If the Forest Service worked for the people, the Holland Lake proposal should have been rejected

March 22, 2023 4:00 am

A photo of Holland Lake in Montana (Fhoto by the U.S. Forest Service via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

As more information has come to light through the efforts of Save Holland Lake, a few key pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place. I’ve been pondering why the Flathead National Forest would push such a widely unpopular expansion project.
Now, after reading recent publications, I have a few ideas of why.
Flathead National Forest gets to unload a failing septic treatment system into private hands. Essentially flushing the decades of regulatory failure down the toilet without the public realizing a thing, until now. It seems to me they failed the public and their own organization by not adhering to the protocols they themselves designed to keep our public land safe.
As the public at large, we created the Forest Service to care for and preserve our common lands and serve those who use and enjoy them. The United States Forest Service is funded through our taxes to manage our resources in the public interest. The public owns the land the Forest Service oversees, and, without that land, there is no Forest Service.
USFS is similar to any other public institution in that the public needs them to be impartial in their dealings with public land. We expect them to side with science and morality over greed and exploitation. If there is an issue of being too close to any side of a decision, we expect the person to recuse themselves, or, at best, reveal their thoughts and processes in making a decision. The idea and perception of impartiality is essential for public trust in our officials.
We deserve better, our environment deserves better and the faithful and forthright employees of the Forest Service don’t deserve to have their institution run into the ground by a few bad apples.
The documents and emails recently released in the Freedom of Information Act section of show clearly that at least a few officials are willing to give moneyed interests whatever they desire. Five free acres of public land added to the permit? Sure, let’s see how we can sneak that in.
Disregarding decades of habitat and animal research? Why not, it’s only a few endangered species.
Polluted water? That’s a small and easily hidden detail.
The simple fact is the Flathead National Forest, by the actions of a few employees, has consistently ignored its own policies to deliver what POWDR has asked for. Flathead National Forest limited our speaking time at public meetings and refused to answer questions that we now know they had the answers to. Meanwhile, these officials we pay have consistently been in direct contact with POWDR, providing to the giant ski corporation anything it needed, with no hesitation. The public has had to use the Freedom of Information Act requests to access information that should be public record – and now we know why.
If you want evidence, it’s all right there on the website. Through internal emails they describe how rules can be bent or manipulated; how the sins of the past can be ignored and washed away into the lake. Their disregard for the animals and places in their keep could not be more obvious. It seems apparent that if the Forest Service follows its own rules and regulations, this expansion project cannot be approved.
Why is it so hard for the public to get information about public land from public officials? Why did an expansion plan with so many inaccuracies get so far? And how quickly would have the expansion been pushed through with a categorical exclusion if Montanans wouldn’t have caught on?
Let’s hope Flathead National Forest listens to their own experts and saves Holland Lake from the exploitation that has changed so much of Montana.
Travis Cole was born and raised in Missoula and runs a Nature Preschool on his grandparent’s former land off Miller Creek Road.

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