The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit this week to halt a sprawling logging project in the Kootenai National Forest along the east side of Lake Koocanusa Reservoir.
In its lawsuit, the Helena-based conservation group alleged the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of logging on a 92,407-acre area in the Kootenai National Forest violates environmental laws and threatens lynx and grizzly bear habitat.
Last November, Kootenai National Forest officials approved the sale of roughly 39 million board feet of timber northeast of Libby. The timber sale, named the East Reservoir Project, calls for the harvest and fuel treatment of 8,845 acres near Lake Koocanusa, approximately 15 miles east of Libby.
The timber total represents more board feet than the Kootenai National Forest typically harvests in a year. The timber harvest in 2012 was 24 million board feet. During the logging heyday of the 1980s, however, the annual Kootenai timber harvest often topped 200 million board feet.
Following the approval, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act, citing potential harm to threatened and endangered species and their habitats. On May 11, the group filed suit in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen is presiding over the case, which names as defendants Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Christopher Savage; Regional Forester of Region One of the U.S. Forest Service Faye Krueger; the U.S. Forest Service; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Calling it “one of the worst logging projects in decades,” Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, announced the group went to federal court because the “massive clearcut and logging project” would affect tens of thousands of acres of national forest and five major tributaries to the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa.
Community leaders and organizations in Lincoln County have praised the East Reservoir project as a potential boost for the local economy.
While boasting a large sea of timber, the two forests also contain nearly 2 million acres of protected wilderness and vast populations of wildlife, including many threatened or endangered species, such as grizzly bears, bull trout and lynx.
“The [Environmental Impact Statement] for this logging project is so full of misrepresentations, omissions, and egregious violations of a host of federal laws that we really had no choice except to challenge it in court,” Garrity stated in a news release. “It’s so bad even the Forest Service had to acknowledge that it was violating its own Forest Plan – and then sought to illegally amend the Forest Plan to exempt itself from protecting grizzlies, bull trout, and lynx as required by the Endangered Species Act.”
If it moves forward, the project would be spread out over five or six individual contracts, each of a three-five year term. Of the 39 million board feet to be harvested, roughly 24 million would be sawlog volume and the balance non-sawlog to support local small log markets.