Viewpoint: Holland Lake ‘Syndrome’ pervasive in USFS
The people fighting to save Holland Lake have done an amazing job showing how corrupt the Forest Service has been in its backroom deals to give POWDR Corporation a permit to expand Holland Lake Lodge.
Unfortunately the “Holland Lake Lodge Syndrome” -- which is doing industry’s bidding instead of acting in the public interest -- is not limited to Holland Lake Lodge, the recreation industry, or the Flathead National Forest. It is rampant throughout the Forest Service.
The Knotty Pine Project is but one of many examples of the Forest Service illegally catering to industry. Last summer, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Center for Biological Diversity, and other environmental groups sued to stop an extremely large logging project in the Kootenai National Forest. With only about 45 bears remaining, it’s Montana’s most imperiled population of grizzly bears.
When the lawsuit was filed, the Forest Service informed plaintiffs that bulldozing and logging would not start until May 2023. But in November 2022, the Forest Service notified us that it had authorized logging – and a road had already been bulldozed through grizzly bear core habitat in October. This is just one example of bad faith and double dealing by the Forest Service, but there are many more.
One of the primary reasons why we challenged this project is because the Forest Service failed to disclose that over 1,000 acres of grizzly bear core habitat would be logged. Nor did the agency consider how this will impact the four female grizzly bears that live in the area.
But grizzly bears aren’t the only wildlife suffering from the agency’s duplicity and inability to follow the law. The Lewis and Clark National Forest lists goshawk as an “old-growth forest management indicator species” and requires 100% of goshawk nets to be monitored annually.
Yet, the agency’s own data documented a precipitous decline in active goshawk nests, from 38 active nests in 2016, to 15 in 2017, to a mere 8 active nests in 2018. All this occurred while the agency is legally required to produce a public evaluation report if active nests decline by 10% in a single year.
Despite this alarming drop in active goshawk nests, the Forest Service failed to disclose the decline to the public in the Environmental Impact Statement for a massive clearcutting project that would destroy 24 square miles of goshawk habitat in the Castle Mountains north of Bozeman.
We sued – and won. The federal court ruled: “The record here does not show the agency complied with National Environmental Policy Act or the National Forest Management Act in regards to the undisputed decline in goshawk nesting territories.”
These violations of the law are extremely troubling. Goshawks are ‘the canary in the coal mine’ for the health of wildlife populations associated with mature and old growth forest habitat on the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Yet the amount of old growth remaining in the Castle Mountains is a mere 12% of the landscape, half of the 20-25% recommended for viable populations of goshawk and old growth associated species.
Certain politicians call the Alliance for the Wild Rockies “a serial litigator.” But in actuality, the Forest Service is a serial lawbreaker. We file lawsuits against the Forest Service because our claims are valid; and we win those court challenges about 80% of the time.
It’s long past time for Congress to investigate and halt the “Holland Lake Lodge Syndrome” of corruption in the Forest Service facilitating industry’s rape of our National Forests that destroys wildlife habitat and leaves them filled with developments, roads, stumps, knapweed, and degraded streams.
Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies