Conservationists scored a win in the ongoing battle over mining development on the edge of the Cabinet Wilderness . . .
Montana illegally re-issued a water pollution discharge permit in 2004 for the proposed Montanore copper and silver mine under the Cabinet Mountains, according to a legal ruling that environmental groups are calling “a big win” in the fight to prohibit development of the controversial mine in northwestern Montana.
In her July 24 ruling, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley wrote that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) re-issuance of the discharge permit to Hecla Mining Company and its subsidiary Montanore Minerals Corp. was based in part “on arbitrary and capricious decisions,” and violates the federal Clean Water Act and the Montana Water Quality Act. She vacated the permit, and remanded the matter to DEQ for further action consistent with her decision.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service had a bad day in court when federal judge Donald Malloy overturned their approvals for construction of the Montanore mine at the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness . . .
In two decisions issued at the end of May, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act when they approved a massive mining operation beneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.
Hecla Mining Company is looking to build the Montanore copper and silver mine on the edge of the wilderness, about 18 miles south of Libby. The mine’s presence would require about 13 miles of paved or expanded roads, 14 miles of electric transmission line, wastewater treatment and holding, and tailings and seepage storage. If constructed, it would process tens of thousands of tons of ore every day.
The mine’s surface operations would be in known grizzly bear and bull trout habitat, and its underground activity would extend beneath the wilderness area, potentially draining millions of gallons of water from the local creeks.
Montana and the federal government signed the paperwork to establish a formal federal-state logging and restoration partnership . . .
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock signed an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service on Monday for the state to play a bigger role in forest management on federal lands, which officials say will speed up backlogged logging projects.
Forest management and the declining timber industry have emerged as major issues in this year’s governor’s race, with Weyerhaeuser announcing last month that it would close a Columbia Falls lumber and plywood mill. The closure will put about 100 people out of work in addition to 100 administrative jobs that are being eliminated or moved with Weyerhaeuser’s purchase of Plum Creek Timber.
With the Chessman Reservoir as a backdrop, Bullock, Forest Service Regional Forester Leanne Marten and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs signed the Good Neighbor Authority agreement, which was authorized under the 2014 federal Farm Bill.
In the face of some angry senatorial blow-back, the Forest Service has restored full trail maintenance funding in Region 1. For now . . .
The U.S. Forest Service has dropped its proposal to reduce funding for trail maintenance in Montana. The agency originally planned to reduce appropriations for Region One, which includes Montana, by 30 percent over the next three years. This included a potential loss of $1 million to Montana’s federal trail budget this year.
U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester criticized Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell last week for failing to prioritize trail maintenance in Montana. The agency proposed revising its formula for funding trail maintenance across the U.S. with an added emphasis on higher population centers. In Region One, there are 28,000 miles of federally managed trails.
The agency on Friday said it would reconsider the formula change and withdrew the proposal.
The Forest Service has had a conflicting set of goals for the last few decades but, for Region 1 at least, things seem to be coming to a head . . .
A new strategy for managing public lands for recreation, heritage and wilderness paints a bleak picture of the U.S. Forest Service’s own ability to tackle the job.
“You could say this looks like a D-minus report card,” said George Bain, Forest Service Region 1 director of recreation, lands, minerals, heritage and wilderness. “To us, this is how it is. We wanted to take a good, hard look and develop a strategy for how to work in that world. We don’t have all the money we’d want. We don’t have all the workforce we’d want. We don’t have the ability to take care of everything the way we’d like. This is the landscape we’re working in. Let’s see how to address this.”
The 50-page document released last August got little notice outside the Region 1 Missoula headquarters. But it had been more than a year in the drafting, and it has been signed by Regional Forester Leanne Marten, her deputies and the supervisors of all 10 national forests that report to her.
Here’s a pretty good article on Rick Yates’ wolverine study in Glacier Park . . .
The devil bear. The little wolf. The skunk bear.
Despite being a member of the weasel family topping out at about 40 pounds, the wolverine’s abundance of nicknames reflects its larger-than-life personality. Perhaps most telling, its scientific name, Gulo gulo, is Latin for “glutton.”
Rick Yates, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, spent from 2002 to 2007 studying the elusive carnivore’s behavior, trapping and tracking wolverines over hundreds of square miles in Glacier National Park…
As promised, the Flathead National Forest released the “proposed action” for their Forest Plan revision yesterday. Translating from bureaucrat-speak, this means they published the draft version of how they plan to run the Flathead National Forest for the next 15 years. This affects all areas of forest management, including logging, recreation, travel and wildlife management. And, yes, they are recommending some new wilderness in the North Fork and other areas.
Flathead National Forest Releases Proposed Action for the Revision of the Forest Plan and Amendments for Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy
Release Date: Mar 6, 2015
KALISPELL, MONTANA – March 5, 2015
The Flathead National Forest is releasing for public comment the proposed action for the revision of the land and resource management plan (forest plan) as directed by the National Forest Management Act. The proposed action for the revised forest plan includes management direction to support a variety of proposed and possible actions that may occur on the plan area over the next ~15 years, or life of the plan. Acting Forest Supervisor Sharon LaBrecque commented that “the proposed action reflects the overall theme of the 2012 planning rule by its integration of ecological, social, and economic sustainability as equally important components formanagement of NFS lands.”
The proposed action describes the Flathead National Forest’s distinctive roles and contributions within the broader landscape and details forest-wide, management area, and geographic area desired conditions, objectives, standards, and guidelines. The management direction in the proposed action focuses on maintaining and restoring ecosystem and species diversity, and managing for forests that are resilient to disturbances and stressors, including climate change. The purpose is to provide for long-term sustainability of ecosystem values and desired ecosystem services. The proposed action identifies suitable uses of National Forest System lands and estimates of the planned timber sale quantity and long-term sustained yield for the Forest. The proposed action identifies priority watersheds for restoration, and includes the evaluation of wilderness inventory areas and eligible wild and scenic rivers.
The Flathead National Forest is concurrently releasing an amendment to integrate the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy (“strategy”) into the forest plans for the Helena, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, and Lolo National Forests. The Flathead National Forest is incorporating the relevant portions of the strategy as part of its plan revision process. The proposed amendment provides grizzly bear habitat-related management direction within the portions of each forest that lie within the NCDE. This is a prerequisite for eventual delisting of the NCDE grizzly bear population under the Endangered Species Act. The Forest Service will prepare a single environmental impact statement (EIS) for its revised forest plan and the amendments.
The following community meetings are planned to provide additional information and address questions related to the revision and amendment proposed action:
March 17, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Flathead National Forest Supervisors Office, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell MT 59901
March 19, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Riverstone Family Lodge, 6370 US Hwy 93N, Eureka, MT 59917
April 7, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Seeley Lake Community Center, Seeley Lake, MT 59868
April 8*, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Northern Rockies Mtn. Heritage Center (Ft. Missoula), 3255 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804
April 9*, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Superior Ranger Station Conference Room, Superior, MT 59872
April 14*, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Lincoln Community Hall, 404 Main St., Lincoln, MT 59639
April 15*, 2015, 5:30–7:30 p.m., Stage Stop Inn, 1005 Main Ave. North, Choteau, MT 59422
*Meetings in Missoula, Superior, Lincoln and Choteau will primarily address the amendment proposed action.
The Flathead National Forest plan revision website provides the full proposed action text for the revision, describing preliminary desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, and other plan content; the 2014 Assessment; summaries of the public meetings and public meeting materials, and public comments. The revision component of the proposed action is located at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/fpr. The amendment component of the proposed action can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/flathead/gbamend. Links to the 2012 planning rule and the draft NCDE Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy can be found on these websites as well.
Project leader Joe Krueger noted, “The release of the proposed action initiates the scoping process. We are seeking public input to guide the development of the environmental impact statement and to further develop and refine the Flathead NF revised plan and grizzly bear habitat management for the four amendment forests.” For further information about the project, contact Joe Krueger, Forest Planner, Flathead National Forest, 650 Wolfpack Way, Kalispell, Montana 59901, (406) 758-5243, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being responsive to the public collaborative processes that have been undertaken on the Flathead National Forest over the past few years was a key consideration in development of the proposed action. More specifically, the proposed action:
Emphasizes front country recreation opportunities by identifying areas around Lakeside, Bigfork, and Whitefish for additional recreation opportunities.
Recommends 188,000 acres for inclusion into the National Wilderness Preservation System including the Jewel Basin and the Tuchuck-Whale areas as well as additions to Mission Mountain, Bob Marshall, and Great Bear Wilderness areas.
Continues management standards for riparian habitat conservation areas (RHCAs), but with modifications that provide more flexibility to treat vegetation within RHCAs to achieve desired conditions.
Identifies changes in areas suitable for over-snow vehicle use based on the public’s desire to open some areas and close others. The proposed action increases suitable acres open to over-snow vehicle use in the lower end of Big Creek from McGuinness Creek to the North Fork Road, south to Canyon Creek while decreasing an equivalent amount of acres open to over-snow vehicle use in the upper end of Sullivan Creek, Slide Creek and Tin Creek. The proposed changes would need to undergo subsequent site-specific analysis in order to be implemented.
Continues management standards for lynx habitat, but with some important clarification and consideration of long-term desired conditions at a landscape level.
Identifies 22 rivers as eligible for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Places an increased emphasis on social and economic sustainability, while maintaining ecological sustainability. Many of the changes in the plan, such as increases in suitable base acres (over the 2006 planning effort), more flexibility in where and how to conduct vegetation management, and additional motorized and non-motorized recreation opportunities, have the potential to provide additional jobs and income in the Flathead valley.
Increases recognition of the importance of the suite of ecosystem services provided by the forests, beyond those typically thought of such as timber, grazing, and recreation, water quality and quantity, clean air, tribal and cultural uses, and huckleberries.
Increases recognition of partnerships with federal and non-federal entities in helping to achieve desired conditions and improve overall resources management. Partnerships, such as the Whitefish Range partnership, and/or collaborative processes within the local communities fosters relationships that help accomplish projects in the communities’ and Flathead NF’s shared interest.
The Flathead NF, in consultation with MTFWP and other experts, screened a lengthy list of species, and developed a list of 9 potential wildlife Species of Conservation Concern (SCCs), 2 potential aquatic SCCs, and 13 potential botanical SCCs. The Regional Forester will make a decision on which species are carried forward as final SCC.
Provides for timber outputs that move vegetation toward desired conditions while considering multiple resource objectives. Initial modelling efforts indicate a Projected Timber Sale Quantity (PTSQ) of approximately 28 million board feet annually. The Projected Wood Sale Quantity (PWSQ) (all wood products) is estimated at approximately 30-34 million board feet annually.
Ensures that habitat protections specific to the grizzly bear are consistent on key National Forest System lands within the Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Bear Ecosystem (NCDE), by incorporating the relevant habitat management direction from the grizzly bear conservation strategy.
Management areas in the proposed action
The National Forest System land within the Flathead National Forest boundary has been divided into seven management areas (MA), each with a different emphasis which is intended to direct management activities on that particular piece of land. MA allocations are specific to areas across the Forest with similar management needs and desired conditions. Table and map follow.
The U.S. Forest Service has a shiny, new DNA analysis facility in Missoula . . .
They haven’t resurrected Mr. Spock in the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation, but they’re hard at work on his tricorder.
Where the “Star Trek” science officer would wave his little satchel and detect the presence of life on alien planets, the technicians in the U.S. Forest Service’s new lab building can spot the presence (or absence) of specific fish in a whole river drainage from a cup of water.
They can trace the family tree of a sage grouse from a tail feather. Don’t get them started on what they can tell when a grizzly bear poops in the woods, if they get hold of the poop.
The proposed new Forest Service snowmobile regulations are pretty much the same as the current set . . .
Snowmobile access decisions on U.S. Forest Service land would remain at the local level, under a new travel rule the agency published on Wednesday.
That’s a relief for snowmobile clubs that worried their ability to use some areas might be moved to regional or national levels. But the conservation group whose lawsuit forced the Forest Service rewrite said the new rule didn’t fix any of the old problems.