MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – Environmentalists are fighting a logging project in Montana national forest that will include more than 2,000 acres of clear cuts.
The Native Ecosystems Council claims the U.S. Forest Service-approved plan for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest violates the Endangered Species, National Environmental Policy, National Forest and Administrative Procedures Acts.
The 39,650-acre project area includes areas with “complete mortality” of lodgepole pines killed by beetle infestation. The Native Ecosystems Council lost a lawsuit over 250 acres of thinning in insect-infested forest in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest. That federal ruling came on July 30, the same day the Ecosystems Council filed the new lawsuit. It was joined in both complaints by co-plaintiff Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
In the new lawsuit, the groups claim the 2,541-acre East Deerlodge commercial logging project would have devastating effects on grizzly bears, elk and streams already harmed by commercial grazing.
They say the clear cuts would ruin habitat and fill streams with sediment.
“The majority of the commercial logging will be post-beetle salvage in lodgepole pine forest, in which almost every tree will be logged,” according to the July 30 federal complaint. “Thus, the project allows, de facto, clear cutting on 2,038 acres of forest, including 14 units that exceed 40 acres.”
The project includes commercial thinning on 502 additional acres, heavy logging traffic, construction of new and temporary roads, and diversion of streams for livestock.
“None of the watersheds in the project area are properly functioning,” the complaint states. “Numerous streams … have been measurably impacted by excessive sediment delivery. Excessive sediment has been primarily generated from roads and unstable stream banks caused by livestock. The introduced sediment is degrading aquatic habitat.”
It’s the second environmental lawsuit this summer involving the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Gallatin Wildlife Association sued the Forest Service on June 11, claiming domestic sheep grazing in the forest are putting small, isolated herds of bighorn sheep at risk of disease and death.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris denied Gallatin’s July 10 motion for a preliminary injunction that would have prohibited domestic sheep grazing on the Cottonwood and Fossil-Hellroaring allotments in southwestern Montana’s Gravelly Mountains, in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest.
According to the new, 40-page lawsuit: “Livestock grazing occurs in seven grazing allotments in the project area and causes sediment impacts, trampled or destabilized banks, increased nutrient loads in streams, and decreased density, diversity and function of riparian vegetation that may lead to increased stream temperatures and further detrimental impacts.”
Native Ecosystems and Wild Rockies say threatened and protected grizzly bear shave been seen in the project area and could be hurt by logging operations that also “far exceed” recommended road density thresholds for elk habitat.
None of that information is mentioned in the defendants’ environmental impact statement, according to the complaint. The Fish and Wildlife Service also is a defendant. The U.S. Forest Service is a branch of the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service of the Department of the Interior.
“The agencies have presented misleading information, failed to fully and fairly inform the public, and failed to apply the best available science to their analysis of … grizzly bears,” as well as effects on elk and stream habitat, according to the complaint.
The groups want an injunction putting a stop to the project and attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses.
Rebecca Smith of the Public Interest Defense Center, in Missoula, could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
A Forest Service spokesman was not available for comment.
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