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

Butte, MT — Two conservation groups, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court yesterday against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the North Butte Salvage Timber Sale. The groups say the timber sale, which authorizes 413 acres of logging and new road construction in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, increases road density above well-established thresholds in areas that already fails to meet elk population objectives, dumps sediment into Westslope Cutthroat Trout streams, and destroys habitat for old growth dependent species. Those actions, they contend, violate the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“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 $130,904 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 $500,000” said Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

As Garrity explained: “The Revised Forest Plan requires elk security areas comprised of contiguous 250 acre blocks of forested habitat a half mile or more from open roads with these blocks encompassing 30 percent or more of the area. This area already fails to meet state elk population objectives. Clearcutting will destroy the area for big game hunting in violation of the agency’s own Forest Plan. Montana has some of the best elk hunting in the world and the federal government should follow its own laws and protect hunting opportunities for Montanans.”

“The Revised Forest Plan also forbids logging projects in key watersheds for fish such as Westslope Cutthroat Trout and Bull Trout unless there is a beneficial impact or no impact,” Garrity points out. “The North Butte proposal allows logging in an already heavily-impacted Brown’s Gulch watershed that, by the agency’s own admission, will dump hundreds of pounds of additional sedimentation in this watershed. This action could ultimately destroy the dwindling populations of already-stressed native Westslope Cutthroat Trout in the area”

Sara Jane Johnson, PhD., is a former Forest Service wildlife biologist and Director of the co-Plaintiff Native Ecosystem Council. She 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, fish, grizzly bears, lynx, and a myriad of other old growth dependent species, at this point we have no other choice.”

Read the original complaint here. (PDF)

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