that I made on April 8 to the Liberty County Commissioners and School Board.

    Impacts on Liberty County Schools
    (25% of forest revenues are returned to counties and schools)
    Increased the average class size & student-teacher ratio.
    Reduced school district staffing by seven positions.
    Eliminated Advanced Placement (AP) courses at the high school level.
    Eliminated certified art & music teachers from elementary and secondary school staffs.
    Reduced Career, Technical, and Educational (CTE) programs
    Discontinued the enrichment programs.
    Delayed implementation of 1:1 technology initiative.
    Curtailed school media center’s operation.
    Reduced Early Childhood programs.
    Forced consolidation of bus routes
    Potential elimination of bus monitors.
    Limited transportation purchases.
    Discontinued field trips & limited extra-curricular programs.
    Imposed 1.5% capital improvement tax and ½ cent sales tax

    Impacts on local government
    (County maintains 40 miles of dirt and 58 miles of paved roads that serve the National Forest.)
    Road crew reduced from 23 to 20
    Unable to replace obsolete equipment
    Funds not available to repair FH 13 bridge
    Forced to initiate 1% local option tax.
    Imposed 7 cent per gallon gas tax
    Curtailed hours of Sheriff’s office
    Curtailed Emergency Medical Services

    This is the real world, not some abstract academic exercise. I would welcome comments from the the advocates of non-management who have voiced their opinions on this forum.

    • Mac, I’m no “advocate of non-management,” but I did serve four years on a rural school board, so I know how to read a school budget. You claim a parade of Liberty County school budget cuts associated with reductions in national forest harvest. The Liberty County school district has a $13.5 million annual budget of which 2% ($300,000) comes from national forest revenue sharing. That proportion has not changed for many years.

      The district’s 2015 budget is greater than its 2014 budget. The district receives about the same amount from horse racing as it does national forest logging. Race more horses!

      • What kind of management do you advocate? What kind of logging do you advocate Andy? We’ve only really heard what your against…we’ve never really heard what your for.

      • Andy You’re correct when you point out that the Liberty County School District budget has only $300K from federal funds – and that this is the reason the county’s school children are being deprived of a quality education. However this money does not come from timber receipts. Rather it is payment made under the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) which the county chose rather than payments under the traditional 25% returns. Why this choice? Because SRS payments to Florida are $2,337 K and 25% funds (if accepted) would be $549 K.

        You also point out that this payment has not changed much of many years. True. The impacts that I list in my post are long-standing and are the results of non-management of the timber resource that began some 25 years ago. Timber revenues for the National Forests in Florida have declined from a maximum of $6.9 MM (unadjusted dollars) in 1990 to a minimum of $1.9 MM in 1997. (http://users.ictp.it/~eee/files/wp21.pdf ). The last 3 year timber revenue average for Florida is $1.9 MM.

        The Apalachicola N.F. is now harvesting 4% of the gross annual growth and 26% of the allowable cut. The “parade of impacts” are real. They exist and will continue to exist as long as the de facto “no-action alternative” governs the management of this and other national forests. Your solution is “race more horses”, my solution is “manage the forest”

    • “This is the real world…” (?!)
      The “real world” includes a great deal more than your Ppt. Mac — which, if anything, handily exposes our present descent into a Failed State and exemplified by failed Soviet-style economic policy based upon extortion through resource extraction.

      The real world includes the NFS’ unsustainable, AGW accelerating, deficit-inflating, economic policy tied to wild swings in globalized commodity markets and colonial-style resource extraction. The real world includes anthropogenic climate disruption that will put a good deal of Florida and other places underwater in the next few decades anyway.

      Two of Einstein’s insights come to mind here. (To paraphrase) We cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it, and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

      • David, An interesting post and a novel take on my rather modest proposal, but I must confess that I was unable to determine what specific actions you’re proposing to solve the very urgent global problems you list in the second paragraph.

        I do agree wholeheartedly with the philosophy expressed in your final paragraph. To continue the present public land non-management and expect healthy productive forests that meet the public’s basic needs is indeed insanity. Thank you for supporting my plea for change.


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