Middle East Fork HFRA Lawsuit Filed
For Release: April 26, 2006
Conservation Groups Look to Hold Forest Service Accountable for Middle East Fork Logging Plan
Lawsuit Filed to Protect East Fork, Wildlife Habitat, Soils, Watersheds and Public Process
For more information:
Matthew Koehler, Native Forest Network: 406.542.7343
Larry Campbell, Friends of the Bitterroot: 406.821.3110
Jim Miller, Friends of the Bitterroot: 406.381.0645
MISSOULA, MT – Today a lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Missoula by Friends of the Bitterroot, Native Forest Network and the Ecology Center to protect the East Fork of the Bitterroot River, wildlife habitat, watersheds, soils and public process as related to the Bitterroot National Forest’s Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction project, the first Healthy Forest Restoration Act project in Montana. Click here for copies of the complaint and preliminary injunction brief.
“We have spent the past month carefully going over the Bitterroot National Forest’s decision for the Middle East Fork logging project. We believe that Bitterroot Supervisor Bull’s decision violates the laws governing the management of our national forests. Bull and the Forest Service should certainly be held accountable and, to that end, we have filed this lawsuit in federal district court,” explained Matthew Koehler, executive director of the Native Forest Network.
“Friends of the Bitterroot believes our government must act within the law. We did not take the decision to file this lawsuit lightly. FOB has litigated only four timber sales out of several hundred that have been proposed on the Bitterroot and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests during our 18-year history. FOB has never lost a timber sale lawsuit,” said Jim Miller, president of Friends of the Bitterroot.
“It’s unfortunate that the Supervisor Dave Bull is holding legitimate, effective community wildfire protection work in the East Fork area hostage to industrial-scale logging in the backcountry, which would only exacerbate fire problems,” stated Darby area resident Larry Campbell with Friends of the Bitterroot. “The community protection work could have been underway by now had it not been packaged with excessive logging on land that is already over legal limits for environmental damage.”
“We tried for the past 18-months to work with Supervisor Bull to implement an effective community fuel reduction project up the East Fork. Our proposal – which was favored by 98% of the 13,000 public comments received on this project – would have reduced fuels on 1,600 acres of national forest land, pumped $1 million into the local economy and provided 45 local jobs. Unfortunately, this common sense plan was rejected by Supervisor Bull,” stated Koehler.
“Our primary concern and goal is to protect the soil, watersheds, fish and wildlife, especially old-growth wildlife habitat. Excessive damage to these resources would harm the public good, and would cut short future forest productivity and timber harvest. We believe that the goal of effective community fire protection can be accomplished without undue, illegal harm to public resources, and we offered a plan that would have done that,” stated Miller.
"The attempt by Supervisor Bull to cover-up public knowledge of excessive soil damage in the project area by altering the best-available scientific data and by purging project file documents related to soils is a blatant attempt to white-wash this damaging proposal and cannot go unchallenged," explained Campbell.
Opposition to the Bitterroot’s East Fork logging plan has been widespread throughout the Missoula and Bitterroot Valley’s. In fact, three families that live in the East Fork community and longtime Bitterroot Valley residents (citizens with roots so deep in the valley that ridges and lakes are named after their ancestors) filed official HFRA Objections to the logging plan. Prominent Ph.D. faculty members at the University of Montana's School of Forestry with expertise in entomology, soils, fire and fuels, forest ecology, aquatics, fisheries and wildlife are opposed to this project and two of the Ph.D. scientists filed official HFRA objections to the project.
The East Fork project area is still recovering from historic Forest Service mismanagement including clearcutting, terracing and excessive roadbuilding. 33% of the entire analysis area has already been logged. The analysis area averages 5.2 miles of road per square mile, not including jammer roads. These roads contribute 151.2 tons of sediment per year to streams within the project area. The East Fork, running through the middle of the project area, is officially classified as an impaired stream because its excessive sediment load has compromised its ecological integrity. Several watersheds already exceed established thresholds for clearcutting, which threatens stream channel stability with increased runoff.
Even before additional damage from the Forest Service’s East Fork logging plan, all planned East Fork logging units are in subwatersheds that already exceed legal limits for losses in soil productivity, threatening forest health since a healthy forest is not possible without productive soils. Recent court rulings raise serious doubts about the legality of further disturbance of these already damaged landscapes.
The conservation groups point out that legitimate public process may be a secondary concern to some people, but in this case it is extremely important. This is the first “Healthy Forest Restoration Act” (HFRA) timber sale in Montana. The public collaboration legally required by HFRA is a new approach to public involvement in public land management. The precedent set by this project will color all future collaborative efforts.
It’s widely believed that the “collaborative process” that accompanied the East Fork timber sale has been abysmal, according to the conservation groups, to the point that Senator Baucus wrote a letter to Supervisor Bull about one incident asking Bull to “outline how you believe your actions may impact your ability to build consensus and trust in the future with regards to similar projects, and how any negative impact may be remedied.”
The groups also contend that when Supervisor Bull released his logging decision on March 30, he and his staff intentionally mislead the public into thinking this decision was a ‘balanced,’ scaled-back proposal. However, Bull’s decision still includes nearly 3,000 acres of industrial logging in some of the best remaining pockets of unlogged, mature forests up the East Fork, home to huge herds of elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer.
Furthermore, the groups claim that Bitterroot Supervisor Dave Bull still has every intention of going forward with the entire East Fork logging project. According to the conservation groups, this is as true today as it was last fall when the Forest Service spent almost $210,000 marking logging units five months before an official decision and when Bull used armed guards to bar members of the public from a Forest Service press conference at the Supervisor’s office in Hamilton.
Click here for copies of the complaint and preliminary injunction brief.
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