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Douglas Balmain: Lincoln County Commissioners misrepresent Black Ram Logging Project

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Douglas Balmain

Lincoln County commissioners sought to garner support for the Black Ram logging project in an opinion piece circulated across Montana newspapers (Missoulian July 24). While the contents of the piece did address the public’s major concerns about the project, it did not represent the issues in a complete or responsible manner.

The commissioners stated that 12,000 acres in the lower Yaak burned in 2021. They used this solitary statistic to claim that it underscored, “the need for active forest management to reduce future wildfire risks.” This claim was not further substantiated, nor is it supported by a scientific understanding of basic fire ecology. While the wetter temperate rainforest regions of the far-northern Yaak are ecologically dependent on a cycle of rot, the dryer southern regions are ecologically dependent on a natural fire cycle. The commissioners’ statement also failed to address how the extractive practices of industry have left our forests less fire hardy while subjecting them to increasingly more intense burns. The commissioners went on to recognize the dangers of wildfire to human safety. They did not, however, mention that the Black Ram project encompasses an area fifty road miles or further from the nearest incorporated town. They also failed to represent recent and pressing research led by Oregon State University and published in Nature’s scientific reports showing that, “iginitions on Forest Service lands accounted for fewer than 25% of the most destructive wildfires.”

The Lincoln County politicians then stated that the “treatments” proposed by the Black Ram forest project would, “protect and maintain old growth, improve big game winter range, promote huckleberry growth for grizzlies, and improve aquatic habitat.” These claims were also left unsubstantiated. Old growth forest networks — essentially by definition — are self-managing. These forests do not require government or timber industry “treatments.” Secondly, winter range for elk and berry forage for bears are natural byproducts of the forest’s fire ecology. When the understory burns, grasses and berry-producing shrubs are among the first plants in the forest’s regenerative cycle to reemerge and thrive. Again, this does not require government or timber industry “treatment.” Stating that their thinning and harvesting project will “improve aquatic habitat” also goes wholly unsupported and seems to directly contradict their statement that this project will improve public access and recreational activities. Logging, public access, and recreation all mean road building. The abundance of sedimentary runoff from Forest Service roads clouds watersheds and has devastated native fish populations for decades. Furthermore, road boundaries have long been known to have a direct and adverse effect on grizzly populations by confining their natural movements and isolating them within island ecosystems defined by road boundaries.

Near the article’s conclusion, Lincoln County commissioners stated that, “Black Ram’s ecologically based treatments will help the Yaak’s forests adapt to conditions of climate change.” They failed, however, to mention that Black Ram calls for the harvest of nearly 60 million board feet without first obtaining an Environmental Impact Statement. In the wake of massive Oregon wildfires, the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University found that wildfire emissions were not the leading source carbon emissions, but that the logging and wood product industries were. If it was climate health they cared about, they would leave the forest undisturbed so it could continue to do its own work sequestering carbon, retaining water, generating oxygen, and building soil.

Alliance For The Wild Rockies, the Yaak Valley Forest Council, WildEarth Guardians, and the Center for Biological Diversity are all actively working to hold the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture accountable for their actions while fighting to protect the last of Montana’s old growth forests. I encourage you to contact these organizations, follow up with your own independent research, and help us all to make responsible and informed decisions for our public lands.

(This column is abridged. For full-length version visit douglasbalmain.com/blackramloggingproject.html).

Douglas Balmain is a writer and independent researcher working on the intersection of human consciousness and environmental restoration.

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