HELENA, Montana — The U.S. Forest Service delayed its response to two environmental groups objecting to a logging plan in a watershed that supplies the bulk of drinking water to 30,000 Helena residents.
The Independent Record reported (http://bit.ly/17XEmyh) that Deputy Regional Forester Jane Cottrell extended the response deadline from last Friday to Dec. 18.
Cottrell wrote in a letter to Steve Kelly of the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council that his staff needed more time because of the complexity of the project and objections.
The Native Ecosystems Council is the other group that contends the logging plan is flawed and sought to have it stopped in October. The groups argue that wildlife habitat and corridors will be disrupted and that thousands of dead and dying trees in the watershed are part of the natural forest process.
The proposed logging is near the Red Mountain Flume that carries water to Chessman Reservoir, a holding area before the water is sent to the Helena Water Treatment Plant. Officials say the 4.8-mile flume would be threatened in the event of a wildfire and that the aftermath of a wildfire could lead to sedimentation in the reservoir.
The plan calls for clear-cutting, with some trees left on 317 acres, fuel break treatments on 158 acres and hand-treatment methods on 58 acres. Prescribed burns would also be used.
In 2008, Helena convened a working group to come up with a plan at the request of the Forest Service. Acting Helena Forest Supervisor Bill Avey in August approved the Red Mountain Chessman Reservoir Project to clear dead and hazardous trees along the metal flume.
Helena City Manager Ron Alles said he understands that the Forest Service has to be responsive to the environmental groups but that the city has been waiting to move forward on the project.
"I know the Forest Service hopes to move as quickly as they can, and I know they have dedicated resources to move forward," Alles said. "But we have a watershed needing protection, and we need to get projects moving up there."
Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair.com