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Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness’

Updates from White House sit-in to stop Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted by Matthew Koehler on August 22, 2011

A few weeks ago environmental leaders – including Maude Barlow, Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and David Suzuki – called for civil disobedience at the White House to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada’s tar sands, through Montana and the Great Plains, and then down to refineries in Texas.

According to Tar Sands Action:

Another 52 Americans were arrested at the White House this morning (August 22, 2011) for taking part in an ongoing sit-in to push President Obama to stand up to Big Oil and deny the permit for a massive new oil pipeline. In total, 162 people have been arrested since the ongoing protest began on Saturday.

This morning’s demonstrators came to Washington, DC from across the country, willing to spend their vacation in handcuffs to send a message to the President that they feel has abandoned their values and his promises to take on climate change.

Lori Fischer, the co-director for Nebraska Environmental Action Coalition and a member of Nebraska Farmers Union, traveled with five other Nebraskans and was arrested this morning. She said before her arrest:

“If the government is going to refuse to step up to the responsibility to defend a livable future, I believe that creates a moral imperative for me and many others. This is a crucial issue for Nebraskans to speak up loudly about. Our land, water, and the future of our children are at stake. I feel our leaders need to take seriously their responsibility to pass on a healthy and just world to the next generation, I am going to Washington remind them.”

Make sure to check out Tar Sands Action’s webpage for lots more general information and video, photos and updates on the continuing protest at the White House.

Another good source of information is the DC Indy Media site. Worth a look is a video Climate Wars, Episode 1:The Tar Sands. The site also links to Anonymous – Operation Green Rights – Tarmageddon Phase Two.


Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Obama Administration | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Opinion: Wilderness and Overpopulation

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 3, 2011

(The following essay was written by Howie Wolke, a Montana-based wilderness guide/outfitter and long-time advocate for wilderness and other wild habitats. Wolke is the author of two books, “Wilderness on the Rocks” and “The Big Outside,” which he co-authored with Dave Foreman. This essay originally appeared on the blog of Wilderness Watch – mk.)

Nobody knows how many species inhabit this lovely green planet, but estimates range from 10 to 30 million. Yet just one of these species, Homo sapiens, now consumes or otherwise utilizes over half of the plant biomass produced each year on Earth, funneling it into an ever-expanding human population plus related support structures and activities.

Nearly 7 billion humans are creating the greatest mass extinction event since the late Cretaceous Era, when an asteroid crashed into the Earth. As the Earth’s human population grows at the rate of about 76 million additional humans per year, we alter the Earth’s climate, deplete its fisheries, pollute its atmosphere, oceans, rivers and soils, and continually carve civilization into its remaining wild habitats. Overpopulation is at the root of nearly all of our problems, yet few work to tame this beast. That includes the U.S. government, which has no population policy.

Here in the United States, we are slowly increasing automotive fuel economy and building better energy efficiency into new structures. Renewable energy industries are growing. Yet in 2010, we spewed out more carbon and methane than ever before. Why? It’s simple. The technological gains are being overwhelmed by population growth (over 300 million and increasing).

Historically, as humanity grows and spreads, true wilderness has been the first thing to go. Forest are cut, soils plowed, prairies and deserts fenced and over-grazed, rivers dammed, and various habitats are dug up and drilled for oil, gas, coal and metals. Also, millions of miles of roads and highways dissect the landscape. And of course, cities and suburbs sprawl across the planet, gobbling up habitat like a hungry teen-ager gobbles up lunch.

In the U.S. south of Alaska, about 9% of our total land area remains in a wild or semi-wild condition; that is, it’s roadless and more or less natural in chunks of 5,000 acres or larger. About 2.5% of the landscape is protected as designated Wilderness. Yet even as the National Wilderness Preservation System grows, the overall amount of wild country shrinks, as unprotected wildlands in the United States and around the globe succumb to the ever-expanding human hoard.

Population growth also lowers our expectations for wild places. As humans experience increasingly crowded and unnatural living conditions, they settle for “wilderness” that’s decreasingly wild. As wilderness becomes less wild, so does the human soul. Daniel Boone probably wouldn’t consider much of today’s wilderness to be very wild. Nor, I suspect, would Teddy Roosevelt. Nowadays, even tiny chunks of degraded wildland – for example, over-grazed areas infested with exotics – are viewed by many as “wilderness”.

In the past, I have referred to this phenomenon of decreasing expectations as “Landscape Amnesia.” As ensuing generations experience less wildness and increasingly unnatural landscapes, they begin to collectively forget what real wilderness and healthy habitats are. So we settle for wilderness that’s less wild than ever before. Designated Wilderness becomes less wild and more impacted by the expanding population’s increasing pressures and demands. It is the inevitable result of population growth.

If you read Wilderness Watcher or the Guardian, you know that overcrowding, overgrazing, motor vehicle incursions, illegal water and other construction projects, predator control, pollution and various attempts to manipulate natural processes plague designated Wilderness, and they increase as population grows.

Obstacles to halting and reversing population growth are formidable. For one thing, the momentum of population growth IS the history of our species, so concurrently we tame, subdue and subjugate wild nature partly because we know no other way.

Many on the political left view jobs and social issues as more important than the environment; they miss the numerous connections to overpopulation. And they oppose the tough immigration policies that could halt continued growth (in the U.S. today, population growth is mostly a function of immigration) in the United States. Meanwhile, the political right worships at big industry’s altar of growth at all cost. In addition, religious fundamentalists of nearly every ilk believe that it is their duty to overwhelm all others with their progeny.

And the environmental movement, at least here in the U.S., remains oddly silent on overpopulation.

The solutions to overpopulation are no secret. Economic policies based upon stability, not perpetual growth, are essential. Better health care and education plus political and economic empowerment of women – especially in poorer countries – are equally important. Family planning services must be integral, safe, and available to all, everywhere. Also, men must assume greater responsibility for their obvious role in population growth. In the United States, immigration must be brought under control. We also need to create tax and other economic incentives for smaller families. But none of this will happen if overpopulation continues to elude the discussion.

Until overpopulation is recognized, the United States and many other nations will continue to fail to develop and implement population policies, and humans will continue to obliterate not just wilderness, but most remaining natural ecosystems on Earth. Oh well, it’s obvious that humans can endure in horribly over-crowded, polluted, denuded and impoverished squalor. That’s proven each day in many corners of the world. The flip side of that problem is that so many other forms of life cannot.

Posted in Unsustainable, Wilderness | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Did Sen Tester forget that he already re-introduced his logging bill?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 24, 2011

The Tuesday, February 22, 2011 edition of the Missoulian included this article, which detailed Senator Tester’s talk at the annual Salish Kootenai College Career Fair in Pablo.

According to the article:

In response to other questions from the crowd, Tester also said:

• His Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will likely be re-introduced soon, probably attached as an amendment to another bill because it is Montana-specific, and Congress otherwise would not get around to considering it. “We’ll drop it in very soon, probably without much fanfare,” Tester said. “We’ve already been through that part, and had the fanfare.”

It’s very strange that Senator Tester would claim that his so-called Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will likely be re-introduced soon. Why?  Because the truth of the matter is that Senator Tester has already, in fact, re-introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

According to the official website of the Library of Congress (which tracks all federal bills), the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was re-introduced by Senator Tester on Feb 3, 2011 (three weeks ago) and was “Read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.”  Tester’s mandated logging bill has been given bill number “S.268,” so anyone can view the bill language for themselves by visiting this site doing a search via the bill number.

It’s worth pointing out that the current version of the FJRA that Senator Tester has introduced this session of Congress differs from his original bill in a number of significant ways.  However, it unfortunately seems very clear that Senator Tester will not be looking to hold a Senate hearing on the new version of his bill. Nope, it seems clear that Senator Tester will again try the questionable maneuver of attaching his FJRA as a rider to a piece of unrelated, must pass legislation, such as the upcoming appropriations bills.

Perhaps this the reason why Senator Tester said he doesn’t want much “fanfare” for his mandated logging bill this session of Congress? Perhaps this is why he told the folks up in Pablo that his bill wasn’t re-introduced yet, when in fact it was re-introduced on February 3, 2011.

What hasn’t change in this session of Congress is the serious, substantive concerns expressed by many Montanans – as well as Americans – with Senator Tester’s FJRA. Concerns and opposition has come from not only the 50 plus conservation organizations (including 16 Montana organizations) that make up the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign, but also conservation groups such as the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility – some of the most respected environmental groups in our nation. Concerns have also been expressed publicly from some of the former Chiefs of the Forest Service and a host of former Forest Service supervisors and district rangers.

Despite some minor changes, Senator Tester’s FJRA bill would still  have members of Congress mandating how and where logging takes place in our forests; would turn some of Montana’s federal wildlands (including Wilderness Study Areas protected in the late 1970s by former Montana Senator Lee Metcalf) into permanent motorized recreation areas; would allow motors and other non-compatible uses in Wilderness and would cause negative impacts to the Forest Service budgets in our region.

The future of America’s national forest legacy is much more important than blindly supporting some politician who apparently thinks the best way to manage America’s public lands is through mandates and interference from Congress…but then forgets to tell a public gathering that the bill has already been reintroduced in Congress.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, US Congress, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

New Report Questions Key Aspects of “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on September 22, 2010

A new report from one of the nation’s leading National Forest policy experts – Dr. Martin Nie of the University of Montana’s Bolle Center for People & Forests – provides an in-depth look at some of the key policy issues and concerns associated with so-called “Place-Based Legislation” in general, and Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” specifically. The report and research was requested by the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service.

Here’s a snip from the report’s conclusion (emphasis added):

…[T]here are significant problems to the place-based legislative approach to national forest management. To begin with, the historical record of place-based forest law does not lend confidence to the approach in principle. By most accounts, cases like the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Act have engendered more conflict and problems than the legislation has resolved. This is mostly because these site-specific laws must somehow be paid for and then reconciled with the cumulative body of environmental laws that govern the national forests.

These problems are not insurmountable, but Congress and the USFS should oppose forest-specific legislation until a number of more fundamental and systematic concerns are addressed. Most important are the questions of how these laws would fit into the preexisting statutory/planning framework and how they would be financed.

If replicated more broadly, place-based legislation would disunify the National Forest System and create a number of problematic precedents. Chief among these are legislated timber treatment mandates that would set the stage for future Congressional abuse. If enacted into law, these mandates would also have the unintended consequence of jeopardizing fragile agreements and negotiations going on elsewhere; as some timber interests would certainly use this precedent as new leverage in their bargaining positions. As one Congressional Staffer involved in a place-based negotiation says, if Senator Tester’s timber supply mandate gets through the gate, then he expects a similar sort of demand being made by the timber interests at his table.

Posted in Forests, logging, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

FS Retiree on Tester Bill: Gutting the Forest Service is not the Solution

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 12, 2010

Note: The following perspective is from Bill Worf.  Mr. Worf was born in 1926 on a homestead in Eastern Montana and grew up on a ranch through the Great Depression. When World War II came along, Worf left high school to join the Marines. He fought in the battle of Iwo Jima.

Worf joined the Forest Service in 1950 and spent 12 years in Utah on the Uinta, Ashley and Fishlake National Forests. Worf then became the Supervisor of the Bridger National Forest in Wyoming. When the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, Worf was sent to the Forest Service National Office to head the development of Regulations and Policy for implementation of the Wilderness Act. In 1969, he was assigned to the Regional Office in Missoula as Director for Wilderness, Recreation and Lands, a position he retired from in 1981. He lives in Missoula. Click here for a short video featuring Worf.


Gutting the Forest Service is not the Solution
By Bill Worf

I am a Montana native who graduated with a degree in Forestry from the University of Montana in 1950, when I started a career in the U.S. Forest Service. When the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, I was serving as Supervisor of the Bridger National Forest in Wyoming.

Forest Service Chief Ed Cliff and Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman immediately tapped me to serve in the National Office to oversee implementation of the Wilderness Act. I moved from Wyoming to Washington DC to administer the National Wilderness Preservation System established by the Act. I served in that position until 1969, when I was appointed Deputy Regional Forester for Wilderness, Recreation and Lands in Missoula, Mt.

Although I retired in 1983, I have remained involved in National Forest issues. In this capacity, I have strong feelings about the Jobs and Recreation Bill (S 1470) introduced by Senator John Tester. I share the Senator’s concern about growing fire and insect problems in our National Forests. The Senator’s heart may be in the right place, but his proposed solution would result in severe long-term damage to the Forest Service as an institution.

The Forest Service is one of the most respected agencies in government. It contains the finest collection of natural resource professionals in the world. I spent my professional career as a proud member.

With his logging bill, Tester is saying he knows more about how forests ought to be managed than professionals who work for the Forest Service. Tester is telling us what to do and how to do it, even though what Tester wants may violate federal laws. If Tester gets away with dictating forest management in Montana, every Senator and every Representative in Congress will try to do the same. Instead of being managed by one professional agency that considers all the views of public stakeholders from throughout the country, our National Forests would be managed by local interests primarily geared towards resource extraction.

By effectively dissolving the Forest Service, Tester would create 535 fiefdoms, all with different management mandates dictated by different members of Congress. This would take away Americans’ rights concerning our public lands.

What Tester may not know is that the National Forest System was established in 1897 by Congress. Congress also established the Forest Service to administer these National Forests for the benefit of all Americans of present and future generations. Subsequent laws provided additional guidance, including the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960, the National Forest and Range Land Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, and the National Forest Management Act of 1976. Congress passed these laws to ensure our National Forests are administered in a planned and sustainable way – in perpetuity.

Because Tester is a Hi-Line farmer, I figured he may not know much about Forest Service history. So, I attended an open house on Monday, October 26, 2009, concerning his logging bill. I shared with the senator that heavy corporate and political pressure had caused the violation of the 1960 Act mandating “Sustained Yield”. This unwise overcutting of our National Forests resulted in the closure of mills in Montana and elsewhere.

I followed up my conversation with Tester by sending him a detailed letter on Thursday, November 12, 2009. I included a 20-page comprehensive analysis of Forest Service reports which clearly shows the failure to maintain a “Sustained Yield” throughout the National Forest System.

I strongly disagree with Tester that the answer to overcutting in the past is to overcut in the future. Congressionally mandating logging quotas and legislatively dictating management would convert our National Forest into “Private-Local Forests.” This is directly contrary to 113 years of precedence. When Congress passed the Organic Act in 1897, lawmakers were assured that National Forests would remain open to the public and not restricted to private companies or privileged groups.

The Tester bill effectively says that a handful of local extractive interests have greater knowledge than the professionals of our Forest Service. This dangerous precedent would be viewed with glee by special interest groups of all kinds! For that reason, I must oppose the Tester bill.

Bill Worf served with the Forest Service for 33 years. Worf reports he has not yet received any reply to the detailed analysis he sent Tester on November 12, 2009.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Keeping It Wild! In Defense of America’s Public Wildlands

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 16, 2009

United by our common understanding that Montana’s wild country is its greatest treasure;
And, that once degraded or impaired, this wild country can never be restored or replaced;
And, cognizant of Thoreau’s belief that “In wildness is the preservation of the world;”
And, schooled by Aldo Leopold who long ago warned that wilderness can only shrink and not grow;
And, keenly aware of the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act of 1964 as being “untrammeled by man,” where “man himself is a visitor who does not remain;”
And, fully recognizing that the Northern Rockies ecosystem is the only functioning ecosystem in the lower 48 states where all native species still reside;
And, being of one mind in our desire and determination to protect and preserve what remains of our public wildlands to the greatest extent possible;
We hereby state our intention to work together to achieve the most inclusive and comprehensive protection under the law for all remaining publicly-owned de facto wilderness in Montana.
In full affirmation of the above and, after having been unsuccessful in our earnest efforts to improve Sen. Tester’s so-called “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” or “S. 1470,” we must now unanimously oppose this bill.
The bases for our opposition are exhaustively catalogued in separate analyses and papers, but we submit this foundational document to concisely articulate our chief objections. They are as follows:

1. The Tester bill specifically eliminates from mandated protection large portions of the late Senator Lee Metcalf’s wildlands legacy, Congressionally designated as Wilderness Study Areas in 1977 by his farsighted bill, S. 393. By eliminating this protection, the Tester bill opens these priceless public wildlands for road building, logging, and other development.

2. The Tester bill undermines the overwhelmingly popular Clinton Roadless Rule and Obama Roadless Initiative. Over one million acres of federally-inventoried roadless wildlands protected under the Roadless Rule and the Roadless Initiative would be classified as “Timber Suitable or Open to Harvest.”

3. The Tester Bill surrenders decisions about our national forests to a handful of local bureaucrats and extraction-oriented corporations, thereby promoting fragmentation of America’s national public lands legacy into locally controlled fiefdoms.

4. The Tester bill undermines the National Environmental Policy Act by imposing unrealistic and arbitrary requirements that preclude the Forest Service from accurately assessing environmental impacts of road building, logging, habitat loss, water degradation, weed infestation, and other costs of developing public wildlands.

5. The Tester bill mandates unsustainable logging quotas regardless of environmental costs, thereby jeopardizing safeguards provided public lands by the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act, Wilderness Act, and Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

6. In its effort to isolate decisions to log wildlands from national attention, the Tester bill disenfranchises public lands stakeholders, by overriding legitimate science-based forest planning that involves full public information and participation. It deprives the public of our rights to be included in irreversible decisions concerning our own land.

7. The Tester bill mandates cutting at least 100,000 acres over 10 years. It dictates at least 7,000 acres be logged per year for 10 years in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. In recent years, the Forest Service has set its sustainable cut level for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest at 500 acres per year. In past years, when the Forest Service was dedicated to “getting the cut out,” an average of 3,213 acres per year was logged, from 1954 to 1996, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. On the Three Rivers Ranger District of the Kootenai National Forest, Tester’s bill mandates logging of 3,000 acres per year for 10 years in fragile Yaak grizzly bear habitat, already severely damaged by decades of overcutting. While logging at least 100,000 acres would be compulsory, the Tester bill contains no accompanying mandates for restoration, leaving all post-logging reclamation and forest restoration optional.

8. The Tester bill fails to address at least $100 million in costs to U.S. taxpayers that would be incurred by the Forest Service for subsidizing “below-cost” timber sales and power plants for the few specially-privileged timber corporations involved. The bill interferes with free enterprise by mandating that five favored private mills be subsidized with perpetual supplies of national forest trees, at huge economic costs to taxpayers. The bill ignores the financial realities that the United States currently face: Economic crises and a lumber “depression,” with new home construction down 70 percent and demands for lumber down 55 percent.

9. By forcing unsustainable industrial-scale logging upon our public lands, the Tester bill would irrevocably harm essential habitat of species that characterize the wild nature of the northern Rockies, such as the gray wolf, bull trout, cutthroat trout (Montana’s official state fish), otter, mountain goat, mountain sheep, elk, arctic grayling, northern goshawk, boreal owl, pileated woodpecker, ferruginous hawk, Montana vole, sage thrasher, wild bison, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, pine marten, fisher, lynx, wolverine, and grizzly bear (Montana’s official state animal).

10. The “wilderness” areas in the Tester bill are fragmented and unconnected islands of largely “rocks and ice,” with limited biological integrity and no potential for sustaining biodiversity. The minimal “wilderness” designated in the bill fails to protect different elevation habitats and their dependent species with core areas, buffer zones, and connecting biological corridors. The bill promotes numerous abuses that are clearly in violation of the 1964 Wilderness Act, including motorized access into and through “wilderness,” military aircraft landings in “wilderness,” possible “wilderness” logging, and other intrusions that violate the principles of Wilderness.

Due to these severe deficiencies, we intend to see that the Tester bill is not endorsed by Congress. Instead, we will constructively stand for a scientifically-sound, ecologically-based Wilderness Bill that preserves the greatest amount of our priceless and rapidly-vanishing public roadless wildlands in Montana.

We, the following, are conservation organizations and citizens dedicated to wildlands protection, Wilderness preservation, and the sound long-term management of our federal public lands legacy. Our coalition includes small-business owners, scientists, educators and teachers, health care practitioners, hikers and backpackers, hunters and anglers, wildlife viewers, outfitters and guides, veterans, retired Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials, ranchers and farmers, craftspersons, and community leaders – all stakeholders committed to America’s public wildlands legacy.

Note: Individual citizens can sign onto this, by clicking here. For more information visit:

Alliance for the Wild Rockies (MT)
Big Wild Advocates (MT)
Buffalo Field Campaign (MT)
Conservation Congress (MT)
Deerlodge Forest Defense Fund (MT)
Friends of the Bitterroot (MT)
Friends of the Rattlesnake (MT)
Friends of the Wild Swan (MT)
Swan View Coalition (MT)
Western Montana Mycological Association (MT)
Western Watersheds Project (MT)
Wilderness Watch (MT)
WildWest Institute (MT)
Allegheny Defense Project (PA)
Bark (OR)
Big Wildlife (OR)
Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (WY)
Buckeye Forest Council (OH)
Caney Fork Headwaters Association (TN)
Cascadia Wildlands (OR)
Center for Biological Diversity (AZ)
Center for Sustainable Living (IN)
Citizens for Better Forestry (CA)
Clearwater Biodiversity Project (ID)
Cumberland Countians for Peace & Justice (TN)
Dogwood Alliance (NC)
EcoLaw Massachusetts (MA)
Ecosystem Advocates (OR)
Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (CA)
Green Press Initiative (MI)
Friends of Bell Smith Springs (IL)
Friends of the Breitenbush Cascades (OR)
Friends of the Clearwater (ID)
Heartwood (IN)
Hells Canyon Preservation Council (OR)
John Muir Project (CA)
Kentucky Heartwood (CA)
League of Wilderness Defenders (OR)
Native Forest Council (OR)
Network for Environmental & Economic Responsibility, United Church of Christ (TN)
Protect Arkansas Wilderness! (AR)
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) (DC)
RESTORE the North Woods (ME)
Save America’s Forests (DC)
Selkirk Conservation Alliance (WA)
Umpqua Watersheds (OR)
Utah Environmental Congress (UT)
Western Lands Project (WA)
WildEarth Guardians (NM)
WildSouth (NC)

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dr. Power: Two Views of the Tester Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 8, 2009

Note: The following commentary from economist Dr. Thomas Michael Power was presented on Montana Public Radio December 7, 2009. – MK

Two Views of the Tester Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill

By Thomas Michael Power

(Dr. Thomas Michael Power is the former Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana, where he currently serves as a Research Professor)

The controversy over Senator Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill is likely to get some national attention in a week or so as the bill receives its first hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests in the our nation’s capitol. That bill has been called both Tester’s “logging bill” as well as Tester’s “wilderness bill.” Critics point out that the title of the bill mentions “forest jobs” but does not mention “wilderness” at all, leaving some suspicion as to what the main purpose of the bill is.

Wilderness advocates who support the bill point out that the bill would add 670,000 acres of wilderness and another 225,000 acres of National Recreation Areas where timber harvest will be prohibited. That’s approaching a million acres of protected land, clearly an admirable goal.

The critics, also wilderness advocates, shake their heads in dismay because at the same time that bill appears to open so much roadless wild land to potential logging. Consider the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana’s largest National Forest. It contains 3.3 million acres of land, mostly undeveloped, high lodgepole pine forest. Forest managers there have classified less than ten percent of that land as suitable for commercial timber management. Yet, Tester’s bill would classify 1.9 million acres of land as “suitable for timber production” where “timber harvest is allowed.” The 500,000 acres of new wilderness that Tester’s bill would create in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest somewhat shrinks in significance compared to the area four times as large that appears to be declared open for timber harvest. That is especially shocking since the area now declared open to logging is over eight times larger than what had previously been deemed suitable for timber harvest.

This may just be the result of bad horse trading and a conscious gamble on the part of the collaborative that originally negotiated this proposal. The fact is that the vast majority of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is likely to remain unroaded and unlogged indefinitely into the future, primarily protected by economics. It is far too costly to go after most of the standing inventory of trees there and those trees have little commercial value, at least for now.

Tester’s bill actually attempts to steer the logging that the bill mandates away from the backcountry and limit it to the already human dominated edges of the forest. The bill orders the Forest Service, when choosing the lands where the timber harvest is to take place, to give “priority” to lands that already have high densities of roads, have already been relatively heavily logged, and contain forests that are at high risk for insect epidemics or high-severity wildfires.

The actual meaning of these limits, however, may hinge on whether all of these criteria have to apply or whether only one of them need apply. That last criteria is loose enough that it by itself could open the entire Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to timber harvest since lodgepole pine forests naturally tend to experience large stand-replacing fires.

The level of timber harvest that would be annually mandated on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest under Tester’s bill can also be read in either comforting or alarming terms. The bill requires 7,000 acres a year to be harvested. To supporters of the bill, this is a tiny acreage of harvest, a tiny fraction of one percent of the huge 3.3 million acre forest.

To critics, although 7,000 acres appears trivially small compared to the total size of the forest, it is not so small compared to the part of the forest deemed suitable for commercial timber harvest, 300,000 acres, of which the 7,000 acres are 2.3 percent. That level of harvest would be sustainable only if new trees grew to commercial size in about 40 years, an unlikely event in a high, cold, lodgepole pine forest in Montana.

To critics, this is simply an unsustainable level of harvest. Looking back over 40 years of timber harvest on that forest, 7,000 acres of timber harvest was reached only once, in 1971, in the heyday of aggressive Forest Service harvests across the nation. That level of harvest was once again approached in the last peak harvest year on Forest Service lands in the late 1980s when 6,000 acres were harvested. Between 1967 and 1989, when the Forest Service was still largely unhindered by environmental concerns and harvested record numbers of trees, the average acreage harvested on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest was about 4,000 acres. The Tester bill would seek to force a harvest level two-thirds higher than that previous unfettered average harvest level.

Supporters of Tester’s bill insist that the intent is not to open up most of the forest to timber harvest but quite the opposite: to support modest timber harvests where they would do the most good and the least harm. If that is the case, the language of the bill should be tightened up to accomplish exactly that by limiting the areas open to potential timber harvests to a much smaller portion of the forest and by making clear that the “priority” areas for timber harvest are in fact those areas that have already been roaded and open to logging and where the timber harvests can help protect human habitation. Finally, the level of mandated timber harvest should be set based on what foresters indicate is a sustainable level of harvest given the characteristics of that forest.

Such a tightening up of the language and numbers in the Tester bill should be acceptable to the wilderness advocates who support this bill since it would simply assure that the bill does what they say it is intended to do. If timber interests howl in protest over such clarification that should give the rest of us pause as to exactly what the Tester bill is really all about.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

By the Numbers: Tester’s Mandated Logging vs. Historical Logging

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 8, 2009

What follows is some information compiled from US Forest Service records regarding historical logging on the Beaverhead and Deerlodge National Forests.

The info will clearly demonstrate how Sen. Tester’s S.1470, which would Congressionally mandate a minimum of 7,000 acres of logging per year for ten years on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, would compare with historical logging on these same forests.

All of the following information was obtained directly from the US Forest Service.

From 1959-1996 the Beaverhead NF averaged 1621 acres of logging per year. The greatest acreage logged on the Beaverhead NF in that time period was 4168 acres in 1987. The Reagan years average on the Beaverhead NF was 2697 acres of logging per year.

From 1954-1996 the Deerlodge NF averaged 1592 acres of logging per year. The greatest acreage logged on the Deerlodge NF in that time period was 4332 acres in 1971. The Reagan years average on the Deerlodge NF was 1916 acres of logging per year.

The average acres logged per year for the Beaverhead and Deerlodge forests combined from 1954-1996 was 3213 acres/year. The average acres logged per year on these same forests during the Reagan years was 4,613 acres/year.

The most acreage ever logged in a single year since 1954 on both forests combined was in 1971, when 7013 acres were logged. The next highest total was in 1966 at 5813 acres. These years were also prior to our nation having environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.

Remember, Sen Tester’s bill would Congressionally mandate a minimum of 7,000 acres of logging per year for ten years on the BHDL NF. That amount of logging per year is not only more than double the historical average on these forests, but it’s the most amount of logging ever, except for one single year.

There is near universal agreement between the timber industry, Forest Service, conservationists, economists, scientists and the general public that the logging levels on National Forests during the logging hayday of the 1960s, 70 and 80s were completely unsustainable and misguided.

However, despite the current and on-going economic crises and resulting “Lumber Depression” (lumber demand down 55% and new home construction down 70%) Sen. Tester’s bill would have Congress step in and mandate a minimum level of logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF that far exceeds anything this forest has ever seen…at an estimated taxpayer cost of $100 million.

Furthermore, it’s quite clear that because Tester’s bill contains a number of “unfunded mandates” money would be taken from other national forests in Montana and the region and given to the BHDL NF to conduct this mandated logging and complete NEPA requirements for these large logging projects within the arbitrary 12 month timeline, which Tester’s bill imposes. (Note: NEPA typically takes the Forest Service 2 to 4 years to complete, and often even at that pace the NEPA assessment isn’t as complete as it should be).

This is just yet another concrete example of a serious concern many of us have that’s based on the actual language contained within the bill.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Key Assumptions behind Sen Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Restoration Act”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 24, 2009

The following commentary concerning Senator Jon Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act” is from Dr. Thomas Power. Dr. Power is the former Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Montana, where he currently serves as a Research Professor. Dr. Power is widely considered one of the country’s leading natural resource-based economists. This commentary is only the first in a series of commentaries Dr. Power will devote to critically exploring the assumptions behind Sen. Tester’s bill. Please check back in a few weeks for the next in the series. – MK

“What I want to do here is simply outline the conventional wisdom from which Senator Tester appears to be operating. That will sound familiar, and, to many, convincing, but those assumptions are, in fact, highly debatable.  In commentaries over the next two months, I will then seek to critically explore each of those assumptions ….As common and familiar as all of these underlying assumptions are, they are far from being factual assumptions. They are a mix of folk wisdom, economic nostalgia, wishful thinking, and barely disguised commercial and bureaucratic government special interests. Before jumping onboard with Tester’s proposal, each has to be critically analyzed.”
– Dr. Thomas Power

The Key Assumptions behind Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Restoration Act”
By Dr. Thomas Power

Montana’s Senator Tester is attempting to cut the Gordian knot that has tied up any action on the management of more than six million acres of roadless federal land in Montana. He has been praised by some for his courage and audacity while others have attacked him for not keeping faith with those who elected him and for selling out to one special interest group or another.

One reason for this mixed emotional reaction is that when it comes to the public dialogue about forest management there is no common agreement about the underlying facts and economic context. Senator Tester and his allies are operating from one set of what they believe to be factual assumptions while their critics begin with a quite different understanding of the facts on the ground.

What I want to do here is simply outline the conventional wisdom from which Senator Tester appears to be operating. That will sound familiar, and, to many, convincing, but those assumptions are, in fact, highly debatable.  In commentaries over the next two months, I will then seek to critically explore each of those assumptions before coming to any conclusion about whether Senator Tester is actually offering a viable solution to the paralysis that has kept a grip on Montana’s roadless wildlands for more than a quarter of a century.

The title of Senator Tester’s bill makes clear its primary focus: forest restoration. The basic assumption is a familiar one: The National Forests in Western Montana, as a result of a variety of human and non-human causes, are in poor, even dangerous, condition. They biologically are well beyond natural and sustainable conditions. As a result major human intervention is necessary to move these natural landscapes back to a healthy, safe, and sustainable condition. From this point of view, we cannot just stop stressing and damaging the forests and allow them to rest and recover on their own. That is why roadless area or wilderness protection for most of these lands will not solve the problems. We have to actively intervene with landscape-scale vegetative manipulation, including logging, thinning, prescribed burns, etc. Tester’s bill seeks to start doing exactly that.

This need to work the forests to move them back to safe and stable conditions is also why it is important for the region to maintain a functioning forest products industry. Without that, we will not have the commercial infrastructure to make use of the logs that need to be removed from our forests. Without a significant forest products industry, the wood fiber in our forests loses commercial value, and the harvest of trees from these unhealthy forests cannot help finance the forest restoration work that needs to be done. That is one of the reasons Tester’s bill seeks to prop up the region’s forest products industry.

The other reason that Tester proposes legally mandating the harvest of more timber from federal lands is the belief that the economies of Western Montana heavily depend on the forest products industry and those economies have been disrupted by the inability of the US Forest Service to maintain a flow of logs to our mills. Tester’s bill seeks to solve that problem by mandating a steady annual flow of logs. That, he believes, will help save those mills and stabilize our economies.

Landscape-scale forest restoration of the sort that would be mandated by Tester’s bill will cost a lot of money, money that the federal government does not really have. With existing large federal deficits and increasing demands on the federal budget for economic recovery, ongoing wars, medical insurance reform, and energy policy, it is unlikely that we can count on Congress to appropriate the money to fund all of the forest restoration work that we are told needs to be done. Senator Tester proposes to get around these funding limitations by paying private contractors with the harvest of commercially valuable logs to do the needed work. Instead of the US Forest Service selling the logs and sending the cash back to the US Treasury, the logs would be used to pay for the forest restoration work through what are called Stewardship Contracts.

The approach that Senator Tester has taken in developing his bill indicates his solution to the conflict among competing uses of National Forest land that has thus far led to paralysis and gridlock.  Senator Tester relied on having some of the competing interests sit down at the table and negotiate in a collaborative manner. That sort of negotiation allowed many parties to get part of what they wanted from the National Forests, producing what has been called a win-win-win outcome. The idea is that these competing uses can be balanced so that the forests can simultaneously support an expansion of the timber industry, more off road vehicle use, improved wildlife habitat, enhance non-motorized recreation, as well as the environmental services provided by natural forests and watersheds. Allowing such local and private negotiations over the management of our National Forests is seen as an appropriate decentralized solution to a broken centralized federal system.

Finally, the forested landscape of Western Montana is seen as so huge that significant timber harvests are possible without doing any serious environmental harm. With millions and millions of acres of federal forestland available, mandating the annual harvest of ten thousand acres or so of trees could not possibly do significant damage to the overall forest. In fact, we are told, that mandated logging, when carried out as part of a larger forest restoration effort, will actually improve the health of the forests.

As common and familiar as all of these underlying assumptions are, they are far from being factual assumptions. They are a mix of folk wisdom, economic nostalgia, wishful thinking, and barely disguised commercial and bureaucratic government special interests. Before jumping onboard with Tester’s proposal, each has to be critically analyzed.

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Protecting America’s Public Lands a National Concern

Posted by Matthew Koehler on November 23, 2009

The following perspective is from Keith Hammer. Mr. Hammer grew up hiking, skiing, camping, hunting, and fishing in the Swan Mountains of Northwest Montana. He has worked a number of jobs, from Forest Service trail worker to logger to backcountry guide, and currently works as an environmental consultant and head of the nonprofit Swan View Coalition, which he co-founded in 1984. Keith and Swan View Coalition have gotten over 600 miles of road decommissioned on the Flathead National Forest to restore fish and wildlife habitat.

Protecting America’s Public Lands a National Concern!
By Keith Hammer, Swan View Coalition

We can take much inspiration from Ken Burns’ film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” and readily extend its premise to the remainder of America’s public lands. Key take-home messages in Burns’ film are that threats to America’s wildlands never cease and that their protection is brought about through national concern and legislation, often over the objections of local politicians.

Indeed, as elk and bison were being slaughtered by commercial hunting in the West in the late 1800s, it was not the new states of Montana and Wyoming that put an end to it. It was Representative John Lacey of Iowa who prohibited the interstate transport of illegally killed wildlife when his “Lacey Act” was signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900.

Montana Senator Thomas Long objected to what is now Glacier National Park being designated a Forest Preserve in 1900, followed by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce objecting to its designation as a National Park in 1910. Thank goodness for the persistence of Americans George Bird Grinnell and others, who had the foresight to see that the area needed better protection than that afforded the Forest Preserves (later known as National Forests) and convinced President Taft to designate Glacier as America’s 10th National Park!

Today, local communities thrive on tourists visiting Glacier National Park and the families and businesses choosing to locate near it! More recently, the town of Seward, Alaska was so dead-set against the designation of Kenai Fjords National Park that it passed two resolutions denouncing the idea. After the Park was designated in 1980 and Seward began to reap the rewards, however, it rescinded its previous resolutions and asked that the Park be expanded! President Carter, once burned in effigy in Alaska for his conservation initiatives there, nonetheless tripled the size of Denali National Park and designated most of it Wilderness for added protection.

For these reasons and more, we helped write and support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act knowing it may not initially garner support from Congressional delegations in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. It builds upon President Clinton’s – and now Obama’s – intention to protect roadless lands from development, sequestering carbon in roadless forests also serving as wildlife migration corridors. It also creates high-paying jobs restoring watersheds through road reclamation .

In contrast, Senator Tester’s (D-MT) wildlands logging bill (Links: here, here and here) would set dangerous precedent by mandating logging levels on two National Forests and subsidizing the burning of public forests as “biomass.” It would also release from protection numerous roadless lands and Wilderness Study Areas granted protection by the far-sighted Senator Lee Metcalf in 1977!

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