North Versus Hanson

Experts Frustrated by Stalled Efforts to Counter Megafires

“Use every damn tool you’ve got,” he said. “If we could have beavers on crack out there I’d be donating to that process — anything that will speed up the pace and scale of this thing.”

Dr. Malcolm North

Sierra Nevada Logging Examples

Back in 2012, I worked my last season with the Forest Service, on the Amador Ranger District of the Eldorado National Forest. In particular, I led the crew in marking the cut trees in this overcrowded unit.

The above picture shows the partially logged unit, as well as the sizes of logs thinned.

This part of the same unit shows a finished portion, and two other log landings.

Here is a link to the larger view.,-120.3284245,1019a,35y,90h/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

There are also other completed cutting units in the area, which I worked in. Most of those were also cut in 2018, six years after they were marked. The existing plantations were cut back in the 80’s. At least one new goshawk nest was found, and the cutting unit was dropped.

What is Beyond the “Fog of War”?

There are scary and uncertain times ahead for our forests. There is just too much “Fog of War” going on for the public to sort out and fact-check for themselves. Even the ‘fact-checkers’ should be suspect, until proven reliable and bias-free. The rise of ‘fake news’ has blurred multiple lines, and many people, even in mass media, fall for the hoaxes, satire or misinformation. (Example: An article appeared on the Grist website, showing concern about a recall of “Dog Condoms”, presenting the link to )

Post-Election Thoughts About Our Forests?

With a new Republican President and a Republican-controlled Congress, how will this affect the Forest Service and the BLM?


Regarding the picture: I did some processing with a High Dynamic Range (HDR) program to get this artsy view. It is interesting that it enhanced the flames better than in the original scan, from a Kodachrome slide. I shot this while filling in on an engine, on the Lassen NF, back in 1988.

Urgent Action Needed to Save Sierra Forests

This viewpoint shows more of the reasons why the desire to have larger and more intense wildfires, in the Sierra Nevada, is the wrong way to go.

In this picture below, fire crews were run out of this stand, and back into the “safety zone”, on this fire I worked on, back in 1988.


Air quality the past two weeks has been several times worse than some of the most polluted cities in the world due to smoke from the King fire. Last year’s Rim fire emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 2.3 million vehicles for a year.

Also, the lost habitat and recreational opportunities from major fires like these are significant. It is not an exaggeration to say that virtually all Californians are affected when these “megafires” occur.

The report points out that wildfires are getting larger and burning at higher intensity than ever before. The Rim fire burned at nearly 40 percent high intensity – meaning virtually no living vegetation is left – covering almost 100,000 acres. More acres have burned in the first 4½ years of this decade than in seven decades of the last century.

What can we do about it?

The main bottleneck in treating more acres is in implementation. The Forest Service is unwilling to increase the size of its Region 5 timber management staffs. They use some of the usual excuses, some of which are beyond their control but, not all of those issues are really significant, looking at the big picture. Yes, it is pretty difficult to implement extremely-complex plans when you are constantly training new temporary employees, hired right off the street.

Update: Montana Citizens Given Zero Notice or Opportunity to Participate in Gov Bullock’s 5.1M acre “Fast Track” Logging Proposal

Last week Steve shared this article about Montana Governor Steve Bullock nominating 5.1 million acres of National Forest lands in Montana for “fast track” logging under the recently passed Farm Bill.

Since that article appeared in the Missoulian I attempted to gather basic information from the Gov’s office and the MT DNRC regarding what type of public notice or public process was used to come up with these 5.1 million acres of National Forest land.  For days both the Gov’s office and MT DNRC refused to provided the information, and then when they finally said they’d provide basic information, such as “Was there public notice? Were notes taken?” they stonewalled by telling me I’d have to pay them to answer these basic questions.  After I told them that as a Montana citizen I have a constitutional right to an “open government” (and after a reporter got involved) they finally sent me 3 pieces of paper.

Many of you may have an interest in the fact that, with zero notice given to the public and with zero notes taken, Gov Bullock’s office hand-picked a total of 7 people who met 5 times on the phone and came up with 5.1 million acres of Montana’s National Forest lands that they have nominated for priority “fast track” logging through a weakened and streamlined “Categorical Exclusion” NEPA process that also significantly reduces meaningful public input.

It’s estimated that this “fast track” logging would apply to 60% to 75% of the forested acres of the Lolo, Bitterroot and Kootenai National Forests outside of designated Wilderness areas, but would include previously unlogged forests and critical wildlife habitat.

It should be noted that with the exception of one of the 7 hand-picked people, all of them are also big supporters (and in some cases the authors) of Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

This whole situation should also lend further evidence to what I’ve been saying for years now, and that’s the fact that not all “collaboration” is created equal, and when it comes to Montana public land and National Forest issues we have some incredibly rotten examples of “collaboration.”

The Great Falls Tribune’s John Adams has the story in today’s paper.

HELENA – Critics of Gov. Steve Bullock’s recent nomination of 5.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land as priority for “restoration” say the public was left out of the process.

On April 7, Bullock, a Democrat, announced he submitted a letter to the Forest Service nominating more than 8,000 square miles of timber land from northwestern to southcentral Montana to increase the pace of scale of restoration on federal public land.

Bullock said the lands he nominated under a provision in the recently passed farm bill are declining in health, have a risk of increased tree deaths or pose a risk to public infrastructure or safety.

But critics of Bullock’s recent action said there was no notice of the process and no opportunity for meaningful public input on a plan that could potentially open up the majority of non-wilderness timber lands across the state to fast-track timber harvests.

“I didn’t know anything about this until I read about it in the newspaper,” said Michael Garrity, director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

State forester Bob Harrington, of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, acknowledged in an email to the Tribune that the process for choosing the lands Bullock would nominate was not open to the public.

While Harrington, in earlier media reports, couched the process as a “collaboration,” on Monday he said just six people were invited to join an “ad-hoc group” to advise him on identifying priority landscapes national forest lands.

Members selected for the ad-hoc group included Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited; Barb Cestero of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition; Sanders County Commissioner Carol Brooker; Julia Altemus of the Montana Wood Products Association; Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association; and Gary Burnett, of the Blackfoot Challenge and Southwest Crown Collaborative.

All participants except for Brooker were involved in drafting and promoting Sen. Jon Tester’s proposed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

According to Harrington, the ad hoc group met five times via conference call between Feb. 28 and April 4. Only the Feb. 28 meeting had an agenda, and the meetings were not noticed to the public and no meeting minutes or audio recordings were made.

“They were primarily discussions about the proposed landscape boundaries and focused on a series of maps that were produced along the way, as well as timelines for each of the collaborative groups and/or USFS staff to submit proposed changes to us,” Harrington said in an email.

Matthew Koehler is a longtime Missoula-based forest activist with the nonprofit WildWest Institute. Jake Kreilick, WildWest’s restoration coordinator, is an active member the Lolo Forest Restoration Committee, one of the collaborative groups cited by Bullock in his proposal to the agriculture department.

Koehler pointed out that the agenda for the first ad-hoc conference call, which took place Feb. 28, listed an April 1 deadline for submitting a proposal to the governor “after broader public review/input.”

But the broader public review and input never happened before the governor submitted his letter to the Forest Service, Koehler said.

“What just transpired here is that the governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation hand-selected a group who got together, with no public notice, and over the course of five phone calls they decided that 5.1 million acres of Montana forests should be opened to logging under weakened and streamlined public input processes and limited environmental impact analysis,” Koehler said. “Over the course of five conference calls, seven people came up with 5.1 million acres of fast-track public lands logging. That’s more than a million acres per conference call.”

Bullock’s spokesman, Dave Parker, said there will be future opportunities for the public to weigh in.

[Update: The Billings Gazette newspaper reports that on 4/16/14 Bullock’s spokesman, Dave Parker, “threatened to exclude The Gazette from further advisories from the governor….” – mk]

“This is only the first step in the process, one which ensures vigorous public participation on a project-by-project basis,” Parker said. “The process of designating the landscapes was necessary due to the time frame established by the passage of the farm bill.”

Governors had 60 days from the enactment of the farm bill in February to make their nominations to the Department of Agriculture.

“Governor Bullock is proud to have an incredibly diverse coalition, from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Trout Unlimited, to the Wood Products Association and Montana Logging Association, working on this project,” Parker said. “We look forward to creating jobs, restoring the health of our forests and improving habitat for fish and game. We understand that there will be some who instinctively throw rocks at collaboration, which is their right, but they are in the minority.”

Garrity argued that there is no scientific basis for declaring the 5.1 million acres of forest outlined in Bullock’s nomination as “characterized by declining forest health, a risk of substantially increased tree mortality, or an imminent risk to the public infrastructure, health or safety.”

Garrity said the bark beetle epidemic has run its course across much of the state, and that the dead and dying trees that remain in the forest provide important habitat for birds and other native species as well as food sources for grizzly bears — which eat ants and other insects that live in dead trees — and denning habitat for endangered lynx.

“By any ecologist’s definition of what is healthy, these forests are healthy,” Garrity said. “When Teddy Roosevelt decided he wanted to protect our National Forests, he didn’t want them protected just to be tree farms. He wanted to protect them because they are important watersheds for the American public and they provide habitat for native species. Based on that they are healthy forests.”

Koehler estimates that if Bullock’s nomination is approved as it stands now, between 60-75 percent of all the forested acres outside of designated wilderness in the Kootenai and Lolo National Forests would be prioritized for timber harvests under the categorical exclusion provision, which limits the requirement for rigorous environmental analysis.

“What that means is less public involvement, and less analysis about how the timber sale could affect bull trout, or Westslope cutthroat trout, or threatened and endangered species such as the grizzly bear, and lynx, and wolverines,” Koehler said. “Does the public want a say in how their lands are managed, or do they want hand-selected groups meeting secretly behind closed doors undermining America’s public lands legacy and the ability of Americans to fully participate in the management of their public lands?”

Incorrect Road Data Presented to Flathead NF Collaborative

Here’s another letter from Swan View Coalition Chair Keith Hammer to the Flathead National Forest and the Meridian Institute.  The letter is shared with Mr. Hammer’s permission, as it is part of the public record. The letter also highlights more problems and frustrations with the “collaborative” process as being carried out by the Forest Service in regards to the Flathead National Forest’s forest plan revision process. Previously this blog has devoted more attention to this specific issue on the Flathead.

Dear Folks and Flathead National Forest and Meridian Institute;

You have presented inaccurate and misleading road data to the Flathead Forest Plan revision collaborative. We ask that you make the following corrections and insure it is brought to the attention of the entire collaborative and other public participants.

We dowloaded the attached document from the Meridian web site and have attached it for your convenience; “Access Information for Desired Condition Discussion.”

1. On page 5, this Access Information states “A total of about 887 miles of road have been decommissioned” since 1995.

This is not true. Some 130 miles of those roads have not yet been decommissioned and the majority of those have languished on the landscape since 1996.

An example is the 72 miles of road never decommissioned though authorized under the 1996 Crane Mountain Salvage timber sale.

This is important because the Access Information continues on page 7 to claim “the amount of decommissioning each year has decreased as the backlog of decommissioning is reduced and the A19 commitments under project level planning have been largely accomplished” – which is also not true.

The above statement does not fairly or accurately explain why the amount of annual road decommissioning has decreased from an average of 43 miles/year from 2006-2010 to just 4 miles in 2013 – when there are some 130 miles of “shovel-ready” road decommissioning NEPA decisions sitting on the shelf collecting dust.

If this is due to a lack of funds, the Access Information should make that clear. Instead, the Access Information essentially states the Flathead is already at the one-yard line, a touchdown is imminent, and all is fine concerning road decommissioning.

The Access Information needs to make clear that the timber sales which authorized the road decommissioning did not raise enough money to pay for the decommissioning, nor has the Flathead secured enough funding elsewhere to accomplish 15% (that’s one out of seven) of the road mileage it has already decided is necessary to adequately protect fish, wildlife and other resources.

2. The remaining section of the Access Information dealing with road maintenance and budgets is equally misleading and remiss:

The Flathead’s 2004 Analysis of the Management Situation clearly indicated the Flathead receives less than one-sixth of the budget needed to maintain its road system to applicable standards for the protection of water quality, fish, wildlife and human safety. See page 4-2 of this 2004 document at:

The attached Access Information at 7, however, presents a table that makes it look like a budget of as little as $1.3 million will adequately maintain 99% of passenger car roads and does not adequately summarize the environmental damage that occurs when roads are not maintained up to standards, including closed roads in Maintenance Level 1.

While the Access Information makes it clear that road management budgets continue to decrease, it does not – but must – contain a succinct summary of what budget the Flathead needs to meet all applicable maintenance standards and what budget it can reasonably expect to receive in coming years (as did the 2004 Analysis).

3. Finally, the Access Information does not provide the summary of road maintenance and road decommissioning costs necessary for the public to determine what mix of roads to retain on the Flathead and which to remove – nor does it provide the summary conclusion that it is cheaper to decommission a road than it is to maintain it with the required Best Management Practices. This is a conclusion announced by the Flathead in a 11/16/98 press release and subsequent 11/20/98 Missoulian news article. This conclusion was most recently confirmed in the Flathead’s 2/14/14 proposed Chilly James Restoration Project.

We ask that you make the above corrections to the Access Information and resubmit it to the collaborative with an announcement of the changes that have been made. And let’s be clear we are not suggesting a more complex presentation of the data. We find you must present it in a more accurate and summary manner in order for the public to grasp the relationship between roads, road funding, resource protection, and fiscal reality. As it stands now, the Access Information is incorrect and misleading.

Please respond and indicate what you intend to do about this.

Thank you,

Keith Hammer – Chair
Swan View Coalition

More Flaws in Flathead NF “Collaborative” Process

For a few years now some of us have been trying to hammer home the point – based on our actual experiences – that not all Forest Service “collaborative” processes are created equal, and in some cases, lead to even greater feelings of mistrust and frustrations.

One such recent example of a questionable “collaborative” process has been on the Flathead National Forest in Montana, concerning the Forest Plan revision process, which has been highlighted on this blog with the following posts:

Swan View Coalition Shares Perspective on Collaboration

Another invite-only “collaborative” leads to unprofessional Forest Service conduct

Flathead NF Skews Forest Plan Revision Process, Deceives Collaborative Group

The following letter from Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition was provided to the Flathead National Forest leadership and the private Meridian Institute, which the USFS has contracted with to help run the “collaborative” process on the Flathead’s forest plan revision process.  The letter is shared with Hammer’s permission, as it is part of the public record.

Dear Folks at Meridian Institute and Flathead National Forest;

While we appreciate being involved in the Jan 20 conference call discussing problems with the Flathead Forest Plan revision collaborative process, we are very disappointed in the outcome. It seems at most every turn this process has turned into more sub-groups, more meetings, and less transparency – making it increasingly difficult for folks to be meaningfully involved and to provide informed input.

At the Sept 25 Process Workshop, Connie Lewis made it clear that folks “Encourage transparency and accessibility throughout the process.”

More meetings and more groups do not provide more accessibility or transparency. Well facilitated meetings faithfully recorded in written form and posted publicly in a timely manner does provide better accessibility and transparency.

We appreciate that Meridian has begun posting written summaries of the meetings on its web site and has begun sending emails with links that go directly to those summaries and other recently posted materials.

The summaries, however, do not provide an accurate record of who said what at the meetings. This makes it impossible for people to determine what differences or common ground exist between who, or whom to turn to if they would like to know more about what they have said. Recording and associating the names of the people with their comments is absolutely essential to providing accountability and the building blocks necessary for any progress to be made in common understanding of the issues.

Having people keep their name placard on the table in front of them at the Jan 22 meeting was a step in the right direction, but we are at a loss why, in the summary, those names were not then recorded in association with comments being made. It should be standard practice that folks state their full name before commenting – for the benefit of the record keeper and all others in the room.

From an accountability standpoint, folks should be required to provide their first and last names when commenting at meetings or in the forums provided on the Meridian web site – for the reasons provided above and to keep things from running amok in an unaccountable manner. In this regard, we found it troubling that one person speaking at the Jan 22 Vegetation group had only what we assume to be a nickname on his pre-printed placard – something along the line of “Boomer.” Are you allowing folks to participate in this process without firstly identifying themselves, or is this person’s full given name actually “Boomer” or whatever?

We offer these criticism after having attended all of the collaborative meetings thus far, but having also been promised full transparency and accessibility via eCollaboration and other means for when folks can’t make the meetings. Can you imagine not being able to attend these meetings and trying to track who is involved and what is being said via the meeting summaries you have thus far provided?

We ask that you follow up on your promise to make this process transparent and accessible to everyone. We urge you to put yourselves in the shoes of someone that can’t make a single meeting and then conduct this process accordingly.

Keith Hammer – Chair
Swan View Coalition


Another invite-only “collaborative” leads to unprofessional Forest Service conduct

Yet another invite-only, exclusive “collaboration” involving public U.S. Forest Service land management has sprung up in Montana. This time the collaborative group is called the Whitefish Range Partnership (WRP), and they are focused on roughly 350,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest’s portion of the Whitefish Range above the cities of Columbia Falls and Whitefish.
As you will see below, the leaders of the Whitefish Range Partnership completely admit that they made a conscious decision to exclude certain members of the public. Notably, the WRP admits to purposely excluding any conservation organization that had worked within the established public participation processes outlined within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to comment, appeal and, if necessary, file a lawsuit against a timber sale on the Flathead National Forest. It also appears that the WRP purposely excluded some of the “multiple-use” folks.  Also of note is the fact that Flathead National Forest officials were invited to attend all the meetings of the WRP in an advisory capacity.
The WRP leaders conducted a media blitz last week, announcing an agreed upon deal that, among other things:

• Increases the “Suitable Timber Base” by 45% in order to supposedly achieve “commercial certainty for the timber industry” (in an era where lumber consumption and home construction are down more than 50% and not expected to rebound anytime soon).
• Decreases recommendations for areas protected as Wilderness.
• Increases motorcycle recreation in the southeast portion of the Whitefish Range.
• Provides a large increase in recreation opportunities for snowmobilers.

Q: Has there even been a public lands “collaborative” group that didn’t decide to increase logging, decrease Wilderness and increase motorized recreation?

At the time the WRP deal was made public there were no plan details or maps available to the public.  In fact, board members of at least one organization that did participate in the invite-only, exclusive collaboration also didn’t know any details, except what they read in the newspaper.  A few days after framing the debate and controlling the media messaging, the leaders of the WRP did make this copy of the agreement available to some of people, although I’m pretty sure it’s not available to the general public.

Keep in mind that starting tonight the Flathead National Forest is hosting “Stakeholder Collaboration Orientation Meeting” from 4 to 8:30 pm Kalispell to kick off their Forest Plan revision process.  The weather forecast calls for a low tonight in Kalispell of 8 below zero, with wind chill values dropped to 32 below zero.  Many roads in the area are snow-covered and icy.

Ask yourself this question:  If you are a member of the public who cares about the management of the Whitefish Range and the Flathead National Forest, and you were excluded from the Whitefish Range Partnership “collaboration” and plan, would you venture outside in the cold and dark to attend the Flathead National Forest’s “Stakeholder Collaboration Orientation Meeting?”

Before you decide, read the information below, where you will see that Chip Weber, the Supervisor of the Flathead National Forest, has already publicly claimed that the plan developed by the invite-only, exclusive Whitefish Range Partnership “may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing.”

What follows below are some reactions and more information to the Whitefish Range Partnership plan, and the Flathead National Forest’s “advisory” role in this invite-0nly, self-selected, exclusive “collaboration.” The views expressed below (which are shared with permission) come from long-time conservationists who live in the immediate area, but were not invited to participate in the WRP’s “collaboration” on account of supposedly being too radical or extreme.


[Founded in 2006, James Conner’s Flathead Memo is an independent journal of observation and analysis that serves the Flathead Valley and Montana. Below are some of Mr. Conner’s thoughts, including a number of recent posts about the Whitefish Range Partnership plan made at the Flathead Memo. – mk]

Matt Koehler asked my permission to repost some of my essays on Permission granted, and granted with pleasure.

Collaboration is not an intrinsic evil. In fact, when conducted in an ethical manner, it can do good. There’s never any point to fighting over common ground. But, as with the Frenchwomen who “collaborated” with the Wehrmacht’s soldiers, it also can be an act of desperation and betrayal, a lesser of evils in an effort to survive, or simply an outcome of weak character. It can can and does turn colleagues against each other in the pursuit of ephemeral gains, poisoning relationships and weakening communities.

One collaborative effort I encountered involved citizens, who, frustrated with a county commission’s heads-in-the-sand approach to planning in a rapidly growing northwestern valley, decided to take matters into their own hands. They wrote their own master plan which, wrapped in bells and bows, they presented to the commissioners, expecting swift approval. “Here, we’ve done your job for you,” they said in effect. The rump master plan never was adopted, and the collaborationists never realized they were practicing vigilante politics. When government is broken, it must be fixed, for it cannot be sidestepped.

We’re now beginning another round of national forest planning. The U.S. Forest Service, desperate to adopt new plans that enjoy widespread public support, hopes a collaborative process will rally the public around the plans. It won’t, certainly not to the extent the agency desires. The public is too diverse for that. Moreover, not all uses and practices are compatible, not all collaborative efforts will produce wise, or even legal, agreements, and no amount of collaboration can relieve the agency of its legal and moral duties to decide what the plan includes and does.

As these collaborative efforts move forward, those involved must remember that the objective is not compromise, for compromise is not an intrinsic good, but support for that which best protects the land in ways consistent with the needs and aspirations of humanity and the world of living things. – James Conner

Unprofessional conduct at the Flathead National Forest

By James Conner, © James Conner,

The man in charge of revising the forest plan at the Flathead National Forest, Joe Krueger, and his boss, forest supervisor Chip Weber, exercised questionable professional judgment in their remarks on the forest plan alternative developed by the Whitefish Range Partnership.

Here’s what the InterLake’s Jim Mann reported:

Joe Krueger, the forest plan revision team leader, said forest officials are impressed with the work done by the Whitefish Range Partnership.

“That’s a very big group,” Krueger said, referring to a membership roster that included representatives for raft companies, timber interests, conservation groups, business owners, hunting and angling, mountain biking and much more. “Anytime you can get a group of diverse folks together and problem solve like that … we’re going to give that a lot of weight.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Now it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the process to take pot shots at it,” Krueger said. “The hard part was working through this.”

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott reported:

“This may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing,” [Flathead National Forest Supervisor] Weber told the group at its Nov. 18 meeting, after the members presented him with a lengthy draft plan, the product of more than a year of bi-weekly meetings. “You were first out of the gate, you’ve put in an incredible amount of work and you’ve given us a lot to think about.”

“What the people did here was some yeomen’s work,” he added later. “This group helped set a good example and a model for others to look at.”

One can defend Weber and Krueger by arguing they were trying to be positive and diplomatic, but expressed praise for the WRP’s work in a way that inadvertently endorses the WRP’s proposal. I’m sure someone will make that argument. I won’t. This is more than a case of not being artful — it’s a case of playing favorites, and not in a subtle way.

Had Weber said only “…you’ve put in an incredible amount of work and you’ve given us a lot to think about,” and followed with “your proposal will accorded the same fair consideration as all proposals,” he would have been on solid — and neutral — ground. But he couldn’t curb his enthusiasm.

But Weber’s statements are weak tea compared to Krueger’s “ …we’re going to give that a lot of weight,”and “…it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the process to take pot shots at it.” He’s both endorsed the WRP’s proposal and denigrated as cheap shot artists those who may criticize the proposal. Quite clearly, Krueger is invested in the WRP’s proposal. That’s old school Forest Service favoritism and bully boy behavior, and highly toxic to a successful forest planning effort.

The FNF’s unprofessional conduct imperils the forest planning process from the gitgo, and sullies the hard work of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

[Addition: Here’s an example, captured on video tape, of the Flathead National Forest’s Joe Krueger (at left with yellow hard-hat) mocking a very sincere question from a concerned citizen about the role of science in timber sale management targeting old-growth forests and grizzly bear habitat during a Forest Service public tour of the Beta Timber Sale on the Flathead National Forest in 2005. – mk]

Whitefish Range rump agreement far from a done deal

By James Conner © James Conner,

Another rump caucus, the Whitefish Range Partnership, has reached agreement on how a tract of National Forest land, this time in the Whitefish Range, west of Glacier National Park, should be managed. Rob Chaney of the Missoulian has the story.

The agreement has no force of law, but it does have political weight that will be recognized by Congress, which has the power to designate wilderness, and the U.S. Forest Service, which is starting another round of forest planning. Many of the WRP’s proposals are intended to be incorporated in the next forest plan, which will have the force of law.

Here, from Chaney’s report, is what we know so far:

In the final agreement, the [mountain] bikers gained recognition for their trail-building efforts around Whitefish, as well as their interest in using mountain roads and trails elsewhere. Loggers saw their suitable timber base go from about 55,000 acres to 90,000 acres. Wilderness advocates outlined 85,000 acres they want federally protected. Forest homeowners concerned about having federal wilderness bordering their property borrowed an idea from the Flathead Indian Reservation and proposed a buffer zone that would allow reduced logging or hazardous fuels management around their land before the nonmotorized territory began.

All of this remains tentative, as the Forest Service adds it to the public process for its forest plan. The radical fringe of all camps will likely object. But few will have put in the 13 months of Monday nights to present a case as convincing as the Whitefish Range Partnership.

According to the North Fork Preservation Association, maps will be released in early December. They could, of course, have been released now, but the absence of maps makes it easier for the WRP to shape the public discussion, and I’m concerned that part of the shaping will include an attempt to characterize those who disagree with the agreement as radicals or ignoramuses. That was the tactic employed by the rump caucus that engineered the agreement leading to Sen. Jon Tester’s ill-fated wilderness-forest management bill, so I won’t be surprised it’s employed here. (My 2010 comments on Tester’s bill and the rumpery leading to it.)

The agreement was reached not just because the WRP’s members worked hard. It also was reached because the “radical fringe” was excluded. Rump caucuses can do that, but the U.S. Forest Service and Congress cannot. Those excluded from the WRP’s rump caucus have the same right as the rumpers to petition their government. Furthermore, the excluded are not by definition radical or fringe. Some may endorse the agreement. Others, I suspect, will object to parts of it.

Speaking for myself, based on what I know about the Flathead National Forest’s history of logging in the Whitefish Range, I’m skeptical that a 64 percent increase in the suitable for timber management acreage can be justified. There was a lot of old growth mining in the North Fork 40–50 years ago, and the lands not permanently damaged are still recovering. Some never should have been logged or defiled with roads. In the rump agreement leading to the Tester bill, conservationists got rolled by the timber beasts. I hope that didn’t happen here.

I’m keeping an eye on the situation, and from time-to-time will offer my analysis, comments, and recommendations.

See also The WRP agreement – grand bargain or deal with the Devil? by James Conner. © James Conner,


Keith Hammer, a former logger who is the Chair of the Swan View Coalition, brings up some additional concerns about the Flathead National Forest’s “advisory” role in the WRP invite-only, exclusive “collaboration” process in this recent letter to the editor:

Dear Editor;

It is truly disappointing to watch the Flathead National Forest make a mockery out of the Whitefish Range Partnership collaborative and its Forest Plan revision public involvement process. In local newspapers the past week, the Forest Service demonstrated its utter lack of objectivity and fairness when it comes to public input.

The Flathead Forest Supervisor told the WRP “This may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing,” praising them also for being “first out of the chute.” (Flathead Beacon 11/27/13). This even though he has not yet had his staff or the general public assess the environmental impacts and merits of the proposal.

The Supervisor’s right-hand man made things even worse when he said that those folks that weren’t invited to be a part of the WRP could later “take pot shots at it.” (Daily Inter Lake 11/30/13). What better way to disenfranchise an American public only recently invited by the Flathead to participate in revising its Forest Plan through both a collaborative and a broader public review and comment process?

Ethics, common sense and the law require that the Forest Service not play favorites. The Forest Supervisor and his staff should have thanked the WRP for its proposal and said it would be considered right alongside the many other proposals it will be receiving during the Forest Plan revision process.

The Flathead National Forest belongs to all Americans, not just those that live locally or able to participate in a lengthy collaborative process. That is why the law requires that all proposals be submitted to the entire public for comment – and that those comments be regarded as something more than just “pot shots.”


Keith J. Hammer
Chair, Swan View Coalition


Brian Peck, a sportsman and wildlife advocate from Columbia Falls, MT recently shared some good background information about the history of Wildereness advocacy in the Whitefish Range:

I just ran across a Montana Wilderness Association proposal for the Winton Weydemeyer Wilderness in the Northern Whitefish Range from 2005. It noted that in 1925, Weydemeyer proposed a 485,000 acre Wilderness in the Whitefish Range, back when that was still possible.

However, by 2005, just 171,000 (or 35%) of potential acres remained after decades of trashing by the Kootenai and Flathead National Forests. About 100,000 of those acres are on the Flathead NF, but the Whitefish Range Partnership would only recommend 83,000 as Wilderness – a further loss of 17,000 acres of Wilderness.

That means that when the conservation members of the Whitefish Range Partnership agreed to sit down at the table with long-time adversaries, 65% of the Whitefish Range had already been lost to logging, roading, motorized Wreckreation summer & winter, and more recently to “combat mountain biking.”

Clearly, the only responsible environmental position to take was that not so much as 1 additional acre of the remaining 35% would be given up. Yet, by agreeing to a format where all 30 groups had to agree or there was no deal, conservationists guaranteed that that they’d have to compromise away thousands of additional acres – unless they were willing to say no and walk away from the table – something that Dave Hadden said he would do “if things started to go sideways,” but clearly didn’t follow through on.