Enviros shift attention to Lolo Post Burn Plan 

With the divisive spat over salvage logging in the Bitterroot National Forest only just passed, the Missoula environmental community is now turning its attention to the Lolo National Forest’s Post Burn Plan. Some conservationists have raised similar objections to the Lolo plan as to the Bitterroot plan, namely, that it overemphasizes commercial logging.

The deadline for public comment on the Lolo project passed this week. Forest Service officials are now reviewing the feedback, and a final Environmental Impact Statement that will be issued this summer.

The Lolo Post Burn Plan includes a diverse range of projects intended to manage the forest in the wake of the 2000 wildfires. Proposed actions include salvaging damaged timber and thinning unburned trees, conducting prescribed burns, planting new trees in burned areas, reconstructing some roads and taking out others, addressing soil erosion, and removing culverts to help aquatic life.

“The overall outcome of the various treatments is expected to improve the resource situation and create a more healthy and resilient forest,” reads a summary of the plan issued by the Lolo National Forest.

The conservation community agrees with some aspects of the plan that focus on restoration, says Matthew Koehler of the Native Forest Network, a Missoula environmental group that opposing logging on public lands.

“However, while doing some good, they are also proposing a massive timber sale,” he says. “We see the Forest Service using the wildfires of 2000 as a golden opportunity to return to the good old days of the 1980s when logging was king on our national forests. They are simply using the wildfires as an excuse to awaken the sleeping timber giant.”

The Ecology Center, another Missoula-based environmental group, released a study of the plan last week, entitled “Timber Trumps Restoration.” The report echoes Koehler’s criticisms, claiming that the Lolo plan is not based on the best science and that it contains excessive logging.

“Postfire logging in these sensitive areas will further increase sediment loads to bull trout streams, fragment wildlife habitat, and disrupt natural ecological processes,” the study reads. Sharon Sweeney, public affairs officer for the Lolo National Forest, is dismayed that the logging component of the plan has become the center of attention.

“I hate to see us get bogged down in one aspect of this project because there are numerous other things the Environmental Impact Statement is looking at as well,” Sweeney says. “Like the upgrading of 108 culverts and restoring streams and closing and decommissioning roads, as well as mine reclamation and some dam reclamation and repairing and planting.”

Sweeney adds that there are several different alternatives for the plan that include varying degrees of logging.

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