POCATELLO, Idaho (CN) – Environmentalists say the U.S. Forest Service has opened up 7,000 acres of crucial Canadian lynx habitat in a National Forest for logging. The Native Ecosystems Council and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies say the “arbitrary and capricious … abuse of discretion … will jeopardize the survival of the species”.
The environmental groups say the Forest Service in 2001 designated 23,000 acres in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in Idaho and Montana as “occupied” lynx habitat. But in 2009, the Forest Service revised its map and “authorized the pre-commercial thinning of 7,000 acres of lodgepole pine,” finding that the logging there would have “no significant impact” on the imperiled lynx.
The environmental groups say that’s nonsense. They claim the redesignation will “cause destruction and adverse modification of critical habitat and will jeopardize the survival of the species in violation of the ESA [Endangered Species Act].”
The 7,000 acres were part of giant clear-cuts in the 1980s that made the Yellowstone National Park border to the northeast visible from space. The forest has been recovering since then.
“They want to log the lodgepole,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies Executive Director Michael Garrity said in a statement announcing the federal lawsuit. “Now it’s growing in. Thinning the trees makes the area grow back faster so they can log again.”
The Forest Service defines “pre-commercial thinning” in a 1975 document.
“Ideally, precommercial thinning should be done when leave trees are about 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 m) tall and 10 to 15 years old,” according to the USFS publication, “Guidelines for Precommercial Thinning of Douglas Fir.”
The document states: “Precommercial thinning is a practical means of substantially increasing the production of usable wood. The larger the trees must be to be merchantable, the greater are the gains from precommercial thinning.”
It concludes, 11 pages later: “The maximum age or tree size at which precommercial thinning is practical depends on several factors. Probably the most critical of these is the size that trees must attain before a commercial thinning will be made.”
In the case at hand the Forest Service approved thinning for the Split Creek Project.
The environmental groups say the plan violates the National Forest Management Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
“The Split Creek proposal authorizes extensive pre-commercial thinning in occupied lynx habitat and in snowshoe hare habitat,” the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said in its statement.
Sara Johnson, a former wildlife biologist for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and the director of Native Ecosystems Council, said the logging will drive out snowshoe hare, which are the primary prey of lynx.
“Although these federal agencies are required by the Endangered Species Act to try and recover lynx populations, logging 7,000 acres of critical lynx habitat does just the opposite,” Johnson said in the statement.
The 43-page complaint adds that the Forest Service failed to do a required environmental impact statement on the logging’s effects on the Canadian Lynx.
The 2.6 million-care Caribou-Targhee National Forest is bordered by Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Bridger-Teton National Forest. Most of the Caribou-Targhee is part of the Greater Yellowstone 20 million-acre ecosystem.
The groups seek a restraining order and injunction. They are represented by K.E. Purcie Bennett with the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center of Bozeman, Mont., and Dana Johnson of Moscow, Idaho.