When is a Logging Road “Not a Road”?

Ten Mile-South Helena Logging Road.

How does the Forest Service justify bulldozing new roads where they are not supposed to be?  Only by saying, “this feature is not a road.”

war is peace
freedom is slavery
ignorance is strength

These are the official slogans of the Party as inscribed at the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.  The Party is able to get individuals to accept anything it decrees even if it is totally illogical.  Now, although it’s 2020, it might as well be 1984.  When shown the picture of a road (see above) that was not authorized by the Forest Service’s Record of Decision for the Ten Mile-South Helena clearcutting project, The Trump administration’s Department of Justice lawyers responded: “This feature is not a road.”

Two years ago the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to overturn the Trump administration’s decision to proceed with the massive, landscape-scale Ten Mile-South Helena project that will clearcut thousands of acres, including roadless lands, on the Continental Divide.

The pictures above were filed by other plaintiffs in a Motion to the federal district court to graphically show the Court that there was a road where no roads were authorized or approved.  Trump, who has lied over 16,000 times as President, now has such total control of federal government agencies headed by his industry lobbyist appointees that agency attorneys feel comfortable saying an obvious road bulldozed into the forest is not a road. In Trump’s world where ignorance is strength and logging roads are not roads, Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest Supervisor Bill Avey’s decision authorizes logging on 11,650 acres, clearcutting 2,239 acres, and bulldozing 15 miles of new roads into Inventoried Roadless Areas that are supposed to be protected by President Bill Clinton’s Roadless Rule.

The Helena National Forest’s decision to clearcut Helena, Montana’s watershed – and much, much more — is part of the Forest Service’s endless war against the environment.  One of the primary reasons President Teddy Roosevelt created the Forest Service in 1905 was to protect municipal watersheds from massive clearcuting and road-building by unregulated and out-of-control timber companies.

Scientists tell us that to protect watersheds for fisheries, wildlife, municipalities and commerce, we need to limit logging and road-building to provide clean 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 and lead to too many fires.

How does the Forest Service justify bulldozing new roads where they are not supposed to be?  Only by saying, “this feature is not a road.”  To deny that new roads harm watersheds and destroy habitat for threatened species like grizzly bears and lynx, the Forest Service now thinks it can simply state that a logging road is not a road — and therefore cannot threaten endangered species habitat.

Roads are bad for wildlife, especially grizzly bears. Because most grizzly bears are killed by poachers near roads, the Forest Service’s own rules – pursuant to Endangered Species Act requirements to restore threatened and endangered species — limit the number of roads that can be built-in occupied grizzly bear habitat.  But since loggers need roads to haul trees out of the forest, Trump’s Forest Service is trying to say the rule doesn’t apply here because it is not occupied grizzly bear habitat.  Undercutting their argument is the fact that the Forest Service’s own documents show that it is occupied grizzly habitat.  Under Trump, the Ministry of Truth says occupied is not occupied.  In Trump’s world, bulldozing and clearcutting forests improves, not degrades, watersheds — and roads are not roads.

But it’s 2020, not 1984 – and Alliance for the Wild Rockies is once again challenging the Forest Service’s destruction of our national forests, the streams they feed, and the wildlife for which they provide critical habitat.  The Forest Service can try its best to convince a federal judge that a road is not a road – but rest assured, the Alliance will be there to fight this latest Orwellian attack on America’s natural heritage.

Please join us in fighting for truth, justice, and the environment.  


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