by Michael Garrity, Guest column, Opinion
How ironic is it that while the Missoulian was chastising the Alliance for the Wild Rockies for filing a lawsuit to protect the environment in its editorial last Sunday (Oct. 2) the Alliance, the Environmental Protection Agency and Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality had just reached an agreement in a lawsuit originally brought by the Alliance 14 years ago.
The agreement has huge benefits for cleaning up Montana’s rivers, streams and lakes that would not have happened without the lawsuit and subsequent settlement agreement. Here’s a direct quote from the Reuters article that appeared in the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and other major papers and media outlets nationwide.
“Richard Opper, head of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, credited the 14-year-old lawsuit brought by environmentalists with making the state ‘get its act together.’ ‘We lost the original case, and we deserved to lose,’ he told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday. ‘In the old days, we weren’t following that federal law very well. Now we have a new attitude, and we are doing the right thing.’ ”
Opper’s quote and the credit he gives the Alliance for bringing the lawsuit is timely considering the Missoulian editorial board’s stance. More importantly, it brings the seminal issue to the forefront: We are a nation of laws, not a nation where a handful of “collaborators” can decide which laws will or won’t be followed. Government agencies, just like the rest of us, have to follow the law.
Had the “collaborative” Colt-Summit logging project – for which the Missoulian criticized the Alliance – followed federal law, the Alliance would have applauded it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The agency refused to follow the law or heed well-documented evidence. And so, as part of the process proscribed by law, we were forced to file a lawsuit in federal district court to stop this timber sale for the sake of taxpayers as well as the elk, fish, grizzly bears, lynx and a myriad of other old growth dependent species that rely on unlogged national forests.
Consider these points:
- The plan to log federally designated critical habitat for lynx and bull trout as well as prime grizzly habitat violates a host of federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act.
- The Forest Service’s own analysis notes that 94 percent of the project is in an area that the Lolo Forest Plan requires to be managed for the benefit of grizzly bears as its top priority. The agency also admits that logging and the new roads that go with it will reduce important wildlife hiding cover and that similar logging on adjacent private lands has harmed big game and grizzly bear habitat. Yet, the agency and the collaborators who support the logging plan fail to explain how reduction of existing cover levels on our national forests can possibly be called “restoration.”
- Contrary to Forest Service claims, the logging destroys lynx habitat since it drives out the snowshoe hare and ground squirrels, upon which they prey. The Forest Service’s own research show that lynx do not use forest lands that have been recently clearcut or thinned. In fact, forests that have been logged in the Seeley-Swan Valley are avoided by lynx.
- The Forest Service’s own environmental assessment reveals that this timber sale will cost taxpayers over $1.5 million with little in return except the destruction of critical wildlife habitat. Given the current national debate over government spending, an expensive and destructive timber sale to benefit a for-profit corporation is not defensible.
The Alliance and its environmental allies fully participated in the Colt Summit process, which is required before anyone can file a lawsuit challenging the Forest Service’s decision.
- “Collaborators” do not make laws – and we all have to follow the law. The Missoulian would do its readers a favor by remembering that before it criticizes the Alliance for the Wild Rockies – or any other citizen group – for trying to get the federal government to follow the law.
Mike Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.