The Three Saddle Vegetation Management project proposed by the Bitterroot National Forest has drawn three appeals from two individuals and an off-road vehicle group.
The proposed project area is located in the Threemile and Ambrose Creek watersheds and authorizes approximately 1,255 acres of commercial timber harvest, including about 329 acres of commercial thinning, 303 acres of improvement cuts, 481 acres of sanitation/salvage and 142 acres of clearcuts with reserves. The decision also authorizes approximately 469 acres of non-commercial thinning and about 389 acres to be treated with prescribed fire only. The main purpose, according to the decision notice, is to manage timber to provide forest products, jobs and income and to improve forest health and resilience to disturbances.
The chosen alternative and the only alternative considered apart from the No Action alternative, also includes about 1.5 miles of temporary road, 0.75 miles of track line machine trail and 0.05 miles of excavated skid trail. Timber harvest would produce about 7 to 8 million board feet of sawlog volume. The decision also authorizes the decommissioning of approximately 9.5 miles of Forest Service system road and the storage of about 1.1 miles of road.
One appellant, retired logger Floyd Wood of Corvallis, urges the Forest Service to go back to older types of logging practices that used small skid cats and “heel booms”. Wood claims that the more modern machinery used by the Forest Service is too destructive of the ground and damages too many of the leave trees. He claims the new equipment also puts people out of jobs. He is also critical of the Forest Service’s thinning methods and claims that the project will ruin Lynx, Wolverine and Goshawk habitat. All three are on the Endangered Species List. He protests the cutting of so many green trees when so much bug-killed timber needs to be harvested.
Dick Artley, a retired Forest Planner living in Grangeville, Idaho, appealed the decision on several grounds. He claims that the decision document did not discuss any “irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources which would be involved in the proposal” as the regulations require. He notes that some information used in the decision process was not made available to the public. Artley claims the decision did not state whether all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm had been taken, nor were any steps taken to identify the methods and procedures to ensure “unquantified” environmental amenities and values was given appropriate consideration. He criticizes the agency for not considering any alternative that included no commercial logging. Artley asks that the decision be withdrawn and a new Environmental Analysis be conducted.
The third appeal was filed by Dan Thompson, President of the Ravalli County Off Road Users Association. The group claims that the decision to decommission 10.6 miles of road was arbitrary and capricious. They claim that the decision to decommission the roads was not based on the purpose and need of the project but simply on public comment. They complain that other public comment was rejected on the grounds that it did not address the purpose and need of the project.
“Since no logical connection has been made between the stated project Purpose and Need and either the incorporated or rejected public comments, we submit that these choices have been made arbitrarily and capriciously,” wrote Thompson. The group also claims that the agency failed to properly evaluate the impacts of road decommissioning on recreational activities in the project area. They also claim that the decision to decommission the roads will “prejudice the ultimate decision” about roadways in the agency’s Travel Planning process which is currently under way. They ask that the 10.6 miles of decommissioning of roads be removed from the decision.
Stevensville District Ranger Dan Ritter said that the Regional Forester will respond to the appeals within 45 days from last Wednesday. He said that the agency could not put bids out on the project until the appeals are resolved. As a result, he said, even if the Regional Forester upholds the agency decision it would take another 15 days to put the bids out, delaying the project by at least 60 days.