Greens Challenge Giant Logging Project

     MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – The U.S. Forest Service plans to log and spray with herbicides 17,000 acres of National Forest without an doing an environmental assessment, environmentalists claim in court.
     The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council sued the Forest Service in Federal Court.
     The claim the Forest Service issued an illegal Decision Memo on March 9, approving logging and “herbicide spraying” in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, in west central Montana, and that the USFS approved it without an environmental impact statement or any other environmental assessment.
     The Little Belt Mountain Hazard Tree Removal Project will occur on Inventoried Roadless Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas and old growth forest, the groups say.
     They say the Forest Service claimed a Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act, which precludes the need for an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement for the project.
     The Forest Service will spray herbicides after the logging, to control weeds, according to complaint.
     “The Forest Service has authorized tree removal, including commercial logging, around 58 recreational special use sites (recreation residences), 157 recreation sites (campgrounds and campground trails), five non-recreational special use sites (repeater towers), and along 575 miles of roads,” the complaint states. “The total impacted acreage of this project is over 17,000 acres.”
     The Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas cover almost half of the affected forest land, which provides habitat for wolverines, the gray wolf, flammulated owls, moose, elk, marten, black-backed woodpeckers and goshawks.
     The environmentalists say it also serves as habitat for the endangered Canadian lynx and the grizzly bear, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
     According to the complaint, the Council on Environmental Authority can, through NEPA regulations, approve a categorical exclusion for a project if it does not significantly impact the human environment and.
     “A proposed action may be categorically excluded from further analysis and documentation in an environmental impact statement or an environmental analysis only if there are no extraordinary circumstances related to the proposed action that may be impacted by project activities and if 1) the proposed action is within one of the categories established by the Secretary or 2) the proposed action is within a category listed in federal rules,” the complaint states.
     The groups say the project is not eligible for categorical exclusion because it “is far outside of the scope of categories contemplated by the regulations and because there are several extraordinary circumstances that would render the application of a categorical exclusion to the project in appropriate.”
     They want the project enjoined.
     They are represented by Rebecca Smith with the Public Interest Defense Center, of Moscow, Idaho, and Dana Johnson with the Northern Rockies Justice Center, of Missoula.

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