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Response to Lincoln County commissioners’ opinion on the Proposed Black Ram Timber Sale

| July 26, 2022 7:00 AM

To read the Lincoln County commissioners’ opinion on the Kootenai National Forest’s (KNF) proposed Black Ram timber sale in the midst of an extreme heat category, no longer classified as a “wave” but simply the world’s new weather, is to enter into deep cognitive dissonance.

The reasons the commissioners list for their support of the project include fuels reduction, grizzly bear recovery, a wildland-urban (WUI) focus, and most preposterous, aid in the fight against climate change.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Black Ram is not a WUI fuels project. The vast majority of proposed units lie far beyond even the generalized interpretations of the WUI. Black Ram is a clearcut-heavy (over 2000 acres) timber project that targets old and mature timber far in the backcountry. The heart of the project is located on the Canadian border far from human habitation, in a self-sustaining forest of centuries-immense old spruce, larch, cedar, hemlock and white pine, large portions of which—according to the KNF’s own fire maps—have no fire history.

It is these old trees, and others like it, slated for “regeneration harvests”--effectively, clearcuts-- that retain the most carbon in the forest, as well as sequestering new carbon faster than do smaller trees. And bizarrely, the USFS acknowledges that the proposed replanting of this forest will result in 80-90% regeneration failure.

The assertion by the commissioners that the proposal is good for grizzlies is not true. The project has high likelihood, in the words of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the USFS, to negatively affect grizzlies. Grizzly numbers in the ecosystem are declining, not increasing. And the limiting factor for grizzlies in the Yaak is not food, but human caused mortality. Grizzlies need fewer roads and better monitoring of closed roads. Nor is it true that the planned regeneration harvests will result in more huckleberries. An earlier USFS study was canceled after evidence failed to validate this claim.

Increases in “big game forage” and “winter range,” two other assertions made by the commissioners are also false. We see these generalizations copied and-pasted in every thin proposal Environmental Analysis put forth from the Kootenai. The limiting factor on elk, as with grizzlies, is habitat security. And more clearcuts mean more deer—a generalist—with greater crowding conditions in ever-compressed winter range. The Yaak (and Lincoln County) doesn’t need more deer.

Black Ram is an embarrassment, and as with other projects coming from the Kootenai, will continue losing money, harming grizzlies, accelerating climate change, and drying out the landscape.

We have a chance to do something positive and proactive in Lincoln County: Stop Black Ram. Keep the carbon in the forest. While airport workers in Europe are hosing down runways to keep them from buckling, the Kootenai is racing to cut down more of the carbon-storing giants, and in the process, creating even more heat. As Terry Tempest Williams writes, the eyes of the future are looking back at us. Replacing old and mature forests with thousands of acres of barren clearcuts does not stop fires. It makes a hot planet hotter.

Sincerely,

Rick Bass

Interim Executive Director

Yaak Valley Forest Council