by Rob Chaney of the Missoulian
Bull trout, loggers and goshawks all won in an appeal settlement on the Butte Lookout timber sale.
While the logging plan was reduced by almost half its acreage, representatives of both the Lolo National Forest and appellant Alliance for the Wild Rockies agreed the final plan works better.
“So many people paint us as fighting everything, so it’s important to say I think they (the Forest Service) are doing a pretty good job on this project,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity said of the Missoula Ranger District.
The two sides spent two days last week negotiating the compromise in a meeting designed to avoid a court battle.
“They were very interested in the watershed and maintaining wildlife habitat,” said Missoula District Ranger Paul Matter, who led the Forest Service side of the table. “We’re going to still get a majority of the timber off the project.”
The original plan called for cutting mostly lodgepole pine on 1,253 acres around the South Fork of Lolo Creek, about 12 miles southwest of Missoula. It also involved rebuilding a major culvert that should improve chances for bull trout to move nine miles up the Lolo Creek drainage for spawning.
Garrity said he asked for changes that reduced the amount of road sediment getting into those waterways, which the Forest Service agreed to. He also called for increasing buffer zones around a known goshawk nest from about 100 acres to closer to 600 acres.
That resulted in reducing the logging area to about 600 acres. But Matter said the changes also reduced the amount of logging-related sediment going into spawning creeks, and increased the winter range and thermal cover for elk in the drainage.
“That way, they (the elk) won’t have to congregate on the private land at the bottom of the canyon there,” Matter said. “And we’re still doing all the treatments by fire and reduction of fuel loads as originally proposed.”
Work should begin next summer. While much of the road repair and removal will be paid for with federal economic stimulus dollars, the rest of the timber work will be bid on the open market.
The settlement marks a trend of greater cooperation between the Lolo National Forest and its environmental watchdogs. Earlier this decade, forest planners released between four and eight timber sales a year, and frequently met with appeals from Garrity’s group or other environmentalists. But in the past two years, only two sales have been appealed, and neither has gone to court.
“We can work through this stuff by sitting down at the table,” Matter said. “And I think we’re putting forth projects that the public supports.”