Nothing will be left of forests after Forest Service gets done ‘restoring’ them

December 5, 2022 4:53 am

A scenic view of Heart Lake in the Scapegoat Wilderness. The United States congress designated the Scapegoat Wilderness in 1972 with a total of 239,936 acres. The long northwest border of the Scapegoat Wilderness is shared with the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the massive limestone cliffs that dominate 9,204 ft Scapegoat Mountain are an extension of the “Bob’s” Chinese Wall. Elevations range from 5,000 feet on the North Fork Blackfoot River to 9,400 feet on Red Mountain; the highest peak in the Wilderness Complex. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0)

The sheer scope of logging, road-building and other “treatments” on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest leaves one to wonder: Will there be any forests left when the Forest Service is done “restoring” them?

The sad truth is that although these projects purport to “restore” historic conditions and make forests more “resilient,” they will do just the opposite and destroy scarce remaining forest habitat for wildlife and fisheries.

Two hugely destructive projects

The South Plateau Landscape Logging and Burning Project includes up to 5,551 acres of clearcuts (or 8.8 square miles) immediately adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. That’s at least 139 40-acre clearcuts right in grizzly bear recovery habitat along with 56 miles of new roads. When clearcut impacts are combined with an additional 6,593 acres of partial thinning, the red squirrel population that caches the highly nutritious whitebark pine nuts grizzly bears rely on, will be essentially exterminated.

A second project is the South Otter Landscape Logging and Burning Project that covers a whopping 292,000 acres (456 square miles) of the Ashland Ranger District. This area has been extensively burned by wildfires since 1995 and retains only 32,000 acres of relatively dense ponderosa pine forests – a mere 11% of the project area. 

A whopping 26,346 acres (41 square miles) of forest will be logged in the South Otter Project, eliminating almost all the dense forest in this landscape. Thinning young trees in old logging units and burning covers another 200,000 acres (312 square miles) of “mistreatments.” The project will bulldoze in 168 miles of new roads and convert 291 miles of motorized trails to roads. This comes to 459 miles of new roads bulldozed across the forest for this project. The wildlife report does not even evaluate how all the new roads will affect summer habitat use by elk.

The cumulative impacts

Unfortunately, while pushing new habitat destruction projects, the Forest Service has failed to account for the cumulative impacts these will add to already-approved projects. 

Immediately north of the South Otter Project, is the Threemile Logging and Burning Project covering 32,924 acres (51 square miles) of the Ashland Ranger District. Due to past fires and logging, this area contains only 12,136 acres of remaining dense ponderosa pine forests. The project will log 4,400 acres, leaving a mere 7,736 acres remaining, a mere 23% of the landscape. Burning understories and grasslands on another 2,695 acres means bulldozing in six miles of new roads and using nine miles of motorized trails. Objections to this project were denied.

Immediately north of the Threemile Project sits the Ash Creek Project. No objections were allowed to this decision. Within the 110,273 acre project area, burning and thinning are planned on 110,066 acres (172 square miles). The various burning and cutting in previously-burned forests, unburned forests, and grasslands are defined as “nurturing,” but instead builds 26 miles of new roads and uses of 9.9 miles of motorized trails.

The three projects cover the entire 436,124 acres of the Ashland Ranger District with 680 square miles of mistreatments – nearly half the size of the Bob Marshall Wilderness! Since 1995 wildfires have burned 60% of this ranger district – half of the forested area — leaving only 25% of the forest remaining. 

Despite these stunning numbers the Forest Service has determined that none of the proposed projects are expected to have a significant adverse impact on wildlife.

The question of whether there will there be any public forests left after the Forest Service is done “restoring” them is, tragically, not much.

Sara Johnson is the Director of Native Ecosystems Council 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.