Bitterroot timber thinning plan goes up in smoke with fire

Residents protested a project designed to reduce fire threats, and then a fire hits the area, reports the Montana Standard. The “project that’s been in the works for nearly five years has gone up in smoke as a result of the Roaring Lion Fire.”

10 thoughts on “Bitterroot timber thinning plan goes up in smoke with fire”

  1. More of the same. inadequate funding, serial litigation, analysis paralysis etc. etc. etc. What to do?

    Some interests, intent upon restoring public lands to pre-Columbian conditions, applaud the current situation and say “Hands off; let nature take its course”. At the other end of the spectrum, some propose privatizing our public lands. Between these two extremes, congress is currently considering several bills, notably S-3085 (Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016) and HR-2647 (Resilient Forests Act of 2015). These bills address many of the constraints that now prevent proper management. They are aimed at freeing the forester in the woods and her supporting staff in the office from the endless red tape that now frustrates every move and to provide them with the dollars and human resources they need to do their jobs.

    The bills are complex, focusing on expediting salvage (only 2% of the yearly mortality is now recovered ) and fire hazard reduction while emphasizing citizen participation in decision making. They provide for the use of disaster relief funds for managing catastrophic fires, and for the use of timber revenues and contributions from state and local governments and other entities to help fund planning and forest treatments. A controversial provision requires the plaintiff to post bond when challenging projects developed through citizens’ participation and to pay government’s expenses when it is the losing party. Currently the plaintiff (citizen or organization) is reimbursed for its costs when it prevails in litigation. The defendant (Forest Service) is not.

    Your congressperson needs to know how you feel.

    • Yep, Mac, keep spreading the myths about ‘serial litigation.’ Apparently the fact that this lawsuit was filed by private property owners who are current and former US Forest Service smokejumpers (who happen to also own a wood products manufacturing company) doesn’t really matter right? Apparently the fact that the property owner is upset that the USFS wants to build a 3.8 mile new road system right on top of their property doesn’t matter, right? And the fact that no environmental group has filed a single lawsuit against any logging on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley in at least 15 years doesn’t matter. WE MUST BLAME “Serial Litigation!”

      Please read the lawsuit Mac, then get back with us ok?

      • Matt, My problem with this event is not the litigation filed 5 days before the fire, but with the 5 years that it took to prepare the sale.

        Observers have attributed many causes for these all-too-common delays. These include under-funding, serial litigation (The domino effect – hours and dollars spent on litigation can’t be used for sale prep.), over-regulation (a tangle of shifting, restrictive, and often conflicting laws, regulations, executive orders, and judicial mandates) and congressional dysfunction. Over-planning and analysis, agency politicization, centralization of decision making, consolidation of forests and ranger districts, fund diversion to fire control, and lack of leadership are often mentioned as the reason for agency malfunction. Canadian lumber imports and housing market collapse are sometimes blamed for under-harvesting. Everyone and everything is to blame and no one is responsible.

        In some regions litigation is significant but in this case it does not appear to be a contributing factor. I also agree that it is not a management impediment on all forests. However I do feel that the omni-present threat of lawsuits has resulted in routine over-analysis and appeal-proofing and hundreds (thousands?) of unneeded pages in EAs and EISs.

        I apologize for muddying the water. Now let’s get back to the real issue, the need for remedial legislation correcting at least some of the issues listed above . What’s your read on S-2085 and HR-2647?

  2. There’s so, so much more to this story and situation, but Perry Backus has a longtime axe to grind against local environmental groups, so he of course will help fan those flames…even though local environmental groups didn’t file this lawsuit.

    For example, for whatever it’s worth, the explanation offered in Perry Backus’ article is different from the explanation the Bitterroot National Forest gave to Montana Public Radio:

    “We were a couple of weeks away from working on the contract to implement this project—i.e., not a couple of weeks away from on-the-ground thinning or logging. We expected to award a contract in September (before the end of the fiscal year) and that work would begin in the winter.”

    “The lawsuit was filed July 26, 2016. Plaintiffs requested an injunction but none has been issued to date. In other words, we had no reason to, nor any plan to alter the Westside Project timeline at the point in time when the Roaring Lion Fire started.”

    In fact, minutes ago Montana Public Radio posted a “CORRECTION” to the original story (which forms the basis of Backus’ piece) that clearly pointed out:

    “We regret any confusion caused by publishing incorrect information given to us by the Bitterroot National Forest, and plan to follow up with additional reporting on this story. ”

    Also, the property owners who filed the lawsuit against the Forest Service are a former and a current U.S. Forest Service smoke jumpers who happen to own a wood products manufacturing business. But hey, why would Perry Backus want to report on that fact, or the background of the private property owners?

    A copy of the lawsuit is here:

    Finally, if Perry Backus would actually do some minor digging, he’d realize that no environmental group has filed any lawsuit of any proposed logging or thinning on the westside of the Bitterroot Valley in at least 15 years. Furthermore, environmental groups have only filed two lawsuits on the entire Bitterroot National Forest since at least the year 2000.

    But hey, facts don’t really matter now do they?

  3. Just one observation about the various bills in this arena. Everyone agrees that the funding process for firefighting needs to change, but logging interests are holding this need hostage to get more timber volume through “expedited” environmental review. But if the Flathead is correct about money being the real limiting factor, changing the firefighting funding process to keep more money in the timber program would by itself lead to more timber harvest. If there were a shooting-at-your-feet event in the Olympics, I’m sure the timber industry would do well.

  4. Mac got it just about right in his comments…lack of funding, politics (since GOP control by Ronny R), restrictions on staffing, Congressional meddling. There are the REAL culprits. Period.

  5. Funding is a problem. But so is priority directives from the forest supervisor. There must be “30” other personnel for every timber person.

    • If funding is a problem, how would priority directives from the forest supervisor make a difference? If the forest supervisor said our number #1 priority is logging would that change anything if there’s still a lack of funding?

    • Funding might be a problem but, there certainly is no lack of money pouring into firestorms. Some of us don’t want to give the fire folks a ‘blank check’ for preserving wildfires. I do think we need to have some intense fiscal monitoring, to see where all that money is actually going…. and why.

      Regarding timber folks, they don’t have enough expertise to implement and accomplish much. There is no pool of educated and experienced people, just waiting for a call to come to work in a dead-end temporary job. Today’s timber temps don’t need any experience or education to get a job. About half of them don’t even know their tree species. If there was an actual career ladder, they could attract better candidates and hold on to the ones they like. If OPM would reduce the temporary appointment to 4 months, the problem might get fixed…. at least from the employee’s point of view.

  6. My thought was that if you could take some of the 30 other people wandering around and direct them to help prepare timber for sale that more might be accomplished.
    Of course I know the NEPA process is very expensive and time consuming,even when they don’t get litigated.


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