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Conservationists blast Bitterroot Front logging proposal

Contact: Jim Miller, President, Friends of the Bitterroot  (406) 381-0644

Jeff Juel, Friends of the Clearwater  (509) 688-5956

Jocelyn Leroux, Western Watersheds Project            (406) 960-4164

 

A coalition of public interest conservation organizations is organizing to stop a huge timber sale proposed by the U.S. Forest Service for the Bitterroot National Forest. The Forest Service plans to cut trees off more than 55,000 acres (86 square miles) of national forest along the face of the Bitterroot Mountains west of the Bitterroot River in Montana. The Forest Service would also build an untold extent of new roads, likely dozens of miles, to access forest areas for clearcutting and other industrial logging, bringing industrial disturbance up to the boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

The groups are Friends of the Bitterroot, Flathead Lolo Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, WildEarth Guardians, Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, Native Ecosystems Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Western Watersheds Project, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, Gallatin Wildlife Association, Friends of the Clearwater, Wilderness Watch and Center for Biological Diversity.

Jim Miller, President of Friends of the Bitterroot states, “The Forest Service is proposing to log the entire Bitterroot front. Commercial logging in the mature forest far from homes has never done any good. Repeating the same mistakes cannot be the solution and only degrades the public lands we all value. Our community does not want the beautiful mountain and canyon vistas on the Bitterroot front scarred by more roads and clearcuts.”  

The proposal also indicates the Forest Service wants to break commitments made to the public 35 years ago when the Bitterroot Forest Plan was adopted—commitments made to protect old-growth forests, wildlife habitat features such as snags, and elk habitat security. And 13,000 acres (over 20 square miles) of logging is proposed inside Inventoried Roadless Areas, degrading their roadless characteristics and reducing their eligibility to be recommended for wilderness when the BNF Forest Plan is revised in the coming years. 

Jeff Juel of Friends of the Clearwater stated, “As usual, the Forest Service is pretending timber production isn’t driving this proposal, instead blaming the forest for ‘departure from natural disturbance patterns’ and ‘departure from historic fire regimes (which) has created forest stands characterized by high stem densities, hazardous fuels buildup, stressed tree conditions …with high susceptibility to uncharacteristic fire behavior and …at high risk to future insect outbreaks.’ They don’t say why such a forest malady allegedly exists on 144,000 acres or who’s responsible, even though they’ve supposedly been in charge for over a century.” 

“The Forest Service is simply wrong that logging thousands of acres, including mature and old-growth forests, will mimic natural conditions or make people safe from wildfire, as they claim,” said Adam Rissien with WildEarth Guardians. “Managers cannot replace mother nature with a chainsaw, and the best way to protect communities from fire is to focus work in the immediate area around homes and structures,” he added. “Even though the agency would spend untold millions of dollars to subsidize timber production, it won’t invest a nickel to assist private landowners to learn and implement firewise protections for their homes and property, only offer ‘encouragement to take appropriate action on their lands’ ” Rissien concluded.

“As an organization which advocates for wildlife of southwest Montana, we are very disappointed to see the scope and magnitude of this project,” said Clint Nagel of Gallatin Wildlife Association. “We feel the project as proposed will have a significant and negative impact upon wildlife, not just in western Montana but also up and down the connectivity corridors of the northern Rockies. We know we can do better. We have to do better than this.” 

“The impacts of the Bitterroot Front project would be vast,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Montana-Washington Director with Western Watersheds Project. “As currently proposed, the project will undoubtedly cause harm to the wildland ecosystems that native fish and wildlife such as bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, big game, and grizzly bears depend on. A full, thoughtful analysis to provide a better path forward is required.”

“Now that grizzly bears have been confirmed in the Bitterroot Ecosystem, the Bitterroot National Forest is legally required to institute habitat protections with limitations on open roads, total roads and minimum amounts of secure habitat. The Forest Service must follow the law just like all Americans are required to do. The Forest Service must protect grizzly bear habitat instead of clearcutting it,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

The organizations’ comment letters can be accessed here.

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