Greens Fight Clear Cuts in National Forest

     MISSOULA, Mont. (CN) – A 1,500-acre logging project with 500 acres of clear cuts in a Montana national forest violates federal law and will harm threatened species, environmentalists claim in Federal Court.
     Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council sued the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws.
     The July 31 lawsuit claims the Forest Service approved the Greater Red Lodge logging project without proper analysis, would displace threatened grizzly bear and Canada lynx, and diminish habitat for other species, such as elk and goshawk.
     The project authorizes commercial logging on 1,051 acres in the Beartooth Mountains, in the Greater Yellowstone Area in south central Montana, about 15 miles west of Red Lodge, Mont. Another 500 acres has been approved for clear cutting.
     Nineteen roads will be constructed or “re-constructed,” some of them on trails that are not made for vehicles.
     “Road ‘reconstruction’ may include widening roads, reconstructing existing turnouts, constructing new turnouts, road realignments (i.e. building the road into new areas and abandoning the old segments), including vegetation and tree removal,” the complaint states.
     The total project area of 21,000 acres includes several creeks and watersheds, including Butcher Creek, which is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act, and Willow and West Red Lodge Creeks, which are listed as impaired for sediment and siltation.
     “Forested stands in the project area are comprised predominantly of mature lodgepole pine,” according to the 46-page complaint. “The majority of the lodgepole pine is about 100 years old, and many stands proposed for logging contain ‘considerable densities of large diameter trees.’ Spruce, subalpine fir and Douglas fir are regenerating and establishing underneath the lodgepole pine, creating multiple canopy layers.”
     The habitat is perfect for grizzly bears and elk and is critical habitat for lynx, the groups say. Logging there would affect not only wildlife but the Carbon County economy, which is dependent on the travel and tourism industry, which account for 37 percent of the county’s private employment. Only 1 percent is dependent on the logging industry, according to the complaint.
     It says: “The project is ‘financially inefficient’ and will result in a net loss to the Forest Service, and the federal taxpayer, of $588,000.”
     The groups say the project also violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     They want the Forest Service’s Record of Decision reviewed and the logging project enjoined, plus costs of suit.
     Their attorney Rebecca Smith, with the Public Interest Defense Center in Missoula, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
     The U.S. Forest Service did not respond to a request for comment.

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