Federal Forest Management is Broken

The East Reservoir Project honors the principles of democracy, conservation and compromise among diverse interests

By Nick Smith

As the poster child for serial litigation, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies has offered yet another example of how our system of federal forest management is severely broken and needs reform. Having already lost in the courtroom once, the group was successful in convincing two Ninth Circuit appeals court judges to block the collaborative East Reservoir Project on the Kootenai National Forest just two days before work was scheduled to begin.

The East Reservoir Project represents a multi-year effort to restore forested watersheds while protecting and enhancing recreation, wildlife and wilderness benefits on our federal lands. The project also recognizes the importance of protecting jobs and vital forest infrastructure in our communities. It is a product of tireless work among the timber industry, conservation and wilderness advocates, sportsmen, hunters, local government officials and motorized recreation users. It honors the principles of democracy, conservation and compromise among diverse interests.

AWR’s latest abuse of our court system will likely delay the project until next year. We should hope that a catastrophe such as the Roaring Lion Fire doesn’t destroy the forests before the Ninth Circuit comes around to making a decision in 2017.

Anti-collaborators reject the fact that wildfires on national forests have grown larger and more severe as timber harvest levels have declined. If climate change is a concern, they also refuse to acknowledge that wildfires emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. The increasing destruction of forests and the continued degradation of wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation and other values are problems that most people want to fix.

AWR’s obstructionism is based in ideology, not science. Their actions suggest they have no interest in the well-being of these forests or thousands of working Montanans. They’ve long dismissed the importance of active forest management to the economic and physical health of our rural communities, and to the health and resiliency of our forests. The extremists will not be satisfied until Montana has lost its mills and loggers, leaving no one left to make forest restoration possible.

Montana Sen. Steve Daines is right. It’s time to urgently move forward on forest reform to stop this type of litigation and obstruction, improve the health of our forests and create and protect Montana jobs. It’s time for Montana Sen. Jon Tester to join him in this effort, as the Senate has been slow to act on the reforms we need. Congressman Ryan Zinke has already helped pass a reasonable solution through the U.S. House. In addition to giving collaboratives greater ability to develop landscape-scale forest health projects, the Resilient Federal Forests Act would make it more difficult for extreme outside litigators such as AWR to tie up collaborative projects in court.

It’s time to place reasonable and legal limits on habitual litigants who profit from their quest to stop Forest Service projects. The lawsuit to block the East Reservoir Project is just the latest blow to Montana’s forests and communities. It’s time for the congressional delegation to take action before it’s too late.

Nick Smith is executive director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities.