HELENA – Missoula County commissioners concerned about potential development of private timberlands sent Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey a letter Wednesday, telling him he needs to be forthcoming with information.
The commissioners say they want documents related to talks between Rey, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, and Plum Creek Timber Co., which owns vast timberlands in Montana and has been selling some of those holdings for development.
Rey and Plum Creek have been discussing potential changes in about 200 road easements that pass through publicly owned forests in Montana, and are up for renewal. The Missoula County Commission says those changes could lead to greater real estate development by Plum Creek.
Rey met with commissioners April 28 in Missoula and invited them to submit further comment afterward. In their letter, commissioners said their ability to comment is limited because Rey either is unable or unwilling to share relevant documents.
Rey spokesman Charlie Richmond said he has received the letter and Rey will respond. A call Wednesday to Plum Creek’s office in Seattle was not returned immediately.
The commissioners said possible changes in easements should receive no further consideration before documents that would be amended are reviewed by Rey’s office and made available to the public.
They also said that in some cases, changes to road easements could trigger reviews required in two federal laws, one the National Environmental Policy Act and the other the Endangered Species Act.
A public hearing should occur in each Montana county the easement changes would affect, wrote the commissioners, who sent a copy of their letter to about 30 of Montana’s 56 counties.
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