In a recent letter, Michele Reinhart expressed support for Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation bill (see “Concerns addressed,” May 13, 2010). As a wildland conservation advocate, one point in particular caught my attention. She wrote, “Personally I have been heartened by recent clarifications that these mechanical treatments will be focused in heavily roaded areas…”
I wish I had Michele’s confidence on that point.
The bill, S-1470, says that “priority” would be given to areas where “road densities exceed 1.5 miles per square mile of land” for the logging and road building projects. This priority appears, promisingly, to lean away from roadless areas. The bill also requires that the project area “shall not” exceed 1.5 miles of road per square mile when done. This is where expenses are incurred; it is not cheap to reclaim miles of road. This weighs heavily in the direction of focusing logging and roading projects on areas already at or below the required end-ceiling of 1.5 miles of road per square mile, possibly taking logs with no road restoration required.
In my experience, when priorities come up against money, money has a way of quickly eroding priorities.
An explicitly required project area with a beginning minimum road density of, say, 3 miles of road per square mile would ensure that projects went into heavily roaded areas and that the public would benefit from at least 1.5 miles of road restoration to reach the 1.5 miles per square mile required maximum at the end of a project.
All clarifications or assurances aside, S-1470 is in print, and it is the only real touchstone we have on this critical issue for the future of some of Montana’s most biologically important wildlands. The way the wording stands and the world turns, the gravity of money will outweigh the high sounding priority. I’d love to be wrong about that.