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Reading the Kootenai National Forest’s voluminous (522 pages) Black Ram Environmental Assessment, one realizes early on the tome is extraordinarily abstract, vague, often contradictory.

The word “but” appears 261 times in the document; the word “however” — dismissing would-be concern — 144 times. In Black Ram-world, clearcutting an old forest will create “resilience.” Clearcutting over 500 acres in the U.S. headwaters of the Yaak will reduce sedimentation and improve water quality. Logging in the backcountry, 20 miles upwind and on the Canadian border, will protect communities from fire.

I can find in these 522 pages only one dissenting sentence. It is acknowledged the proposal is “likely” to cause “some impact” to the Yaak’s endangered grizzly bears.

Log trucks are directed to drive down the center of the ill-planned Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT). User-created spur trails to the PNT are promoted in the assessment, further endangering the Yaak’s last 25 grizzlies. Clearcuts are emplaced upon the trail but with the assurance that to keep it scenic, the blue-painted scattering of “leave” trees will be painted brown afterward.

Swaths of ancient forest up to 1,000 years old — the U.S. headwaters of the Yaak — are slated for “regeneration harvests.” Wildlife connectivity is addressed only by mentioning the valley has “roadless areas” for that — islands in a vast and increasing sea of fragmentation. Roadbuilding is proposed in old growth. Why here? most folks ask, regarding the proposed clearcutting in the wet alpine reaches of remote backcountry. Nowhere is mentioned the fact that many road closures are not secure, nor is there analysis of past wildfire.

Nowhere on the KNF’s home page is there mention of this 95,000-acre proposal. Allow me: Comments are due no later than Aug. 8, sent to: comments-northern-kootenai-three-rivers@fs.fed.us and the assessment can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52784.

Because the Black Ram proposal is in the wildest, most sensitive region in the Yaak, a group I work with, the Yaak Valley Forest Council (YVFC), requested the area’s overall wild quality be taken into account regarding cumulative effects of proposed treatments. (Not clearcutting adjacent to scenic areas, for example). The request was not to prevent responsible logging, but with the goal that the area be made wilder at the landscape level. This input from a 1,200-member organization was dismissed on page 3 of the document as unreasonable a goal as the American Forest Resource Council’s request for “maximum mechanical treatment.”

Perhaps the KNF thinks a 60MMBF project conducting 80% of its treatments far from the wildland-urban interface is some happy compromise. It isn’t. The Black Ram EA stands as a textbook example of how public needs are not heard, nor is this special area afforded the depth of scientific analysis required.

I write this in some personal anger, having invested decades in working toward forestry reform. I continue to have deep respect and affection for many individuals in the agency. I remain committed to the collaborative idea, but I remain committed also to the democratic foundation and practice of the public still being allowed one’s day in court. A less trusting mind might think such a document as the Black Ram EA was created to divide us.

The YVFC will continue to articulate passionately and honestly our values among our neighbors and other stakeholders, as well as individuals in government agencies. That is what can strengthen, not threaten, a collaborative. The public deserves better than the Black Ram EA. This special area deserves better.

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Rick Bass is a board member of Save the Yellowstone Grizzly and the Yaak Valley Forest Council.

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