USA: Bitterroot Settlement Saves Thousands of Forest Acres
8 February 2002
MISSOULA, Montana, February 7, 2002 (ENS) – The U.S. Forest Service agreedtoday to remove 27,000 acres of roadless old growth forest and sensitive fish habitat from a planned logging project in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana.The settlement with several conservation groups ends months of contentious dispute over a massive, 46,000 acre timber sale that environmentalists warnedcould set a dangerous precedent for Western logging. The controversial Bitterrootlogging plan was settled early Thursday morning after two long days of court orderedmediation by conservation groups, the Forest Service(USFS) and the logging industry. “This is a great improvement for our wild forests, wildlife habitat, native fish, and, perhaps most importantly,public participation,” said Jennifer Ferenstein, Montana resident and president ofthe Sierra Club. “We have preserved the right of the public to appeal Forest Service decisions that would harm the National Forests they enjoy and want toprotect.” The Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed suit against the USFS theday after Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey signed the “Burned Area Recovery” plan, eliminating the public appeals process for the massive logging project. Federal District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the USFS illegally shut the publicout of its decision making process for the controversial timber sales. The groupswere granted a preliminary injunction, which the government appealed. A government request for the approval of “emergency” sales was then denied. The original Bitterroot project was to be the largest timber sale in United Stateshistory, producing 190 million board feet of timber from 46,000 acres of forestsburned during the summer forest fires of 2000. Under the agreement reachedtoday, only two-thirds of that volume – 55 million board feet – will now be logged. Of the17,000 acres of roadless area included in the original project, 15,000 will remain untouched,including critical habitat for the bull trout and cutthroat trout. “The significance of this settlement cannot be overstated,” said Larry Campbell ofthe Friends of the Bitterroot. “We have saved literally 27,000 acres of importantwatersheds and roadless wildlands on the Bitterroot from the negative impacts ofcommercial logging. In return, loggers in our valley will be on the ground this winter.” Both Undersecretary Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, and Forest ServiceChief Dale Bosworth were on hand for the court mediation. Under normal procedures, a forest supervisor would sign the decision, and thepublic then would have 45 days to appeal the decision to the regional forester. Having Undersecretary Rey sign the plan circumvented that process, removed theability of citizens to file appeals on the project and virtually insured that the ForestService would be taken to court, opponents of the sale charged. “This agreement demonstrates that when the public is provided with an opportunityto express its concerns to the Forest Service we can find a solution that’s good forthe forest,” said Tim Preso of Earthjustice, the attorney who represented AmericanWildlands, Pacific Rivers Council and The Wilderness Society. “That’s why the appeal right at issue in this case is soimportant. ” The Sierra Club and othergroups will continue to watch closely to ensure that the logging to be performed inthe Bitterroot is done with the least damage possible. Critics argue that salvagelogging disrupts the forest’s natural cycle of renewal and increases sediment runoffinto streams. “We’ve protected thousands acres of prime roadless wildlands from roads andcommercial logging,” said Mary Anne Peine, of the Ecology Center. “Favorite hunting and fishing haunts will be around for all Montanans to enjoy because ofthis settlement. In the places where logging will go forward, the Forest Servicemust tread lightly. The people of Montana and the nation will be watching.” The conservation groups involved the mediation were the Friends of the Bitterroot,Ecology Center, American Wildlands, Pacific Rivers Council, Sierra Club, Center forBiological Diversity and The Wilderness Society.