HELENA – A Bozeman man on Tuesday sued Gov. Steve Bullock and some top administration officials, accusing them of violating the state Constitution by nominating 5.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land for restoration without giving the public a chance to participate.

The proposed Montana forest restoration program could include some logging, but by no means is all logging, the Bullock administration said.

Steve Kelly, a Bozeman artist and former congressional candidate, filed the complaint in Gallatin County District Court. He also named Bullock’s natural resources adviser Tim Baker, state Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs and state forester Bob Harrington in the lawsuit.

He contended that Bullock and the other officials violated the public’s right to know and the public’s right to participate in the Montana Constitution.

“I have a responsibility to vigorously defend the rights of citizens protected by the Montana Constitution,” Kelly said. “When government officials forget to follow their oath of office, or simply choose to act in a way that tramples the constitutional rights of all Montanans, individual citizens must be vigilant. It’s what citizenship is all about.”

Kelly asked the court to set aside Bullock’s recommendation and declare it void.

He also asked the court to send the recommendations back to Bullock and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and order officials to conduct properly noticed public meetings that meet the constitutional standards.

The complaint is aimed at Bullock’s recommendation to nominate 5.1 million acres of national forest land in Montana for restoration, under the new farm bill. The bill allows governors to nominate landscapes affected by insects and disease.

Kelly said Bullock’s recommendation to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture “was hatched by seven people over the course of five conference calls that deliberately avoided any opportunity for public input.”

In response, Bullock defended the plan as “the product of collaboration by conservationists and forest rangers, county commissioners and the wood products industry.”

“We proposed a responsible plan that seeks to break the gridlock that has, for too long, prohibited thoughtful management of our federal lands and had disastrous impacts on the health of our forests,” he said. “While we’re only at the beginning of this conversation, Montanans can be excited about healthier forests, improved watersheds, habitat and fisheries, increased recreational opportunities and good paying jobs.”

The governor’s office said the farm bill gave governors only 60 days to nominate areas. If the secretary of agriculture designates these lands, forest management will follow as part of a planning process “with rigorous science and allowing for full public involvement,” Bullock’s office said.

The administration said the priority landscapes proposed by Bullock were the product of collaborative discussions with representatives from the logging and wood products industry, conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Yaak Valley Forest Council and the Blackfoot Challenge, county commissioners from affected counties, and national forest supervisors and district rangers.

Kelly, who is not an attorney, filed the complaint himself without using a lawyer in what’s known as a pro se complaint.

“I just didn’t want the clock to run out and get by without a challenge,” he said in an interview. “I’m a citizen filing a pro se complaint. I just want to know if the Constitution is still working.”

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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(9) comments

wvmcconnell
wvmcconnell

Some 40 years ago, as the timber staff officer on the National Forests in Florida, I enthusiastically advocated public involvement and participated in some of the earliest attempts (we called them "listening sessions"} of the US Forest Service to bring the public into our decision making. After 40 years of National Forest non-management, resulting in economic disaster to families, communities, and local government and massive destruction of our resources by fire. insects and disease, I realize how wrong I was. I naively believed that "the public" would demand a balanced program with widely distributed benefits . Instead, highly motivated and singly focused "environmental activists", took control while the community suffers its massive resource losses in uninformed silence. For a glimpse of what this means, visit my webpagehttp://www.wvmcconnell.net/?page_id=105 . Other pages on the site offer more insight and suggest a solution.

Nativeofmizoo
Nativeofmizoo

Well stated! Matthew Koehler, are you listening????

Mtforme
Mtforme

Either log it or it will burn. Is a huge forest fire good for people and wildlife? I think not. Read about the Big Burn people. Over 1 million acres burned in the Big Burn of 1910. I think it is a much better idea to make stuff out of forest products than let it all burn and threaten human lives and wildlife. It is a renewable resource. Sometimes these eco-Nazi's are complete idiots.

Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler

In this article, Governor Bullock states that these future National Forest logging projects will be done with “with rigorous science and allowing for full public involvement.”

Here's what that really means:

The 5 million acres of National Forests nominated for “fast track” logging fall under the new provision in the Farm Bill that calls for an unlimited number of timber sales up to 3,000 acre (4.7 square miles) in size each spread across our National Forests.

Anyone can read the bill language and see very clearly that these timber sales are to be “categorically excluded” from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. Among other things this means there will be no environmental analysis as to how a timber sale could impact threatened and endangered species such as bull trout, grizzly bear and lynx. Opportunities for meaningful public input have also been severely curtailed, including removal of the citizen appeal/objection process.

How those facts mesh with Bullock's characterization that these logging projects will be done “with rigorous science and allowing for full public involvement" is something Montanans should look into for themselves.

Fact is, Governor Bullock hand-picked 7 people that met in secret on the phone 5 times with absolutely no public notice, no notes taken and zero opportunity for Montanans to provide any input and nominated 5 million acres of public National Forest lands for "fast track" logging under weakened environmental analysis & public input requirements.

Those defending this secret process ignore the fact that the February conference call agenda for the 7 people clearly states: “April 1st deadline to Governor – after broader public review/input." See for yourself here: http://bit.ly/1m7NDyL. But as we all know now, that public review and input was never allowed. Yet now - incredibly - the Governor and the handful of people involved with this secret process are shocked that Montana citizens are upset and have concerns with this type of secret, no-notice process impacting public lands?

To help put this 5 million acres in perspective, it’s estimated that 65-80% of the forested acres of the Lolo and Kootenai National Forests – outside of Wilderness – are nominated for “fast track” logging, including everything colored green, tan or red on this map: http://bit.ly/1mV4jtP. As a backcountry, public lands hunter I can assure you that many pockets of prime wildlife habitat and beautiful, ecologically-diverse National Forests have been nominated for “fast track” logging. Get on the ground and see for yourself.

In a recent column, NWF’s Tom France tried to paint anyone with concerns about the secret “fast track” logging nomination process as part of “fringe groups.” Unfortunately, this is just more deception.

Fact is, WildEarth Guardians – a group that’s won awards for working within open and transparent processes, and with 43,000 members in Montana and across the country – wrote Gov Bullock and requested that he withdraw the designation and restart a full process open to the public, not just hand-picked timber lobbyists and a few other people (bit.ly/PL11uz).

Unfortunately, this is just the latest evidence of the Montana timber industry working with a few well-funded conservation organizations and some politicians to greatly increase National Forest logging in Montana by weakening our environmental laws, “categorical excluding” NEPA analysis and limiting opportunities for meaningful citizen input. Montanans and our public lands and wildlife deserve far better.

Loggerman
Loggerman

Why don't you quit trying to scare people into believing your BS and get a real job. You really need to go out on a logging job and learn what really goes on, but then again if you see a stump you will assume a crime was committed, by the way what exactly is your background in forestry? A degree in English and activist of the year just isn't gonna cut it.

Loggerman
Loggerman

There were no secret meetings. The Gov was well within his right to choose the people he did to express their views. There was no public participation, because that has been abused for years. It's about time professionals were put to the forefront to make rational decisions concerning forest welfare, and management, not based on emotion and hype. What product do you suppose this so called artist paints or draws on? I bet it isn't rocks.

LCHelenajr
LCHelenajr

I must have this one confused with all of the other anti-logging lawsuits? I thought somebody already sued over this one? Dang, I sure wish I could have had a voice before they dumped Canadian wolves all over.

Sukey
Sukey

Well, actually, I sort of applaud this guy. He's afraid there will be too much logging, others are afraid there will be too little logging and the whole mess with the Farm Bill is, apparently unfunded anyway. I don't like "secret" meetings with no notes, no public participation, no transcripts. A lawsuit may force them to say what really happened.

BJackson
BJackson

Why am I not surprised?

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