Friends of the Bitterroot

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Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains

editor's note: the following excerpt is from FOB ally Chad Harder, from his article in Off The Grind magazine, Sleep When You're Dead, February 2008.

"....................It got personal for me when the BNF became the first to use the "Healthy Forest Restoration Act" (HFRA) to log deep-woods timber above the East Fork of the Bitterroot River under the guise of "restoration" and "fuel reduction." I have spent long days here in the autumn looking for elk, but lots of other animals live here too. Animals thrive in this area partially because of historic patterns and quality forage, but mostly because critters find the security they require in roadless areas just beyond the drainage's otherwise extensive road network.

Yet while the valley's high country is managed by the BNF, the bottoms contain a scattered community. As is typical in fire-dependent ecosystems, these homeowners have seen fires rage in many directions over the past years, and valley residents asked the BNF to reduce fuels around their properties.

To do so, the agency offered up three alternatives for public comment. The first would do nothing. The second, the agency's "preferred alternative," would thin trees in the wildland / rural interface, but it also tacked on a sizeable unrelated harvest of trees, some many miles above the valley. The third option called for similar structure protection, including 1,600 acres of thinning, but without the remote timber sales.

Apparently quite a few people are like me and feel connected to the valley, and just hearing that a large fuel reduction project was happening inspired 13,000 citizens to comment. Ninety-eight percent of these people looked at the options and asked the agency to go with the thin-only option. They said hey, let's use fuel reduction dollars to reduce fuel around private property, not to log remote old growth.

Somehow, the BNF (along with a full one percent of those submitting comments) selected the alternative that logs these distant, unrelated stands, the same forests that provide cover and forage and all the things that have forever kept elk healthy and safe.

This result stunned me. They asked, and statistically EVERYBODY told them to put their limited resources down in the valley, protecting homes. I couldn't believe it, and for the first time in my life I joined a forest service "monitoring team," a group established specifically to watch the implementation of this restoration / logging project. I wanted to see what was going on, and maybe learn something about elk in the process.

But at the first meeting, District Ranger Tracy Hollingshead said in no uncertain terms that our team was disallowed from having its findings affect the project. Huh? Instead, we would simply have the option of reporting our findings to the agency, who might then use the findings on future "treatments," or not.

Now really, why would the agency ever consider our "citizen reports?" Why would Congress mandate a toothless monitoring team? And why was I here if my observations-while by no means irrelevant-would be prevented from having influence on the very landscape that motivated me to join in the first place?

I don't do feel-good exercises, and besides, this did not feel good.

A week later I explored

a couple of the cutting

units. They were hammered.

Big, fire-resistant trees were

gone, replaced by bright

stumps, deep skidder tracks

and piles of discarded

branches. The remaining

scraggly trees were defamed

with orange "W"s. I saw no

elk, not even sign, and soon

I quit the team. Shortly,

the whole group disbanded,

I suspect with similar

feelings of futility..............."