Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We deserve better

Posted on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 3:18 PM

Thanks to the Indy for letting Montanans know that Gov. Steve Bullock nominated 5 million acres of National Forest land in Montana for "fast track" logging via a cabal of seven hand-picked people that met in secret on the phone five times with absolutely no public notice, no notes taken and zero opportunity for Montanans to provide any input (see "etc.," April 24).

Montanans should also know that when citizens requested basic information about this secret process, the Bullock administration stonewalled the request and even threatened to make people pay. The 5 million acres of National Forests nominated for "fast track" logging fall under a new provision in the Farm Bill that calls for an unlimited number of timber sales up to 3,000 acres (4.7 square miles) in size, each spread across our National Forests. These timber sales are "categorically excluded" from the National Environmental Policy Act, meaning there will be no environmental analysis as to how a timber sale could impact threatened and endangered species such as bull trout, grizzly bear and lynx. Opportunities for meaningful public input have also been severely curtailed, including removal of the citizen appeal and objection process.

To help put this 5 million acres in perspective, it's estimated that 65-80 percent of the forested acres of the Lolo and Kootenai National Forests—outside of Wilderness—are nominated for "fast track" logging, including everything colored green, tan or red on this map: As a backcountry, public lands hunter I can assure you that many pockets of prime wildlife habitat and beautiful, ecologically diverse National Forests have been nominated for "fast track" logging. Get on the ground and see for yourself.

Recent columns by the Montana timber industry and a handful of "collaborators" defending this secret process ignore the fact that the February conference call agenda clearly states: "April 1st deadline to Governor—after broader public review/input." But as we all know now, that public review and input was never allowed.

In a recent column, NWF's Tom France tried to paint anyone with concerns about the secret "fast track" logging nomination process as part of "fringe groups." Unfortunately, this is just more deception. Fact is, WildEarth Guardians—a group that's won awards for working within open and transparent processes, and with 43,000 members in Montana and across the country—wrote Bullock and requested that he withdraw the designation and restart a full process open to the public, not just hand-picked timber lobbyists and a few other people.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest evidence of the Montana timber industry working with a few well-funded conservation organizations to greatly increase National Forest logging in Montana by weakening our environmental laws, "categorical excluding" NEPA analysis and limiting opportunities for meaningful citizen input. Montanans and our public lands and wildlife deserve far better.

Matthew Koehler


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