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The next time you are hiking the Kirk Hill Trail, look closely at the difference in tree canopy on the MSU, east side of the boundary fence and on the private west side. (By the way, you see this as well while driving up South 19th Avenue.) The east side has 100% green canopy; the west is approximately 50% canopy. If you look even closer to the ground, you will find little in the way for wildlife forage on the east side and lots of grass on the west. Guess which has more wildlife.

What is the difference? The east side is unmanaged; trees have not been cut for decades, if not 100 years. The west side was “logged” about a decade ago, when 200 tons of trees—some old growth fir and some younger—were recycled into houses. When a member of the Sourdough Fire Department looked at the site, he said, “now we can defend this property.”

Continue up the trail and you will hit the U.S. Forest Service boundary and the beginning of the proposed “Bozeman Municipal Watershed Project.” There the canopy and forage are about the same as the Kirk Hill property.

Many of the national forest trees were marked nearly two decades ago with a horizontal line of orange paint, indicating trees proposed to be cut—logged, if you will. Now the trees to be cut are marked with a fresh line of pink paint. These were selected after years of environmental impact assessment and public comment, required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 1970).

Despite years of study and comment, now hikers are petitioning the Forest Service to stop the logging project near the Kirk Hill Trail. Note, near: The project does not include one single tree on the MSU land, yet the group leading the charge against the project is called “Friends of Kirk Hill.” Their leader, Phil Knight, worries that old growth timber, which takes a long time to grow (well, dah!), is becoming increasingly rare.

Now go back to the west side of Kirk Hill, where you’ll find an old growth fir, called by a Kirk Hill Trail neighbor, “probably the most beautiful Douglas fir in the Gallatin.” Moreover, you’ll find young growth trees turning into old growth, making old growth less scarce. What Mr. Knight fails to realize is that the forest is not “a Kodachrome moment” (selfie for you younger folk), but is a “moving picture,” to quote Daniel Botkin, one of the world’s preeminent ecologists.

Put differently, the Gallatin Forest has been, is, and always will be evolving, and that evolution has been at the “hand of man” since Native Americans first walked through old and new growth trees. Indeed, they managed the land by burning to create wildlife habitat. The difference between then and now is that now the Gallatin Fringe Inventoried Roadless Ares (IRA) has homes, hikers, “conservation advocates,” and professional forest managers.

When you are tired from your hike, go to the Custer Gallatin National Forest website and read the environmental assessment filed by the professional managers. Here are a few tidbits:

• The project area is 4,700 acres, not one of which is part of the Kirk Hill property, and mechanical treatment will occur on only 200 acres, reduced from 600 acres, based on public comment.

• The project will modify vegetative fuel conditions using thinning and prescribed fire, not clear cutting, to lower the risk of catastrophic wildfires that could severely impair Bozeman’s water supply.

• When, not if, a fire does occur, its size will be reduced by an estimated 54%.

• 50% of the canopy will be removed, meaning 50% will be left.

• “No road construction will occur in the IRA.”

To be sure, there will be visual effects from the cutting, thinning, and prescribed burns, and from the paths cleared for “skylines”—cables strung in the air for removing the logs. These are what you can see in the upper Cottonwood and Little Bear areas, but are hardly a blight on the landscape.

In addition to protecting Bozeman’s water supply, the Forest Service is trying to protect private property in the Wildland Urban Interface. Under current law, if a wildlife starts on private land, the owner is liable for damages to private and public land; if it starts on federal land, the federal government is not liable. The Forest Service is trying to be a good neighbor by reducing “the risk of high intensity wildfire spreading from Forest Service lands onto private lands that border these watersheds.”

Before signing the petition calling for management by a select few rather than management governed by law—N EPA—with appropriate public comment, you might ask, who are the real conservationists.

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Terry L. Anderson is the John & Jean DeNault Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He lives in Bozeman.