by Mike Garrity, guest opinion
One of the many reasons that Butte is a great place to live is the tremendous wild country surrounding the area.
Within minutes of Butte there is world-class fishing on the Big Hole and Jefferson Rivers and some of the best elk hunting anywhere — including the Mount Fleecer area where the Fleecer timber sale is proposed.
The Montana Standard editorial on March 4 criticized the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for filing lawsuits to stop the Fleecer timber sale, the Colt Summit timber sale in the Seeley-Swan Valley, and for other timber sales we have stopped recently.
While claiming the Alliance is “abusing environmental laws,” what the editorial didn’t mention is that we win about 87 percent of those suits. Simply put, unless the Forest Service is found to be breaking the law, we don’t win.
One of the lawsuits we filed in the last several years was to stop the Price Powder timber sale in the Mount Fleecer area. This timber sale authorized 133 acres of clearcuts in prime elk habit and violated the Forest Plan standards for elk hiding cover that these large and iconic symbols of Montana require.
After we filed that suit, the Forest Service’s attorneys looked at our complaint, decided that we were right and pulled the timber sale.
It is common practice for the Forest Service to pull a timber sale before a judge can rule against them, because then they don’t have to pay our attorney’s fees and the thousands of dollars of expenses we incur are paid by us. When a judge rules in our favor, our attorneys get fees but we get nothing to cover our costs.
After the Forest Service pulled Price Powder, the agency went to work on a new timber sale in the same area named “Fleecer,” which is three times bigger than the Price-Powder timber sale and proposes 1,137 acres of clearcuts.
When the alliance was informed of the new project, we toured the site with the forest supervisor and two district rangers, told them our concerns, and submitted detailed comments in writing.
The previous two forest supervisors worked with us on the Grasshopper, Anaconda Job Corps, Beaverhead-Deerlodge roadside salvage and the Georgetown Lake timber sales, for which they should be commended. But this time around, the agency decided to try and make giant, illegal clearcuts in prime elk habitat instead of following their own rules and laws.
Contrary to media representations, our country’s environmental laws aren’t that strict. They don’t prohibit logging on our National Forests, but do require that the Forest Service must ensure that there will be viable populations of native species after logging — and clearcuts simply do not make good wildlife habitat for elk, grizzly bears and other old-growth dependent species.
We are a nation of laws and that means federal agencies, just like citizens, must follow the law. As before, the Forest Service will either pull this proposal or, if it loses in court, blame environmentalists for once again stopping clearcutting of elk winter range.
The Standard claims it was surprised to find there are grizzly bears around Butte. But in 2010, the Standard reported that a grizzly bear was killed near Elk Park and in 2005 a hunter killed a grizzly bear within the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area which adjoins the Fleecer timber sale and is within the wildlife security analysis area for the project.
If grizzlies are to be recovered and removed from the Endangered Species protections, it means their habitat must be taken into account in Forest Service timber sales.
The Standard also pointed to the Colt Summit timber sale and chastised the Alliance for taking that project to court. But like the Fleecer sale, Colt Summit is another money-losing, taxpayer-subsidized logging proposal that will destroy habitat for elk, lynx and grizzly bears while costing taxpayers $1.5 million. Moreover, the Forest Service’s own records show that the agency made the decision Colt Summit would not impact the environment well before any analysis was done or public input received.
Instead of attacking citizens for participating in the management of our public lands and “abusing” environmental laws, the Standard should ask the Forest Service and its allies, like the Montana Wilderness Association, why the agency has such a hard time following the laws that ensure Butte continues to be surrounded by beautiful national forests full of native wildlife for generations yet to come.
Alliance for the Wild Rockies
P.O. Box 505
Helena, MT 59624