Battering the Bitterroot Forest

Any day, the Bitterroot National Forest in the Rocky Mountains of Montana is expected to release the final environmental impact statement for the Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction project. All indications are that the final plan has changed little from initial documents released in November 2004 and the draft plan issued in April.

What this means is that industrial logging is planned for critical elk and bighorn sheep habitat on nearly 4,000 acres of mature, old-growth forests along the East Fork of the Bitterroot River.

Once this final plan is released to the public, you can bet the BNF will attempt to justify the plan by hiding behind misguided science, while spreading the notion that the entire East Fork community and Bitterroot Valley stands behind their decision to cut down thousands of acres of old-growth forests under the guise of “fuel reduction” and improving “forest health.”

You can also count on the BNF to dismiss any concern or opposition to their old-growth logging plan as coming from just a few environmentalists. However, nothing could be further from the truth, and Bitterroot Supervisor Dave Bull and his staff are fully aware of this – even if they fail to acknowledge it publicly.

The fact of the matter is that there are residents of the East Fork community and longtime Bitterroot Valley residents (citizens with roots so deep in the Bitterroot Valley that ridges and lakes are named after their ancestors) who are concerned with, or opposed to, the Middle East Fork project.

Forest Service officials also know that Ph.D. scientists with expertise in entomology, soils, fire and fuels, forest ecology, aquatics, fisheries and wildlife are concerned with, or opposed to, this project – including a number of prominent Ph.D. faculty members at the University of Montana’s School of Forestry and Conservation.

Strong opposition to this project also comes from citizens with diverse backgrounds, including former Forest Service smokejumpers and firefighters, district rangers, wilderness rangers, loggers, mill workers, tree planters, restoration workers, hunters and anglers.

At a recent public science panel about this project, Forest Service officials were strongly criticized for their Middle East Fork project by the president of the homeowners association for the only certified “Fire-Wise” community in all of Montana.

Forest Service officials also know that other Forest Service officials in Montana – including officials in leadership positions within the agency – are also concerned with the handling of this project by Bitterroot Forest Supervisor Dave Bull and some of his staff.

So, as you can clearly see, concern and opposition regarding the Middle East Fork project is coming from many different people with very diverse backgrounds.

Specific concerns with this project include the following:

o 33% of the project area (8,491 acres) has already been logged in the past and the majority of the 4,000 acres of mature and old-growth forests slated to be cut down are surrounded by old clearcuts.

o There are currently 208 miles of roads within the project area, an average of over five miles of road per square mile. According to the Forest Service, these roads currently contribute 150 tons of sediment per year to streams within the project area and the Middle East Fork project is expected to dump tens of thousands of pounds of more sediment into these streams.

o Soil disturbance and compaction is another huge issue with this project, especially considering that according to the Forest Service’s own analysis, 20% of the acres slated for industrial logging already exceed the Forest Service’s own soil quality standard.

o The BNF continues to claim that their industrial logging treatments will lower infestation levels of Douglas-fir bark beetle and other native beetle species without providing a single scientific citation in their analysis, and despite the fact that a number of Ph.D. entomologists have publicly questioned this rationale.

It would be a mistake for the public to assume that because there’s wide-spread opposition to the BNF’s current Middle East Fork plan – especially concerning industrial logging of old-growth forests in critical elk and bighorn sheep habitat – that there isn’t common ground on moving forward with a sensible plan to provide community wildfire protection along the East Fork.

In fact, there is common ground and it’s found within Alternative 3 of the Middle East Fork plan. Alternative 3 provides more effective and efficient wildfire protection to the East Fork community than the BNF’s current plan because it comprehensively treats the Community Protection Zone (CPZ), an area within 1/4 mile of the homes scattered along the East Fork near Sula.

This alternative also treats an additional 1,000 acres beyond the CPZ through pre-commercial thinning in plantations and slashing small fuels around large, legacy trees.

Unfortunately, Bitterroot National Forest officials decided to arbitrarily eliminate the watershed and road restoration components from Alternative 3, which is disappointing, as these restoration activities would have provided hundreds of jobs in the Bitterroot Valley restoring forest and watershed health in the East Fork.

In the end, Supervisor Bull can choose to ignore concerns and opposition from longtime Bitterroot Valley residents, prominent Ph.D. faculty members at the University of Montana’s School of Forestry, former Forest Service district rangers, smokejumpers, loggers, restoration workers, hunters and anglers.

If he chooses this route, he will essentially be preventing the community wildfire protection work around the East Fork community from moving forward as part of this project unless it’s accompanied by industrial logging of 4,000 acres of old-growth forests.

On the other hand, despite the setback with the bona-fide restoration work being eliminated from Alternative 3, Supervisor Bull has an opportunity to move forward with the first project implemented in Montana under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act with the support of a diverse set of stakeholders, including the environmental community. It would be a shame if this golden opportunity for common ground is wasted.

MATTHEW KOEHLER is director of the Native Forest Network based in Missoula, Montana. He can be reached at:







We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005