by Scott McMillion, firstname.lastname@example.org
LIVINGSTON — Environmental groups have appealed the Windmill timber sale in the Mill Creek Drainage south of here, pointing out the U.S. Forest Service says it could lose $376,000 on the sale.
The sale was originally planned as one of several meant to produce money to complete the Big Sky Lumber land swaps. However, when Gallatin National Forest planners added up their figures and looked at market prices for logs, they saw it would lose money.
Then they decided to change the sale’s official “purpose and need” and go ahead with it anyway.
“I don’t think they can do that” legally without doing a new environmental review, said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Missoula-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
That group, along with the Missoula-based Ecology Center and the Three Forks-based Native Ecosystems Council filed the appeal this week.
“Under the current administration, they like to get the timber out,” Garrity said. “But for the public, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Viewed in economic terms, “no action” is the best path to take, according to a Forest Service environmental impact statement outlining the sale.
However, even though the pursuit of profit was the original reason for the sale, it is still worth pursuing even though it’s likely to lose so much money, Gallatin officials have decided.
The sale will provide wood products and support timber-related jobs, Gallatin spokeswoman Lorette Ray said Friday.
“Economics is not the driver-objective for this sale,” she said, but added that losses might not be as high as expected.
“The economic analysis is just a snapshot in time,” Ray said. “Market conditions change, as well as costs.”
But the value of the 4.5 million board feet in the sale could rise or fall.
“There’s a chance the purchaser will bid either below or above the estimated worth,” Ray said.
Ed Regan, a timber buyer for R-Y Timber, which has a mill in in Livingston, said his company is definitely interested in bidding on the sale.
He said he could not estimate how much the logs are worth.
“The value of the tree is based on the cost of logging it and the market at the time,” Regan said Friday.
Regan said he didn’t think the Forest Service would lose that much money on the sale.
The Forest Service has a large amount of fixed costs no matter what it does, he said, and “at least a timber sale generates some money into the treasury.” Few of its other programs generate money.
But preparing for and administering a sale also takes a lot out of the treasury; in this case, as much as $376,000.
Although recent legislation allows the BSL land swaps to be completed without money from timber sales, the Forest Service could still use the expected Windmill losses to buy other land, stabilize roads or do other work, Garrity said.
The appeal also maintains the harvest would chase grizzly bears from their habitat, possibly resulting in dead bears.