Alt Facts on the Lynx

On Halloween a picture of the pugilistic Congressman Greg Gianforte standing proudly in front of a clear-cut greeted readers of The Montana Standard. Gianforte was promoting his “Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act.” A companion bill which is co-sponsored by Republican Senator Daines and Democrat Senator Tester is in the Senate. Their goal is to Congressionally overturn the Cottonwood court decision which required the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on logging in lynx critical habitat.

The Montana Congressional delegation claims the sky is falling because federal agencies are now required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when critical habitat is designated for threatened and endangered species. But their bills do nothing more than allow logging companies that have already unsustainably clear-cut their private lands to now clear-cut our publicly owned National Forest lands, endangered wildlife be damned.

Gianforte was quoted in the article saying: “About 140,000 acres of timber harvest are being held up by the Cottonwood decision.” Gianforte also said his bill would block “frivolous lawsuits” — despite the fact that judges do not hear “frivolous” lawsuits, they throw them out.

The truth, instead of Gianforte’s “alternative facts,” tells a different story. A total of 15,054 acres of logging were enjoined in four timber sales in lynx critical habitat — which is a long way from the 140,000 acres that Gianforte claimed. These are the East Reservoir Timber sale in the Kootenai National Forest, the Stonewall Timber sale in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Bozeman Watershed, and East Boulder sales in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

What Gianforte failed to mention is that the Forest Service already re-initiated consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service last November to comply with the court order and the government completed the analysis, known as a Biological Opinion, on October 18. This is a fact that Gianforte has not disclosed to the public. Nor have Gianforte or Montana’s senators withdrawn their bills. The analysis is only about 45 pages long and did not require any public comment process. In general, the law requires that Biological Opinions such as this one take about six months to complete.

Gianforte also didn’t have the courage to tell citizens that by the Forest Service’s own estimates these four timber sales will cost taxpayers $6 million to subsidize timber sales for companies like RY Timber, which is owned by Idaho billionaires, the Yanke Family Trust.

The Forest Service proposed clear-cutting over 5,100 acres (8 square miles) and bulldozing over 23 miles of new logging roads in lynx critical habitat with just these four timber sales, which is why they were challenged in court. The harsh reality, undeniably proven by all the best available science, is that more logging means less lynx. If we’re going to actually recover lynx as required by the Endangered Species Act, it’s obviously time to say no more bulldozing roads and clear-cuts in lynx critical habitat.

Spending millions more on subsidies to clear-cut our National Forests won’t stop wildfires, but it will destroy what makes Montana great, which is simply the best hunting and fishing in the nation. Tell Daines, Tester, and Gianforte to protect, not destroy, our forests, the abundant clean water they produce and the native ecosystems they sustain. Americans deserve facts on public policy issues, not D.C. lies. That means Congressman Gianforte and Senators Daines and Tester must stop deceiving the people with “alternative facts” and start telling the truth.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.