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More dissent on the Black Ram Project

| August 12, 2022 7:00 AM

The Kootenai Forest Stakeholder's Coalition's condescending attempt to arbitrate the controversy regarding the Black Ram Project by providing the public with "the facts" calls for a rejoinder. 

KFSC characterizes certain words used by opponents of the project as "misleading," yet is apparently untroubled by its own absurdly misleading numbers, beginning with 1.  

One percent—4,000 acres—is the proportion, we are told by KFSC, of the Yaak River drainage (793 square miles) that would be subjected to “active treatment” (read, logging) in the Black Ram Project.

But 1% of what? To be at all meaningful, the “what” should include only those lands containing merchantable timber. When the question was put to Supervisor Benson, "why not log in previously logged areas?" his answer was that it won't be possible for at least another 15 years. 

Far from showing admirable restraint in Black Ram as suggested by KFSC, the USFS (United States Forest Service) must resort to clearcuts in intact, natural, carbon-storing forest in order to achieve its quota of board feet.  

Yes, clearcuts, a term the Stakeholders believe is an unfair description of those "modest sized, irregularly shaped openings..(that) have little in common with the practice of clearcutting."

Incredibly, KFSC accuses the project’s opponents of using the Forest Service’s own language!

We read in the Black Ram Proposed Action that there are three subcategories of regeneration harvest: shelterwood cut, seed-tree cut, and CLEARCUT with reserves. 

Out of a total of 57 regeneration units in Black Ram, 42 fall in this latter category. Mind you, the "reserves" are paltry.  Units with this prescription would retain 5 to 20 trees per acre, or on average, one tree every 47-93 feet. 

The "leave trees" blow down so frequently that it is written into logging contracts that they may be salvaged for a period of 10 years after initial harvest.

About those “modest sized” clearcuts, these are the facts: that by law the size of clearcuts is limited to 40 acres; that a loophole in that law allows an exception to be made if a forest manager requests it; that Supervisor Benson did just that, and as a consequence, in Black Ram, 26 of the regeneration units exceed 40 acres, several are over 100, and one tops out at at over 250.

“Modest”? You decide.

As for “minimal harvest in old growth”, the USFS has discovered a nifty way to get around that: say it's not (old growth).  Unit 45, for example, was determined to be old growth in a previous project, and now the USFS says it's not and has slated it for a regen cut. Likewise, unit 72, a stand of magnificent old trees up on the Canadian border, was identified as old growth by Canadian forest ecologist Herb Hammond, but the USFS disagreed. 

Prescription for that unit: clearcut with reserves.

Both KFSC and the USFS want you to believe that, if we just cut enough trees, we can recreate their vision of the forests of the past, where periodic, well-behaved fires cleared out undesirable brush, and harmlessly licked at the trunks of white pine and larch before petering out.

Unfortunately, attractive as this pipe dream may be to some, it rests upon a lot of assumptions and not much science. We do know that, with Black Ram, the tree-cutting part would be taken care of.

For further facts about all this clearcutting, we suggest the public request a free copy of the Black Ram Environmental Assessment from the USFS, and read it.

We would urge the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition to do the same.

Mary Campbell

Yaak, Montana