by Tom Kuglin, Independent Record
Federal officials have halted a timber sale near Ovando and agreed, with two conservation groups, to analyze the impacts on the federally threatened Canada lynx.
In an order released Sept. 8, the Bureau of Land Management remanded its May 7 decision to thin about 600 acres as part of the Chamberlain-Wales timber project located in the Garnet Range about seven miles southwest of Ovando. The decision included controlled burning on nearly 1,500 acres, and construction and rehabilitation of 2.5 miles of temporary road and timber harvest including pre-thinning.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed a protest with the BLM on May 22, which the agency denied on June 16. The groups appealed, with the agency remanding its decision Monday, and ordering more environmental analysis before the project can begin.
The BLM said that ideally the project would start this year when it announced the decision in May.
“I think this shows that the appeals process does work,” said Mike Garrity, executive director for the alliance. “It doesn’t mean the end of the project, but now they will take into account how it will affect lynx.”
Had the BLM not remanded the decision, litigation would have likely followed, he said. The decision only impacts the 600 acres proposed for thinning, but that alone halts the rest of the project from going forward for now, he said.
At issue is whether the BLM studied the impacts on lynx for the project area, which is within designated critical lynx habitat, Garrity said. The agency was told by a biologist studying lynx in the Garnets that the project would impact the snow-loving cats, but chose not to study them during environmental planning, he said.
“The BLM realized its own significant mistake after they read our appeal and knew it would lose in court, so it pulled the project,” Garrity said. “We look forward to having them do the right thing now and take into account the impacts this large amount of logging will have on wildlife, particularly lynx.”
BLM officials in Missoula confirmed that the decision was returned for further environmental review, but did not offer further comment.