HELENA — A wildfire mitigation project was allowed to proceed in Montana’s Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest after two conservation groups raised concerns over the impact on big game habitat, federal appeals court officials said.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue the 9-square-mile (23-square-kilometer) Telegraph Vegetation Project southwest of Helena, the Independent Record reported Tuesday.
The court also agreed to allow the Forest Service to withdraw a portion of the project that it acknowledged used inaccurate mapping.
The project calls for thinning, logging and burning in the forest over 15 years, wildlife officials said.
Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed the lawsuit last year claiming the Forest Service erred in its environmental analysis and the project would threaten grizzly bears and Canadian lynx in the region, officials said.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit last year and the two groups appealed.
“Delaying the project in the interim could have negative consequences for the environment and public safety, as the project was designed to improve forest health and create safer firefighting conditions,” court officials said.
More than 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) of land are believed to be impacted compared to the less than 1 square mile (3 square kilometers) the Forest Service has contended, alliance executive director Mike Garrity said.
“We are very pleased with the Ninth Circuit court’s decision and that project implementation will continue to provide important fuels reduction and forest health work, along with economic benefits to Powell and Jefferson Counties,” Forest Supervisor Bill Avey said.