by Laura Lundquist, Chronicle Staff Writer
A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service will have to stop dragging its heels on lynx protection.
Last week, federal judge Dana L. Christensen in Missoula sided with the Bozeman-based Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and ruled that the U.S. Forest Service must re-evaluate the 20 different forest plans that deal with lynx habitat.
However, Christensen would not halt any planned projects in the 18 national forests that are affected. The judge said injunction requests can’t be vague; they must include details about the threats, so judges know which specific activities to suspend.
“The breadth of injunction requested by plaintiffs would impose an impossible task on defendants,” Christensen wrote. “If plaintiffs had substantiated their request with specific showings of irreparable harm, such a burden would be fair.”
The Cottonwood Environmental Law Center filed its lawsuit to spur the Forest Service into action after a decade of delays in rewriting its “Lynx Amendment.”
The lynx was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2000 and shortly after, the Forest Service created the amendment to go with each of its forest plans. Forest plans are sets of management priorities created to last for one to two decades.
The Forest Service consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the amendment in 2005, but the USFWS had not yet designated critical habitat for the lynx so it wasn’t included in the amendment.
Four years later, the USFWS extended the lynx critical habitat in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to include 11 national forests, but the lynx amendment of the forest plans have not been subsequently updated.
Now the Forest Service will have to work out a new amendment with the USFWS.
CELC attorney Andrew Gorder said he would be meeting with opposing council on Tuesday about the ruling.
“We’re trying to figure out our next move,” Gorder said. “If we appeal, it will be over that issue (of specific harm).”
Meanwhile, in March, the Western Environmental Law Center sued in federal court in Missoula to push the USFWS to finalize its lynx recovery plan.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has sued to stop logging in the Bozeman Municipal Watershed and East Boulder Creek with the justification that the project would harm lynx.
Because it is specific about which activities threaten lynx, it may be more successful, said AWR executive director Mike Garrity.
“We stood on the same issue so it’s definitely helpful,” Garrity said.