Death by a Thousand Cuts: Editorial commentary by the Montana Wood Products Association
June 26, 2012
BY JULIA ALTEMUS
The environmental litigants on the Colt Summit project recently stated “You can’t continue to cut more
and more of the valley without jeopardizing other values. There is such a thing as cumulative impacts
and death by a thousand cuts” thus claiming victory when the judge determined the Forest Service
inadequately analyzed the project’s cumulative effects on lynx habitat and sent that portion of the
proposal back for further consideration.
But did they have a right to claim victory? Since when is getting a score of 8 percent on a test, an “A”?
Prevailing on one out of the 12 complaints is not an “A”, it is an “F”. For the four environmental groups
that sued in federal court to claim victory or to state that “shared visions and communications stumbled”
- alluding that the collaborative process failed - is hollow and certainly not very honest.
Bottom line, the Forest Service prevailed on 11 of the 12 complaints. It is important to understand that
the court threw out the claims of inadequate environmental analysis, or claimed violations of Forest Plan
standards for lynx and lynx critical habitat, of INFISH standards for bull trout, of Region One’s soil
standards and violations of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for grizzly bear, lynx and lynx
critical habitat. The Forest Service prevailed on all these very important environmental laws and agency
Yes, the timber harvest on the Colt Summit project is temporally halted while the Forest Service reviews –
yet again - 10 years of recorded research data on lynx. The fact is, lynx currently occupy 53% of the Lolo
National Forest or 1.1 million acres. The Forest Service knows exactly where lynx are and have been
between the Bob Marshall and the Missions. The area is not over harvested, and definitely in need of
Depending upon what the judge says was deficient with the cumulative effects analysis, the response to
the court could be as simple as a better display of existing information, or the court may establish an
expectation for lynx cumulative effects analysis that is difficult to meet.
In the meantime, road and culvert restoration work will continue on the 2,000-acre project. However, the
claim from the four environmental litigants that the project was approved by the Forest Service after the
fact, is troubling. That somehow, collaboration among diverse interests, “...wasn’t a meaningful
collaborative process.” The claim goes on to say, “It’s so important to have a diverse group of interests at
the table and to have it be balanced.” And, “maybe the table just wasn’t big enough.”
The fact is, those that choose to collaborate are extremely aware of the importance of having diverse
interests represented at the table to achieve balance, thus making room for all that choose to participate
in the collaborative process. The plaintiffs in the Colt Summit case simply chose not to collaborate. They
were asked several times and declined. Instead of choosing to be part of the solution, they opted to be
part of the problem. One could ask why? One answer is, finding solutions to complex environmental
issues, including the economics of timber harvest and the social values associated with forest
management, is work. Successful collaborators have the ability to stretch beyond their comfort zone, and
focus on achieving interest-based consensus and not get hung-up on long-held positions.
The environmental groups worry about the cumulative effects the project would have on lynx. What
about the cumulative effects, of shutting down the project, to those that work in the forest products
industry and the small businesses and local communities that rely on that industry? Since 1990, litigation
in Region One has directly lead to the closure of 28 sawmills in Montana and the loss of roughly 3,300
direct jobs and 6,900 indirect jobs. Now that, is death by a thousand cuts.