The U.S. Forest Service's Northern Region met its timber harvest goal last year. That’s the first time that has happened in over 14 years.
Regional Forester Faye Krueger says Region One, which includes Montana, harvested about 280 million board feet of timber.
Krueger says a major factor in the agency reaching its goal is that it's overhauled its litigation strategy.
"The main emphasis is on threatened and endangered species," said Krueger. "That is always being challenged in the court and that's usually what the courts send us back to do additional analysis on. We've worked on how do we handle each species for analysis.”
Krueger says the agency is paying close attention to previous court rulings and working hard to develop projects that get it right the first time.
The executive director of the Wild West Institute, a Missoula-based environmental organization sees it in a different light. Matthew Koehler also says this harvest total is in stark contrast to what politicians are saying to voters during this election year.
"It would take 56,000 log trucks lined up for 480 miles to haul out that 280 million-board-feet of timber; and that's just the amount of logging in one year off of these federal public lands. How the politicians can somehow equate almost 60,000 log trucks full of timber coming off our national forests as somehow being no logging and no management should be a real mystery to all of us who care [for] and cherish these public lands."
Gordy Sanders is resource manager for Seeley Lake's Pyramid Mountain Lumber. Sanders sums up the current mood in the region's timber industry this way:
"We are cautiously optimistic," said Sanders. "I think what's true, too, is that the agency is going out of its way to listen carefully to where a wide range of the public opinion is, and not so much about who's organization or individual [is] screaming the loudest. We've always assumed that if you do the right thing on the ground for the right reasons that support will come and those projects will move forward."
Sanders credits Forest Service regional managers with recently making particularly focused and strategic decisions.
"A lot of the projects that were moved forward in this last quarter have some amount of litigation possibility yet," said Sanders. "But we appreciate the fact they're willing to take a risk and move the ball on the projects that they believe can withstand the litigation scenario that obviously comes up all to often."
Regional Forester Krueger says the Forest Service thinned 114,000 acres of forest to reduce fuels last year. Almost 40,000 acres of which was in the wildland-urban interface.
"It's not just the timber target, it's stream-miles restored," Krueger said. "I believe we have over 450 miles in our region this year of stream miles restored. I believe the other regions are making their targets there as well. We've decommissioned over 270 miles of roads. We've got planting targets of about 14,000 acres that we've met."
Environmentalist Matthew Koehler applauds those efforts, but says the agency is still implementing fire-reduction measures too far away from homes and communities, as well as targeting too many old-growth trees.
"Our approach all along has been that the Forest Service needs to follow its own rules and regulations and best science when managing our federal public lands. We believe that if they do that, there is a place for a timber sale program on our public lands."
Faye Krueger says while Region One is pleased to meet its timber harvest goal last year, it also plans to increase its target by an additional three percent this new fiscal year.