by Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard
Two environmental groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service over a logging and habitat improvement project proposed on 3,000 acres of Mount Fleecer.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council filed suit in federal district court recently over the Fleecer timber sale. The project includes logging, thinning and stream restoration on 3,068 on the north flanks of Mount Fleecer, about 20 miles southwest of Butte.
Land managers with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest have said the project’s aims are to improve habitat by taking conifers out of aspen groves, thinning beetle-killed trees and removing fir trees from sagebrush grasslands.
But Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance, said in a press release that the project is “one of the most corrupt logging projects ever proposed in Montana.” He said the Forest Service skipped analysis of how it would affect endangered species including lynx and grizzly bears and would clear cut elk habitat in an area where game numbers are already down.
“They’re increasing the road density in elk habitat,” he said. “They’re temporary roads, but they’re going to be open for five years and they’re not going to be gated so hunters can use them.”
But Peri Suenram, Beaverhead-Deerlodge forest planner, said the groups are wrong about the analysis of the affects on lynx and grizzlies. There has never been a grizzly spotted on the project area and the areas slated for clear cutting are lodgepole pine, which is not cover for lynx. She added that the project would build fewer than five miles of roads and those would be removed afterward and the project has been well thought out.
“We’re really disappointed that they filed that litigation because this project went through intensive environmental review,” she said. “People have been asking us to do something about the mountain pine beetle epidemic and to supply wood to the wood products industry — we think it’s a really good project.”
The groups claim the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and National Forest Management Act.