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Last June, District Ranger Dave Campbell authorized a large scale project in the Nez Perce Fork drainage on the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana. This decision affected a project area of 92,000 acres, and would have allowed logging within the Sheephead-Watchtower Roadless area, logging within drainages already “heavily developed” and containing highly degraded waters, and a regeneration harvest (read “clearcut”) to “simulate a stand replacement fire”. Moreover, the project was based in part on the outdated notion that wood products derived from this sale were necessary to sustain the local economy and reduce the burden of production from other parts of the world.

AWR appealed the decision along with Friends of the Bitterroot, American Wildlands, and Big Wild Advocates, each of whom filed separate appeals. Our appeal argued that the Forest Service must develop a comprehensive EIS before moving forward with any development of the Sheephead-Watchtower Roadless area. This roadless area would be protected as Wilderness under the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, a bill developed by AWR and presently before Congress.

In addition, our appeal argued that the Forest Service should not allow any further development within those drainages presently at “high risk” from past management activities, that the regeneration harvest should be eliminated from the project proposal based upon the fact that regeneration harvest does not “simulate” stand replacement fires, and that the Forest Service must adequately support the contention that logging within the project area will result in a reduced burden of production in other parts of the world and that timber jobs are in fact a significant part of the local, regional, and National economies. Finally, our appeal requested that the Nez Perce Fork Vegetation Management Project be remanded to the Responsible Officer and that all management activities within the project area be enjoined until such time as the Forest Service has complied with its legal obligations pursuant to this appeal.

Shortly after our appeal was filed, Dave Campbell called this office and all but offered to drop the portion of the project which would log within the roadless area if all groups agreed to drop the appeal. After discussion amongst several applicants, we decided to reject this offer, believing that other aspects of the project decision warranted an appeal independent of the roadless area issue. It was a risky move as Mr. Campbell pointed out to me that he had never lost an appeal in over twenty challenges.

Thankfully, however, our gamble paid off. On August 23, Dave Campbell withdrew his decision on this project, agreeing that at least an EIS was warranted prior to moving forward. Whether Mr. Campbell “felt the heat” from the Appeal reviewing Officer, or whether he “saw the light” in the arguments posed by the appellants is open for question. What is certain, however, is that the Nez Perce Fork has been spared for the moment and may continue with its constant movement toward wildness, as all lands will do without Forest Service intervention.

For more information, contact AWR’s Mike Wood.

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