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contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936

Butte, MT — Calling it “one of the most corrupt logging projects ever proposed in Montana,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, announced today that the Alliance and Native Ecosystems Council have filed a lawsuit to stop a massive logging project in and around the Fleecer Mountain Wildlife Management Area. “This is well-known and much-loved elk country and the Forest Service simply ignored both the laws and science in deciding to clearcut much of the area. Yet the agency pre-determined there would be no significant impact almost two years before the environmental analysis for the project was even started.”

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court yesterday, seeks to stop the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Fleecer Timber Sale. The groups say the timber sale, which authorizes 3,068 acres of logging — including 1,137 acres of clearcutting — as well as five miles of new road construction, increases road density above well-established thresholds in the area.

“The elk population is already failing to meet the state’s population objectives for the affected Hunting Districts 341 and 319,” said Garrity. “Yet this plan calls for not only reducing elk habitat, but also conducting logging operations on elk winter range and using closed roads in an elk security area which will only stress the remaining elk further.”

Garrity added that the logging and road-building proposal will also destroy lynx critical habitat and impact grizzly bear habitat and both lynx and grizzly wildlife corridors which he says violate the Endangered Species Act, National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. “The sad fact is that the agency didn’t even bother contacting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding grizzlies or lynx, even though they are required to do so by law.”

“This is the yet another example of the Forest Service trying to push money-losing, illegal clearcuts in important big game habitat. The Forest Service estimates that they will lose $33,000 on this timber sale. If the agency was honest and included all of their costs, they would show that these subsidized clearcuts will cost taxpayers over $4 million” Garrity explained. ”

Sara Jane Johnson, PhD., is the Director of co-Plaintiff Native Ecosystem Council and a former Forest Service wildlife biologist. Johnson explained the importance of old growth, snag retention, and the interconnectedness of species in the area. “The Forest Service wants the public to believe that trees killed by beetles need to be removed in order to have a healthy forest. But nothing could be further from the truth,” Johnson says. “Wildlife and beetles go together. The beetles provide food for woodpeckers. When woodpeckers are in the forest, they drill holes in trees for nesting cavities. When woodpeckers are done using these holes, they’re used by many other birds that can’t drill out their own nesting holes. When the dead trees fall, they provide cover and habitat for mice, snowshoe hares and squirrels, which in turn are eaten by pine marten, lynx, goshawks and great gray owls. The downed trees also provide important cover for big game. All these species can thank the beetles for providing them habitat.”

Garrity says they have taken part in every step of the administrative process in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the proposed logging plan, but that the agency simply refuses to listen to well-documented and accurate evidence. “It’s unfortunate that we have to take the Forest Service to court to force it to follow the law,” Garrity concluded. “But for the sake of the elk, grizzly bears, lynx, and a myriad of other old growth dependent species, at this point we have no other choice.”

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