by Rob Chaney
A timber sale around Lindbergh Lake is headed to court after planners and opponents disagreed over how beneficial it might be to old-growth forests and rare wildlife.
Four Montana conservation groups sued to block the Glacier-Loon Timber Sale in Missoula District Court on Monday. They claim the Swan Valley project would hurt grizzly bear, lynx, elk and wolverine, while damaging what little is left of the region’s old growth.
But Swan Lake Ranger Station officials maintain the project is a fair compromise that balances hazardous fuels reduction, old-growth promotion and commercial timber activity.
“Much of this part of the Swan Valley has been logged, logged and logged again,” Keith Hammer, chair of the Swan View Coalition, said in an email. “In fact, over 10,000 acres in this project area has already been clear-cut. The road densities in this area are really high and further fragment critical grizzly bear habitat. The truth is, it’s about time the Forest Service quits calling more logging ‘forest restoration’ and instead concentrates on restoring dwindling populations of lynx — which are in decline in the Seeley-Swan valleys — as well as the fisher and goshawk that depend on old, native forests.”
Swan District Ranger Rich Kehr said the project was well-reviewed by home and property owners in the area.
“We’re not proposing to treat any old growth with this decision,” Kehr said Tuesday. “We considered the entire drainage, looked at opportunities to treat and narrowed it down. We selected one (alternative) that promoted old growth values and recruiting old growth, preserved wildlife habitat corridors, all while still trying to meet the purpose and need of the project.”
Along with the Swan View Coalition, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan and Native Ecosystems Council joined on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges there are 140 miles of road in the project area. Excluding the portion in the Mission Mountains Wilderness, that means a density of 3.5 miles of road per square mile of land.
The area has seen 10,303 acres of clear-cutting since 1950. The lawsuit noted at least half a dozen other logging projects in the near vicinity that weren’t looked at for cumulative impact.
“No matter what the problem is, the Forest Service solution is always more logging and road building,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity said in an email. “In the Swan Valley this has resulted in nearly wiping out native populations of fisher, lynx, pine marten and goshawks. And grizzly bears have to basically become nocturnal in this area to avoid human activity. Even though this is federally protected habitat for grizzly bears and federally designated critical habitat for lynx and bull trout, the Forest Service keeps approving more roads and more clear-cuts all over the Seeley-Swan.”
Kehr said the project was part of the Forest Service’s stewardship management effort, where commercial loggers perform restoration work in return for marketable timber. In the Glacier-Loon project, that includes decommissioning 8.4 miles of road and rebuilding a bad culvert between Meadow and Bunion lakes. The project was also designed to improve wildlife habitat, he said.
“We’re looking to see if stands provide valuable lynx habitat,” Kehr said. “Some lodgepole stands are falling apart. If we could accelerate that, it could generate stands that were more valuable for lynx. That’s a good thing.”
The project would produce about 6.7 million board feet of commercial timber and treat 337 acres with pre-commercial thinning.