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Misinformed Department

January 10, 2010

This morning the Rapid City Journal published the following letter from Ron Capps:

“I saw yet another story in Tuesday’s Rapid City Journal about the terrible pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills without one mention that the Sierra Club and the Norbeck Society are primarily to blame for this decimation due to their blocking practically every timber sale or management decision the United States forest service has proposed during the last three decades.

“Anyone of any rational intelligence will conclude that these eco-groups are mostly to blame for this catastrophic damage to the Black Hills.  By legally blocking, in the courts, any type of proactive environmental management or timber sales by the USFS, these two groups have allowed an environment to exist in the Black Hills that encouraged the beetles to flourish.  Thanks to these two groups I will never, in my lifetime, see the forest restored to its former health.

“These two groups should be held accountable for this and ushered into the scrap-heap of history, never be allowed any input again on forest management or environmental issues of any sort.”

While I’m flattered that anyone thinks that the Sierra Club and the Norbeck Society wield that kind of influence, the facts don’t support Mr. Capp’s indictment.

It is an interesting claim considering that the local residents formed the Norbeck Society about 5 years ago in response to the increasing off-road vehicle abuses on the Black Hills National Forest.  In addition to seeking regulation of off-road vehicles and the repair of the damage that ORV traffic has caused,  the Norbeck Society has become a strong, effective advocate for protection of botanical and riparian areas in the Black Hills.  The Norbeck Society has provided its views and comments to the Forest Service during the planning process for many projects proposed on the forest, but it has never appealed a timber sale.

It has been over a decade since the Sierra Club in the Black Hills went to court over a Black Hills timber sale.  The only Forest Service action  the Black Hills Group of the Sierra Club has administratively appealed since 2002 was a grazing project decision on the Northern Hills District.  The local Sierra Club joined a group of Black Hills sportsmen in that appeal.

10 years ago our local Sierra Club decided it would no longer appeal or litigate timber sale projects on the Black Hills National Forest.  We would continue to offer our comments and advocate different management methods during the planning process for Forest Service timber sales and projects in the Black Hills, but we decided to see if business as usual would produce a healthy forest as claimed by the Forest Service and the timber industry.

When we stopped our appeals there were millions of board feet of timber already sold, standing on the forest, awaiting cutting.  10 years later more timber sales have been sold in the Black Hills, there are still millions of board feet of timber standing waiting cutting, and the Black Hills is still essentially a monoculture of even-aged stands of ponderosa pine.  The only clear difference is that more timber stands are thinned to increase their basal area, i.e., the remaining trees will be spaced further apart.  This was an  effort to treat the areas to reduce beetle infestation and wildfires; the new mantra introduced with the forest management legislation passed during the Bush administration.

We have concluded that business as usual has not worked.  Over the last decade some of our largest forest fires and the areas of greatest pine bark beetle infestation have occurred in areas of the Black Hills that had been logged.  Saw logs are now anything 9″ in diameter and above and the even-aged monoculture is still predominant. 

Currently the new project for management of the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve is exiting great interest.  In 2002, as a result of the last litigation undertaken by the local Sierra Club, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the federal district court’s decision in favor of the Forest Service and ruled that the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was not subject to management under the National Forest Management Act.  Instead it was to be managed according to the Congressional intent expressed in the legislation creating the preserve; that is, “for game animals and birds and recognized as a breeding place therefore.”

Consequently, the Forest Service was forced outside the traditional box and great effort made to increase the role wildlife biologists played in the planning process.  A stunning menu of timber cuts and treatments has been prepared for use on the project area.  This has the potential to introduce silvicultural methods to the Black Hills which it has lacked for decades. 

I can’t speak for the Norbeck Society or the local Sierra Club about how they view this new plan, but personally, I’m watching it with great interest and hoping that if the plan goes through, the Forest Service will monitor the results of the treatments carefully.  If these methods prove successful, generating positive gains for wildlife, then I will be advocating their use in other projects.

— Jim Margadant

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