Appeals Court Halts Logging Project in SW Montana

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A federal appeals court has blocked the U.S. Forest Service from logging trees on more than 1,600 acres of burned forest in southwestern Montana, but the agency says most of the timber already has been harvested.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered a preliminary injunction against the Rat Creek Salvage Project in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The injunction halts the project until a final decision is made in the case.

The project, about 15 miles west of Wisdom, calls for logging trees that have died or are likely to die as a result of a 2007 fire or due to insect attacks. It also calls for building seven miles of temporary roads that would be destroyed after the project, and reconditioning three miles of existing roads.

In a lawsuit filed last July, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council said forest managers underestimated the environmental damage that could result from the logging project.

Alliance for Wild Rockies executive director Michael Garrity said the Forest Service mischaracterized the logging project as harvesting dead or dying trees, when much of the timber was healthy. The environmental groups’ lawsuit also said the Forest Service did not consider studies that conclude such salvage logging can cause soil erosion and loss of animal habitat.

“This isn’t an example of extreme environmentalism, it’s an example of extreme logging,” Garrity said Friday.

He welcomed the appeals court’s injunction, saying it comes as the Forest Service was preparing to finish the timber harvest.

Forest Service spokeswoman Leona Rodreik said spring weather had halted the project, and it was unclear when it had been planned to start up again.

She said her agency is disappointed in the appeals court’s decision but that 85 percent of the 1,652 acres have been logged already.

“Until an opinion is issued, there’s really not much we can say or do,” she said.

The appellate court reversed an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who had denied granting an injunction to the environmental groups who sued the agency.

The court did not include an explanation for its decision, but said an opinion will follow in due course.