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

Missoula, MT – Two conservation groups, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop the Elliston Face Fuels Reduction Project. The groups say the timber sale, which authorizes 763 acres of logging and new road construction, logs elk winter and calving range, removes elk hiding cover in violation of the Forest Plan, and destroys habitat for other old growth dependent species. Those actions, they contend, violate the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said: “This is the fourth time the Forest Service has tried to push this same timber sale. We successfully challenged the last three attempts because they broke the law. This one is no different.”

Garrity said they filed a lawsuit in 2007 to stop this same timber sale because the Forest Service was destroying elk winter range in violation of the Forest Plan. “The agency dropped the logging plans because its own attorneys told them they would be breaking the law,” he said. “But now, instead of trying to comply with the law, the Forest Service is trying to sneak around it”.

Garrity says that Forest Service records clearly show that Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Forest Service’s own experts, and local residents all say that elk use the timber sale area as winter range.

Garrity notes that a series of embarrassing emails show the federal agency tried to “pressure the State of Montana to help them evade the law” by changing the elk designation from “winter” range to “summer” range. “I’m glad to say it didn’t work,” he adds. “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.”

Sara Jane Johnson PhD., Director of Native Ecosystems Council and former Forest Service wildlife biologist, said, “The Elliston Face area is made up mostly of Douglas fir trees and is thus mainly unaffected by the pine beetle. The area is important habitat for not only elk, but also goshawks and other old growth dependent species. The Forest Service should be protecting these islands of green forest instead of cutting them down.”

The Forest Service will also increase the road density in the area Dr. Johnson noted, “Which will adversely affect not only elk but lynx and grizzly bears in violation of the Endangered Species Act.”

“The Forest Service admits that grizzly bears are migrating south through the area,” Johnson added. “If we want to recover the grizzly bear and lynx and remove them from the Endangered Species list, they have to be able to reconnect with populations in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

While Johnson says grizzly bears are “quietly recovering themselves” by moving south along the Continental Divide, she notes that “grizzlies and lynx need these secure areas on public land — otherwise they will be forced onto private land where they often end up dead.”

“The Forest Service concedes that the Elliston Face areas are important elk calving grounds,” concludes Garrity. “But the timber sale decision logs secure habitat and allows the use of motorized vehicles to harvest and haul logs during elk calving season.” Not only is it violation of the Forest Plan Garrity says, “but driving heavy machinery through elk calving grounds in late May to the middle of June may well drive out the elk when they’re most vulnerable.”

Read the complaint here. (PDF)

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