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Conservation Groups Challenge Blackfoot Timber sale that threatens elk, grizzly bear and lynx habitat

Two conservation groups, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council, filed suit in Federal District Court in Missoula Friday challenging the Stonewall Vegetation Project in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest about 4 miles northwest of Lincoln, MT. The conservation groups contend proposed changes to eliminate Big Game Security and Thermal Cover standards in the project violate a number of federal laws and threaten the area’s elk herd as well as grizzly bears and lynx.

“The Forest Service decision authorizes logging on 2,113 acres, prescribed burning on 2,755 acres, bulldozing in a mile of new logging road and rebuilding another 9 miles at a cost to taxpayers of $972,000,” explained Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

“Once again the Forest Service is showing that they put industrial logging ahead of taxpayers and protecting public land,” Garrity added. “It makes no sense for the Forest Service to sacrifice elk, lynx, and grizzly bear habitat to subsidize the timber industry with nearly a million federal taxpayer dollars.”

As Garrity pointed out, FWP informed the Forest Service during the travel planning process for the Blackfoot area that “[a]lthough elk populations have generally increased in hunting districts that include Helena National Forest land since adoption of the 1986 [Helena National Forest] Forest Plan, the number of elk that spend summer and fall on the Lincoln Ranger District (LRD) have not. . . . FWP recommends that land managers provide enough secure habitat during fall to meet annual bull survival objectives while maintaining general bull harvest opportunity. . . . Neither public land populations nor bull ratios in the Lincoln valley have increased despite the near elimination of antlerless harvest opportunity and the adoption of spike-bull harvest restrictions.”

“Montana’s big game management agency also warned that due to the loss of public forest cover, elk are now spending more time on private lands, which causes conflict with land owners as well as increasing the difficulty of managing the herd size due to loss of hunting opportunities on public lands.” As Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists told the Forest Service during travel planning: “The number of elk that spend the majority of the year on some nearby private lands has increased dramatically between 1986 and 2013. FWP has consistently urged the [Helena National Forest] to increase functional fall habitat security on the Lincoln Ranger District . . . .”

“The Forest Service did not comply with the Montana Elk-Logging Study Recommendation for Road Management as required by the Forest Plan,” Garrity explained, pointing to the requirement that states: “Where maintenance of elk habitat quality and security is an important consideration, open road densities should be held to a low level, and every open road should be carefully evaluated to determine the possible consequences for elk.”

“On this proposal, the Forest Service also violates the agency’s own rule, which prohibits open road density over 0.55 miles/square mile in occupied grizzly bear habitat,” Garrity added. “Currently the open road density in occupied habitat across the Forest is actually 0.95 miles/square mile and they want taxpayers to pay for bulldozing more new logging roads. According to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, roads are one of the ‘most imminent threats to grizzly habitat today.’”

“The Federal Government is also violating the lynx amendment to the Forest Plan,” Garrity continued. “While the lynx amendment allows logging in the Wildland Urban Interface, it also defines the Wildlife Urban Interface to be within one mile of communities. The Project does not comply with this limit because it remapped the WUI to include areas up to four miles away from Lincoln.

View the complaint here: .Stonewall complaint filed 2.17.17

Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears get day in court

By ROB CHANEY rchaney@missoulian.com

Originally published in The Missoulian here.

Whether grizzly bear numbers in northwest Montana are stable, shrinking or growing, both sides of a lawsuit over their federal status agree there aren’t enough of them.

But lawyers for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the U.S. Government could not agree why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service switched its recommendation from “warranted but precluded” for more protection under the federal Endangered Species Act to a designation indicating the bear population was close to recovery. The two sides argued before U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula on Thursday.

Rebecca Smith of the Public Interest Defense Center represented AWR, and argued the federal agency was breaking a 20-year position – that the Cabinet-Yaak bears deserved more protection – by suddenly announcing it was lowering the bear’s status.

On Dec. 5, 2014, FWS “abruptly changed course and published a finding that the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear is ‘not warranted’ for listing as an endangered species,” Smith wrote in her brief to Christensen. “The agency’s conduct also indicates that the agency has no intention to recover or provide critical habitat for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear, but instead intends to play administrative keep-away with the necessary protections for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear for as long as possible, possibly until the population simply goes extinct.”

The Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem is one of four grizzly bear recovery zones in and around Montana, and the smallest with an active bear population. The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each contain more than 800 grizzlies, while the Bitterroot Ecosystem has no known bears although it’s historically prime grizzly habitat.

Smith argued that between 2007 and 2014, grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak dropped from 47 bears to 41 – a 13 percent decline. FWS’ minimum population necessary for recovery in the 2.4-million acre region is 100 bears.

Department of Justice attorney Ricky Turner represented the Department of Interior and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Turner agreed Cabinet-Yaak grizzlies haven’t reached recovery. But the population has moved from the brink of extinction to threatened status, and their numbers have been stable or growing in recent years.

“I’m not impressed with the numbers here,” Christensen warned. “There’s been slight improvement, but we’re still talking about 44 to 48 bears. I’m not as enthusiastic about those numbers as you are. Maybe you can change my mind on that.”

Smith and Turner interpreted the same trend in opposite ways. Smith insisted that with fewer than 50 bears, the loss of one or two females could turn a stable population into a falling one. Turner maintained that the Fish and Wildlife Service was the agency in charge of the science, and if it said the trend was good, Smith hadn’t offered anything to prove it wasn’t.

Christensen added that both sides seemed to be avoiding “the elephant in the room” – the chance that changing the grizzly’s status might require a designation of critical habitat. Currently, the Cabinet-Yaak bears’ status doesn’t require FWS to make such a designation, which would require any other land manager to consider the bear’s needs before making any changes such as a timber sale, road construction or mine expansion.

Smith replied the critical habitat requirement would occur – if FWS got the funding to move the grizzly from its “warranted but precluded” status to actual “endangered” status. She said the whole crux of the case was the agency’s position for 20 years that the bear deserved more protection, before reversing course in 2014 and declaring it needed less.

“Even if what they say is true, they’re using the exact same facts for either conclusion,” Smith said. She called that the definition of “arbitrary and capricious.”

Turner countered that the grizzly’s original “threatened” status was made before the agency adopted a new policy mandating critical habitat designations, so that should not be an issue. He also argued that Smith was calling for a new interpretation of the science, which was the agency’s job.

Christensen did not rule on the matter after Thursday’s hearing.

25 bison to be sent to Corwin Springs; slaughter to resume

By Michael Wright Chronicle Staff Writer
Originally published in the Bozeman Chronicle here.

Call Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-7381 Tell them to stop slaughtering Bison. Call MT Gov. Bullock, 406-444-3111

After about two weeks of uncertainty, 25 bison inside corrals at the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park will still have a shot at being sent to a tribal reservation and the annual slaughter program will be allowed to resume.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock sent a letter to Yellowstone National Park on Thursday lifting a ban on shipping bison to slaughter after the state and federal agencies struck a deal to move 25 bull bison to corrals near Corwin Springs.

The letter came two weeks after Bullock blocked the transport of any bison to slaughter facilities in Montana. That decision was over a group of 40 bison the park originally wanted to send to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Fifteen of the 40 will be slaughtered, but the other 25 bison may eventually be destined for Fort Peck.

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“The parties have committed that these animals will be quarantined and safeguarded until they are ready for shipment,” Bullock wrote in the letter.

Yellowstone National Park spokeswoman Jody Lyle said the Parks Service is pleased with the deal “because it’s the first step in implementing a quarantine program.” She also said she wasn’t sure when they would be able to transfer the bison to the corrals, but she said it would happen “at some point in the near future.”

Regular bison slaughter operations will be allowed to resume. The park has caught about 400 bison in its trap near the park’s northern border. Lyle wasn’t sure when shipping would begin, but that they would try to make it happen “as soon as possible.”

About 5,500 bison live in Yellowstone. The animals migrate into Montana each winter, and livestock officials and producers worry they could transmit brucellosis to cattle. Brucellosis can cause cattle to miscarry, but no case of bison transmitting the disease to livestock has been documented in the wild.

A 2000 bison management plan rooted in the fear of brucellosis calls for a population of about 3,000. Each year, officials try to bring the population closer to that number through hunting and slaughter.

This year, they plan to kill as many as 1,300. About 300 have been taken by hunters so far this winter.

Last year, Yellowstone National Park proposed sending some bison to Fort Peck for quarantine, a process by which they can be deemed brucellosis free. Officials set aside a group to be used for the program while they were trapping bison last winter. They tested the animals for brucellosis regularly, and the 40 they held onto consistently tested negative.

But the proposal never received final approval because of a state law that requires bison be certified brucellosis-free before they are transported through Montana, so park officials had decided to send the 40 bison to slaughter.

Bullock sent the park a letter in mid-January blocking the transport of bison into the state until they could find a way to preserve the bison for Fort Peck. After two weeks of negotiations, the parties reached the deal announced Thursday.

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The 25 bulls will be sent to corrals controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the other 15 — all females — will be sent to slaughter.

Mike Honeycutt, the executive officer of the Montana Department of Livestock, said that decision was made because female bison are a bigger risk for spreading brucellosis because the disease is primarily spread through afterbirth. If one of the females is infected and aborts a calf, all the animals would be at risk.

“There’s a potential there that they are pregnant and there’s a potential that they could abort,” Honeycutt said.

He said the Corwin Springs corrals — where APHIS is researching a bison birth control drug — also had limited room. Bison will be moved around there to accommodate the 25 bulls, but they couldn’t find room for the 15 females, which would likely have needed a separate corral.

He also said the quarantine time would be shorter for bulls than females, and that it’s possible the 25 bulls could be sent to Fort Peck after about a year.

Dennis Jorgensen, a senior program officer for the World Wildlife Fund, said in an emailed statement that while his group is pleased the 25 bison won’t be slaughtered, they hope the different agencies will find a way to allow a tribal quarantine program to proceed.

“This temporary measure still leaves Yellowstone with no alternative but to ship bison to slaughter in coming years when thousands of bison will need to be culled just to keep current numbers in check. We ask that the same parties who made a deal today continue the discussion until a long-term solution is reached,” Jorgensen wrote.

Thin Green Line: 20 Groups Standing Between You and Doom

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

Originally published by CounterPunch.com here.

Last January during one of the early skirmishes in the Democratic Primaries, Bernie Sanders took a rare direct shot at Hillary Clinton and her political support group, the DC cabal of liberal NGOs. Sanders had been badgered for weeks by the media for his failure to attract more endorsements from public interest groups, like Planned Parenthood, NARAL and the Human Rights Campaign, even though his record on many of their core issues was much less blemished than Clinton’s.

Finally, Sanders snapped back: “You know what? Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment.”

These groups responded with mock outrage, clustering before the cameras of MSDNC to denounce Bernie. How could Sanders possibly call us part of the “Establishment”! It’s ridiculous! He should be ashamed of himself!! He must apologize!!!

But Sanders was absolutely right, of course. The Beltway network of liberal NGOS–from the Sierra Club to NOW–have become little more than dutiful subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. Many of them have enabled and abetted the party’s wholesale lurch toward neoliberalism without so much as a bleat, while howling against almost every minor infraction made by a Republican politician.

Sanders deserved credit for pointing out the obvious, but he almost immediately backed away from his comments, which pretty much symbolizes the entire course of his advance-and-retreat campaign. Again and again, Sanders won on the issues, but his campaign seems to have changed nothing about the Democratic Party or its labor and NGO allies. This is in part true because both the Democratic Party and the liberal public interest community are dependent on and beholden to the same sources of corporate and philanthropic funding. Money talks and it gags.

So the question is: what do we do now? Here at CounterPunch we are getting lots of calls from readers asking: where are the groups who will stand up to Trump? Where can I send a year-end check and know that the money will be well spent, not recycled into a fat executive salary or a bait-and-switch direct mail campaign?

There are many such groups out there; indeed, there is a vibrant and thriving grassroots movement across a whole range of issues. As a general rule, groups that didn’t challenge the policies of Obama and Clinton can’t be counted on to confront Trump.

Here, however, are 20 fearless groups fighting on the frontlines who aren’t crippled or muted by their allegiance to favorite politicians, political parties or big politically-connected donors and foundations. When the chips are down and the odds are long, they’ve got your back. Once a year, you should have theirs. They all deserve your support and, if you can spare it, your money.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies
P. O. Box 505
Helena, MT 59624
https://allianceforthewildrockies.org/

From the grizzly to the bull trout, the grey wolf to the lynx, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies is the last line of defense for the largest swath of unprotected wild lands in North America.

Anti-Police Terror Project
Oakland, California
http://www.antipoliceterrorproject.org

Beatings, taserings, illegal arrests, chokeholds, and shootings are a daily occurrence in urban America. The police won’t police themselves. With Trump in power, the Justice Department will probably stop doing even cursory investigations of such brutal actions. The Anti Police-Terror Project is building a replicable and sustainable model to end state-sanctioned murder and violence against Black, Brown, and poor people.

Beyond Nuclear
6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 400
Takoma Park, MD 20912
http://www.beyondnuclear.org/

Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

Buffalo Field Campaign
PO Box 957
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
1-406-646-0070
http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/

The annual slaughter of buffalo that migrate out of Yellowstone Park is one of the more horrific traditions in practice in the West today. Buffalo Field Campaign is perhaps the only group working tirelessly to defend the right of bison to wander to lower elevations during winter, without the threat of being killed by Montana bureaucrats.

Campaign to End the Death Penalty
PO Box 25730
Chicago, IL 60625
http://www.nodeathpenalty.org

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) is the premier national grassroots organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment with active chapters and members across the United States—including California, Texas, Delaware, New York, and Chicago. The campaign has placed those who have experienced the horrors of death row first hand–death row prisoners themselves and their family members–should be at the forefront of their movement, arguing that those experiences help to shape their political strategies.

Civil Liberties Defense Center
259 E 5th Ave, Ste 300 A
Eugene, OR 97401
(541)687-9180

Home

Increasingly the Civil Liberties Defense Center, a small, non-profit law firm based in Eugene, Oregon, has become the last line of defense for radical activists in America during this age of government repression and prosecutorial crack-downs on dissent. CLDC has led the legal fight against the McCarthy-like Green Scare attack on the constitutional rights of environmental and animal rights activists. They have defended the rights of Rastafarians to practice their religious rituals in prison. They successfully defended a mosque against the FBI’s first-ever attempt to subpoena religious records. CLDC has also developed and distributed much-needed “Know Your Rights” outreach material, and presented more than 150 “Know Your Rights” trainings.

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 360
Mercersburg, PA 17236

Home

Communities facing fracking, pipelines, factory farms, and other threats are recognizing that these seemingly “single” issue threats share something in common – the community doesn’t have the legal authority to say “No” to them. The existing structure of law ensures that people cannot govern their own communities and act as stewards of the environment, while protecting corporate “rights” and interests over those of communities and nature.

Family Farm Defenders
P.O Box 1772
Madison, Wisconsin 53701
http://familyfarmers.org

Family Farm Defenders mission is to create a farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food and fiber system, based upon democratically controlled institutions that empower farmers to speak for and respect themselves in their quest for social and economic justice. To this end, FFD supports sustainable agriculture, farm worker rights, animal welfare, consumer safety, fair trade, and food sovereignty. FFD has also worked to create opportunities for farmers to join together in new cooperative marketing endeavors and to bridge the socioeconomic gap that often exists between rural and urban communities.

Fatal Encounters
3375 San Mateo Ave.
Reno, NV 89509-5046

First encounter

Fatal Encounters is an incredibly vital project by D. Brian Burghart, the editor/publisher of the Reno News & Review, to create a national database of out how many people are killed by law enforcement, why they were killed, and whether training and policies can be modified to decrease the number of officer-involved deaths. Fatal Encounters’ efforts to collect information about officer-involved homicides going back to January 1, 2000, is completely funded by donations.

Guardians of Our Ancestors Legacy (GOAL)
P.O. Box 30000 #360
Jackson, Wy, 83002
http://www.goaltribal.org

GOAL, the Tribal Coalition to Protect the Grizzly, may be the last best hope to save the grizzly. This fierce, small, grossly underfunded outfit has pulled together over 40 tribal nations in an effort to keep the Interior Department from removing the grizzly from the Endangered Species list. With many of the big green groups missing-in-action, GOAL has mounted a powerful legal and cultural defense of the bear, arguing that allowing trophy hunting of the grizzly infringes on tribal sovereignty and violates the federal trust responsibility by disregarding tribal interests and pursuing a policy that benefits three states over a coalition of tribes from Montana to Arizona.

Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (USA)
PO Box 8118
New York, New York 10116
http://icahdusa.org

Since 1967 and the beginning of the Occupation, the Israeli government has demolished over 28,000 houses belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. These demolitions are part of a web of policies designed to force Palestinians off their own land to make room for expanding Israeli settlements, construct a 26-foot high “separation barrier” that cuts deep into Palestinian territory, create a network of Israeli-only bypass roads, and generally “thin” Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants. Largely obscured in U.S. politics and the media. ICAHD-USA works to educate the U.S. public about the realities of the Israeli Occupation.

Living Rivers
PO Box 466
Moab UT 84532
http://livingrivers.org

From the Rocky Mountains through seven states and Mexico, the Colorado River is the artery of the desert southwest. Its canyons, ecology and heritage render an international treasure. However, ignorance, greed and complacency are robbing the Colorado of its ability to sustain life. Living Rivers empowers a movement to instill a new ethic of achieving ecological restoration, balanced with meeting human needs. They work to: restore inundated river canyons, wetlands and the delta and repeal the antiquated laws which represent the river’s death sentence.

Los Alamos Study Group
2901 Summit Pl. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
http://www.lasg.org/contact.htm

Since 1989, the Los Alamos Study Group community—our staff and board, volunteers, interns, and supporters—has consistently provided vital leadership on nuclear disarmament and related issues. Their work includes research and scholarship , education of decisionmakers, providing an information clearinghouse for journalists, organizing, litigating, and advertising, with particular emphasis on the education and training of young activists and scholars.

Middle East Children’s Alliance
1101 Eighth Street, Suite 100
Berkeley, CA 94710 US
https://www.mecaforpeace.org

The Middle East Children’s Alliance is a non-profit organization working for the rights of children in the Middle East by sending humanitarian aid, supporting projects for children and educating North American and international communities about the effects of the US foreign policy on children in the region.

Migrant Justice
294 N. Winooski Ave, Ste. 130,
Burlington, VT, 05401
http://migrantjustice.net

The seeds of Migrant Justice were planted in 2009 after young dairy worker José Obeth Santiz Cruz was pulled into a mechanized gutter scraper and was strangled to death by his own clothing. This tragedy inspired the production of the documentary film Silenced Voices and led to the formation of a solidarity collective organizing to partner with farmworkers to gather the community to share food, discuss community problems, envision solutions and take collective action.

Nevada Desert Experience
1420 W Bartlett Ave
Las Vegas, Nevada 89106-2226
http://www.nevadadesertexperience.org

Fighting drones at Creech Air Base, nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site and radioactive waste disposal at Yucca Mountain, Nevada Desert Experience is trying to keep the Great Basin from becoming a national sacrifice zone for the Nuclear-Military-Industrial Complex.

Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
174 W. Diamond St.
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Home

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is building a movement that unites the poor across color lines. Poverty afflicts Americans of all colors. Daily more and more of us are downsized and impoverished. We share a common interest in uniting against the prevailing conditions and around our vision of a society where we all have the right to health care, housing, living wage jobs, and access to quality primary, secondary, and higher education.

Solitary Watch
Community Futures Collective: Attn. Solitary Watch
221 Idora Ave., Vallejo, CA 94591.
http://solitarywatch.com

While polls show that a decisive majority of Americans oppose the use of torture under any circumstances, even on foreign terrorism suspects, the conditions in U.S. prisons and jails, which at times transgress the boundaries of humane treatment, have produced little outcry. The widespread practice of solitary confinement, in particular, has received scant media attention, and has yet to find a firm place in the public discourse or on political platforms. Solitary Watch is a web-based project that brings the widespread use of solitary confinement out of the shadows and into the light of the public square. Their mission is to provide the public—as well as practicing attorneys, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, educators, advocates, people in prison and their families—with the first centralized source of unfolding news, original reporting, firsthand accounts, and background research on solitary confinement in the United States.

Stand With Standing Rock
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
#1 N. Standing Rock Avenue
Fort Yates, ND 58538
http://standwithstandingrock.net/donate/

The battle at Standing Rock isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

Voices For Creative Nonviolence
1249 W. Argyle St. #2
Chicago, Illinois 60640
773-878-3815
http://vcnv.org/

Since Obama’s election, the anti-war movement in the United States has withered away, even as the wars and interventions have expanded with rising body counts. Yet one group has never wavered. You’ll find activists with Voices for Creative Nonviolence leading protests at the White House, blocking the entry to Drone Operational Centers, occupying nuclear missile silos, educating inside US prisons, and organizing for peace inside war zones, from Afghanistan to Syria. Most crucially, Voices for Creative Nonviolence recognizes that war is waged by many means. Almost alone among US anti-war groups, Voices For Creative Nonviolence is mounting a resistance to the economic war machine.

Conservation Groups Challenge Timber sale in the Swan Valley to protect big game and fisher habitat

CONTACT: 
Keith Hammer, Chair of Swan View Coalition, 406 755-1379.

Mike Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406 459-5936

Four conservation groups, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Swan View Coalition, Friends of the Wild Swan, and Native Ecosystems Council, filed suit in Federal District Court in Missoula Friday challenging the Cold Jim Timber Sale on the Swan Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest about 3 miles northwest of the community of Condon, MT.

“The plans calls for 740 acres of commercial logging including clearcutting and building 3.1 miles of new logging roads,” explained Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Unfortunately, the Flathead National Forest failed to adequately consider the effects of their continued large scale logging and habitat fragmentation on the viability of fisher, a Management Indicator Species for species that require vast tracts of closed-canopied mature, unroaded, thick forest.”

“It’s easy to understand why we’re filing the suit to stop further habitat destruction when you consider that the Forest Service has been unable to find a single fisher in recent years despite using tracking and bait stations throughout the entire Southwest Crown of the Continent,” Garrity added. “That huge area includes the Swan Lake, Seeley Lake and Lincoln Ranger Districts covering thousands of acres of what used to be excellent fisher habitat before it was fragmented with a spider-web of roads and then mercilessly over-logged by Plum Creek and the Forest Service.”

“It’s high time the Flathead National Forest meet its road density standards,” said Keith Hammer, Chair of Swan View Coalition. “It’s had over twenty years to do so and we’re still left with impaired watersheds and inadequate habitat security for a wide array of wildlife species. This isn’t just about grizzly bears
“The logging plans also blatantly violate the Forest Plan protection standards for Big Game winter thermal cover. The project calls for logging areas of the forest that the Forest Plan marks as off limits to commercial logging to provide thermal cover for big game, a critical requirement in Montana’s harsh winters.”

Sara Jane Johnson, PhD., the Director of the Native Ecosystems Council and a former Gallatin National Forest wildlife biologist, 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 forests need to be logged in order to have a healthy forest. But nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Wildlife and thick, old growth forests go together,” Johnson continued. “A forest with beetle-killed trees is a healthy forest because dead trees are an important component of naturally healthy forests. The beetles provide food for woodpeckers. Woodpeckers then drill holes in trees for their nesting cavities which are then 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 snowshoe hares and squirrels, which in turn are eaten by pine marten, fisher, lynx, goshawks and great gray owls. The downed trees also provide important cover for elk, lynx, and grizzly bears. All these species depend on mature and old growth forests with plenty of dead trees to provide them habitat.”

“We have tried to work with the Forest Service on this project throughout its development, but the agency refuses to follow the law and the best available science,” Garrity concluded. “It’s unfortunate that we have to once again take the federal government to court to force them to follow the law. But at this point, and considering they can’t even find native fishers on the forest, we have no other choice if we want to conserve the last best habitat for the abundance of large and small native wildlife that Montanans hold dear.”

Judge Blocks Montana Logging Project in Canada Lynx Habitat

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Originally published here:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/11/24/us/ap-us-threatened-species-logging.html

HELENA, Mont. — A federal judge blocked a logging project northeast of Yellowstone National Park until federal officials analyze the effects of the project on Canada lynx that live in the area.

A wildlife advocacy group that sued to stop the Greater Red Lodge Habitat and Vegetation Management Project in the Custer National Forest hailed the decision as a victory for the threatened species.

“Lynx do not survive in areas with massive subsidized clearcutting,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies executive director Mike Garrity said in a statement.

Gallatin-Custer National Forest spokeswoman Marna Daley did not return a call for seeking comment Wednesday.

The project calls for logging 1,051 acres of trees, burning another 756 acres and building 19 miles of logging roads. U.S. Forest Service officials have said the project would reduce potential wildfire fuels and improve habitat and water quality.

The project is located in the Beartooth Mountains. Along with Canada lynx, the area is home to grizzly bears — another threatened species.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said in his order Tuesday that the logging would be done in an area that is considered critical habitat to the Canada lynx.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled that changes to such areas made in 2009 require the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about specific steps to protect the big cat in its forest management plans. The two agencies have not yet done so.

Before approving the project in May 2015, the Forest Service found that the project may affect, but would not likely adversely affect, lynx habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service concurred with the assessment but without the required formal consultation between agencies.

That consultation is needed for a lawful analysis of the cumulative effects of the logging project and other activities on lynx, Morris said in his ruling.

The southern range for Canada lynx includes portions of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Federal Court Stops Massive Red Lodge Area Logging Project

Calling it “one of the worst places for clearcuts,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, announced that a Federal District Court has granted its request for an injunction, halting a massive clearcut and logging project west of Red Lodge, Montana. The proposed logging and road-building is on National Forest lands in federally-designated lynx critical habitat in the Beartooth Mountains in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In its ruling, the district court followed the precedent set by the Ninth Circuit.

“The Forest Service wanted to sacrifice lynx, grizzly bear, and elk habitat to subsidize the timber industry to the tune of $588,000 federal taxpayer dollars,” Garrity explained. “We tried to work with the Forest Service on this, but the agency stubbornly refused to acknowledge the best available science or the law and instead arbitrarily changed definitions, remapped federally-designated lynx habitat, and erroneously claimed the entire project was in the wildland-urban interface to get around legal habitat protection requirements.”

The Greater Red Lodge Timber Sale is near Red Lodge in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest in the Greater Yellowstone Area, directly adjacent to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area and two designated inventoried roadless areas: Burnt Montana and Red Lodge Creek-Hellroaring. As proposed, the project would have built and rebuilt 19 miles of logging roads – some of which are currently trails — to commercially log 1,051 acres over a period of five to ten years. The project also included clearcutting over 500 acres of mature forests in federally-designated lynx critical habitat and grizzly bear habitat. Both species are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

“The courts correctly found that it is illegal to have massive clearcutting in lynx critical habitat,” Garrity continued. “Lynx do not survive in areas with massive subsidized clearcutting. We can’t have both subsidized clearcutting and lynx. The Endangered Species Act is very clear that if there is a conflict the lynx must prevail. Courts can’t make law, they can only enforce the law, and that is exactly what the district court did.”

“Senator Daines has been very clear that he is working on a Congressional rider to overturn the courts’ decisions enforcing the Endangered Species Act,” Garrity warned. “Ironically,” and as noted in the attached Order, the “Fish and Wildlife Services announced that its critical habitat designation had been ‘improperly influenced by then deputy assistant secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald.’”

“By attempting to repeat the failed political manipulation of the past, Montana’s Senator Daines clearly indicates he favors short-term extraction and taxpayer-funded subsidies over the potential extinction of lynx and the constitutional guarantee of checks and balances in our government.”

“The Constitution established three equal branches of government — the Executive, Legislative and Judicial,” Garrity continued. “This is how our founding fathers determined our government should work. Now Senator Daines wants to ignore the constitution and tell the courts they are wrong. He wants Congress to be both the Legislative and Judicial branch of government when it comes to deciding if the administration broke the law or not. This important case is about far more than whether or not lynx go extinct, it is also about whether the Judiciary remains an equal third branch of government as our constitution mandates.”

“No matter what the problem is, the Forest Service’s solution is always more subsidized logging and road building,” added Garrity. “Even though this is federally-protected habitat for grizzly bears and federally-designated critical habitat for lynx, the Forest Service wants more logging roads and more clearcuts.”

“The harsh reality, undeniably proven by all the best available science, is that more logging leads to less lynx,” Garrity concluded. “Almost all areas where there has been more logging have seen lynx decline as logging increased. It is time to say no to more road building and clearcuts and get on with the important work of protecting habitat to actually recover the lynx as required by the Endangered Species Act.”

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halts East Reservoir Timber Sale

Calling it “one of the worst logging projects in decades,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies announced today that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted its request for an injunction halting a massive clearcut and logging project affecting tens of thousands of acres of national forest and five major tributaries to the Kootenai River and Lake Koocanusa.

A lawsuit was filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in federal court in May 2015 challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to authorize a large logging, burning, and road-building project in habitat for threatened lynx, bull trout, and grizzly bears in the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana. Federal District Court Judge Christensen ruled the logging could go forward in July and the Alliance immediately appealed resulting in the injunction today to halt the project based on the Court’s finding that the Alliance is likely to succeed on the merits of its appeal.

“The Forest Service’s plans to clearcut lynx critical habitat were in direct violation of a binding Ninth Circuit precedent on this issue, so we are pleased but not surprised that the appellate court stopped this massive timber sale,” said Garrity.

“The East Reservoir Project area is huge,” Garrity continued. “But there are already over 22,000 acres of clearcuts within its boundaries. Add to that the 8,845 acres of proposed commercial logging, of which 3,458 acres will be new clearcuts, and the additional impacts to this already heavily-logged area are simply unacceptable.

“Additionally, the timber sale is a huge money-loser which, by the Forest Service’s own estimate, will cost taxpayers $2,589,535 to subsidize further degradation of an already-degraded landscape,” Garrity explained. “Much of that cost will be to rebuild and maintain an astounding 175 miles of logging roads, construct nine miles of new permanent logging roads, allow an additional 13 miles of illegal, user-created roads to be added to the legal road system, and open nine miles of previously closed motorized trails. When all the existing science shows more roads directly lead to more grizzly bear deaths and more sedimentation of bull trout spawning streams this project simply ignored the legal mandate for the Forest Service to maintain existing species of fish and wildlife when conducting timber sales.”

“That the Forest Service could possibly even consider such a massive logging project in an area in which only one percent of the remaining old growth exists in small, isolated stands defies law and logic,” Garrity continued. “For old-growth dependent wildlife such as lynx, this project is basically a death sentence to a species that is already in severe decline due to road-building and logging. That the Forest Service allows this timber sale to log federally-designated lynx critical habitat isn’t just sloppy work, it’s inexcusable and illegal.”

Garrity said his group has been involved with the project since it was first proposed and throughout the planning and Environmental Impact Statement processes. “The Alliance raised all the objections long before notifying the Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it planned to take the agencies to court to halt the project,” Garrity continued. “Our point was simple: The agencies had to change the project to comply with federal laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Administrative Policy Act.”

“As most Montanans know, there is incredible political pressure to ‘get out the cut’ on National Forests,” Garrity explained. “But the bottom line is that federal laws require retention of functioning ecosystems and maintaining the diverse wildlife and fisheries that rely on healthy forests – not just treating our publicly-owned forests as commercial logging lots to benefit a single industry’s profit margin. In this instance, the agencies have simply side-stepped those requirements, as well as the Endangered Species Act, by judging their own actions to have ‘no adverse impacts’ despite the massive scale of this project in bull trout, grizzly bear, and lynx habitat, all of which are threatened species.”

“What’s astounding is that so-called conservation groups are among those who intervened in the lawsuit to support these massive new clearcuts and were represented by none other than the industry’s American Forest Resource Council” Garrity said. “Montanans should know that the Montana Wilderness Association, the Yaak Valley Forest Council, Lincoln County, The Lands Council, Troy Snowmobile Club, Cabinet Resource Group, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company, Idaho Forest Group, and the Troy School District all think logging is more important than restoring this already over-logged area and recovering the lynx, grizzly bears, and bull trout as required by the Endangered Species Act.”

“The Alliance for the Wild Rockies exists as a watchdog organization that concentrates on activities occurring on our National Forests, which are owned by all Americans and exist not simply to supply local timber mills, Garrity concluded. “When faced with federal agencies literally exempting themselves from the law with the blessing of collaborator groups, we have no recourse but to challenge those decisions in federal court. That is exactly what we did on the East Reservoir Project to protect our irreplaceable forests and wildlife resources for present and future generations.”

A Victory for the Lynx

A federal court in Montana ruled Wednesday in favor of Alliance for the Wild Rockies and allies in their challenge to the federal government’s lack of protection in failing to designate critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the rare and imperiled Canada lynx, a species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2000.

The Court held that the government had unlawfully ignored a prior Court Order to analyze whether areas in several National Forests in Montana and Idaho qualify as lynx “critical habitat” and therefore merit additional federal protection from habitat destruction under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Canada lynx as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act 16 years ago, the agency has consistently failed to protect the full range of habitat needed for lynx recovery. Instead of acting to protect and recover lynx, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat areas based on pre-determined outcomes, which ignored habitat studies and current lynx populations and habits.

This ruling represents the second time the Alliance for the Wild Rockies has prevailed in its ongoing struggle to protect critical habitat for imperiled Canada lynx. Although there is little available data on how many lynx remain in the Northern Rockies, government researchers have documented that populations are likely declining in the areas that they have studied in Montana, namely the Seeley-Swan Valley and the Gallatin and Garnet Ranges. In light of the declining or unknown population status of this imperiled species, the Alliance’s win today is one necessary step forward in ensuring this species receives the protections it needs to survive and recover.

A coalition of conservation groups filed suit in federal court in November 2014 challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to designate adequate critical habitat for recovery of the Canada Lynx. This action, brought by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Sierra Club, and Rocky Mountain Wild, noted numerous large areas of prime lynx habitat, corridors and occupied areas throughout five national forests in Montana and Idaho, as well as millions of acres in the Southern Rockies that deserve to be included in the critical habitat designation, but which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service left out of these protections.

This lawsuit follows up our lawsuit from 2010 when the federal court ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had unlawfully omitted these areas from the designation. The Court ordered the agency to reconsider its findings, only to have the Service come back with new rationales for excluding these areas once again. Instead of analyzing the habitat as required, the agency unlawfully decided that because it did not have verified reports of lynx in those particular National Forests, it would not designate the areas as critical habitat regardless of the quality of the habitat.

Lynx need secure habitat before the population can be recovered and the current critical habitat designation fell far short. Important lynx habitat in Montana and Idaho helps connect the Glacier and Yellowstone National Park lynx populations. By failing to protect these areas and refusing to designate any critical habitat in the Southern Rockies, the very agency charged with recovery of threatened and endangered species is leaving lynx populations isolated, essentially issuing their death sentence since isolated populations inevitably lead to inbreeding and then extinction.

Lynx Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service.