by Tom Kuglin, Independent Record
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Great Falls, to stop the Forest Service’s Blankenship Vegetation Treatment Project near Monarch, over concerns for Canadian lynx, goshawk and wolverines.
The project proposes commercial logging, prescribed burning and temporary road construction on 1,100 acres within the Dry Fork of the Belt Creek drainage in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Forest Service surveyed this section of the Little Belt Mountains for lynx, listed as threatened, goshawk, listed as a sensitive species, and wolverines, listed as warranted but precluded, under the Endangered Species Act. The agency found no evidence of lynx or goshawk and acknowledged that wolverines may use the area occasionally, but it did not provide good denning habitat.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies contended the agency did not follow its own protocol in the lynx survey, did not spend enough time looking for wolverines or goshawks, and ignored concerns for wolverines beyond denning.
“The Forest Service barley looked for lynx,” Mike Garrity, Executive Director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said. “Simply put, the reason the Forest Service couldn’t find any wolverines or active goshawk nests in the project area is because past logging has destroyed their habitat and driven them off, so the agency is already in violation of federal law.”
In a Forest Service rejection of appeals by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Native Ecosystems Council, the agency identified the Little Belt Mountains as secondary lynx habitat, and that the 2009 survey found no evidence that lynx occupied the area. They also pointed out that the size of the timber sale represented 1.7 percent of a female wolverine’s home range.
“The Forest Service surveyed for lynx but admitted they didn’t follow their own protocol,” Garrity said. “It may not be denning habitat, but wolverines need to eat. Evidence has shown that they come down looking for big game carcasses. Human activity like logging will push them out of the area.”
The Forest Service returned the following a year to again survey the area for lynx, but only surveyed half the area, Garrity said.
State Democratic Senator Bradley Hamlett, whose district includes the Blankenship project, believes the suit impedes the ability of the Forest Service in dealing with serious beetle kill in the area.
“I understand the need to look at endangered species,” Hamlett said. “That’s just a tinder box over there with the beetle kill. The more we can do to takes fuels out of there the better. I think this is indicative of patterns by certain groups to stop federal and state government from doing what we need to do on the resource.”
The Lewis and Clark National Forest could not comment on pending litigation, said Dave Cunningham, public affairs officer for the forest.
“When a suit is filed we take a step back, we look to understand what the complaint is about,” Cunningham said. “We consult with the office of general council. They’re our attorney’s for legal advice. Then based on their advice we act accordingly.”