A group of logging opponents offered the highest bid in the auction of a timber sale southeast of Bozeman, meaning the group will likely get their wish of halting any logging activity there for at least the next 25 years.
Save Our Gallatin Front offered a total bid of roughly $400,000 for a 25-year deferral of the 443-acre Limestone West Timber Sale, according to John Grassy, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The group’s bid topped RY Timber, the only other bidder in the sale. Grassy said the company offered the minimum bid, which totals about $376,000.
The results are not yet official. Grassy said DNRC attorneys were still verifying that the group’s bid was correct and complete on Tuesday afternoon. He said agency officials would sign a final decision and formally award the bid on Wednesday.
If the state finds no problems with the group’s bid, it will be the first time a group blocked an entire logging project by purchasing a timber conservation license, the rarely used legal option that set up the bidding war between nearby residents and the timber industry.
Tim Tousignant, director of Save Our Gallatin Front, said the group’s leaders are sitting tight until the results are final, but that they are talking about it among themselves.
“We’re excited that we have the opportunity to protect this last slice of wildlife habitat that connects the Gallatin Valley to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Tousignant said.
Ed Regan, of RY Timber, declined to comment until seeing the final results.
DNRC first proposed the Limestone West Timber Sale in 2016, arguing that the trees in the area west of Mount Ellis needed to be turned into cash for the state’s school trust accounts. But residents of nearby subdivisions raised concerns that logging would disturb pristine wildlife habitat in one of the few roadless areas at the north end of the Gallatin Range. The group became Save Our Gallatin Front, which requested the chance to bid for a conservation license in 2016.
The conservation license option has only been used once before to block a small portion of a sale in northwestern Montana. The license offered for the Limestone project is by far the largest DNRC had ever considered.
In January, the Montana Land Board approved auctioning off the timber sale and the conservation license.
Immediately after the land board approved the project, Save Our Gallatin Front sued, arguing that the terms of the license were unfair and shouldn’t have required the group to pay full stumpage value for trees it would ultimately leave standing. But Gallatin County District Judge Rienne McElyea denied an injunction request, forcing the group to compete in an auction based on the stumpage value.
DNRC sale documents show the project was predicted to produce 22,040 tons of saw logs. The minimum bid was set at $17.06 per ton, which comes to a total price of $376,002.
Grassy said RY Timber offered the exact minimum. Save Our Gallatin Front’s bid was $18.15 per ton.
Tousignant said Save Our Gallatin Front would start a “full-fledged fundraising effort” to gin up the money to cover the license.
The group would be required to pay a performance bond to the state within 30 days of being awarded the sale, according to DNRC documents. A conservation license would be paid for in three annual installments, with the first due the day the license is signed.