by Associated Press
HELENA – A federal appeals court has temporarily halted a timber sale in the Gallatin National Forest that environmentalists claim would damage wildlife habitat near Yellowstone National Park, an attorney said Sunday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency injunction late Friday, said Tim Bechtold, who represents the three conservation groups that filed the lawsuit in July. The stay halts all logging and road building until the court decides whether to issue a permanent injunction, he said. “The project was scheduled to go on this fall and some of next year,” Bechtold said.
The Bear Creek Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council contend the Forest Service used improper data in an environmental assessment of the Darroch-Eagle timber sale. They also allege that its contract with R-Y Timber violates the National Environmental Policy Act, Bechtold said. “One of our appeal points was that the environmental assessment was biased because the Forest Service had a contract to log it before,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
Gallatin forest officials did not immediately return a phone call Sunday.
Legal challenges to the sale go back to 1999, when conservationists sued over the Forest Service’s environmental study of the Darroch-Eagle project. A District Court found for the defendants and the Bear Creek Council and Native Ecosystems Council went to federal appeals court.
In summer 2001 the sale was advertised and awarded. But a 2002 order by the appeals court put the sale on hold until the Forest Service addressed several issues, helping bring about a revised environmental study. That assessment was released for public comment earlier this year without the timber sale contract having been canceled, according to the lawsuit. In April, forest officials announced plans to continue with a sale. The decision was then appealed to the Forest Service by the plaintiffs, but their appeal was denied in July.
The groups say the area, near Gardiner, provides key habitat for wildlife, including grizzly bears and wolves, as well as recreational opportunities. They say the sale also allows for the building and rebuilding of roads for logging activity.
Plans call for the harvest of 2.9 million board feet on about 195 acres.