Why You Can’t Trust the US Forest Service

Clearcut. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Tom Kuglin’s excellent article in The Missoulian on June 21 about the lawsuit the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed to stop massive clear-cutting and road-building in Helena’s drinking watershed mentioned that the City of Helena organized a collaborative group of diverse citizens, Forest Service personnel and city employees called the Ten Mile Watershed Collaborative Committee to ensure that anything the Forest Service proposed in our watershed, actually protected our watershed. After all, we all drink water. The collaborative also wanted to ensure that the wildlife habitat in the watershed and its inventoried roadless lands, Lazyman and Jericho Mountain were protected. I was part of this committee.

The collaborative was composed of a group of people with strongly held opinions that met many times over eight long months. Even though we disagreed on how to protect Helena’s watershed, in the end, we did what adults do. We compromised.


The collaborative agreed that some areas of Helena’s watershed should be logged and prescribe-burned but we also wanted to reduce the number of miles of roads in the watershed because roads and clean water don’t mix.

Roads greatly increase sediment in our drinking water. Too many roads lead to too many clearcuts. Too many clearcuts and roads lead to too much sediment flowing into creeks and too many weeds, which are more flammable than native grasses. Too many weeds increase the risk of wildfire for a number of reasons including when vehicles’ overheated catalytic converters drive over them causing them to catch on fire.

The collaborative also agreed that no new permanent roads would be built in the watershed, that only temporary roads could be built, and that there would be no roads built in roadless areas. We also stipulated that the Forest Service has to remove an amount of existing roads equal to the amount they propose to create, before they create them. This way the miles of permanent roads in the watershed would be reduced.

Roadless Areas

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