The Kootenai National Forest is slated to start five salvage timber sales in areas that burned last year, and one more is pending.
The projects focus on getting rid of trees in burn zones that can pose hazards to humans and cars, and on providing more work to the local timber industry.
The largest of the approved projects – Cub Creek and West Fork – were expedited through an Emergency Situation Determination. This means that the projects didn’t require the objection and response period normally instituted for timber sales of this scale. Each of these periods is about 30 days.*
Some conservationists think this cuts off the opportunity for valuable public input.
"It accelerates the process and leads to more controversy and more mistakes," Jeff Juel, a consultant for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, says.
Juel says that burned forests provide valuable habitat for wildlife, and that logging operations could increase erosion in the area.
"There’s nothing in the forest plan that values burned forests," he says. "It’s entirely looked at as a source of lumber."
Juel and others commented on the proposed plans. But Quinn Carver, a staff officer for the Kootenai National Forest, says the agency takes every precaution to minimize erosion.
"That’s one of the mandates, to keep the dirt of the creek, so that’s what we will endeavor to do," he says.
The Cub Creek and West Fork projects are expected to cumulatively harvest nearly 40 million board feet of timber, generating more than $3 million for the Forest Service. Carver says some of this capital will go towards replanting and other forest restoration initiatives.
"I know a lot of people like to make this about whether to log or not to log, but there’s a lot of activities that occur out there in healing the landscape that come with a salvage exercise," he says.
U.S. Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte both applauded the projects, claiming they’ll help Montana’s timber industry.
2017 was one of the most damaging fire seasons on record in Montana. State officials say fighting them cost the government nearly $75 million last year.
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said the objection and objection response periods were 30 days for the Cub Creek and West Fork projects. The periods were in fact 45 days, respectively. Foregoing these periods would allow the Forest Service to begin operations this season, instead of pushing them off until next year, a spokesman said. The spokesman also wanted to make clear that the two projects both had a 30-day scoping period and a 30-day public comment period, and that all projects discussed in the story had multiple opportunities for public input, including public meetings.