Rob Chaney’s excellent article in the Sept. 25 Missoulian highlighted a University of Montana research report by Dr. Martin Nie that concluded the U.S. Forest Service is neglecting its responsibility to manage all fish and wildlife on national forests. Instead, the agency is ceding more authority to state fish and wildlife agencies than the constitution and law allow.

Missoulian readers should know that even as the Forest Service tries to bury Nie’s report, Montana’s sole congressman, Greg Gianforte is co-sponsoring an extreme logging bill, HR 2936, that would do just that — give primary management and control of fish and wildlife on the national forest lands owned by all Americans to individual state agencies.

When logging proposals on national forests fail to protect our land, water quality and native wildlife as required by law, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies turns to the courts to force the federal agencies to follow the law — and we win four out of five of those challenges.

Gianforte knows that the most recent scientific studies show Montana’s national forests can’t continue to maintain the best hunting and fishing in the country while being ravaged by massive clearcuts. His “solution” is to take away citizens’ constitutional right to challenge the federal government in court and nullifying the Forest Service’s legal mandate to ensure viable populations of native species on public lands.

There are many flaws in Gianforte’s baseless theory that more logging will reduce wildfires, but they all run counter to the latest scientific research, which shows that protecting old growth and mature forests from logging is a very efficient way to slow down wildfires. Old forests contain large trees that are difficult to burn, provide shade to limit undergrowth, and keep the forest floor cool and damp while stopping the high winds that fan flames into crowning fires.

Don’t believe what Gianforte, the Forest Service and the timber industry are pushing. They want to log the big trees because that’s where the money is, not the tiny trees in the wildland-urban interface that might actually protect woodland homes. Need proof? Check out the draft decision for the proposed Center Horse timber sale north of Ovando, which calls for logging over 1,000 acres of old growth forests.

Unlogged old forests also provide the best habitat for threatened native species such as lynx, goshawks and bull trout. If Gianforte really wanted to limit western wildfires and protect habitat for native species, there is a scientifically backed approach he could take. That’s working with his congressional colleagues to pass the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the House and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in the Senate.

America still has 23 million acres of mostly unlogged roadless lands in the Northern Rockies. NREPA would designate these lands as wilderness, which will make them off limits to logging and road-building while ensuring the vital habitat needed by a growing list of threatened and endangered wildlife and plant species.

We are now experiencing “the world’s sixth great extinction event” due to habitat destruction and climate change. Amazingly, the Northern Rockies still sustain all the native species that were here when Europeans first arrived. NREPA will ensure that those species, such as lynx and grizzly bears, will be around for future generations. Gianforte’s bill won’t.

Spending millions more on subsidies to clearcut our national forests won’t stop wildfires, but it will destroy what makes Montana great, some of the best hunting and fishing in the nation. Tell Gianforte to protect, not destroy, our forests, the abundant clean water they produce and the native ecosystems they sustain.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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