Quiet Ninemile Braces for Forest Controversy

Quiet Ninemile Braces for Forest Controversy

News Type: State Source: Missoulian
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Don’t be lulled by the calm air of isolation wafting down this mountain valley: Practically every major land-use issue in western Montana is reaching the boiling point here.

Logging projects, grizzly bear survival, gold mining, trout fishing, road access and wildfire potential have all showed up like unwanted summer visitors in the forests 20 miles northwest of Missoula. Around picnic tables and lawyer’s desks, stakeholders are drawing battle lines to define the future of a place many think has just recovered from a century of abuse.

An extensive coalition of local and national groups have spent nearly $5 million on stream restoration and mine clean-up work in the Ninemile Valley over the past decade. This summer, the Lolo National Forest plans thousands of acres of logging and burning in the mountains above those streams in what’s called the Soldier-Butler Project. A new gold-mining operation has started exploratory digging on two claims there. Grizzly bears have started using the area linking three major recovery zones for the first time in more than a century. A group of environmentalists plans to sue the Forest Service, claiming improper analysis of the logging and gold projects. And several Ninemile landowners have been angered by the changes they claim will uproot their long-standing efforts to protect the area.