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BITTERROOT BAR SALVAGE LOGGING PROJECT UPDATE



by Larry Campbell



February 2004 marked the second anniversary of the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) Burned Area Recovery {sic} (BAR) Settlement, where conservation groups, the Forest Service and timber industry representatives reached a court-sanctioned agreement on a deal including logging and restoration.



Recall the rhetoric coming from the Forest Service prior to the Settlement: FS Chief Dale Bosworth said, "The most important thing to me is getting on with the restoration work". "The idea of the whole project was fire restoration." (Missoulian, 1/9/01) Finally Chief Bosworth, claiming the need to hasten restoration, asked Undersecretary Mark Rey to sign the Decision and circumvent the legally required appeal process saying, "It's imperative that we move forward with the project to help restore the land and prevent further environmental degradation." (New York Times, 12/ 9/01) Federal District Court declared that this maneuver to bypass appeals was illegal and then ordered negotiations. Undersecretary Mark Rey and FS Chief Dale Bosworth were told and then reminded by the District Court to be present. They were, apparently begrudgingly, there at negotiations over two long days with environmentalists in the Federal Courthouse in Missoula and they are parties to the court sanctioned BAR Settlement.

As you may remember, within a year after the widely publicized Settlement agreement, the Rey/Bosworth led Forest Service took away $18 million that the BNF had in hand and allocated to restoration promises made in the BAR Settlement. This restoration money - $18 million - would have gone to local machinery operators. It would have been a win/win for ecological and economic health in the Bitterroot. Now BNF officials say that money is not coming back. Even with the enormous amount of restoration money gone BNF Forest Supervisor Dave Bull says "We are not behind in our restoration work. We might even be a little ahead." (Missoulian, 6/6/03) and claims, the promised restoration work is still "on track". (Ravalli Republic 4/9/03) Despite all the rhetoric from the FS about the primary importance of the restoration component of BAR only 17% of promised restoration has been accomplished while over 60% of logging is completed. In our view the situation is like the locomotive displayed as a monument at Circle Square in Missoula...on track, maybe, but not going anywhere. The BAR project is a monument to an alarming lack of accountability at all levels of the Forest Service.



Even restoration work specifically required by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in their BAR Biological Opinion has not been completed. The Biological Opinion states,


"[T]he Forest must comply with the following terms and conditions...These terms and conditions are non-discretionary....[t]he following terms and conditions shall be implemented:...


4. Prior to commercial use , the Forest shall upgrade those portions of principal Forest roads that will be used during salvage timber harvest and fuel management treatments....Principal Forest roads include, but are not limited to Forest Roads 75 [Rye Creek Rd], 321 [N Fork Rye Rd],370 and 725.


5. To ensure connectivity, the Forest shall replace those [20] culverts identified as Priority One...prior to September 2003."


As of March 2004 two of the four roads specifically listed have not had BMP upgrades completed and 13 of the 20 specified culverts have not been replaced.


These are not mere technicalities. These conditions were required in order to prevent avoidable damage to fragile watersheds and fisheries caused by log hauling on substandard roads. Most of the timber hauled off the BAR logging projects has been hauled down the two roads, North Fork Rye and Rye Creek roads, that have yet to have required BMP upgrades completed. Much avoidable damage has been done to these two mangled streams that were already listed by Montana as 'Impaired" and unable to provide for beneficial uses. And avoidable damage is still going on.... Promises don't keep siltation out of the streams or reconnect fisheries, especially broken ones. Closing the barn door after the horse is gone never makes horse sense.



The people in charge of the Forest Service, Undersecretary Mark Rey and Chief Dale Bosworth, pulled a blatant 'bait and switch' game with funds and actively prevented their FS from delivering on their court sanctioned promises. The net result of failing to provide the promised timely restoration is significant and avoidable erosion of watershed health and massive erosion of trust in the Forest Service.



ARE WE SURPRISED??? Meanwhile, in another parallel universe...


The recent Bush Forest Service budget delivered the US Congress a surprise. The Bush Administration reneged on budgeting promised by Bush appointee Undersecretary Mark Rey during political negotiations for the so-called 'Healthy Forest Restoration Act'.


Senator Wyden, one of the Acts primary Congressional supporters said:


*"It is a fantasy to say we are going to get anything close to the amount of work Congress foresaw when it passed this bill under your budget," Wyden told Rey. (J.R. Pegg Washington, DC, March 3, 2004 (ENS)


*"This is a breach of what the Congress intended on a bipartisan basis in terms of getting this work done."


*"I think there is going to be enormous frustration out in rural America, which is expecting these new funds to get important work done, and you all basically did a bait and switch." (Dan Berman, Environment & Energy Daily reporter March 3, 2004)



...sounds like BAR restoration they're talking about.