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Department revising definition of old growth

HELENA - More than 20 individuals asked the state Land Board on Thursday to halt timber sales and salvage logging in old-growth forests on state lands until a new policy is adopted.

The individuals, many representing environmental groups, asked the five-member board to hold off on future timber sales as the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation conducts its six-month review of its policy on old-growth. The department, which advises the Land Board, is revising how to define, designate and evaluate old-growth forests.

"It only makes sense that while DNRC is in the process of rewriting their definition of old growth that the agency not log in old-growth forests at that time," said Arlene Montgomery of Swan Lake, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. "Otherwise, important habitat for old-growth dependent birds and animals may be lost."

The state Land Board comprises Gov. Marc Racicot, Attorney General Joe Mazurek, Auditor Mark O'Keefe, Secretary of State Mike Cooney and Superintendent of Public Schools Nancy Keenan.

Bud Clinch, director of the Natural Resource and Conservation Department, said the individuals' request, while not a surprise, is premature. He said the department is working hard with interested parties to come up with a definition of old growth with which everyone agrees and a moratorium on timber sales isn't necessary.

"We're trying to assimilate the newest and emerging science from around the country on old growth and trying to take input from citizens and environmental groups on their opinions on old growth with the goal of molding that into a set of standards and a direction for all of us to go forth without conflict," he said.

Cary Hegreberg, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association, said the individuals asking for a timber sale halt "aren't going to quit until there is no timber harvested from timber lands."

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