Young Dodge, Old Story

By Beacon Staff

Environmentalists have filed yet another lawsuit, against the Kootenai National Forest’s “Young Dodge” project on Lake Koocanusa’s west side. News? Naw … same old story.

Young Dodge has been in the “paperworks” for a long time. Its first draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published clear back in February 2006. The Forest Service lost two EIS/administrative-appeal cycles, both over goshawks, in 2006 and 2008.

Then another supplemental EIS, covering the “effects of the […] project on wildlife species,” came out in April 2010. The final SEIS (confused and bored yet?) and Record of Decision was issued in April 2012, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed off on Young Dodge in March.

Again, Greens, including the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR, an Earth First! spinoff) filed an administrative appeal: Over 100 pages, covering 18 “issues” with multiple “contentions” for each. This appeal was rejected by the deciding officer in July 2012.
Finally, on May 14, after seven freaking years of obstructionism, AWR sued.

What’s the big deal about Young Dodge? First, this is working forest in the Forest Plan, not wilderness. Second, because of past logging and no recent logging, Douglas firs (more fuel) have been replacing ponderosa pine at lower elevations. Third, big beetle kills hit the higher lodgepole stands. If a fire gets going, don’t expect anything downwind to stay green on Koocanusa’s west shore.

So, in the 38,000-acre “Project Area,” over eight years there would be 2,500 acres of logging expected to produce about 10 million board feet. Prescribed burns on about 4,000 acres would be split about equally between “underburns” only, and burning after logging. About 100 miles of road would be fixed, 11.5 miles torn out, and, horror of horrors, about 8.5 miles of existing roads mistakenly left out of a 2005 inventory, put back in.

Might Young Dodge defuse the wildfire bomb? Maybe, maybe not – but doing nothing is stupid.

AWR, represented by Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) attorney Shiloh Hernandez (son of beloved Montana environmental activist Cesar Hernandez), seeks to enjoin all the logging and burning, and for the judge to “grant plaintiff costs and expenses of litigation,” et cetera, “pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act” – of course.

Which judge? Well, the case number is 9:13-cv-00092-DWM, indicating Senior (Not Retired) U.S. Judge Donald W. Molloy will preside. Please recall that Lincoln County commissioners Tony Berget, Ron Downey and Marianne Roose publicly declared Molloy’s career “a social and economic disaster for Montana rural communities […] Lincoln County in particular.”

Judge Molloy recently shot down a helicopter weed-spraying project on the Kootenai because it might bother a bear. Against Young Dodge, AWR alleges (among other things) that using a helicopter torch to burn 376 acres “would impact 9,459 acres of grizzly bear habitat.” How long might such “impact” last? The Simplex “helitorch” system the Forest Service uses “will burn up to 200 acres per hour” – a couple of hours, a few days at most, in an eight-year project.

Here’s more fatuous eco-hooey: In a press release, WELC lawyer Matthew Bishop trumpeted “[w]e haven’t seen an industrial logging project like this in years and never one in occupied, critical habitat for lynx.” Bishop’s spin masterpiece was “reported” elsewhere without comment – but I must: As late as 2000, the Kootenai harvested 60 million feet a year. Since then, nonstop litigation contributed massively to the shutdown of every sawmill in Lincoln County – except tiny Chapel Cedar. Young Dodge will average 1.2 million feet production per year – which Bishop calls “industrial?”

Bishop is technically correct there has “never” been a fuels-reduction project like Young Dodge. After all, it wasn’t “occupied, critical habitat for lynx” when first proposed in 2006. That happened in 2009, when the project area was included in a second federal designation cycle that netted Montana a whopping 7.156 million acres where, according to the Federal Register, “fire suppression or fuels treatment” both comprise “habitat-related threats to lynx.”

While there will be more “news” of Young Dodge soon enough, such news seems no more than another crummy chapter in a stale old story that can only end badly – if it ever ends.

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