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for people who care about the West

Plum over, for a forest development deal


At least one last-minute Bush rule change won't be happening, not because the administration thought better of it, but because the company involved decided to back off in the face of bad publicity. Last May, we reported on an under-the-table deal that Plum Creek Timber Company, which owns 1.2 million acres of forest in Montana, had made with the Forest Service. The agreement would have potentially opened thousands of acres of former timber land to development, by amending old forest road easements in Montana to allow the company to use them for commercial and residential access:


The amendment would also provide a template for similar Forest Service road easements across the nation. Critics note that the proposal has gone forward without county involvement, without public comment, and without study of the possible environmental impacts of granting blanket residential access over hundreds of miles of forest roads. "This was all done behind closed doors," says Jean Curtiss, Missoula County commissioner. "But it's affecting all of us. Let's talk about what's the best thing for us as a whole, not just for Plum Creek."

Mark Rey, the Undersecretary of Agriculture who brokered the negotiations, had vowed to pass the amendments before leaving office. But the public outcry was deafening. County governments were furious, since they'd effectively been cut out of a decision that could result in hundreds of new homes scattered throughout the woods -- which would create a huge burden for new infrastructure and services. The Government Accountability Office investigated and declared that the agreement might well be illegal. But Rey pressed on, until the company sent a letter Monday saying that it would no longer pursue changing the easements. According to NewWest.net, Plum Creek's president, Rick Holley, wrote: “Although we continue to believe that the easement amendment would be beneficial to the general public, given the the lack of receptivity, we have decided not to go forward with the amendment.”

Chalk one up for the free market -- although the feds didn't seem to care what the public thought of this deal, at least companies still respond to bad press.