Watchdog criticizes Bullock's 5M acre forest restoration request

2014-04-18T06:30:00Z 2014-06-10T06:30:46Z Watchdog criticizes Bullock's 5M acre forest restoration requestBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian

A Missoula forestry watchdog has accused Gov. Steve Bullock of cutting the public out of the process when nominating roughly 5 million timbered acres for priority attention, while those involved in the governor’s decision say the critic is off-base.

“Why couldn’t he have sent out a notice saying hey, we’re nominating millions of acres for fast-track logging – does anyone have an interest in providing input?” asked Matthew Koehler of the WildWest Institute in Missoula. “Thousands and thousands of Montanans would have had an interest in this. But it’s part of a trend we’re seeing on public lands management, where things done under the buzzword ‘collaboration’ oftentimes are nothing more than self-selected groups of people getting together and making decisions. We feel that’s what happened here.”

On April 7, Bullock announced his recommendations under the newly passed federal Farm Bill for acreage where he wants the U.S. Forest Service to focus management action. He was one of 34 governors to do so under the bill’s 60-day submission period.

Bullock picked forestland in eight national forests: the Lolo, Bitterroot, Flathead, Helena, Lewis and Clark, Kootenai, Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Custer-Gallatin.

The bill asked for nominated lands that are infected or threatened by insect outbreaks, have high fire danger or nearness to developed areas. The acres could not be in federal wilderness or wilderness study areas. In addition to logging, priority needs could also be habitat restoration, road repair or removal, fisheries improvements and recreation facilities.

Koehler said the governor issued no public notice and kept no records of the conference calls he had with seven people who had input on the choices. They included Montana Trout Unlimited’s Bruce Farling and the Blackfoot Challenge’s Gary Burnett in the Missoula area, Sanders County Commissioner Carol Brooker, Montana Wood Products Association Executive Vice President Julia Altemus and Montana Logging Association Director Keith Olson in Helena and Barb Cestro of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in Bozeman.

“The governor wanted a well-rounded group of people to provide advice to him, and when the governor asks for my advice, I’m going to give it to him,” Farling said. “My advice was don’t include roadless areas, don’t go outside what forest plans say, don’t include recommended wilderness, and only recommend areas with recognized collaborative groups who’ve made recommendations. I never recommended a single specific landscape.”

Pyramid Mountain Lumber resource manager Gordy Sanders was not part of the phone calls, but said the resulting maps matched Forest Service analysis of forest conditions.

“The choices were based on hard data,” Sanders said. “They (the Forest Service) have specialists that fly over Montana every August and note on maps where they have beetle activity. This looks like the current flight map from last year plus the wildland-urban interface.”

Altemus agreed that the acreage recommendations came mainly from Forest Service reports.

“I think the governor decided it was better to have a small group looking at landscapes, where infrastructure is, where there’s a chance of getting work done and getting things to market,” Altemus said. “Personally, I think the governor did a really good job reaching out to a broad group of folks. This is not normally something he’d have a lot of information about. I find it fascinating that we’re wrapped around the axle by some people who don’t like to collaborate and have conversations. They want to cause trouble.”


University of Montana political scientist Rob Saldin said Bullock didn’t do anything illegal or improper with his decision. But he added it did get the same kind of public reaction as his nomination of his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to fill the Senate seat vacated by Max Baucus.

“On both the Walsh and Forest Service announcements, these are decisions that are totally within his area to make,” Saldin said. “He doesn’t have to answer to anybody on those. From a PR (public relations) perspective, you could ask if this a wise way to go about things. But I think the calls for more transparency are made by people who don’t like what he announced. If he’d made a different announcement, they wouldn’t have said anything.”

The Forest Service manages about 22 million acres of public land in Montana. Of that, about 12.4 million acres are part of the “suitable timber base” that’s not in wilderness, inventoried roadless or other protected categories. Virtually all of Bullock’s recommended 5 million priority acres are in that suitable timber base category, according to Altemus.

Bullock spokesman Dave Parker said because of the way the Farm Bill was released, governors actually had about 30 days to make their recommendations, not 60.

“And designating doesn’t mean all acres are going to be affected,” Parker said. “We’re just saying these areas have some need to address some problems. That includes improving fisheries, reclaiming roads, fire mitigation – those types of things. And the actual project-by-project decisions that would address those issues will be open for vigorous public process.”

However, the Farm Bill gives forest managers a greatly simplified process to approve timber projects of up to 3,000 acres that exclude NEPA reviews and administrative objections. The Colt-Summit stewardship project north of Seeley Lake has spent years in court over a 2,038-acre project portion.

Parker said the details of future public review of forest work were still being worked out.

Koehler argued Bullock had a duty to follow the Montana Constitution’s requirement that the public has the right to participate and know about the actions of public officials.

“Here we had a handpicked group of seven people that met five times, they nominated 5 million acres of national forest for fast-track logging, where the NEPA process is streamlined or weakened and public participation is curtailed,” Koehler said. “And when we asked to receive notes, basic information, were notes taken, where can we find them? – we were told we’d have to pay to get that information.”

Saldin countered that there can also be overblown requests for information designed to keep officials from doing their jobs.

“You can get killed with efforts to be transparent and provide public input,” Saldin said. “You can get bogged down in that kind of stuff. It’s a good way to get nothing accomplished.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(40) Comments

  1. Kate55
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    Kate55 - April 19, 2014 4:23 pm
    Forest restoration is a myth.
  2. Kate55
    Report Abuse
    Kate55 - April 18, 2014 8:38 pm
    The solution? Honest selective logging. No more high-grading or 'creamng the the crop' which has been going on since the beginning of logging in the West. Assuming that natural regeneration or that planted seedlings will survive is a gross error. Especially in these decades of heat and chronic moisture stress in forests. Again, the mills don't want fried up, cracked, blue stained, bug-killed trees (or burned salvage) and there is no evidence that any industrial-scale logging slows beetle infestation. There is ample evidence that industrial logging destroys a sites potential for regeneration and opens the site for long-term capture by knapweed. If you are serious about running for office, ask to be shown some of the old whole-section square-mile BN or Plum Creek clearcuts. For an opener, go to Google maps and type in seely Lake. Then zoom out around the valley and see the checkerboard damage for yourself. Another way to see the scope of the historic damage is to look in Google Images for "checkerboard clearcuts". Click on some of those stories.

    It so happens that my job was heavily dependent on timber extraction dollars for many years and I can tell you honestly that it was permanently damaging to our resources, wildlife habitat, and our landscape

    Your tone is belligerent. Not very becoming of a politician.
  3. SeenClearly
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    SeenClearly - April 18, 2014 3:13 pm
    As long as the public agencies ignore their own laws there will be litigation, at least until the capitalists get the full-blown tort reform that they crave.
    AND - If we had a better form of democracy, a more participatory democracy, we would have less need for litigation.
  4. TheBiomassMonitor
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    TheBiomassMonitor - April 18, 2014 12:48 pm
    What if more environmental groups were like WildWest Institute and instead of advocating for more logging actually worked to advance forest protection? Then politicians wouldn't be able to get any "green" endorsements and wouldn't be able to get away with their handouts to the logging and biomass incineration industries.

    While I think many mainstream enviros are well meaning and good people, I think they aren't exactly clear on their role. It's pretty simple, really. Here's what David Brower would say about it:

    "Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function."
  5. BJackson
    Report Abuse
    BJackson - April 18, 2014 12:45 pm
    Sorry D, with the way the Missoulian approves messages, sometimes the posting times get screwed up! thanks for the clarification.
  6. Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria
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    Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria - April 18, 2014 12:30 pm
    Greg, not Gary. Autocorrect fail
  7. Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria
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    Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria - April 18, 2014 12:29 pm
    Gary seems like a real democrat. You know, the good kind, before the party was hijacked by 'progressives'
  8. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - April 18, 2014 12:04 pm
    Matthew, I'm a businessman. I do business with people all over the world each day over the internet. The last thing I'd want is for my income to be stalled for years in court because we can't allow federal and state agencies to do their job.

    I worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 2 years in Helena. Most of the time I copied documents so we could send them off to lawyers who would then try and stall decisions our biologists had been trained to make. Are those the “self-selected groups of people getting together and making decisions” you’re talking about?

    I guess the republicans aren't the only ones that can go against science when it suits their take on the environment, huh?

    And that's why I wonder about your organization and the many others that claim to promote environmental policies, when to me and many other followers of Montana media, it just seems you're stalling every...single....little...thing.

    How could I ever do business with you or organizations like that? I couldn’t.

    You’re right when you say “Thousands and thousands of Montanans would have had an interest in this.” But I have a feeling many thousands of them would have disagreed with you and wanted Bullock to make the decision he did. What would you do then – sue to stop it?

    Golly, it must be nice having those kinds of resources at your disposal. I wish I could sue to get all these potholes in Missoula fixed, but unfortunately I’ve got the rent due in a couple weeks and no “non-profit” backing me up on that.

    Like I said below, we give people like the governor authority to make these decisions when we vote for them. Why don’t you join us down here in the trenches and run for office?

    Sure, you might take some hits and not everyone will agree with you, but at least then you’re trying to get into the game, and not just challenging plays from the booth.
  9. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 11:56 am
    I was referring to Hard Rock's comments, not yours BJackson. I completely agree with YOU! Check out the posting times counselor.
  10. BJackson
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    BJackson - April 18, 2014 11:47 am
    The biggest problem with your argument, is the Governor was not required to consult with anyone on this decision, it was within his authority to make the choice on his own, just as it was with the Walsh appointment, with no requirement for public meetings or public involvement, there were no public meeting laws violated.
  11. BJackson
    Report Abuse
    BJackson - April 18, 2014 11:23 am
    Yup D, I am 45 years of practicing law, both on the defense as well as the prosecutor's side, have given me quite a bit of insight into the laws in this state, and this country. I have been a prosecutor in 3 different states, argued in front of several appellant courts as well as the United State Supreme court on two occasions.

    I work as a consultant for a few different law firms now as I have retired from active practice.

    So I would say, that gives me quite a bit of knowledge on the law.
  12. Matthew Koehler
    Report Abuse
    Matthew Koehler - April 18, 2014 10:46 am
    Hello: I must point out that Greg Strandberg is absolutely lying when he states that I refuse to talk with him. 

    The absolute truth is that I wrote Greg Strandberg via Twitter (only contact I could find for him) around 7 am today and told him:

    "I'm happy to chat w/ you next week to talk a little NEPA, ESA, NFMA and issues surrounding collaboration.”

    Here’s are the actual Tweets I sent to Greg for anyone to verify this fact:

    In addition to clearly offering to meet with Greg Strandberg, I also tried via Twitter to explain to Greg that our organization, the WildWest Institute has been deeply involved with open/inclusive/transparent collaborative presses for 10 years now. This not only includes our Restoration Coordinator, Jake Kreilick, serving as a member and past chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee, but our organization being a founding member of FireSafe Montana, being deeply involved in writing the Montana Restoration Principles and past involvement with the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, Salmon Valley Stewardship Project and the SWCC.


I’ve never met Greg Strandberg, so I’m not sure why he would completely lie to Missoulian readers and claim I refuse to talk with him, when the fact is that at 7 am this morning I reached out to him and offered to chat about these issues. Maybe Greg will explain himself, because he seems a little confused on this issue.


Greg also wrote me and said, “Wild West Institute [is] too scared to talk about issues publicly in Missoulian,” which is pretty bizarre considering that I did talk specific issues regarding the Gov’s process and also the “fast-track” logging provisions within the Farm Bill in this Missoulian article.

    The public should also know that dozens and dozens of forest protection and public lands organizations around the country (including the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and others) have expressed their opposition to the “fast-track” logging provisions in the Farm Bill.

    The reason for this is because that part of the Farm Bill allows an unlimited number of commercial logging projects - up to 3,000 acres in size each - to be implemented on National Forests without any environmental analysis of the harmful effects to threatened, endangered or sensitive species. It also eliminates citizen rights for administrative appeals or objections, severely reducing public participation in National Forest management.

Finally, the official IRS 990 tax forms for our organization are available at for anyone in the world to view. As anyone will clearly see if they bother to look at the actual facts, our small, grassroots organization has a budget of about $30,000 a year, which we get from a handful of small grants and a grand total of one fundraising letter sent to our members and supporters per year. If that qualifies us as “Eco profiteers” in some people’s mind, so be it. Thank you.
  13. listen
    Report Abuse
    listen - April 18, 2014 10:44 am
    Let the Feds manage all our land. This way what they don't "own" outright they'll control through regulations. Look how great it's working the NV, Utah, Arizona, CA, Texas etc.
  14. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 10:28 am
    More good points, Greg.
  15. Josh
    Report Abuse
    Josh - April 18, 2014 10:09 am
    People that hate you until they need you? You're describing politicians. Aren't you trying to join their ranks?
  16. hard rock
    Report Abuse
    hard rock - April 18, 2014 10:06 am

    Matthew is right. Montana's open meeting and public participation laws are based on two fundamental rights contained in the Montana Constitution.

    Article II, Section 9 contains a strong right to know provision; which say that no person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.
    Article II, Section 8 of the Montana Constitution guarantees the right of public participation:

    Right of participation.
    The public has the right to expect governmental agencies to afford such reasonable opportunity for citizen participation in the operation of the agencies prior to the final decision as may be provided by law. The general provision for open public meetings is contained in Montana Code Annotated § 2-3-203(1), which provides:
    Meetings of public agencies and certain associations of public agencies
    to be open to public -- exceptions.(1) All meetings of public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions,agencies of the state,or any political subdivision of the state or organizations or agencies supported in whole or in part by public funds, or expending public funds,including the supreme court, must be open to the public.

    The meetings were it was decided what lands Bullock would recommend for logging under the Agriculture Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill) were not open to the public. Bullock clearly broke the law.
  17. BJackson
    Report Abuse
    BJackson - April 18, 2014 9:57 am
    No, he didn't break the law, you might not like the authority he has to make choices on certain items, but the law was not violated.
  18. Greg Strandberg
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    Greg Strandberg - April 18, 2014 9:43 am
    You may be right. He's tweeting me, but refuses to come here and talk. I guess his views in the article were enough.

    Honestly, all you really see here are people complain, but they offer few solutions. Lots of comments don't like taking these trees, but they offer no reason why, no idea on how those companies or their employees can make money, or how we can get people off things like this that might put more CO2 into the atmosphere and find something else.

    There's no mention of solutions, only problems. So no, I'm not surprised that a non-profit or whatever this Wild West Institute is.

    Most of the time people who work for those organizations want to do good, but they don't want to run for office. That would mean losing that cushy job for a few months, the sense of responsibility and stewardship that goes with it, as well as the hefty paychecks.

    For people like Koehler, putting your money where your mouth is simply isn't an option. No, better to complain and hope someone else does all the heavy lifting.
  19. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 9:42 am
    Thank you, Gov. Bullock, for the common sense approach!
  20. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 9:41 am
    YES! Thank you for pointing those things out.
  21. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 9:39 am're saying YOU know more about the law than they do.
  22. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 9:39 am
    Greg...good points.!
  23. D
    Report Abuse
    D - April 18, 2014 9:38 am
    "...deforest five million acres now...?" NOT what is being proposed.
  24. SteviGirl
    Report Abuse
    SteviGirl - April 18, 2014 9:32 am
    Kate, dead forests don't sequester carbon. Regenerated, healthy ones do. Removing dead trees makes more room for new ones which, over their lifespan will sequester infinitely more carbon than what is released during harvest. And if you want to talk about carbon, let's look at carbon emissions from massive wildfires. Maybe you should call a silviculturalist as well.
  25. steve watchdog kelly
    Report Abuse
    steve watchdog kelly - April 18, 2014 9:27 am
    Without watchdogs our corporate-owned state and federal government will turn the bulldozers and feller-bunchers loose into roadless areas. This is a huge threat to much of the highest quality habitat. Stump fields make poor habitat for species looking for places to hide from Bubba, beer and bullets. 5.1 million acres of stumps may sell a lot of gas and beer, but not much else.
  26. Greg Strandberg
    Report Abuse
    Greg Strandberg - April 18, 2014 9:19 am
    But when the time comes to save their houses, houses out in the middle of those forests, they sure want the state's help then.

    I love people that hate you until they need you and then are all lovey dovey. What's not to like about those folks?
  27. Greg Strandberg
    Report Abuse
    Greg Strandberg - April 18, 2014 9:15 am
    So what are your solutions, Kate55? We just stop using wood tomorrow? How about we stop all coal train tomorrow as well.

    I just don't think you want to be living on the street. Oh, but I guess your job is in no way related to the resource-extraction industry that dominates this state, or dependent upon it. So if all that goes tomorrow you'll be hunky dory.

    Golly, Kate55, why did I run for office - obviously you are the qualified candidate.
  28. Miss Muralist 12
    Report Abuse
    Miss Muralist 12 - April 18, 2014 9:13 am
    I love how turning the forest into a moonscape, taking the most choice trees and leaving roads, skid trails and slash piles is called "forest restoration". Can't wait to see the knapweed habitat improved.
  29. elkguy
    Report Abuse
    elkguy - April 18, 2014 7:55 am
    Most of us "Montanans" are 100% in favor of this. It's the out of state enviro-nazis mostly that are offended by thinning our forests to protect lives and homes as well as enhance habitat for a multitude of animals and birds.
  30. SteviGirl
    Report Abuse
    SteviGirl - April 18, 2014 7:53 am
    Matthew, please take the time to read the Forestry Title of the 2014 Farm Bill. Really read it. Maybe a couple of times. If you do, you'll see that NO WHERE in the Farm Bill does it recommend, require, or even ask state Governors to seek input from anyone in proposing landscapes.

    Upon reading the Farm Bill, you'll also see that the sideboards and criteria for designating landscapes are very clear: they are areas with forest health impacts, the imminent potential for impacts, and with substantial risks to wildfire that could result in loss of infrastructure or impact public safety. If those directions were followed strictly, literally, across-the-board with no consultation, the acreage for Montana would surely be much higher than 5 million acres.

    Additionally, if you read the Farm Bill, you'll see that this designation doesn't
    "fast track" the national forests for expedited logging. If a forest opts to use the tool of categorical exclusion to expedite treatment on areas <3000 acres, those projects MUST be developed collaboratively.

    Take another read. Shame on you for the proverbial "shouting FIRE in a movie theater" and spreading panic with your slanted manipulation of the Farm Bill. Reckless.
  31. bearpaws
    Report Abuse
    bearpaws - April 18, 2014 12:10 am
    Can someone tell me what "restoration" is? What are you "restoring" it to?
  32. Loggerman
    Report Abuse
    Loggerman - April 17, 2014 9:40 pm
    Rob Saldin pretty much sums it up, hope you were paying attention Matthew.....once again might be time for you to find a real job instead of working at compromising those that want to work.
  33. SeenClearly
    Report Abuse
    SeenClearly - April 17, 2014 9:22 pm
    WHAT DO WE WANT?! Democracy! WHEN DO WE WANT IT?! --- oh umm, well,... sometime in the indeterminate future ... when that other guy is in office.
  34. Kate55
    Report Abuse
    Kate55 - April 17, 2014 9:08 pm
    Yes it is definitely a good idea to deforest five million more acres now that some guys have concluded that deforestation doesn't contribute to global C02 gases and those gases don't contribute to global warming.

    What planet do you live on? Are you really a democrat? Long time Forest Service employees will recognize that this is yet another avenue to weasel big healthy trees into the mill because bug kill isn't particularly merchantable. It's too dry and full of cracks. Pulp? Maybe.

    Please broaden your knowledge base by consulting some Forest Service or University silviculturalists please.
  35. Meggen Ryan
    Report Abuse
    Meggen Ryan - April 17, 2014 7:58 pm
    Matthew Koehler are you saying "fast-track logging" is a bad thing? This is not a mandate to log 5M acres, so quit trying to sensationalize this to garner more donations to your paycheck. In fact, please go back to Wisconsin and teach English and history with your certified English and history teaching certificate. Or at the least, work on a certificate in Collaboration - a good thing.
  36. hard rock
    Report Abuse
    hard rock - April 17, 2014 7:50 pm
    Bullock clearly violated the law. All public meeting have to be notified in advanced to the public and minutes taken. Neither happened.
  37. Greg Strandberg
    Report Abuse
    Greg Strandberg - April 17, 2014 7:48 pm
    Golly, usually how it works is we elect someone and that kind of gives them a certain amount of authority to make decisions on our behalf. I'm sorry, but am I wrong here?

    And how about all those that will be complaining this summer about our wildfires, and the massive, massive amounts of money it'll take to combat them? Perhaps getting 5 million acres of trees infested with beetles out of the way, trees just waiting to light up, isn't such a bad idea.

    If we can't compromise and allow logging on 12.4% of the land then environmentalists will just take a further hit. See, when you oppose everything, no one wants to work with you, see you walk into a room, or really hear your name. But when you give a little bit you can get a little back, and also a whole lot of goodwill from people across the aisle that might not have wanted to work with you before.

    Considering the republicans have a darn good chance of controlling that legislature next year, this seems like a good strategy to me.

    Greg Strandberg (D)
    Candidate - House District 98
  38. letsroll
    Report Abuse
    letsroll - April 17, 2014 7:47 pm
    Koehler and his ilk make a living watching your family and mine suffer.
  39. Paul Edwards
    Report Abuse
    Paul Edwards - April 17, 2014 7:34 pm
    Another vacuous, ignorant, cyber-slimer who makes accusations he can't substantiate or defend and hides behind his absurd alias.
  40. Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria
    Report Abuse
    Faxnlogicovremotnlhystria - April 17, 2014 6:38 pm
    Koehler and his group are a money motivated 'donate now' group of Eco profiteers.
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