Environmental Groups Sue to Halt Timber Sale Near Lake Koocanusa

By Beacon Staff

Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to halt a U.S. Forest Service timber sale in Kootenai National Forest, arguing that it would harm critical habitat for grizzly bears and Canada lynx, both of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

On May 14, the Western Environmental Law Center filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Missoula on behalf of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. The complaint alleges that the proposed Young Dodge logging project violates the Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

In a press release, the environmental groups say the proposal includes 2,492 acres of logging, 3,986 acres of prescribed burning, maintenance and improvements on 97.3 miles of road, and 8.85 miles of new roads.

The project area is located on the west side of Lake Koocanusa in the Kootenai National Forest’s Rexford Ranger District, just south of the Canadian border and within the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem.

The plaintiffs describe the proposal as “massive clearcutting,” and say the Cabinet-Yaak is home to the most endangered population of grizzly bears in the contiguous U.S. with only 45 bears. They argue the project would “displace and harm” grizzlies at a time when the population is declining annually.

“In spite of these falling grizzly bear numbers the Forest Service plans to commercially log thousands of acres, open up roads, and use low-level helicopter flights in occupied grizzly habitat,” Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said in a statement.

“It’s well-known science that low-level overflights by helicopters ‘harm and harass’ grizzly bears in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Even though we cited the law, judicial opinions, and the agency’s own policies that ban such activities, the Forest Service refused to listen. So now we’re compelled to go to court.”

Matthew Bishop, an attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said the logging and roadwork would also imperil Canada lynx.

“We haven’t seen an industrial logging project like this in years and never one in occupied, critical habitat for lynx,” Bishop said. “It’s important that we hold the Forest Service accountable.”

“Our environmental laws embody our values and priorities as a nation and ensure important habitat for imperiled species like grizzlies and lynx is protected,” he added. “Unless these laws are enforced, they’re meaningless.”

A spokesperson for the Kootenai National Forest said the agency has no comment because the litigation is pending.

In an April 2, 2012 record of decision, Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Paul Bradford authorized the project after reviewing a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) released in June 2010.

An original draft EIS for Young Dodge was released in February 2008. The Forest Service authorized the project in April of that year but the decision was appealed and ultimately reversed, based on inadequate analysis of the potential impact on goshawks, a bird of prey, according to Forest Service documents.

Listed along with Bradford as defendants in the lawsuit are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service and their directors, Daniel Ashe and Tom Tidwell, as well as Faye Krueger, the regional forester for the Forest Service.

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