An unkind cut 

Although no one knows for sure what the road to hell is paved with—or if it’s even paved at all—popular wisdom says it’s good intentions. The same could perhaps be said about the new skid trails running through a demonstration project undertaken by a coalition of Missoula conservation groups last summer near Ovando, in coordination with the Lolo National Forest.

The four-acre demonstration project, one portion of a 300-acre thinning project designed to protect nearby homes, was intended to illustrate the differences between commercial and non-commercial, non-mechanized thinning. The National Forest Protection Alliance, Native Forest Network, Wildlands CPR and the Sierra Club—assisted by the on-the-ground work of Vander Meer’s Wildland Conservation Services—designed and carried out their vision in July, carefully documenting the plot and their work for future monitoring and comparison.

But in early March, after a mix-up with Forest Service officials, the Plum Creek Timber Company contractor thinning the remaining 296 acres re-logged the demonstration project, leaving behind a handful of skid trails about 15 feet wide and 100 yards long.

“It’s unfortunate when things like this happen—I was disappointed,” says Seeley Lake District Ranger Tim Love, who says it was the Forest Service, not the contractor, who confused the demonstration project with another unit.

Still, he says, the project was a success in that it fostered a new working relationship between the agency and conservationists.

“You take a situation where the outcome isn’t what you wanted or expected and you learn and grow,” Love says.

Matthew Koehler, director of the Native Forest Network, says the forest flub is frustrating because of the hard work and time invested in the demo project, especially since graduate students from Duke University were scheduled to check it out in May. However, he agrees with Love that the mistake won’t stand in the way of future collaboration, and is already working with Lolo forest officials to find a similar project to duplicate their efforts.

“I just hope if we do another pilot project the Forest Service would be extra careful to make sure it doesn’t get cut by a logging company,” Koehler says.

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