State and National Bipartisan Approach to Active Forest Management
The state legislature gaveled to a close last week, a couple days shy of the 90-days maximum set by law. Even though there were numerous media articles regarding the hot button topics of taxes and tax reform, pay bands and pensions, Medicaid expansion, and so forth; legislation pertaining to forestry and forest management (not being the issue de jour) never made the press. Nonetheless, several bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support having immediate and long-range positive impacts for Montana’s forest products industry. A couple bills also serve to support national congressional efforts as well.
I would venture to say that this was the first session since Montana joined the union in 1889, that state officials were so keenly interested in the management of federal timberlands within our borders. Our electorate witness year after year how well state lands are managed, which has lead to a mounting dissatisfaction regarding the lack of management on federal forests. We all notice the mile after mile of dead and dying timber stands, and are fed up with our summer outdoor activities getting cut short due to wildfire season. We used to have four distinct seasons - winter, spring, summer and fall. Now we have five – winter, spring, summer, FIRE and fall.
This is simply not okay anymore. State and federal officials alike are banding together to find solutions to some very complex challenges. Our representatives understand that allowing the same management scenario to continue, and expect a different outcome, is crazy. We need new and radical solutions, or the 6 million acre death toll in Montana will undoubtedly rise.
A couple state bills transmitted to the Governor specifically state that catastrophic wildland fire has the potential to jeopardize Montanan’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, and thus instructs the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to advocate for the inclusion of Montana in federal legislation by establishing a “good neighbor policy”. This policy would allow the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to enter into a cooperating agreement with the State forester. Engagement in forest management and education activities will reduce wildland fire risk and intensity on federal land designated as wildland-urban interface.
This “good neighbor” authority includes the treatment of insect-infested trees, reduction of hazardous fuels, and any other activities to improve the overall diversity and vigor of forested landscapes. This authority mirrors a recently introduced bill by Senator Barrasso, of Wyoming, authorizing the Secretaries to enter into similar cooperative agreements with State foresters concerning watershed restoration and protection services.
Complimentary to state and national “good neighbor” authorities is a bill introduced by Senators Baucus, Bennett, Udall and Wyden, titled the “National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act of 2013”. This bill aims to remove dead and dying trees damaged by disease, bark beetle, and other insect infestations. The bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with state Governors, to designate as part of an insect and disease treatment program, one or more sub-watersheds in at least one national forest in each state that is experiencing an insect and disease infestation, while maximizing the retention of old-growth and large trees. The idea of expediting such treatments is popular in the western states of Colorado, Montana and Oregon. Colorado is ground zero for massive pine beetle infestations and recent catastrophic wildfires. Over the past decade, Montana has experienced ever-increasing wildfire severity, and without intervention, is not far behind.
The US House of Representatives has been busy crafting legislation as well. Representative Doc Hastings, of Washington, introduced a bill which is meant to restore active management on national forests and provide timber revenue to counties. The bill directs the Forest Service to actively manage commercial timberlands to produce revenues by harvesting at least fifty percent of the sustained yield of timber and provide twenty-five percent of the receipts to local counties.
Several other forest management-related bills have been introduced into congress in the past couple of months. The common theme is to authorize state involvement of federal forest management. Governors recognize the importance of healthy watersheds within their state jurisdictions, and the cost to the tax payer when these watersheds are at risk.
The activity and interest on both the state and national level is welcomed. It is a sign of the deep frustration that is apparent in both legislative bodies, and the need to find solutions in a bipartisan manner. That is also, most welcomed.
On behalf of the Montana Forest Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
Let's really save tax payers money - stop litigating
A recent federal court rejection of the Colt Summit forest restoration project based on procedural grounds was frustrating at best. This commentary could easily be about that decision. But it’s not. Nor is this commentary about why the Forest Service chose to prepare a Supplement to the Environmental Assessment instead of the court ordered Supplemental EA. No, this commentary is about the response from the environmental litigators stating that “This is a good ruling, not only for lynx but for taxpayers.” “The Colt-Summit Project was nothing more than corporate welfare that would have cost taxpayers over $2 million dollars.”
Seriously?! That rhetorical statement is misleading on all counts. The rejection is not good for lynx or for tax payers, or is it corporate welfare. Here are the facts: The Colt Summit project was borne out of a collaborative effort from the Lolo Restoration Committee. The committee diligently worked for years to develop a set of recommendations that would restore forest heath, improve wildlife habitat, provide scenic vistas and reduce wildfire risks on just over 2,000 acres. The project was funded through the national Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which is a mixture of public and private dollars.
The project area spans Highway 83, which is the primary public road for travel to the Seeley-Swan. Meadows and riparian vegetation along Colt Creek within the project area provide habitat for lynx, grizzly bears, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. The Colt Creek Road runs adjacent to Colt Creek for 4.5 miles, providing primary access to the area. This road is in the riparian corridor and impacts feeding and wildlife travel routes. The project proposed to decommission the Colt Creek Road and re-route it away from the creek.
Due to the many private residences in the area, the Seeley-Swan Fire Plan identified the Colt Summit project as a high priority within the wildland-urban interface. The project proposed to remove 7mmbf of timber as a hazardous fuel mitigation measure. This would have helped reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and improve firefighter safety.
So, let’s talk about the real costs to the taxpayer. The Forest Service produced a 200-page Environmental Assessment. The litigators responded with roughly 150 appeal points. The Forest Service had to answer each point which led to a 500-page response. After the litigators filed the lawsuit, the Forest Service response was 50 pages. The supplement to the Environmental Analysis was 58 pages. Then there is all the really good science that was developed in analyzing the project, and subsequently defending it in court.
That is just the federal costs to your pocket book. There are also state tax payer-related costs as well. When a wildfire starts, your state tax dollars kick in to suppress the fire and defend homes; and what about the logging contractor that was awarded the contract and is now idle because of the court injunction. For every 1mmbf of timber harvested, 35 good-paying jobs are created – or lost as the case may be.
Even though a few culverts were replaced prior to the injunction, all the restoration work is on hold while the Forest Service re-groups. Since Colt Creek Road is a primary access route to the area; the road decommissioning work is on hold as well. The road work is tied to the timber harvest.
Let’s be honest. It does not seem to matter if the proposed project has enough commercial saw timber to pay for the restoration work, or if the non-commercial small diameter timber requires public dollars to pay the way. It does not seem to matter if the Forest Service develops the project or if a diversified group of stakeholders form to collaborate and work through divergent positions to arrive at common interests in order to restore forest health. There does not seem to be a magic formula that satisfies groups that litigate all the time.
If the litigators really were concerned about lynx habitat and saving the tax payer money, they would stop litigating! Stop pitching rocks and join the collaborative effort, as invited on several occasions. This really would save the tax payer millions of dollars every year.
Maybe this is just a colossal April Fools “gotcha” joke! If it is, it isn’t funny!
Those that rely on timberlands must effectively educate the public
A recent newspaper article stated that nearly three-fourths of Montana’s 100-member House of Representatives have less than two years experience. Thirty-nine members are freshman, and 32 are entering their second term. On the Senate side, 29 of the 50 state Senators are in their first or second term.
In addition to freshman legislators having to learn the layout of the Capitol, and rules of the House and Senate, they also have to have a wide body of knowledge regarding many issues at their disposal. With only 90 days to pass legislation addressing the concerns of their constituencies, the learning curve seems a mile wide and at times, an inch deep. Those that rely on timberlands for jobs and tax revenue must do a more effective job of educating a larger public and in turn our elected officials.
Our forests provide jobs, wood fiber for products, and fuel for heat and power, as well as clean water, air and habitat for terrestrial, aquatic and avian populations. Communities in and near forests depend upon them for economic and ecological sustainability. Yet, unless one is desperate for a breath of smoke-free air in the summer between Eureka and Ekalaka, forestry and forest management is not usually the topic of conversation around the dinner table.
Thirty-nine counties out of Montana’s 56 are forested. State forestland is managed for the school trust, federal forestlands are managed for multiple uses and private timberlands are managed for landowner objectives. Proper management of any forest requires cutting timber and thinning annual growth and mortality. On the surface these principles seem simple and straight forward, yet when a myriad of environmental laws, court decisions, public opinion and management plans are overlaid on current and desired future conditions, forest management becomes very complex.
Gratefully, I have observed a real eagerness to absorb as much information as possible from as many sources as possible, to ask questions, and to seek answers. Though the knowledge base (in some cases) may be reflective of newly elected representation, there is nearly universal comfort in the management of state and private timberlands.
This level of comfort does not transcend to federal forest management however. More and more, our state elected officials are seeking ways to affect management on National Forest System lands within our borders. Of Montana’s 93 million acres, twenty-two percent is forested. Sixty-six percent is under federal management and a mere 4 percent is state trust lands.
It’s this sixty-six percent that is not being effectively managed that causes concern. Presently, we are harvesting less than 10 percent of the annual growth on National Forest Service lands, and even less harvest occur in forests that are dead and dying. This decline in harvest and active management is one reason for the increase in the number and severity of forest fires. There is just too much wood fiber both vertically and horizontally.
Nationally, existing forest plans allow the harvest of 6.1 billion board feet. Yet in 2012 only 2.6 billion board feet were harvested or 42 percent of the allowable sale quantity. No wonder our elected officials, in both the state capitol and the county courthouse, are frustrated.
Restoring health to our forests is not only critical for long-term ecological sustainability, it is the single most efficient state and federal program for generating jobs in high unemployment, rural counties. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, every one million dollars invested in forest restoration creates 40 jobs, compared to 14 jobs in solar or 13 jobs in wind industries.
In Montana, roughly 7,000 people are employed in the forest products industry, generating $256 million in labor income and $314 million in direct sales. In addition, lumber production is the largest piece of Montana’s wood products manufacturing sector – in terms of number of employees, timber-processing, capacity, volume of timber used, volume of mill residue generated, and sales value of products. Montana sawmills produce roughly 3 percent of the softwood lumber production in the United States annually, which equates to 1.5 percent of the softwood lumber consumed in the U.S. every year.
Unfortunately, getting from forest to mill is a complex path. Our elected officials need to be familiar with state and federal laws, forest ecology, silvicultural practices, harvest methods, markets, well the list goes on. We sincerely appreciate the interest, questions and solutions to complex problems and vow to continue to seek ways to effectively make the case for forestry and forest management.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Today, Montana’s 24th Governor and members of both legislative chambers were sworn into office, marking the 63rd time our legislature has met since Montana joined the union in 1889. The halls of the state’s capitol, was abuzz with people on a mission. Already, there are over 2,000 proposed and introduced bills covering a gamut of issues.
The business of governance today is a far cry from when President Abraham Lincoln appointed Sidney Edgerton as Montana’s first Territorial Governor in 1864. However “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
What brought folks to Montana in the mid-1800’s was the promise of land, minerals and timber. The shortage of good white pine in the Great Lakes states led the logging industry to move west. The construction of the railroad, plus increased mining, and agriculture all helped create a demand for and a way to market timber.
In our early days, eastern Montana had more logging activity than western Montana. However, there were a number of lumber mills in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys, mostly associated with gold camps. In the 1870’s and early 1880’s, many small mills failed. However, within five years, they recovered due to large-scale hardrock mining and the construction of railroads through the area.
By 1884, mills west of the Divide were supplying the Anaconda Copper Mining Company with 300,000 cords of wood a year for smelter fuel alone. In the mid-1880s, the Anaconda Copper mine was the most productive mine in the United States. The copper mine was using 4,000 board feet of timber a day in its mines.
Once the importance of timber to mining was recognized, mining operations formed their own sawmills. Railroad construction and maintenance created a huge demand for lumber. By the early 1900s, the nation’s railroads consumed about one-fifth of the timber harvested.
The Anaconda Copper Mine’s Butte and Montana Company mill was built at the mouth of the Stillwater and Whitefish Rivers east of Kalispell in the early 1890’s. The main purpose was to produce lumber, which was the first product exported from the Flathead Valley after the railroad was completed in 1891.
In 1889, Montana (consisting then of 16 counties) received statehood with the election of our first governor. Governor Joseph Toole, and 66 state legislators, convened the first legislative session amid heated partisan charges of voter fraud. Due to their bickering, a deadlocked chamber killed all the bills introduced that year.
Montana’s governing bodies continued to suffer growing pains over the next several years, but it is clear from early historic records, folks settling Montana relied primarily on agriculture, mining and timber for their livelihoods. Understanding the importance of Montana’s vast natural resources, the 3rd legislature in 1893, officially adopted the state seal with the motto “Oro y Plata” or “Gold and Silver.”
Over the years, Montana’s agriculture and natural resource industries have played an important role in the sustainability of our state’s economy. These industries created the pie that all other economic slices came from. This is still true today.
Tourism and health care have become extremely important to Montana’s economy, however, agriculture, mining and timber still jockey for the top five slots. Just like in the early days of our statehood, agriculture, mining and timber still create new wealth, new opportunities and new challenges.
It is now up to our state elected officials to realign priorities, solve challenges and provide opportunity for success. Montana’s timber industry is on the cusp of recovery. What happens in Helena over the next 90 days will be followed closely.
Just as Montana is made up of many parts, we are wired to work together and to help each other, and even though politics can be ugly, policy is the art of the possible. Only time will tell if we can move beyond the gridlock of the past and develop good policy for our future.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus. Thanks for listening.
A Season of Good Deeds Done
In the early 1940’s, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, hoping to spur holiday buying by adding a week to the season. Many Americans resisted the change to their traditional holiday, and when it had no effect on sales, Thanksgiving soon returned to the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains today. However, Thanksgiving Day came yearly this year, in fact on the earliest possible date on the calendar that it could have occurred.
That means we now are in the midst of the longest possible shopping season between “Black Friday”, “Cyber Monday” and Christmas. However, another – lesser known – special day was on the holiday calendar this year, but with an entirely different purpose. “Giving Tuesday”, a project by non-profit charitable groups, hoped to carve out a day encouraging Americans to turn their thoughts to the less fortunate and pledge gifts to worthy causes. Having debuted on November 27, “Giving Tuesday” has gathered momentum. Americans pledged more than $10 million, as well as volunteered time and donated goods to over 2,000 non-profit groups on that day. “Giving Tuesday” hopes to bring back attention to the deeper meaning for the season.
According to the Urban Institute, an estimated “2.3 million non-profit organizations operate in the United States, an increase of 24 percent from 2000. The non-profit sector contributed $805 billion to the U.S. economy in 2010, making up 5.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2010, public charities, the largest component of the non-profit sector, reported $1.5 trillion in revenue, and $2.7 trillion in assets. In 2011, private charitable contributions, which include giving to public charities and religious congregations, totaled $300 billion. In 2011, 27 percent of adults in the United States volunteered with an organization. Volunteers contributed 15 billion hours, worth an estimated $296 billion.”
These are staggering figures. Giving back to our community or helping a neighbor has long been an important part of our culture. Montanans reported giving on average 4 percent of their salary to charities in 2010, ranking us 23rd in the nation for charitable giving. Not bad for a state that consistently ranks 48th for annual adjusted gross income or gross domestic product.
For decades, Montana’s forest products industry, which includes corporate wood manufacturers, family-owned sawmill operations, logging contractors, log haulers and their employees, has helped provide local affordable housing, supported education efforts, the arts, culture, athletics, and youth programs. Just to name a few specifics, RY Timber donated $50,000 to the Townsend Hospital Foundation and the Montana Logging Association’s Log a Load for Kids raised over $300,000 since 1996 for the Shodair Children’s Hospital in Montana.
However, the fine print in the current fiscal debate proposes to once again cap or otherwise limit deductions in order to raise tax revenues. Concerned that special tax benefits offered as encouragement to give to charity might be significantly curtailed, a non-profit consortium met with the White House last week and “laid out their fears predicting lost revenues and abrogated programs, even if donations only dip at the margins.” At stake is the $300 billion that we donate to non-profits every year, at an annual cost to the government of $50 billion.
Both republicans and democrats say they want to maintain tax laws that encourage Americans to give money to non-profit groups. But with the White House looking to raise an additional $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, and the republicans looking to raise $800 billion, there is growing bipartisan support for peeling back the 1917 federal tax code. If the benefit is repealed, who is going to pick up the slack? Certainly not the government.
There is no doubt that charities and politics are not perfect together. However, the charitable deduction is the only deduction that directly impacts communities. So, one might argue that now is not the right time to divorce politics from charity. Instead, what we need most during this “crisis of confidence” in our congressional leaders is a season of good deeds done. We need a season to pause and cherish and acknowledge our own and all efforts that promote peace and goodwill.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus. Happy holidays and good giving.
Federal timber management vs. recreation - compatible or competing uses
As far back as 1996, former U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture, Jim Lyons, testified before congress that because of the decrease in harvest on federal timberlands, recreation would supplant timber and other resource uses. Begging the question, is timber management and recreation on federal lands compatible or competing uses?
To further this recreation economy notion advanced under the Clinton administration, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative on April 16 of 2010, charging the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (EQC) to develop a 21st-century recreation agenda.
The goals of the Initiative promote community-based recreation and conservation, advance job and volunteer opportunities, build upon State, local, private and tribal priorities to conserve land, water, wildlife habitat and cultural resources by creating corridors and connectivity across outdoor spaces using science-based management practices that restore and protect landscapes.
The Initiative requires the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, Education and the Office of Management and Budget to align policies and programs to achieve its goals.
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) response to the Initiative was to draft a “Treasured Landscapes” vision paper. Of the 264 million acres managed by the BLM, 140 million acres was identified as worthy of consideration as “treasured lands”. These areas, roughly the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined, will cost the taxpayer $1.8 billion over the next five years. In order to facilitate the transition from the current management system, the BLM proposed to “designate, rationalize, and manage-at-scale” its holdings through its land use planning processes, critical habitat designations and Wild Horse Preserves. The BLM further requested the Administration support the expansion of their land holdings by legislatively designating an additional 30 areas across the country (including two in Montana), or over 1.6 million new federal acres and 397,000 acres on state and private lands. To achieve their objectives, the BLM would rely on its land-exchange and land-acquisition programs, funded primarily by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The 2011 America’s Great Outdoor report to congress suggested that meeting the 21st-century conservation and recreation needs of our nation require full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund or, $900 million annually. Congress has only appropriated full funding twice in the past 45 years.
Even more recently, a report published by the Center for American Progress and the Headwaters Institute suggested that recreation and restoration activities are far better for the economy than other more traditional uses. Therefore, I think it is important to put recreation in context. The Outdoor Industry Association reported that recreation and tourism on National Forest lands provides roughly 224,000 jobs with visitors spending just under $13 billion in 2010. One would not argue recreational activities ranging from skiing to backcountry hiking and riding, and camping have a significant impact on “gateway” communities. However, just over 2 percent of the total outdoor recreation economy is a result of visitors to National Forest lands. The forest products industry, on the other hand, provides 1 million direct jobs, which contribute over $100 billion in labor income and sales each year.
Even though the federal timber program has declined since Undersecretary Lyon’s 1996 testimony before congress, the recreation economy has not supplanted timber and other uses, as he predicted. Nor is it likely to in the future. Of the top 25 producing Forests, 22 are above average for both visitor and timber sales. Proving that, not only are timber management and recreation compatible, but utilizing timber harvest to improve forest heath are vital to providing a robust recreation economy.
Instead of spending millions of dollars to acquire more federal land holdings or restricting current management in hopes of luring more people to America’s great outdoors, recreational opportunities can be achieved through better management of our existing federal resources.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus. Thanks for listening.
Montana Forest Products Industry - A Proud Heritage
This week marks the second annual “Forest Products Industry Week”. A week set-a-side in October, by the state legislature, to recognize the value of Montana’s forest products industry, their contribution to the management of our forested lands, and to Montana’s economic stability.
Timber is among our most highly valued resources. For over a century, this plentiful, renewable and natural resource has sustained jobs and communities. In fact today, over 160 wood manufacturing businesses employ roughly 6,500 people, provide labor income of $265 million dollars and product sales of over $325 million dollars every year.
Traditionally, Montana’s wood products industry focused on producing dimensional lumber for building and pulp and paper. Today, Montana’s industry consists of sawmills, plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard plants, pellet mills, biomaterial and sustainable building material companies, log and furniture manufacturers, planers and woodworks.
These businesses produce dimensional lumber, studs, finger joints, trusses, paneling, siding, decking, guardrails and railroad ties, post and poles, landscape bark, and liquid resins for energy, food, cosmetic and medical products and industrial uses.
Recently, USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak stated, “Wood should be a major component of American building and energy design. The use of wood provides substantial environmental benefits, provides incentives for private landowners to maintain forest land, and provides a critical source of jobs in rural America.”
Sustainable forest management produces healthier forests that serve as a “carbon sink” absorbing greenhouse gases and purifying drinking water for wildlife and municipal water systems. Utilizing wood harvested through sustainable forestry practices in “green” building applications promotes a healthy environment and a strong economy.
The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for wood as a “green” product has long been recognized by the wood products industry nationwide. The life cycle analysis is a well-established set of methods for measuring the environmental impacts of a product or service across its entire life cycle, identifying the flow of materials and energy through the various stages from the point of harvesting raw material, through manufacturing, construction, use, and finally, disposal. This “cradle-to-grave” assessment demonstrates using lumber or wood products in residential and non-residential construction leaves one of the smallest carbon footprints. In addition, when the entire life cycle of lumber is accounted for, each ton of wood carbon replaces up to 2.1 tons of atmospheric carbon.
Past life cycle analyses and a recent report found “harvesting, transporting, manufacturing, and using wood in lumber and panel products in building yields fewer air emissions – including greenhouse gases – than the resource extraction, manufacture, and use of other common building materials.
In an effort to sustain a well-integrated wood products industry, 16 state governors and 89 members of Congress sent letters to the US Green Building Code (USGBC) urging changes to the treatment of forest products under LEED, including recognition of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and other credible certification standards.
The governors of Georgia and Maine went a step further and specifically passed executive orders stating, “Any new or expanded state building shall incorporate “Green Building” standards that give certification credits equally to forest products grown, manufactured and certified under the SFI program, the American Tree Farm System, and the Forest Stewardship Council.”
In addition to producing a wide variety of sustainably harvested wood products, Montana’s forest products industry provides the workforce for trail restoration, wildlife habitat enhancement, forest and riparian restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, fire suppression and many other activities.
Montana’s wood products industry is proud to promote healthy forests and healthy communities through the wise management of our forested lands. Each member recognizes the importance of the public trust placed in management our vast forest resources.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus. Thanks for listening.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
The environmental litigants on the Colt Summit project recently stated “You can’t continue to cut more and more of the valley without jeopardizing other values. There is such a thing as cumulative impacts and death by a thousand cuts” thus claiming victory when the judge determined the Forest Service inadequately analyzed the project’s cumulative effects on lynx habitat and sent that portion of the proposal back for further consideration.
But did they have a right to claim victory? Since when is getting a score of 8 percent on a test, an “A”? Prevailing on one out of the 12 complaints is not an “A”, it is an “F”. For the four environmental groups that sued in federal court to claim victory or to state that “shared visions and communications stumbled” - alluding that the collaborative process failed - is hollow and certainly not very honest.
Bottom line, the Forest Service prevailed on 11 of the 12 complaints. It is important to understand that the court threw out the claims of inadequate environmental analysis, or claimed violations of Forest Plan standards for lynx and lynx critical habitat, of INFISH standards for bull trout, of Region One’s soil standards and violations of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for grizzly bear, lynx and lynx critical habitat. The Forest Service prevailed on all these very important environmental laws and agency standards.
Yes, the timber harvest on the Colt Summit project is temporally halted while the Forest Service reviews – yet again - 10 years of recorded research data on lynx. The fact is, lynx currently occupy 53% of the Lolo National Forest or 1.1 million acres. The Forest Service knows exactly where lynx are and have been between the Bob Marshall and the Missions. The area is not over harvested, and definitely in need of active management.
Depending upon what the judge says was deficient with the cumulative effects analysis, the response to the court could be as simple as a better display of existing information, or the court may establish an expectation for lynx cumulative effects analysis that is difficult to meet.
In the meantime, road and culvert restoration work will continue on the 2,000-acre project. However, the claim from the four environmental litigants that the project was approved by the Forest Service after the fact, is troubling. That somehow, collaboration among diverse interests, “...wasn’t a meaningful collaborative process.” The claim goes on to say, “It’s so important to have a diverse group of interests at the table and to have it be balanced.” And, “maybe the table just wasn’t big enough.”
The fact is, those that choose to collaborate are extremely aware of the importance of having diverse interests represented at the table to achieve balance, thus making room for all that choose to participate in the collaborative process. The plaintiffs in the Colt Summit case simply chose not to collaborate. They were asked several times and declined. Instead of choosing to be part of the solution, they opted to be part of the problem. One could ask why? One answer is, finding solutions to complex environmental issues, including the economics of timber harvest and the social values associated with forest management, is work. Successful collaborators have the ability to stretch beyond their comfort zone, and focus on achieving interest-based consensus and not get hung-up on long-held positions.
The environmental groups worry about the cumulative effects the project would have on lynx. What about the cumulative effects, of shutting down the project, to those that work in the forest products industry and the small businesses and local communities that rely on that industry? Since 1990, litigation in Region One has directly lead to the closure of 28 sawmills in Montana and the loss of roughly 3,300 direct jobs and 6,900 indirect jobs. Now that, is death by a thousand cuts.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.