Congressman Gianforte seems to be having a problem getting his facts straight on forest issues. During a radio interview in early October, he stated that "nobody is talking about clearcutting." Yet on Halloween a picture of Gianforte standing in front of a clearcut touting his recent logging bill greeted the Independent Record's readers. A companion bill co-sponsored by Montana’s Republican Senator Daines and Democrat Senator Tester is in the Senate.
Their goal is to congressionally overturn the Cottonwood court decision which required the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on logging in lynx critical habitat. But the bills go far beyond that with extreme measures to limit environmental analysis, public review and comment, and protection for endangered species. The simple truth is that their bills do nothing more than allow logging companies that have already unsustainably clearcut their private lands to now clearcut our publicly-owned National Forest lands, endangered wildlife be damned.
Gianforte was quoted in the article saying: “About 140,000 acres of timber harvest are being held up by the Cottonwood decision” and said his bill would block “frivolous lawsuits.” But again the truth, instead of Gianforte's “alternative facts,” tells a different story. For one thing, judges don’t hear “frivolous” lawsuits, they toss them out of court. As for the actual acreage of logging enjoined, a total of 15,054 acres in four timber sales in lynx critical habitat are actually in the litigation process – which is a long way from the 140,000 acres that Gianforte claimed. These are the East Reservoir Timber sale in the Kootenai National Forest, the Stonewall Timber sale in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and the Bozeman Watershed, and East Boulder sales in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.
What Gianforte failed to mention is that the Forest Service re-initiated consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service last November to comply with the Court Order and completed the analysis, known as a Biological Opinion, on October 18th. This is a fact that Gianforte has not disclosed to the public. Nor have Gianforte or Montana’s senators withdrawn their bills. The analysis is only about 45 pages long and did not require any public comment process. In general, the law requires that Biological Opinions such as this one take about 6 months to complete.
Gianforte also didn’t tell citizens that by the Forest Service’s own estimates these four timber sales will cost taxpayers $6 million dollars to subsidize timber sales for companies like RY Timber, which is owned by Idaho billionaires, the Yanke Family Trust.
These logging projects were challenged in court because the Forest Service proposed clearcutting over 5,100 acres (8 square miles) and bulldozing over 23 miles of new logging roads in lynx critical habitat with just these four timber sales. The harsh reality, undeniably proven by all the best available science, is that more logging means less lynx. If we’re going to actually recover lynx as required by the Endangered Species Act, it’s obvious we shouldn’t be bulldozing more roads and slashing more clearcuts in lynx critical habitat.
Spending millions more to subsidize clearcutting our National Forests won’t stop wildfires. But it will destroy what makes Montana great -- some of the best hunting and fishing in the nation. Tell Daines, Tester, and Gianforte to protect, not destroy, our forests, the abundant clean water they produce and the native ecosystems they sustain. Americans deserve facts on public policy issues, not D.C. lies. That means Congressman Gianforte and Senators Daines and Tester must stop deceiving the people with “alternative facts” and start telling the truth.
Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.