On Oct. 19, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act. 

On Sept. 17, 1980, the U.S. Interior and Insular Affairs Committee of Congress filed their Committee Report, and I will quote from pages 4 and 5:

“Due to its high watershed values, the proposed National Recreation Area is unsuited for livestock grazing, timber harvest, mining or other resource development ... In addition to its Paramount watershed values, the proposed National Recreation Area also possesses outstanding wildlife habit, opportunities for primitive recreation and scientific and educational resources ... the Committee is mindful that the portion of the area not designated as wilderness contains lands that are sensitive from the standpoint of watershed values and wildlife utilization and are in need of special management attention by the Forest Service.”

This February 2015, the Missoula Ranger District, Lolo National Forest, issued an environmental assessment titled Marshall Woods Restoration Project, but did little or nothing to alert “interested parties” or the public.

Therefore, when I read the March 15 Missoulian, I was stunned to learn that the Forest Service is planning commercial logging in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. This was the first time I had ever even heard of this USFS proposal. Proposed Action Alternative B would use prescribed burning, thinning and commercial logging, with the stated goal of improving forest health while lessening the possibility of catastrophic fire.

I was stunned by this news because the USFS-Missoula Ranger District would use commercial methods to harvest timber for so-called thinning. This action would use heavy equipment such as bulldozers, skidders and drag lines, build roads and truck 80 full loads (1/2 million board feet) of trees to the mills.

The Friends of the Rattlesnake believe that prescribed burning and thinning can be done in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, but only if it is done in the correct ways, in the right locations and during ideal conditions.

On March 20 the Missoulian reported: “Rattlesnake legal history casts commercial logging plan in doubt." Why would the USFS Proposed Action be legally in doubt? It is in doubt because it is illegal.

On March 20, myself and Mike Bader, who is a wildlands and bull trout consultant, had an emergency meeting with Tim Garcia, the new supervisor of the Lob National Forest. Here are the concerns we presented to him. 

We quoted the Sept. 17, 1980 committee report, which clearly states that there can be no timber harvest and that the watershed, wildlife and primitive values must be protected by law.

The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness is the city of Missoula’s municipal watershed. It is classified as a closed watershed by the state of Montana. A closed watershed classification absolutely prohibits any activity that could pollute the water or increase run-off. There can be no increase in turbidity of the Rattlesnake Creek or its tributaries. That is what will happen if a timber harvest is done in the watershed.

The Rattlesnake Creek is classified by the federal government as critical habitat for threatened bull trout. It is the premier bull trout stream in Montana. Over $300,000 has been spent to place fish ladders at the intake dam on the Rattlesnake Creek. Federal and state laws prohibit doing anything that could harm the pristine quality of the water.

The Friends of the Rattlesnake might support the use of prescribed fire and hand thinning (by chainsaw) to further the stated goals of a healthier forest and to reduce the possibilities of catastrophic fire, but we are absolutely clear that the “proposed action” chosen by the U.S. Forest Service is illegal.

This “proposed action” will significantly harm and destroy the very values that the 1980 Act protects, that the committee report clarified, what an A-Closed Watershed Classification prohibits and which violates the requirements of the Endangered Species Act that protects the bull trout.

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If this “proposed action” continues to go forward, FOR and other conservation groups will put this in front of a federal judge and we will prevail. We have consulted our attorney.

So how can we, as a community, create an excellent action plan that will achieve the stated goals and that will not destroy the values that are mandated to be protected and that we all love?

1. Extend the public comment period to June 30.

2. Select the No-Action Alternative A. This is the only one that will not do harm.

3. Pull the project.

4. Re-package the non-commercial, non mechanical, non-controversial component into a proposal which would contain no new roads, no reconstructed roads, no logging trucks, no timber harvest, no species selection of mature trees, no thinning of trees over 8 inches in diameter and burning on site of the thinned materials.

Please call the Missoula District Ranger at 406-329-3750 or send comments to 24 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT, 59804.

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Cass Chinske is president of Friends of the Rattlesnake. He was executive director of Friends of the Rattlesnake from 1975-1985. Chinske was a Missoula City Council member from 1977-1984. He is a co-founder of the Missoula Open Space Program, a co-founder of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and a past member of the Missoula City Parks Board and City Planning Board. 

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