Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley told Missoula County Commissioners in a letter sent today that the timber company is backing off a controversial proposal to allow logging roads on public lands to be used for any purpose, including development.
The letter comes just after Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey vowed to push the easements through before Barack Obama, who said he would oppose the proposal, takes office January 20. In the letter, Holley writes, “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.”
Missoula County — commissioners and the general public — had been very vocal in its opposition to the easement amendment and the letter was welcome news to Deputy Missoula County Attorney James McCubbin who called the move, “commendable.”
“We appreciate that they’re reacting to the public input they’ve received,” McCubbin said.
Commissioner Jean Curtiss, who had led the charge to schedule public meetings on the deal said: “We were all pleasantly surprised. I think it’s a good choice on Plum Creek’s part.”
Click here for a PDF of the letter.
The easement amendment was privately negotiated between Plum Creek and the Forest Service to clarify the decades-old easements and ensure Plum Creek access across Forest Service for purposes besides resource extraction, namely to access residences. Residential development has become a big part of Plum Creek’s business as the timber industry flounders from the effects of the housing downturn. In October, the Government Accountability Office announced it was investigating the deal. Still this last weekend, the Washington Post reported Rey was ready to go forward with the plan.
Curtiss said the county was never given any indication that the Forest Service was backing down in its bid. Rey, the former timber industry lobbyist who was at the center of the firestorm between the county and Forest Service, had insisted that the easements be amended “come hell or high water,” Curtiss said.
But Plum Creek said in September that Montana counties that wanted to back out of the amendment could.
With Holley’s letter, said Plum Creek communications director Kathy Budinick, “we’re simply taking it a step further and saying, ‘We’re just not going to implement it anywhere.'”
Curtiss said the county will move forward with its discussions with Plum Creek on zoning. “That will determine what the development rights are on these pieces of property,” she said. Zoning offers Plum Creek predictability, she said, and it helps the county decide where development should occur and where resources should be protected.
- Missoula County Grills Forest Service, Plum Creek on Road Easement Amendments, 9-30-08
- Plum Creek to Retain Zoning Veto Power in Parts of Missoula County, 10-22-08
- Plum Creek Timber Road Easement Investigated by GAO, 10-13-08
- Holley Lays Out Plum Creek’s Plans, 10-24-08
- Obama Chimes In on Plum Creek, Forest Service Agreement, 7-9-08
- Baucus Seeks to Protect Plum Creek Forestlands from Development, 5-23-08
- Plum Creek, State of Montana Negotiating Road Easements, 5-21-08
- Missoula County Asks Mark Rey to Halt Plum Creek Talks, 5-8-08