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?”

In-Depth: How Tester’s mandated logging bill has divided conservationists

“If there’s any reason that the Tester bill has not moved along better than it has, it’s because of its mandates that there not only be logging, but that certain amounts of timber be extracted.  Conservation-minded Senators are very hesitant to vote for that, even though they recognize the Montana wilderness dilemma. They don’t want to set a precedent for other bills to do the same thing….I do worry about the mandate of it.  If I was in the Congress, and all this time had gone by without success on designating new wilderness, I would try to amend the Tester bill in one way or other.” 
– Former Montana Congressman Pat Williams 

Collaboration conundrum – Wilderness advocates sharply divided on ‘consensus’ proposals
By John S. Adams, Great Falls Tribune

At a June 8, 1997, gathering in Kalispell, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas foretold a vision of the future for national forest management in Montana.

According to a newspaper account of Thomas’ address to the Montana Logging Association, President Bill Clinton’s former forest chief predicted a “golden decade of conservation” in which environmental groups and timber interests would work side by side to reach “consensus” on the future of management of federal forest land.

Thomas predicted those collaborative projects on the national forests would break down the barriers to logging on public lands and “marginalize extremists.”

“I don’t see any other game in town,” Thomas said in a report in the Daily Inter Lake.

More than 16 years later, Thomas’ prediction has partly come to pass, but with as-yet-undetermined results.

If Thomas’ “golden decade of conservation” relies on the success of consensus and collaboration, then there may be no better test of that theory than Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

FJRA is the first major piece of federal land management legislation in Montana to spring from the well of “collaboration,” and it is by far the most ambitious and controversial. Many wilderness advocates have fiercely opposed the measure since its introduction in 2009. Their primary criticism of the bill, though they have many, is that it mandates the Forest Service log tens of thousands of acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai national forests.

Sen. Max Baucus followed Tester’s bill with a proposal of his own in 2011. The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act has many of the same detractors who say it designates a paltry amount of wilderness while locking-in grazing, logging and motorized recreation. However, with its lack of logging mandates and fewer carve outs for permanent motorized recreation, the opposition from the environmental community is less severe.

Both bills rely on the idea of bringing the timber industry groups, conservationists and other stakeholders together to hammer out consensus proposals for public land management. That concept, particularly when it comes to Wilderness proposals, has fierce detractors in the environmental movement.

Count 88-year-old Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg among them.

Brandborg was director of Wilderness Society from 1964 to 1977. His grass-roots organizing and advocacy were pivotal in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Brandborg, the son of former Bitterroot National Forest supervisor and early Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness advocate G.M. Brandborg, spent much of his youth traipsing around in the places that would much later be designated as federal wilderness thanks in large part to his efforts.

Collaboration, as demonstrated by the process that created FJRA and the Heritage Act, is antithetical to the original concept of the 1964 Wilderness Act and threatens to undermine the bedrock administrative laws that demand public involvement and transparency in land management decisions, Brandborg said.

“Good management of land prescribed by public land agencies, and good protective measures for water and our environment in general, are being subjected to a rash of proposals and policies that defy every rule and every restriction we’ve placed on resource management,” Brandborg says. “I take gross exception to the go-along policies of those state and local organizations who say we can embrace collaboration.”

Four-and-a-half years since Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was first introduced, the bill continues to languish in the Senate, and wilderness advocates remained locked in a bitter internecine battle that some say could undermine the entire future of wilderness in Montana.

On the one side are the fiery wilderness conservationists whose work and advocacy centers on the prevention of new roads and industrial resource extraction on Montana’s remaining roadless landscapes.

On the other side are the pragmatic conservationists who say collaborative proposals built on consensus and compromise among various stakeholders are the only realistic approach to the larger goal of adding more wilderness in Montana. Large-scale “wilderness-on-its-own” legislation that doesn’t include “place-based solutions” that appeal to local community interests — including the timber industry — don’t stand a chance of passing, they say.

Poster child

First introduced in 2009, the core of the FJRA proposal sprang from a series of private meetings that began in 2005 between Sun Mountain Lumber, Roseburg Forest Products, Pryamid Mountain Lumber, RY Timber, Smurfit Stone, Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Trout Unlimited.

In its current form, it calls for approximately 666,000 acres of new wilderness while mandating a minimum of 5,000 acres of logging per year on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest until at least 70,000 acres have been logged.

Another 30,000 acres would be mandated for logging on the Kootenai National Forest.

Conservation groups who support the measure, including the logging mandates, point to the trade-offs in the FJRA as the key to breaking the gridlock that has left Montana without a new “Big W” wilderness designation for more than 30 years.

“To me, personally, I can’t accept the idea that wilderness is something that other states get to enjoy the benefits of and protect — 29 other states in the last 30 years — but not Montana. Because we have lands that are superbly qualified to be in the wilderness system,” said John Gatchell, conservation director for the Montana Wilderness Association.

Only Idaho, with 9.3 million acres, has more roadless land in the lower 48 than Montana, with 6.3 million acres. Idaho and Montana are the only states with vast tracts of roadless wildlands that have not passed large-scale statewide wilderness designation bills in the past three decades.

MWA’s supporters say it’s high time to make new wilderness happen, even if that means turning over some of Montana’s roadless land to logging, mechanized recreation and other activities that are nonconforming to wilderness characteristics, as part of the deal.

Gatchell says the alternative is to continue to wait and watch as wildland currently suitable for wilderness designation are degraded by activities and uses that would forever exempt them from future designation.

A pure, large-scale wilderness bill, such as the 20-year-old Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act has no chance of passing Congress, Gatchell says. NREPA has been introduced five times since 1993, and though it has drawn many congressional co-sponsors over the years, it has failed to make it to the floor for a vote.

“A bill that doesn’t get voted on cannot protect, will not protect and has not protected a single acre of Montana,” Gatchell said. “I just think that what’s important here is we need legislation and we need the Montana delegation, or some members of the delegation, to champion that legislation for it to pass Congress.”

New precedent

Other wilderness advocates see the collaborative process behind FJRA as monumental threat to the future of America’s public lands legacy.

With its mandated logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, release of wilderness study areas and carve-outs for motorized recreation and mountain biking, the precedents set by FJRA would make it too tempting for members of Congress in other states to follow its lead, some detractors say.

The possibility of new era of congressionally mandated levels of public lands resource extraction is not worth the tradeoff for a few hundred thousand acres of wilderness, say environmental critics of the bill.

Matthew Koehler, executive director for the Missoula-based WildWest Institute, testified against FJRA during a 2009 Senate committee hearing on the bill. Koehler has been highly critical of the substance of FJRA since it was first introduced. Koehler’s main critique of the measure, though he has many, is the precedent it could set for future lawmakers.

“At a time when the approval rating of politicians in Congress is at 10 or 15 percent, these groups want to take management authority away from the Forest Service and the public and they want to put it in the hands of politicians to mandate resource extraction levels on public lands,” Koehler said. “If Tester’s bill passes, it will open up the door in years to come for politicians all around the country to say, ‘You know what? In my state we’re going to tell the Forest Service that we want this amount of grazing, or this amount of fracking, or this amount of coal mining.’

“I don’t feel like getting a few more acres of wilderness in Montana is worth forsaking America’s entire public lands legacy,” Koehler said. “That’s not a fair trade in any way shape or form.”

Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, says critics such as Koehler are lone voices in the wilderness who don’t represent the viewpoint of the majority of Montanans.

Farling says “individual environmentalists” such as Koehler are sour grapes detractors who refuse to offer up proactive solutions to the “gridlock” that exists in public land management, and instead choose to appeal and litigate timber sales.

“They’re hypocrites,” Farling says. “They cut deals all the time. They appeal, sue the Forest Service, sit down and negotiate behind closed doors and say ‘OK, you guys stay out of here, we’re OK with you going over here.’”

Farling said the public knows what the collaborators are doing and the process is open and transparent, a point to which Koehler takes exception.

“Some of the worse examples of collaboration in Montana are nothing more than invite-only, self-selective groups that are dominated by politically connected and well-funded organizations and the timber industry,” Koehler said.

“If the litmus test for participating in their invite-only processes is that you must agree that politicians, through legislative riders, mandate the amount of logging or resource extraction on public lands, well we’re not going to participate, nor are many other people going to participate in such a tainted process,” Koehler said.

Internecine conflict

Brandborg, the octogenarian wilderness organizer, takes a harsh view of the collaborators who are at the heart of the FJRA. Brandborg believes moneyed interest closely tied to Democratic Party politics are to blame for the conservation movement’s willingness to “cut the baby in half” on wilderness protection.

“We’ve had an evolution in the strategies of our opponents, who have said, ‘Let’s go find these weak elements in Montana. Let’s go cultivate them and get them money so they can go about this job of … bringing down their forceful campaigns to protect wild- lands,” Brandborg said.

Larry Campbell, a longtime grass-roots wilderness advocate with Friends of the Bitterroot and close friend of Brandborg’s, said there’s always been a rub within the environmental community between those groups that appeal and litigate and the larger, better-funded, membership-based groups that take a more mainstream approach to conservation advocacy.

Campbell maintains wilderness advocates lost very few wilderness-eligible acres to development and other non-conforming activities since 1988, when President Ronald Reagan pocket-vetoed the last Montana wilderness bill to pass Congress.

That measure was supported by all three Democratic members of Montana’s federal delegation at the time, Sens. John Melcher and Max Baucus and Rep. Pat Williams. Republican Rep. Ron Marlenee opposed the measure, which would have designated 1.4 million acres of Forest Service land into wilderness and released approximately 4 million acres of protected wildlands to development. With Reagan’s veto most of those lands remained under protected status until Congress acted to change it. So far that hasn’t happened.

Campbell says most of Montana’s wildlands have remained undeveloped since then thanks to grass-roots wilderness advocates who actively organized and participated in federal administrative appeals processes and litigation.

Campbell said the new wave of collaboration threatens to undermine years of work by groups like Friends of the Bitterroot, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, WildWest Institute and other grassroots organizations who fought hard to keep those lands protected.

“We did not lose very many wilderness acres between 1988, when Pat Williams’ wilderness bill went down, and when this thing (FJRA) was hammered out,” Campbell said. “We were protecting all of them — the wilderness study areas, the inventoried roadless areas as well as the small ‘r’ roadless areas — from projects, timber sales, whatever, and we won.”

Campbell said the smaller, grass-roots activist groups were content to maintain that track of protection until the political conditions were ripe for another shot at a large-scale wilderness proposal. When President Bill Clinton in 2001 implemented the Roadless Area Conservation Policy directive, known as the “roadless rule,” it gave groups like Friends of the Bitterroot even more tools to protect Montana’s wildlands.

“We had going for us the appeals and litigation administrative process, the roadless rule protections, and also some court decisions that were adding to our toolbox all the time,” Campbell said.

Campbell said at the time MWA, TU and others began sitting down with the timber industry, wilderness conservation advocates “had more tools” to protect wildlands than ever.

“They started cutting up our babies,” Campbell said. “The true grass-roots activists who had been fighting for these wildlands in force on the ground, were not invited to be a part of the process. Those grass-roots groups are the groups who appealed and litigated and actually protected those wildlands that went on the table and started getting diced up by the junior politicians.”

Peter Aengst, senior regional director for the Wilderness Society, says Montana’s wilderness advocates shouldn’t be airing their differences and disagreements in the public sphere. The Wilderness Society, which Brandborg once helmed, supports FJRA and other collaborative conservation projects including the Heritage Act.

“We’ll have disagreements, I think that’s fine, I think hopefully we can all learn from each other,” Aengst said. “The idea of labeling, the idea of in the media attacking one another, that doesn’t help anyone.”

Aengst said it’s unrealistic for groups such as Friends of the Bitterroot or WildWest Institute or the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies to expect the entire wilderness conservation movement to follow the beat of their drum.

“It’s not realistic to expect that we’re all going to agree on everything, but that doesn’t have to stop us from moving forward and exploring collaborative place-based solutions,” Aengst said. “I think generally we all share the same end goals. I don’t think that’s where the disagreement is.”

Williams has been contemplating the rift between the two main camps in Montana’s wilderness advocacy community.

“Interestingly enough, both sides are right and both sides know it,” Williams said. “On the one hand, the people who want one large, intact, statewide bill are ecologically correct. In other words, that side understands that grizzly bears don’t know where the county lines are.

“However, the place-based people, while sometimes setting aside ecological importance, are more correct in their political strategy,” Williams said. “That is, a huge bill, would likely not pass the congress, whereas a series of smaller place-based bills might.”

Unknown outcomes

So far Tester’s bill has not made it out of committee, but the collaborative process that led to the first wilderness proposal in the state in more than 20 years has managed to drive a deep wedge in the state’s wilderness conservation community.

Williams said he believes the only wilderness bill that has a strong change of passing in Montana anytime in the near future is Baucus’ Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. Williams said if the measure makes it to the floors of Congress for a vote, “voting against it would be akin to voting against protecting the Statue of Liberty.”

Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, with is controversial logging mandates, faces a much tougher row to hoe.

“The Tester bill, with its protections of place combined with logging mandates, should long ago have appealed to both sides, and yet it sits unpassed in the U.S. Senate,” Williams said. “That surprises me and says to me that Montana may have some very rough legislative patches ahead in trying to protect its landscape.”

Williams, an FJRA supporter, said no other wilderness bill before Congress has ever taken the approach FJRA has.

“If there’s any reason that the Tester bill has not moved along better than it has, it’s because of its mandates that there not only be logging, but that certain amounts of timber be extracted,” Williams said. “Conservation-minded Senators are very hesitant to vote for that, even though they recognize the Montana wilderness dilemma. They don’t want to set a precedent for other bills to do the same thing.”

Williams said if he were still in Congress, he would try to amend FJRA, but if the only way to pass it was to keep it intact as written, he would vote for it.

“In some ways it would be an environmental improvement, but I do worry about the mandate of it,” Williams said. “If I was in the Congress, and all this time had gone by without success on designating new wilderness, I would try to amend the Tester bill in one way or other. Success or not, in the end I would vote for it.”

According to GovTrack.us the prognosis for the FJRA is not good.

The congressional bill tracking website gives it just a 4 percent chance of getting out of committee and only a one percent chance of being enacted.

Last session the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed 11 percent of the bills brought to it, and of those only three percent were enacted.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., has signed on as co-sponsor of a public lands bill Montana conservationists are united in their opposition to.

Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings’ “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act,” would result in an estimated six-fold increase in logging on Montana’s national forest land. The bill also prohibits litigation on certain types of timber sales and exempts certain timber sales of up to 15.6 square miles in size from environmental review.

Farling, Gatchell and Aengst said the Daines-Hastings proposal is a “top-down” “bad bill” that was “developed in Washington, D.C.,” as opposed to “on the ground in Montana.”

“It’s not going to go anywhere,” Farling said. “It’s really kind of a really radical departure from what the public wants and what is appropriate.”

Brandborg, Koehler and Campbell point out that many of the same timber partners who publicly supported FJRA are also backing the Hastings-Daines bill. They say participation by groups such as MWA, TU and the Wildernss Society in the FJRA collaborative has hamstrung those groups from publicly speaking out against the logging mandates in the Daines-Hastings bill.

“They went off the slippery slope and into the crevasse with this Daines bill,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t hard to predict.”

Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act

H.R. 1526
Sponsor: Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
Co-Sponsors: Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Morgan Griffith, R-Va.; Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.; Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.; Tom McClintock, R-Calif.; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.; Steve Pearce, R-N.M.; Reid Ribble, R-Wis.; Steve Southerland, R-Fla.; Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.; Don Young, R-Alaska; Dan Benishek, R-Mich.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.; Tom Cotton, R-Ariz.; Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; Spencer Bachus, R-Ala; and Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.

First introduced: April 2013

Status: Passed the House

Key provisions of the bill:

Would direct the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish at least one “Forest Reserve Revenue Area” within each unit of the National Forest System designated for logging and forest reserve revenues. The purpose of an area is to “provide a dependable source of 25 percent payments” and economic activity for each beneficiary county containing System land that was eligible to receive payments through its state under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

• Creates a legally binding public lands logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits and reestablishes the 25 percent logging revenue sharing system with counties that was eliminated over a decade ago;

• Within the areas covered under the measure public participation under the National Environmental Policy Act would be limited and Endangered Species Act protections would be greatly reduced;

• Would bar federal courts from issuing injunctions against Forest Service-logging projects based on alleged violations of procedural requirements in selecting, planning, or analyzing the project;

• Lawsuits over National Forest timber sales resulting from the 2013 wildfires would be barred from federal court.

Forest Jobs and Recreation Act

S. 37
Sponsor: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Co-Sponsor: Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

First introduced: June 2009

Status: Assigned to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee January, 2013

Key provisions in the bill:

• Designates about 666,000 acres of wilderness on Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Kootenai, and Lolo National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands in southwestern Montana.

• Designates 1.9 million acres of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, including Inventoried Roadless Areas, as “timber suitable or open to harvest;”

• Mandates that the Forest Service log a minimum of 70,000 acres on Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres on the Kootenai National Forest;

• Releases seven Wilderness Study Areas, covering 76,000 acres, and opens them up to other uses, such as timber harvest and motorized recreation.

Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act

S. 364
Sponsor: Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Co-Sponsor: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

First introduced: October 2011

Status: Passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee

Key provisions of the bill:

• Adds 67,000 acres of designated wilderness to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex;

• Designates 208,000 acres as a conservation management area that allows motorized recreation and access, logging, grazing mountain biking and other existing uses;

• Supports noxious weed prevention programs for agricultural and public lands across the Rocky Mountain Front.

Lawsuit filed against CE logging in IRA, WSA, RNA and Old-Growth

We’re discussed the appropriate, or inappropriate, use of Categorical Exclusions (CE’s) by the Forest Service in the past (here and here).  What about a CE for a 17,000 acre logging project that includes logging within Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, and old growth forests? Is a CE really an appropriate level of analysis and public input for such a project?   Clearly some folks think not.  The following is a press release from the Alliance for Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council.  A copy of the complaint is here.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit on Friday in Federal District Court against the Forest Service to stop the Little Belt Mountain Hazard Tree Removal Project in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  The Forest Service plans to log 17,000 acres on National Forest Lands, including logging in Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, and old growth forests.  The Forest Service authorized these activities under a Categorical Exclusion from the environmental analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Up until now the Forest Service has done a full environmental analysis on large roadside logging projects,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  “We didn’t oppose the agency on those projects, but in this case the agency is excluding itself from the requirement to keep the public informed of the environmental effects and to provide public input on the proposal.  Categorical Exclusions were intended for purposes such as mowing the lawn at the Ranger Station or painting outhouses, not logging over 17,000 acres.”

“Herbicide spraying and logging will occur in several already degraded watersheds and along several streams that are considered ‘impaired’ due to sediment,” Garrity explained.  “These areas provide habitat for the westslope cutthroat trout and the Western toad, both are considered ‘sensitive species’ on the Forest and both will be impacted by logging – especially when you consider approximately 1,700 acres of logging and herbicide spraying will occur within 150 feet of streams.  The result will be to dump more sediment into already degraded streams where these native fish are struggling to survive”.

“I have recently driven roads in the Little Belt Mountains and there is evidence of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, but it is in patches, not forest wide,” explained Sara Johnson, Director of Native Ecosystems Council and former Gallatin National Forest biologist.  “Where the beetles have killed trees next to the road, firewood cutters have already done a good job cutting them down.  It’s a mystery why the Forest Service wants to log 17,000 acres of so-called ‘hazardous trees’ when there isn’t a hazard. The only hazard will be to the native wildlife when 17,000 acres of important habitat is clearcut and to the taxpayers who have to pay for it.”

“There are already massive infestations of noxious weeds, such as thistle and houndstongue, along roads,” Johnson said.  “They can’t control the weed problem now and logging will just make it worse.”

“The Canada lynx, listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act, has historical presence on the Forest including recent sightings in the project area. Lynx, wolverine, black-backed woodpecker, Northern goshawk, Western toad, and Northern three-toed woodpecker all are known to occur in the area and their numbers will be further reduced by these massive clearcuts,” concluded Johnson.

“We support logging to protect public safety,” Garrity said.  “But the public needs to be kept informed to ensure that the Federal Government is following the law. The public needs to be shown that there is a real safety hazard and not just an imagined excuse for more subsidized logging.

“It is unfortunate that we have to ask the court to intervene to force the Federal Government to let the public be involved in the management of our National Forests, Garrity concluded.  “But in the end, we firmly believe the public should have a say in the management of public lands…even if we have to go to court to get it.”

Did Sen Tester claim his logging bill would have stopped wildfire?

Yesterday I wrote about a new study from the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research station, which found that fuel reduction logging and thinning prior to the Fourmile Canyon Fire outside of Boulder, Colorado was ineffective at moderating the fire’s behavior, having had a minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned or the damage it caused.

Below that article from yesterday, frequent commenter Ed made an interesting point worthy of highlighting here:

Some people just refuse to accept the reality of this…that when you get really extreme conditions of humidity, temps, and high winds, there is no power, no planning, no treatment, no nothing that will stop a fire from going where it wants.  Nada.  I am tired of reading statements from pols (and others who should know better) that “demand this fire be stopped”…. We are now experiencing more and more extreme weather, for whatever reason that none of us are smart enough to explain. We will have to learn to live with these blowup fires, and concentrate our prevention efforts in and around the homes and structures along the forest perimeter.

Well, we know that at least one politician – and their staff – was apparently too busy on the campaign trail to actually have time to read the findings from Forest Service’s Fourmile Fire Report about the fact that fuel reduction logging and thinning had a minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned.  This morning I woke up to see Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont) quoted in Montana newspapers with this amazing claim:

This election is about an area between here and Whitehall that is burning. If we could
have gotten my Forest Jobs Act past [sic] we would have been able to cut those trees.

– Senator Jon Tester

It’s worth pointing out that Senator Tester is referring the 19 Mile Wildfire, a 3,000 acre fire, which according to inciweb, is burning in grass, brush and some timber mainly on private lands west of Whitehall, Montana (see official maps below).   The cause of the fire is under investigation.  Yesterday, the weather at the fire was 97 degrees, 13% humidity and 20 mph winds blowing out of the southwest.

I’m not sure if the Forest Service has an official threshold that needs to be crossed in order for “extreme fire weather conditions” to be met, but suffice to say that temps near 100, humidity in the low teens and winds blowing 20 miles an hour qualify.  Once a wildfire gets going under these types of weather conditions any wildfire expert will tell you there’s not much you can do to put the fire out.

But not Senator Tester. Nope, apparently he wants us all to believe that if Congress would have simply passed his mandated logging bill, which calls for a minimum of 5,000 acres of logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest annually for the next fifteen years, that this 19 Mile Wildfire, which has burned mainly on private land (and is burning mainly toward more private land and BLM land) would have prevented this wildfire from either starting and/or spreading.  Incredible….

According to inciweb, the 19 Mile Wildfire in Montana has burned through grass, brush and timber on about 3,000 acres of mostly private land west of Whitehall, Montana.
Another map of the 19 Mile fire from the official inciweb site of the U.S. Forest Service clearly showing this fire has barely burned any Forest Service land. Also note that the fire is moving towards the northeast, towards more private, BLM and state of Montana lands, and away from any Forest Service lands.
This screen shot taken from the official Montana land ownership map (http://svc.mt.gov/msl/mtcadastral) shows that the 19 Mile Wildfire has burned mainly on highly-subdivided private land with small portions of BLM, State of Montana and U.S. Forest Service lands also impacted.