Monday, September 28, 2009

Helicopter Logging Project Halted

The East Fork helicopter logging project, which was about two-thirds complete, was abruptly halted by the Forest Service last week because a helicopter company out of Idaho complained that it didn't get a chance to bid on the work. The project, as part of larger logging and thinning initiative in the Bitterroot National Forest, was approved in 2005, but the helicopter logging was not done due to reduced timber prices. This summer, federal stimulus funds were allocated to complete the project. By that time forest fire season had begun, so the Forest Service chose to act quickly and avoid a bidding process, so they awarded the contract to a local company whose base is only 20 miles from the logging site. The competing helicopter company recently threatened to file for a temporary restraining order in federal court (damn lawyers), which could have stopped the project until next summer. In an effort to get the logging completed this year, the Forest Service halted the project and now plans to put the remainder of the work out for bids late this week.  They expect to award the new contract within the next three to four weeks.

Since the project is frozen, the local helicopter company is not allowed to do any more work.  They have packed up and gone home, leaving about 90 loads of cut logs stacked in various places in the forest, adding to the fire danger. This is one pile along the East Fork Road:

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