Clearcuts below Grizzly Creek in the Upper Yaak Drainage. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Kootenai National Forest proposes a massive logging project in Northwest Montana known as the Black Ram “Vegetation” treatment.

The Black Ram project area includes Northwest Yaak from the Canadian border west to the Idaho border, south to the ridge line between Pete Creek, and east to the Yaak River. The Yaak drainage is one of the most remote regions of Montana.

 

The Yaak drainage is one of the most remote and wild areas of Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

The 95,000-acre Black Ram Project would commercially log 2,494 acres, including 579 acres of mature-old growth forests.

Note the use of the  euphemism treatment. The agency always sees the forest as sick and needing a healthy dose of chainsaw medicine.

They assert that they want to improve resilience and resistance to insects, disease, and fire. However, notwithstanding insects, disease, and fire maintain healthy forest ecosystems, the Forest Service Industrial Forestry paradigm sees these natural agents as something to eliminate or reduce.

Chainsaw medicine on the Yaak. Thinning opens up the forest to greater heating, drying vegetation and increasing wind penetration–all factors that increase fire spread. Photo George Wuerthner 

Chainsaw medicine is like the magic elixir the old-time snake oil salesman used to promote. Chainsaw medicine cures everything and many things that don’t need fixing.

So let me get this straight. The agency claims if they don’t log the forest, trees “may” die from insects, disease, or fire. So the way to prevent this death is to kill the trees with chainsaws. Does anyone other than me see some disconnect in logic here?

The grizzly bear population of the Yaak is one of the most endangered in the United States with no more than 20-30 bears according to some estimates. Photo George Wuerthner 

Other rationales for Black Ram are just as ludicrous. The FS claims that the Black Ram timber sale will, among other justifications, aid grizzly bear recovery. The Cabinet Yaak grizzly population survival is one of the most tenuous in the country.

So the FS wants to apply chainsaw medicine to the grizzly habitat to increase, it claims, huckleberries.

Logging roads increase access reducing security habitat for grizzly bears. Photo George Wuerthner

No doubt there may be more huckleberries, but huckleberries are not limiting grizzly bear recovery in the area. The main problem for bears is road access and the high human morality associated with them.

The Black Ram project will create nearly a hundred miles of open roads (90 miles of reconstructed roads and 5.5 of new roads). This roading is what will harm grizzlies as well as other wildlife like elk. What they all need more than anything is security cover. Chainsaw medicine provides none.

South Fork of the Yaak from Flatiron Mountain. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Yaak Valley is already fragmented by past logging. Logging of the Black Ram area will further fragment the landscape and destroy the few remaining natural corridors.

The FS asserts that the Black Ram logging project will mitigate climate warming. Yet, logging and wood products production releases a tremendous amount of carbon. In Oregon, for instance, logging is the most significant source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the entire state—more than all the car, airplane, and truck emissions.

Cutting any old growth will reduce the carbon storage of the area. Research by Bev Law of Oregon State University has shown that large trees continue to store carbon throughout their lives. So logging the forest doesn’t help climate warming-it worsens it.

Dense forests chaaracterize the Yaak Drainage. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Yaak drainage is an example of Inland Rainforest, characterized by spruce, western red cedar, and western larch. Photo George Wuerthner 

Even if trees die from beetles or fire, they remain on-site, storing carbon. Carbon is stored in the soil, snags, and wood.

The idea that logging the forest will somehow protect homes from wildfire is yet another myth perpetuated by the Forest Service and timber companies. What drives all large wildfires is climate and weather, not fuels. There is no need to remove fuels more than a hundred feet from home. And home hardening is far more effective at protecting homes than logging the forest.

Many researchers, including retired forest service researcher, Jack Cohen, suggest any fuel removal more than 100 feet from a structure provides no extra protection.

The Yaak drainage is an example of Inland Rainforest, characterized by spruce, western red cedar, and western larch. Photo George Wuerthner 

The Yaak Valley forests are a rare inland rainforest that tends to be represented by Pacific Northwest species that burn infrequently. Some of the larger tree species on the site include western red cedar, western hemlock, subalpine fir, Engelmann spruce, and western larch, characterized by long fire rotations between blazes. Some of the larch are estimated to be 600 years old.  The proposed logging will remove older trees resistant to wildfire and replace them with invasive weeds and small trees. It is these fine fuels that cause wildfires to spread rapidly.

They are a patch of classic old-growth forests with large-diameter trees, an abundance of down wood, and decomposing trees.

Dr. Dominick DellaSala, a leading authority on old-growth forests, conducted a field visit to the Black Ram logging project area.  He says, “I can say unequivocally that this site is old growth, is critically important to its surroundings, has key climate and refugia properties, including the potential for large amounts of above and below ground carbon to continue to accumulate over centuries.”  Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service “claims [Black Ram] is for climate resilience, while my observations show it would have the opposite effect.”

If you were to visit a doctor who prescribed the same treatment for everything from a broken leg to a heart attack, and nothing worked, would you trust them to treat you again and again? Yet this is precisely what the Forest Service is asking the public to accept.

The Yaak River drainage is characterized by heavily forested rolling mountains. Photo George Wuerthner 

To add insult to injury, The Forest Service estimates taxpayers will lose $3.2 million subsidizing this deforestation.

A lawsuit brought on by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies put the project on hold in February 2020. After receiving a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that deemed the Forest Service’s plan “was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the grizzly bear,” officials reopened the project for comment in September 2020.

The Kootenai Tribe , Yellowstone to Yukon, Wild Montana, Montana Wildlife Federation, and The Wilderness Society support the Black Ram logging project.

The Black Ram project exemplifies the agency’s commitment to deforestation and ecosystem degradation. We should expect and need better policies from the agency.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

16 Responses to Black Ram Vegetation Management-Another Example of Chainsaw Medicine

  1. Maggie Frazier says:

    I have no doubt that some of the supporters of this “project” will benefit financially. The Wilderness Society, Montana Wildlife Federation etc? Arent these supposed to be conservation organizations? As in conserving nature & wildlife habitat? Obviously not!

  2. Mike Higgins, Halfway, OR says:

    You’re NOT alone in your exasperated, disgusted, etc. opinions of the “treatment” of the Yaak vegetation management plan, George. We’ve been fighting the same battles as you have for 40+ years on the Wallowa-Whitman National forests. And I intend to keep fighting for as long as I’m able…I just hope you and your allies make the same commitment.

    Mike

  3. Jeff Hoffman says:

    The idea that humans have to manage natural habitats or ecosystems must be strongly opposed. I’m sure there also exist nefarious reasons for this bad proposal, like making money from dead trees. But if the excuse of “needed” management is removed, they at least won’t have that excuse. These ecosystems were around for tens of millions of years before humans got here, and they were doing just fine, thank you. No human “management” needed, move along please!

    • Ron Kozan says:

      These ecosystems were doing just fine before humans???

      5 mass extinctions and 99% of all life going extinct is your defintion of doing just fine?

      • Hiker says:

        What an idiot.

        • Jeff Hoffman says:

          I agree, but let’s not lower ourselves to name-calling. This guy is a troll, coming to a radical environmental website and advocating against the environment. I would never have engaged with him if I’d realized that he was a troll from the beginning, and I think that ignoring them is the best response to troll comments like his. I won’t respond to him again.

          BTW, notice that he’s a global warming/climate change denier also. No one like that is worth engaging, because they’re either so deluded that they can’t see reality, or they’re lying.

          • Hiker says:

            I just call it like I see it, but you’re right he’s not worth my time.

          • Ron Kozan says:

            Once I thought you might be intelligent enough to defend your claims. Clearly I was wrong.
            Question is why do you feel the need to lie so often?
            No where did I deny climate change. Clearly the opposite.
            All you’ve offered are cheap insults and childish name calling and now hiding. The final act of someone lacking the intelligence to defend their opinions. Congratulations

        • Ron Kozan says:

          SO you also hate facts while calling people names

  4. Charles Fox says:

    I have never understood how the “Forest Service” gets away with this business-as-usual industrial destruction, or how they expect Americans to pay for the destruction of their own forests. America fails and fails and never gets better.

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Because this is a country based on making money. and all else is secondary (despite the fact that the people here won’t admit that). The most mentally and spiritually unevolved people in the world.

      • Ron Kozan says:

        Now that is funny coming from someone like you who would rather hide than show some intelligent evolution and defend their beliefs with facts. Could the real reason you hide is there are no facts for your defense. Clearly you know little to nothing about humans on the rest of the planet

  5. Martha S. Bibb says:

    Any research done by the forest service-industrial logging-fire complex anything but biased?
    Build roads, cut the best trees, burn anything left, polite the air…

    • Ron Kozan says:

      LOL
      Do you really think George can write anything without a bias spin?

      • Jeff Hoffman says:

        Advocating for the Earth and all the NATIVE life here should not be considered a bias. We should all be doing that. Unfortunately, the majority in modern societies prioritize their harmful unnatural lifestyles, which BTW include grazing non-native animals like cattle and killing trees, over the natural world and the life there, which leads you people to advocate against the Earth and the life here, whether you realize it or not.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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