Locals challenge need for USFS proposal

On Saturday, June 20, a group was led by Beartooth Recreational Trails Association President Grant Barnard to the Red Lodge Creek drainage area. They were touring the north USFS Greater Red Lodge Area Project (GRLA or “gorilla”) area and would view some of the Montana DNRC Palisade Timber sale project. Over a dozen people gathered at USFS property close to Henry Dykema’s home in Luther-a former homestead of grizzled hermit, Mike Grinetti, who lived to his eighties growing potatoes and raising goats. “Hunters left their kids with him to babysit,” he said.

They entered the USFS lodge pole pine forest proposed for treatment. Dykema said, “You can see it is a moist area and trees are well spaced.” He has a Bachelors and Masters in wildlife biology studying the effect of management on small mammals and has spent 20 years in these forests. “It is prime habitat for goshawks, grizzly and maybe lynx. This project will change the whole nature of this area.” A Great Grey Owl reared up with great wings flapping. They silently tip-toed by. He pointed to a burned area. “This started as a USFS fire training project in the 60’s, but it got out of control.” He questions why the USFS has to change what is going well in this forest. “It is not a stressed area. Yes, there are some beetle killed trees but for the most part they are resilient here.” He says that the beetle is not just beginning to attack, referring to a USDA/DNRC report stating between 2010 and 2011 the population decreased by 50 percent and is decreasing overall. He criticized using other forests’ models: “This is not the dry West Fork.”

“Look at this creek,” he said. “It is a “perennial” (year round) spring that feeds my neighbor, Ann Black’s, pond. The large wetland, the pond and the creek are not on the FS map. There are lots of aspen in this riparian area. They grow where they should be growing.” He pointed to an uphill lodge pole border slated for “aspen treatment.” “I don’t understand it.” he said. He kicked at a rotting wet log that fell apart. “There is a significant rate of decay here, not dry deadfall waiting to burn. Do planners even see these areas?” Barnard agreed. “FS people know the priorities of each area and should have added them.” Local Richard Thayer commented earlier: “Every person that has a home in the area adjacent to the proposed logging on Red Lodge Creek has objected to the planned logging. We would rather take our chances with the low probability of a wildfire than the 100% destruction of 1000 acres by clear cutting as proposed by the The Red Lodge duplicate bridge group met June 19 with four tables in play. Winners sitting north-south were first, Ernie Strum and Wally Olds, 24, and second, Mary Majerus and Ruth Kern, 23.5. Winners east-west were first, Bill Wilson and Lucille Olds, 28.5, and second, Allie Wood and Martha Young, 24.5. Locals challenge need for USFS proposal Duplicate Bridge scores USFS. From my perspective the end result of a wildfire and clear cutting is about the same.”

Dykema is concerned about last minute major changes. “In 2008, we gave years of input for the Beartooth District Travel Management Plan. The three alternatives established many areas as “nonmotorized trails” yet the decision “modified” the accepted alternative to create service roadways instead.” Regarding current FS plans he asked, “Where is Alternative 1? Does that show leaving the area alone? I’ve never seen it.” The DNRC is asking the FS for an unrestricted permanent road easement although this “plan” is not technically part of either project. Dykema asked, “Why doesn’t the DNRC use the access it already has that connects to the county road north of the FS? The DNRC’s answer was that it would cost the State millions to build whereas taxpayers would shoulder the expense through FS land. The proposed route is currently ‘barely a trail at most points,’” said Dykema. The easement is currently off the table but he fears its reemergence later.

He believes giving an entity such as the state with a totally different mandate (to cut timber) unrestricted access is totally contrary to the FS mission. The Mariah Luchen, FS spokesperson responded: “The 21415 road adjacent to Dykema’s land is outside the scope of either the Palisades project, or GRLA. Neither DNRC nor USFS are proposing to do anything with the road where it runs along the property line between the USFS and Dykema. As part of the action alternatives, the Forest Service is proposing to reconstruct a portion of the 21415 road for timber hauling to access units that terminate at Unit 9T.” Later she added, “a portion is a potential haul route for GRLA.”

A State/Fed road meeting was slated for Monday, June 24, but Dykema was told it was not “prime time” to come. A hiker commented that the law requires open meetings. When is “prime time” he wonders, to know what’s going on? The group reached a central meadow in front of “the hump”-a deeply forested green region behind the ski mountain by a large slope. “This hump has been sought after by the state and feds for years,” he explained. “It’s a big healthy, lodge pole forest. It has canopy like old growth loved by Great Grey Owls and other old growth associated species. Trees are only 90 not 120, but the animals don’t know it.” “They say treatment won’t prevent forest fires so leave it alone. This is a unique area. It’s a one mile swath between the highest mountains in Montana and the plains, cutting across the only east-west mountain range with northern facing mountains.” He worries, “It’s the last place for these large mammals to go.”

Dykema is not opposed to small scale clearing without major roadwork. Researcher and resident Ann Black agreed that GRLA does not prevent fires. She also said the forest here is healthy. “I don’t want you guys spending your money for us. Most of us are in the far ends of meadows where fire retardants can be used. It’s a great spot to hold a fire. If something (major) like the Derby fire comes you have to just wait it out.” The group discussed regions competing for major federal fire funding (use it or lose it) and states’ legislatures that blame the FS for state fire management costs once a fire goes from FS to state land pressuring the USFS to take some action. Local landowners have taken steps to fireproof properties and all objected to treating for fire in this lower wetter area where risk was not highest. Someone pointed to a tree with huge claw-like marks and long, blonde, wiry hairs attached and said it appeared to be grizzly. Fortunately, the tour was ending. Comments for DNRC: dnrc.mt.gov, see Palisades Timber project. Proposal due sometime in August, 30 days for public comment. Comments to the USFS: See USFS website and GRLA. See this issue for details of USFS Red Lodge Creek area tour Friday, June 28.