Judge Blocks Logging of Burned Trees in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest, by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: On December 18, 2001 a federal judge issued a temporary hold on salvage logging in the Bitterroot National Forest of Montana after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the American Wildlands and The Wilderness Society. This happened one day after Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the Forest Service, agreed to open 46,000 acres of the forest to salvage logging. The Forest Service claims the logging would be one step to restoring the forest where 307,000 acres burned in forest fires during the summer of 2000.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: This lawsuit is another attempt by so-called environmentalists to prevent proper forest management from taking place. Their real interests are not in protecting the forests but in controlling our natural resources.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: This is just another indication showing how federal lands are poorly managed in comparison to state and private lands. These trees burned over a year ago and the Forest Service still hasn’t removed dead trees, planted new trees, or been able to restore streams.

DISCUSSION: The environmental groups filing the lawsuit claim the law requires the forest logging plan be open to public review and comment. Forest Service officials said environmental groups were going to sue anyway to stop the logging plan so they decided to skip the appeal process and let the matter be settled in court. A federal judge in Missoula agreed with the plaintiffs that the Forest Service had not followed the law as regards appeals of such decisions.

The forest industry contends that as long as dead trees remain in the forest, there is an increase of fuel for future fires. State and private landowners in the area have already done their restoration work, according to the American Forest Resource Council spokesman, Chris West.

Salvage can reduce the threat of insect and disease outbreaks that can occur after fires of this magnitude. Carefully designed removal of dead and dying timber can also be utilized in restoration activities that protect watershed functions.

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