by Eve Byron
Helena Independent Record – 08/31/05
A project to log 26 million board feet of timber burned on 2,700 acres in the 2003 Snow Talon fire will be cut back after no one bid on the initial proposal.
That lack of bidders is causing the Lincoln Ranger District to drop the helicopter logging aspect of the project and repackage this as a 6 million board-foot sale on about 1,000 acres by traditional logging methods.
District Ranger Amber Kamps said she hopes that work can begin this winter. Kamps said there seemed to be a lot of interest in the sale, and forest service officials were surprised when no one put in a bid. She said potential bidders gave three reasons for not making offers on the sale.
“First, the direct words from the producers is that the product was just too far gone. It’s been two years since the fire and there was too little merchantability. This fire burned hotter than any other in 2003, so it lost its value quickly. That’s probably the single biggest factor,” Kamps said.
Adding to the loggers’ reluctance was that 60 percent of the volume was to be done with helicopters, which is a significant expense and the timing can be problematic with the helicopters being called in to fight wildfires.
In addition, loggers told Kamps they were hesitant to bid on the project because it might be tied up in court. Last May, three environmental groups filed a formal “notice of intent to sue” the Helena National Forest over the project.
Those groups include the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Native Ecosystems Council and the Ecology Center. Mike Garrity, executive director for the Alliance, said he doesn’t buy Kamps’ excuse that the lack of bidders was due to the demise of the burned trees’ value. However, he’s eagerly waiting to see what is proposed under the repackaged project before deciding how to proceed.
“I told the new Helena Forest Supervisor (Kevin Riordan) that we look forward to working with him on a sale that we can support,” Garrity said. “We’ll have to see if they propose any illegal logging. If they’re not going to, then there’s nothing to sue about.
“Logging by itself isn’t illegal, but logging that would harm endangered species is. If they take that part out, it might be something we can support.”
The original part of the sale called for logging 2,763 of the 37,700 acres that burned near Lincoln. The environmental groups claimed the work would adversely impact bull trout, grizzly bears and lynx, all protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
For example, the groups were concerned about the impacts to bull trout from the estimated 5,200 logging trucks that could pass within a few feet of Copper Creek, where several high-profile efforts were made to restore and protect bull trout habitat. Then-acting Forest Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer said considerable effort had been made to mitigate those concerns, but the environmental groups felt it wasn’t adequate.
They also were concerned the timber sale would violate the ESA by increasing the open density of the forest rather than reducing it as required under the Act.
Since all portions of the repackaged timber sale were included in the initial Environmental Impact Statement done for the Snow-Talon sale, a second EIS isn’t needed, Kamps said.
“We’re just taking what was proposed for the second sale and pieces of the first, looking at units we know have some value to them,” Kamps said. “We’re trying to make the next package as economical as possible, by doing it only with skidders and cables and eliminating the helicopter work.” She added that one part of the Snow-Talon project is moving forward n a $64,000 effort to reclaim about 15 miles of illegally created “jammer roads” on about 35 acres.
“We have a contract for that 35 acres; it’s separate from the timber sale and we’re not using salvage money to take care of it. We have restoration dollars, from a differed pot of money that’s appropriated (through Congress).
“We’re finishing other pieces of the restoration work, which for the most part will be done before winter.”