George Corn

Flathead National Forest Supervisor Steele’s decision to ram the massive Holland Lake Lodge expansion project through with a categorical exclusion rather than order an EIS is appalling.

Many have appropriately pointed out the harmful impacts to the 10-acre permit site by the sheer physical size of the proposal, the dramatic increase in human activity and the fact that it would be year-round. But another critical reason for an EIS is the impact of the inevitable development of private land bordering Forest Service land near the permit site.

Private lands next to public lands can have enormous and harmful consequences to the ecosystems of adjoining public lands. The rampant and unchecked development on private land in the Big Sky/ Yellowstone Club area and its impact on surrounding public lands is a stark example.

One such threat to the Holland Lake area is a privately owned section (640 acres) that adjoins Forest Service land above Holland Lake and is slightly NW of the Holland Lake Lodge permit site. It is Sixty-four times larger than the Holland Lake Lodge permit site and located a few hundred yards away from it.  Whether as a potential link to the lake, or as a development itself, its development-potential and impact on the ecosystem unarguably required an EIS.

The potential development of this private tract is not an abstract threat.  It was purchased on April 1, 2022 by a recently formed Montana LLC, with a Massachusetts address. This was after the submission of POWDR’s application for the permit transfer.

Here’s what public records show. The land purchased was Section 27 in the appropriate township and range. The Montana Cadastral shows Section 27 adjoins Forest Service property. It is a few hundred yards above the NW corner of Holland Lake and Holland Lake Lodge permit area. The Cadastral tax records show the owner of Section 27 to be Section 27 LLC .

Section 27 LLC was incorporated in March of 2022(Montana Secretary of State records).  On April 1, 2022 Section 27 LLC bought Section 27 by warranty deed (Missoula Clerk and Recorder records). In addition to granting “All of Section 27”, the deed grants easement rights through Forest Service lands. This deed was recorded on April 4, 2022 (Missoula Clerk and Recorder).

The records of the Montana Cadastral, the Montana Secretary of State and the Missoula Clerk and Recorder all list Section 27 LLC’s address as 174 Highland Street, Weston MA. The owners of 174 Highland, MA can be found in the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s deed section. Zillow shows the address as a private home in a tony residential area.

Ironically, in May of 2017, the Flathead National Forest celebrated the acquisition of a privately owned section of 640 acres in the same area made possible by funds from the State, national and local nonprofits in a news release. The news release by the Flathead National Forest lauded and recognized the unique ecological importance of the Holland Lake in a news release noting:

“This area provides connectivity from the Swan to the Mission Mountains and offers vital habitat for species protected by the Endangered Species Act. This area supports populations of federally threatened bull trout, grizzly bear, and Canada Lynx, as well as gray wolves, elk, moose, deer, mountain lions and wolverine.  … On a larger scale this Crown of Continent area links the Canadian Rockies with the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, and proposed Great Burn Wilderness. “

The uniqueness of this area has not declined one whit since 2017. If anything, the necessity, and value of the Holland Lake area to the survival of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem and the threats to the Crown, are greater now than they were then.

To put it mildly, the fact that Supervisor Steele ignored his own agency’s recognition of the ecological importance of the area, as well as the easily accessible and publicly available documents of adjoining private land subject to development, is inexplicable and troubling. Coupled with trying to ram the project through with a categorical exclusion with minimal public comment and his actions shadow a foregone conclusion.

Despite Supervisor Steele’s lame attempts to backtrack, the public cannot reasonably be expected to trust him. He has tainted the process. The only reasonable and responsible course for the Forest Service is to order an EIS and completely remove Supervisor Steele and his staff from the process and subsequent decision.

George Corn, Hamilton