USA — A recent (Dec. 21) Missoulian editorial about collaboratives specifically cited the Colt Summit timber sale on the Lolo National Forest as an example of the value of collaborative compromises. The Colt Summit sale was halted by environmental concerns, yet a litany of organizations, county, state and federal officials have endorsed it. The presumption being if so many groups support the timber sale, it must be good.
However, Colt Summit is not based on the best available science, nor is it in the public interest. For instance, the Forest Service suggests that fire suppression has permitted fuels to accumulate, increasing fire risk. Yet the dominant forest type in the Colt Summit area is subalpine fir/lodgepole pine. This forest type burns infrequently, often at intervals of hundreds of years. To suggest that fire suppression has led to unnatural fuel accumulations among forests in Colt Summit is deceptive at best.
Even if thinning were found to be effective, forests regrow and quickly negate fuel reductions. The probability that a major fire will burn through the thinned forests during the time when thinning might potentially reduce fire behavior is extremely low.
All one has to do is look at the Jocko Lake Fire just outside of Seeley Lake that burned through thousands of acres of previously logged Plum Creek Timber Co. lands to know that logging does not preclude fire spread under extreme conditions. Yet it is only under extreme weather conditions that wildfire is a genuine threat to communities because under moderate conditions, modern fire-fighting methods can slow and deflect, if not outright stop a blaze.
No one wants to see Seeley Lake burned in a wildfire, but again, there is abundant research that demonstrates the way to reduce fire risk to homes is not by logging the forest miles from a community, but focusing fuel reductions immediately adjacent to structures. Reducing the flammability of homes is a proven and far less costly way to ensure that Seeley Lake homes are protected from fires.
Logging is not benign. Logging Colt Summit would fragment one of the few remaining intact corridors linking the Swan Range and the Missions identified in a recent study Wildlife Conservation Society as high priority for protection.
Logging roads are notorious for the spread of weeds and displacement of sensitive wildlife like grizzly bears. Even temporary roads will spread weeds, interrupt subsurface water flows, and displace wildlife.
One of the presumed benefits of the Colt Summit timber sale is that the agency will decommission some roads. However, the Forest Service does not have to log to close roads. It has the authority and indeed, the legal obligation to reduce road densities.
Even the economic justifications are suspect. The Forest Service has repeatedly been challenged by the General Accounting Office for faulty cost accounting and cooking the books when it comes to timber sales exaggerating the benefits and hiding the real dollar costs. And this accounting does not even figure in the environmental cost for instance, the cost of controlling weeds forever along logging roads or the disruption of an important wildlife corridor.
Would a similar investment of tax dollars in the Seeley Lake school system or a world-class cross country ski trail system reap more long-lasting benefits to the community?
The fact that there is overwhelming support for the middle ground expressed by collaborative compromises doesn’t mean you are getting good results. As Robert Frost once said, The middle of the road is where the white line is, and thats the worse place to drive.