The Missoulian’s editorial of Jan 10 opposed restoration treatments in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. This stated opposition was partly premised on the special character of this unique place. I share their appreciation but not their conclusions.
I live in the upper Rattlesnake; it is my home; it is also my most frequent “recreational playground.” I hike, mountain bike, backpack, ski, snowshoe, hunt and fish there. Some people have ascribed spiritual, church-like qualities in relations with the area. I agree. This place makes it easy for me to recreate, to go off the trails and sit on a rocky ridge alone to feed my soul.
I applaud people like Pat Williams, Orville Daniels and Cass Chinske who fought to get Congress to protect the area 35 years ago. However, I think Chinske and the Missoulian’s editorial miss the key point of why restoration is needed; why its special character demands that we take action. I found it a bit ironic that the Missoulian used a picture of me, a strong advocate of restoration treatment, pointing at a highly successful restoration project inside the RNRA in Sawmill Gulch, and placed this photo next to their editorial criticizing a similar proposed project.
Why do I advocate for restoration work? For the same reason that a congregation of a church or synagogue that had a roof leak and damage to the rafters would want to restore the structural integrity of the sanctuary. Renovation would no doubt temporarily diminish the usual splendor of the treasured place, but is tolerated because the restored structure would function well for decades. Restoration forestry has the similar goal: a functioning ecosystem that meets the community’s desires for the RNRA.
The Rattlesnake is also special for its human history. Visitors easily find evidence of pioneer settlement in old foundations and cabins, lilac bushes and apple trees planted by homesteaders, abandoned irrigation diversions. Homesteaders logged the area; Sawmill Gulch got its name for a reason. In later decades more roads were built to harvest more timber.
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Other human impacts have been more subtle. For decades lightning fires have been suppressed and the frequent burning by the Salish people was eliminated when they were moved to the reservation. The “maintenance” that had been provided by natural and human fire for centuries was interrupted. Proposed restoration treatments do involve taking out smaller trees, trees that likely would have been taken out by wildfires and Indian-ignited fires over the course for the past 150 years. This treatment will restore forest conditions that can grow into old growth, enhance flamulated owl and other species habitat.
The treatment plans for the RNRA have been long and carefully considered by the Lolo Restoration Committee, a diverse group of citizens including the Sierra Club, Pyramid Lumber Co., University of Montana staff, WildWest Institute, loggers, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, foresters and watershed advocates. These volunteers work with the Forest Service to design restoration projects using the 13 principles developed by the Montana Forest Restoration Committee. These participants believe in direct democracy, the active engagement of people with different perspectives to find common ground and take action. This diverse group endorsed the draft decision by Ranger Jennifer Hensiek last October. They found common ground, and their efforts deserve our commendation and support.
The fact that the RNRA is far from pristine does not keep it from being a special place. But it needs help to restore ecological integrity and enhance the recreational and wildlife values that suffer from the past actions and inactions. It needs help to restore old growth forests, to protect the water quality and quantity of the city watershed; to enhance wildlife habitat. These treatments will help return fire to a more natural maintenance role and reduce the risk of major fire to people living adjacent to the area.
For these and other long-term benefits I support restoration logging, prescribed burning, road removal and weed control. These treatments have been well tested and implemented in forests in Pattee Canyon, Sawmill Gulch, Grant Creek, Frenchtown and many locations in the Bitterroot Valley. These treatments deserve your support in the Rattlesnake as well.