In response to a similar law passed on behalf of South Dakota, Gov. Judy Martz has asked that Montana’s timber thinning projects on federal lands be shielded from appeals and litigation.
The “rider” attached to a defense spending bill was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle (D–S.D.). It gives projects designed to improve forest health broad exemptions from appeals or litigation, but applies only to South Dakota. In letters to Montana’s congressional delegation and Sen. Daschle, Martz has asked that the same exemptions be applied in Montana.
“Senator Daschle’s proposal provides provisions that protect the citizens of his state,” says Martz. “We are asking that those same measures be provided to protect Montana’s citizens.”
Martz’s request has infuriated environmental groups. Jennifer Ferenstein, executive director of the Sierra Club, says that her organization is opposed to any legislation that reins in the public’s interaction with the government.
“This kind of request from Gov. Martz is specifically designed to restrict the public process,” she says.
According to Meta Boyer, press spokesperson for Martz, the governor made her request because she is concerned about fire danger in heavily wooded areas, and because she believes that the Forest Service’s system of appeals is too hopelessly backed up to protect Montana’s citizens when wildfires occur. As evidence, the governor cites a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating that every forest-thinning project in Montana is currently being held up by appeals.
But Ferenstein and others refute the findings of that report, saying that only big projects and logging sales disguised as forest thinning tend to get appealed. To describe the system as being “hopelessly mired down” isn’t accurate, says Ferenstein, because appeals cannot last longer than 45 days before they are either settled or litigated.
In her letters, Martz identifies four areas of concern, including projects in Deer Lodge, The Lewis and Clark National Forest, and the Bitterroot National Forest. She writes that these areas in particular could benefit from the kind of law that shields South Dakota. But according to Ferenstein, at least half the areas that Martz mentions have already been through an appeals process, and have been settled out of court.
Before Daschle proposed his amendment, he met with representatives from the National Audubon Society, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Sierra Club, and reached a consensus with these groups on how to best address his state’s appeal backlog.
Although a Martz spokesperson says that this kind of consensus could be reached in Montana, no one in the governor’s office has attempted to contact local environmental groups to forge a similar deal.