Shortly after the Roaring Lion Fire broke out July 31st, charges and counter-charges flew that a lawsuit or lawsuits had or had not stopped US Forest Service attempts to log or thin the affected area to reduce fire danger.
I interviewed the Bitterroot National Forest's District Ranger about that on August 1st, you can read that interview, edited only for clarity, in its entirety below.
On August 5th Bitterroot National Forest Public Affairs Officer Tod McKay sent me the following email:
"I just want to clarify something that may have been a little confusing. It was in response to your question on timing when you asked, 'so you guys were literally within weeks of getting out there and doing some treatment to reduce fire dangers?”' Eric (Winteher)’s response, 'Yes, the Forest Supervisor had signed the decision, and we were proceeding ahead, getting ready to get that going.'
Just a couple of clarifications on this.
- We were a couple of weeks away from working on the contract to implement this project—i.e., not a couple of weeks away from on-the-ground thinning or logging. We expected to award a contract in September (before the end of the FY) and that work would begin in the winter.
- The lawsuit was filed July 26, 2016. Plaintiffs requested an injunction but none has been issued to date. In other words, we had no reason to, nor any plan to alter the Westside Project timeline at the point in time when the Roaring Lion Fire started.
We hope this helps clear-up confusion regarding the actual ‘start time’ of the project and are sorry that we weren’t more clear in the interview. "
We have also reached out to the attorney's for the litigants in the lawsuit, asking for comment, and have not heard back at this time.
We regret any confusion caused by publishing incorrect information given to us by the Bitterroot National Forest, and plan to follow up with additional reporting on this story.
-Eric Whitney, News Director, Montana Public Radio.
Part of the Bitterroot National Forest that’s burning in the Roaring Lion fire southwest of Hamilton was just a couple of weeks away from being logged and thinned – both to sell timber and to reduce fire danger. But a lawsuit filed three weeks after the project was approved put a halt to it.
Timber sales and thinning projects can have an impact on whether wildfires start and their ability to spread, but don't necessarily guarantee improved fire safety.