contact Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
Helena, MT — The Helena National Forest announced on August 20 that they are pulling their decision to log the Elliston Face Fuels Reduction timber sale. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council, which have appealed the same logging plans successfully three times already, contend the timber sale would impact grizzly and lynx travel corridors, critical elk winter and calving range, violate the agency’s own Forest Plan for minimal elk hiding cover, and destroy habitat for other old growth dependent species.
The project, which authorizes 763 acres of logging and new road construction, violates the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act says Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “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 was no different.”
Duane Harp, Helena District Ranger, in announcing the agency’s plan to put the logging on hold, told reporters that the Forest Service had just found new maps produced by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, that show the Forest Service would violate its own elk security requirements. But that, according to Garrity, is inaccurate.
“We provided the Forest Service with copies of these maps in our earlier comments,” Garrity said. “We explained to Ranger Harp that he was breaking the law, but he refused to listen and said the agency intended to go ahead with the timber sale once again. Now for the fourth time, the agency has dropped the logging plans because its own attorneys recently told them they would be breaking the law and were unlikely to prevail in court.”
Garrity says that Forest Service records clearly show that the state’s wildlife management agency, the Forest Service’s own experts, and local residents all say that elk use the timber sale area as winter range. “Why Harp decided to go ahead with this in the face of the evidence presented is a mystery to us.”
Garrity also pointed to a series of embarrassing emails that 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., the Director of the Native Ecosystems Council and a former Forest Service wildlife biologist, explained that the forest in the Elliston Face area is mostly Douglas fir trees and is thus mainly unaffected by the pine beetle. “These live trees are important habitat not only for elk, but also for goshawks and other old growth dependent species. The Forest Service should be protecting these islands of green forest instead of cutting them down for a non-existent timber market.”
“The project would also have increased 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. “So 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.”
“Montana is investing $16 million dollars to purchase the nearby Spotted Dog lands, touting their great value as elk habitat for one of the largest herds in the state,” Garrity said. “Yet even though the Forest Service has finally conceded that the Elliston Face areas are important elk calving grounds, this timber sale would have logged secure elk habitat and allowed the use of motorized equipment to harvest and haul logs during elk calving season. It should be obvious that 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.”
“We hope the agency has finally realized that this plan is simply unacceptable, besides violating numerous laws, and we can put this behind us once and for all,” Garrity concluded.