MOSCOW, Idaho (CN) – Bending over for loggers, the U.S. Forest Service drew gerrymandered maps of lynx habitat to create bogus areas with “no bunnies” – the threatened lynx’s primary prey – and allow clear-cutting on 23,000 acres in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, environmentalists say in Federal Court.
The Native Ecosystems Council and Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, challenging the Split Creek thinning project, on 23,250 acres in the 3 million acre National Forest.
Caribou-Targhee National Forest stretches across southeastern Idaho from the Montana, Utah, and Wyoming borders, and hosts the Curlew National Grassland.
The logging project allows 7,000 acres of “pre-commercial logging” of lodgepole pine in areas that “have regenerated naturally” from past clear-cuts. The areas host plentiful snowshoe hares, the wild lynx’s main prey, the groups say.
The targeted area provides important linkage habitat and was designated as lynx habitat until the agencies decided to remap it to make “a threshold below which there would be ‘no bunnies,'” and “solve the ‘problems,'” according to the complaint.
The environmentalists say the defendants’ gerrymandered their “assessments” of 7 of 11 “Lynx Analysis Units,” without evidence, or against evidence, to assert that they were poor lynx habitat.
At an interagency meeting on the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in 2003, “Participants also noted that the Forest Service was unable to log thousands of acres of lodgepole pine because of current designations of lynx habitat and that remapping LAUs [Lynx Analysis Units] to a threshold below which there would be ‘no bunnies’ would solve the ‘problems,'” the complaint states.
So they gerrymandered the forest.
There have been a number of documented lynx sightings there, and it’s historically an area that hosted adult lynx and lynx kittens, the environmentalists say. They say the defendants violated three major environmental laws – the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Endangered Species Act – and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The environmentalists ask the court to declare a 2005 map invalid, and enjoin the thinning project, which was approved in 2009.
They are represented by Dana Johnson of Moscow, and K.E. Purcie Bennett with the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center of Bozeman, Mont.