The Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court yesterday challenging the Mission Restoration Project in the Methow Valley Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest west of Twisp, Washington. The Methow Valley is a pristine, remote rural area bounded by the Pasayten Wilderness on the north, the North Cascades National Park on the west and the Sawtooth Wilderness on the south. The Mission Project area lies at the lower end of the Methow Valley on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades mountain range and includes 1,853 acres of logging and 10,219 acres of prescribed burning.
”Portraying the proposal as ‘restoration’ is simply dishonest,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “What this project is really all about is turning national forests owned by all Americans into tree farms for timber production instead of restoring habitat for threatened species.
“One of the touted ‘restoration’ benefits, repeated dozens of times in the Environmental Assessment, is to increase the growth rate of the remaining trees,” Garrity explained. “It’s a charade by the agency to make it seem as if having large trees on the landscape for their ecological benefits for a long time is the Forest Service’s highest priority.
“Yet we find no plan that designates retention of any specified number of large trees across a wide landscape for an extended period of time into the future,” Garrity pointed out. “It’s not in the Environmental Assessment, it’s not in the Forest Plan for the Okanogan National Forest, and it’s not in the 2012 Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Restoration Strategy. Even the non-commercial treatments are tailored to maximize wood production.”
“The Forest Service has decided to move forward with a plan to conduct extensive logging, burning, and road building in pristine forested watersheds,” said the Alliance’s attorney Claudia Newman, of Bricklin & Newman. “But these forests and watersheds are the last refuge for a wide variety of endangered and threatened fish and wildlife, and the agency failed to adequately address the significant and adverse environmental impacts of its decision.”
“This is not a ‘restoration’ project,” added Dr. Don Johnson, American Fisheries Society Emeritus Fisheries Scientist and Libby Creek Watershed Association member. “It’s a timber sale that will endanger all of the residents of the Libby Creek watershed. It has been misrepresented to the public by its name, its cost to the public with regard to its economic efficiency, and its environmental impact.
“Millions of public dollars have been spent in the Methow Valley to protect and restore declining numbers of salmon and steelhead,” Johnson explained. “Yet this project will result in degradation of spawning and rearing habitat. In addition, it threatens the safety of residents, visiting recreationists, the local mule deer herd, and endangered species of plants and animals. It involves winter commercial logging activities over a 5 to 10 year period with prescribed burning and projected ‘re-treatments’ on a 15 to 20 year cycle.
“The Biological Assessment fails to adequately and fully address all relevant habitat standards for the North Cascades Ecosystem grizzly bear, lynx, northern spotted owl, Columbia River Bull Trout and their Designated Critical Habitat, Upper Columbia River steelhead, Upper Columbia River Spring-Run Chinook and their Designated Critical Habitat and fails to adequately address cumulative effects of logging, burning and road-building,” Johnson explained.
“Teddy Roosevelt created National Forests to protect them from timber company exploitation and to keep native species from going extinct. But the Mission Restoration project does just the opposite — it is an extinction project, not a restoration project,” Garrity said.
Garrity added, “The Forest Service failed to adequately and fully address the Project’s impact on the Northern Spotted Owl. The project area contains 1,054 acres of spotted owl nesting, roosting, foraging habitat and 4,113 acres of spotted owl dispersal habitat. The Biological Assessment fails to disclose and address the most recent annual monitoring data of the Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) which clearly documents a continued decline of the species. The March 31, 2017 Annual Progress Report admits the Northern Spotted Owl population is in significant decline over the last five years. The Project will have a negative impact on this already declining species because it will remove and/or degrade and/or downgrade important nesting, roosting and foraging habitat as well as dispersal habitat.”
After being reduced to only two percent of their historic range, grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states were listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act in 1975, sparking efforts to recover the iconic species. While there has been population recovery in some areas, the North Cascades ecosystem the grizzly bear is the smallest grizzly population in North America and isolated from other grizzly bear populations. Hence, due to human-caused bear fatalities, habitat destruction, and motorized intrusion into core grizzly areas, there are fewer than 10 bears in this area.
“With such high mortality rates and so few bears, the population chronically fails all recovery goals and is threatened by inbreeding due to lack of connectivity to other grizzly bear populations,” Garrity concluded. “Considering both the logging of dwindling old-growth forest and the road impacts on grizzly mortality – and ignoring the duty to perform an Environmental Impact Statement, we had no choice but to take the Forest Service to court and force it to comply with the law.”
Click below links for a copy of the Complaint and 60-day notice.