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Tom Kuglin’s excellent article on June 21 about the lawsuit the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed to stop massive clear-cutting and road-building in Helena’s drinking watershed mentioned that the City of Helena organized a collaborative group of diverse citizens, Forest Service personnel and city employees called the Ten Mile Watershed Collaborative Committee to ensure that anything the Forest Service proposed in our watershed, actually protected our watershed. After all, we all drink water. The collaborative also wanted to ensure that the wildlife habitat in the watershed and its inventoried roadless lands, Lazyman and Jericho Mountain were protected. I was part of this committee.

The collaborative was composed of a group of people with strongly held opinions that met many times over eight long months. Even though we disagreed on how to protect Helena’s watershed, in the end, we did what adults do. We compromised.

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Roads

The collaborative agreed that some areas of Helena’s watershed should be logged and prescribe-burned but we also wanted to reduce the number of miles of roads in the watershed because roads and clean water don’t mix.

Roads greatly increase sediment in our drinking water. Too many roads lead to too many clearcuts. Too many clearcuts and roads lead to too much sediment flowing into creeks and too many weeds, which are more flammable than native grasses. Too many weeds increase the risk of wildfire for a number of reasons including when vehicles’ overheated catalytic converters drive over them causing them to catch on fire.

The collaborative also agreed that no new permanent roads would be built in the watershed, that only temporary roads could be built, and that there would be no roads built in roadless areas. We also stipulated that the Forest Service has to remove an amount of existing roads equal to the amount they propose to create, before they create them. This way the miles of permanent roads in the watershed would be reduced.

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Roadless Areas

The committee agreed to keep roadless areas roadless. Roadless are-as produce the cleanest water. Helena’s Ten Mile watershed has two amazing roadless areas. In fact, both would be designated as wilderness in a bill before Congress, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, H.R. 1321 in the House and S. 827 in the Senate. The roadless areas abound with elk, wolverines, lynx, grizzly bears and other native wildlife, all within minutes of downtown Helena.

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Agreed in writing

In the end, we looked each other in the eye and signed an agreement we could all live with that protected Helena’s watershed. Since we were all Montanans we trusted each other to keep our word.

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Forest Service broke their word

Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest Supervisor Bill Avey’s decision authorizes logging on 11,650 acres, clearcutting 2,239 acres, bulldozing 15 miles of new roads within inventoried roadless areas and building and rebuilding a total of 23 miles of new and re-vegetated "roads," some of which are nothing more than game trails, without first obliterating any current roads. This violates the Ten Mile Watershed Collaborative agreement the Forest Service signed. The Forest Service put in writing that they wouldn't build roads in roadless areas and that they would take out an equal amount of old roads before they built any new temporary roads. The Forest Service lied on both counts and is going back on its word to both the City and the citizens in the Ten Mile Watershed Collaborative Committee.

Please join us in working to protect what makes Helena great: our amazing Ten Mile watershed. Please help us make the Forest Service keep their word.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and a fifth-generation Montanan.

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