On June 9th, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal in a lawsuit against its revised forest plan. The appeal involved questions about ESA consultation on the plan’s effects on grizzly bears, and the proper environmental baseline for the amount of roads used in the consultation process. After the district court opinion found flaws in the analysis conducted for consultation, the Forest reinitiated consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has now been completed. The 9th Circuit held that the new biological opinion made that issue moot. (A new lawsuit was filed against the new biological opinion, discussed here.)
However, Kurt Steele won’t be overseeing the Flathead Forest Management Plan. As of Friday, USFS Region 1 press officer Dan Hottle said Steele “was offered and accepted” a new post as deputy director at the regional office that involves “environmental planning,” according to the Flathead Beacon. It is unknown who will be Steele’s replacement.
This was also announced on June 9th, but I assume there is no connection between the Flathead Forest Plan and Steele’s move to the regional office forest planning staff (he wasn’t hired by the Flathead until after the plan was done). However, there may be a connection to his work on Holland Lake (discussed most recently here), since it’s hard to imagine that a forest supervisor would consider a deputy position on a regional office planning staff to be a great career move. That connection is denied by the Forest Service.
“There’s no correlation with this (personnel change) and Holland Lake,” Hottle said. However, he said he did not know whether Steele had initiated applying for the position or if the Forest Service offered it to him first. Hottle characterized the change in position as a “lateral move” with a salary that should stay the same.
This is interesting to me because the regional planning staff didn’t have a deputy director position when I left, and the current agency directory does not show that there is such a position to apply for. It’s not unheard of for the agency to create a position to place someone where they will be out of the way, and I’ve observed that planning staffs tend to be seen as places to put people who need putting (and of course, anyone can be a planner). Or maybe there is some kind of vindication going on because he will nominally be overseeing the revision of the Lolo National Forest Plan, and the Lolo is where a lot of the same people who oppose the Holland Lake development like to hang out.