AWR Blog

by Michael Garrity, Opinion

Thanks to the IR for Eve Byron’s excellent article on the proposed Elliston Face timber sale (5-6-10), but there are a couple more important points for readers to consider that didn’t make it into the story.

This is the fourth time the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council has challenged this timber sale. Notably, each time after we challenged its decision, the Forest Service admitted it wasn’t following its own rules, withdrew the logging proposal, waited about a year, and then proposed the same timber sale again.

As reported, the proposed timber sale is in the middle of elk calving grounds and the area elk use as winter range. Even the Forest Service admitted in the initial wildlife report for the timber sale in 2005 that “the Elliston project area serves primarily as winter range for elk, mule deer, whitetailed deer, and moose.”

Now the Forest Service claims they can’t find any elk there. Yet a retired FWP biologist and elk specialist walked through the Elliston Face area in December and reported that there was plenty of evidence that big game were using the area as winter range. The Forest Service conveniently ignored this.

Driving Montana’s treasured elk from their winter range and calving grounds for a timber sale during the most depressed lumber market in decades simply doesn’t make sense — as well as being illegal under a number of federal laws.

But in these tough economic times, when our state, federal and local governments are struggling to find the revenue to simply maintain the status quo, it’s important to point out that this proposed sale is another money-losing venture. Based on the Forest Service’s own budget figures, taxpayers will lose over a million dollars logging this green, mostly Douglas fir timber stand.

It’s also significant to note that, unlike ponderosa and lodgepole pines, Doug firs are not targeted by bark beetles. With beetles eating their way through millions of acres of national forests, the Forest Service should be protecting these few remaining green stands of trees — especially when they are important wildlife habitat — instead of spending over a million dollars of taxpayers’ money to cut them down. Additionally, green, living trees pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce the greenhouse gases that have contributed to the severity of the beetle outbreak.

Nor are elk the only species that rely on this particular area. The northern goshawk, an old-growth dependent species that the Forest Service admits is “in decline,” has nests in the timber sale area. The agency also admits after logging, goshawk will no longer be able to nest in the project area. The Elliston Face timber sale, should it go forward, will eliminate 425 acres of goshawk nesting habitat.

Dense, green, forests provide important security for wildlife. Because of the bark beetle and past clearcutting by the Forest Service, we don’t have a lot of this type of green forest left. The Helena National Forest plan requires the Forest Service to protect big game winter range so we can have healthy, vibrant big game populations. As a lesson about what could happen in Montana, the Forest Service clearcut most of the Targhee National Forest in southeastern Idaho in the 1980s after bark beetles came through. Southeast Idaho now has a five-day elk hunting season compared to a five-week elk hunting season before the clearcutting.

It brings us no joy to have to take the federal government to court. But the rest of the country is expected to follow the law and it’s not too much to ask for the Forest Service to do the same — especially considering that what’s at stake are Montana’s prized elk and a host of other old growth dependent species.

Michael Garrity is executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Originally published here.

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